Meiji sword, hair, and clothing laws

The impact of status changes on dress codes

By William Wetherall

First posted 10 February 2010
Last updated 24 February 2010


Swords, haircuts, and clothing    Sources  |  1870-4 Wearing swords to court (GCS 232)  |  1871-1 Dressing like samurai (GCS 831)
 |  1871-2 (GCS 984)  |  1871-9 (GCS 399)  |  1873-1 (GCS 33  |  1876-3 (GCS 38)


Swords, haircuts, and clothing

Cothing, hair styles, and the wearing of swords, as marks or privileges of caste or class, were regulated during the Tokugawa period to the extent that standards were fairly uniform and stable. Given Japan's geographical size and political and social complexity, styles and practices naturally somehwhat varied and changed from place to place and time to time.

Mobility between farmers, craftsmen, and merchants was common, and there was also some mobility between these castes and people of lower castes, especially hinin (non-people). Poorer, lower ranking samurai might also shed the emblems of their status for those of another vocation. And it was not impossible for wealthier and influential non-samurai to migrate to the status of a lower ranking samurai and begin to dress and comport themselves accordingly.

During the final years of the Tokugawa period, especially in towns around treaty ports, some people began to emulate the fashions of foreigners. By the beginning of the Meiji era, native and foreign elements of clothing had become conspicuously confused as more people fused the novel and exotic with the old to create an new Japanese style of dress.

Hair styles also changed, as did architecture, modes of transportation, food, even manners and speech, attitudes toward the world and life, society and politics, romance, drama, literature, music -- and swords. And since what people wore, how they cut their hair, and whether they carried a sword had been largely a matter of formal status, the ways in which people dressed were naturally affected by the radical changes in formal definitions of status that took place at the start of the Meiji period.

Changes in status system

The conventional caste system, which defined half a dozen essentially inherited social classes, was replaced by one which defined essentially four castes -- imperial family, nobility, shizoku, and heimin. For details, see class, caste, outcaste in the Minorities almanac section of the Glossaries feature, and Social status laws in Japan: Caste, class, and titles of nobility since 1868 in the Law section of Society feature.

New dress codes for new statuses

The Meiji government defined itself by the numerous laws it issued to bring about and control political, economic, and social change in the new country. Until a representative parliament began in 1885, laws were made in the form of proclamations and notifications by the Great Council of State and the ministries. proclamations that aaimed to set and clarify new standards of clothing, hair, and swords, to accommodate transitions from the older to the newer social statuses.

Here I will introduce the clothing, hair, and sword proclamations issued between 1870 and 1876.

REVISE AS SUMMARY

1. Appellations like Eta and Hinin are abolished.

2. The statuses and occupations of Eta, Hinin, and the like will now be the same as those of commoners (heimin).

3. Eta, Hinin, and the like will enrolled in general population registers (ippan minseki), and their statuses and occupations will be treated like those of others in such registers.

The following translations are my structural renderings of the cited Japanese texts, which are my transcriptions from the versions of the proclamations printed in the multi-volume "Complete book [set] of laws and ordinances [pandects]

" (–@—ß‘S‘ Hōrei zensho) or HRZS. The work is divided into volumes (û) with a Keiō or Meiji year.

Early Meiji ordinances can be found through the National Diet Library Dajokan database, which links to scans of texts in NDL's Recent era digital library, officially dubbed "Digital Library from the Meiji Era". See Meiji volumes of Horei zensho in the "Legal terminology" section of the "Glossaries" feature of the Yosha Research website for more information about HRZS and the NDL databases.

Forthcoming.

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Sources

Forthcoming.

[RESUME]

Japanese text

"Complete book of laws and ordinances" (–@—ß‘S‘ Hōrei zensho, HRZS), Volume 6, Meiji 4, page 337.

Early Meiji ordinances can be found through the National Diet Library Dajokan database, which links to scans of texts in NDL's Recent era digital library, officially dubbed "Digital Library from the Meiji Era". See Meiji volumes of Horei zensho in the "Legal terminology" section of the "Glossaries" feature of this website for more information about HRZS and the NDL databases.

English translations

The structural translations are mine. As always when showing such translations, my purpose is to cut closer to the phrasal and metaphorical bone of the original text than do most received translations, partly in order to illuminate problems with the received translations.

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1870 order on wearing swords at court

In the spring of 1870, the Great Council of State proclaimed that titled members of the nobility were permitted to wear swords when coming to the court, as far as the waiting room, where presumably they would have to leave the sword before being admitted further (HRZS, Volume 5, Meiji 3, page 129). A headnote observes that this order lapsed with the promulgation of GCS 38 of Meiji 9 (1876).

1870-4-24 GCS Proclamation No. 232 (Meiji 3-3-24)

‘¾­Š¯•z‘æ“ñ•SŽO\“ñ†
–¾Ž¡ŽO”NŽOŒŽ“ñ\Žl“ú (•z)

Great Council of State Proclamation No. 232
Promulgated Meiji 3-3-24 (24 April 1870)

ˆê—LˆÊ‰Ø‘°ŽQ’©”VßJŠ–˜’ñ“•s‹êŒóŽ–

On occasions of [a member of the] nobility with a rank [title] visiting the court, as far as the waiting place [antechamber] bearing [bringing] a sword shall not be minded.

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1871 order forbidding comporting like samurai

Shortly before the new year of the lunar calendar of Meiji 3 (early in January on the solar calendar of 1871), peasants and merchants and such -- some of whom had taken to dressing like and wearing swords in the manner people of samurai lineage -- were prohibited from doing so (HRZS, Volume 5, Meiji 3, page 512). A headnote observes that this order lapsed with the promulgations of GCS 416 of Meiji 4 (1871) and GCS 38 of Meiji 9 (1876).

1871-1-4 GCS Proclamation No. 831 (Meiji 3-11-14)

‘¾­Š¯•z‘攪•SŽO\ˆê†
–¾Ž¡ŽO”N\ˆêŒŽ\Žl“ú (•z) (‘¾­Š¯)

Great Council of State Proclamation No. 831
Promulgated Meiji 3-11-14 (4 January 1871)

•S©’¬l‹¤åû‚ŒÑŠ„‰HDƒ’’…ƒV˜e·ƒ’‘уVŽm—ñƒj•´•~•—铃jƒe’ʍs’vƒVŒó‹V•s‘Š¬ŒóŽ–

A case [matter, affair] of either a hundred-surnamer [farmer, fisherman etc.] or town-person [merchant, craftsman etc.] wearing a high-gusset hakama (machidaka-bakama) and split haori (saki-baori), carrying a long side sword (naga-wakizashi), and plying-and-moving in a manner [of appearance] resembling [mistakable for] [that of someone of] samurai rank, shall not be.

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1871 order forbidding sword wearing
by farmers, craftsmen and merchants

A month after the order prohibiting peasants and townsmen from comporting themselves like a samurai, an order was issued to further crack down on people of farmer, craftsman, and merchant status who wore swords without permission or reason (HRZS, Volume 5, Meiji 3, page 709). A headnote observes that this order lapsed with the promulgation of GCS 38 of Meiji 9 (1876).

1871-2-13 GCS Proclamation No. 984 (Meiji 3-12-24)

‘¾­Š¯•z‘æ‹ã•S”ª\Žl†
–¾Ž¡ŽO”N\“ñŒŽ“ñ\Žl“ú (•z)
(‘¾­Š¯)

Great Council of State Proclamation No. 984
Promulgated Meiji 3-12-24 (13 February 1871)

That a person of a farmer, craftsman, or merchant lot without permission arbitrarily carries a sword, is a matter beyond thought. [Such persons] shall be immediately controlled by regional officials.

”_H¤”V”y‹–‰Â–³”Và΃j‘Ñ“’vƒVŒóŽÒ—L”VŽïˆÈ”VŠO”VŽ–ƒjŒóžŠ’n•ûŠ¯ƒj‰—ƒe›¦“xŽæ’÷‰Â’vŒóŽ–

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1871 proclamation

This proclamation essentially allowed people -- meaning shizoku, who had worn their hair in a topknot and born swords as emblems of their samurai lineage -- to cut their topknots and dispense with wearing swords (HRZS, Volume 6, Meiji 4, pages 316-317). A headnote observes that this proclamation, other than its provision regarding the cutting of hair, lapsed with the promulgations of GCS 9 and 339 of Meiji 5 (1872) and GCS 38 of Meiji 9 (1876).

1871-9-23 GCS Proclamation No. 399 (Meiji 4-8-9)

‘¾­Š¯•z‘æŽO•S‹ã\‹ã†
–¾Ž¡Žl”N”ªŒŽ‹ã“ú

Great Council of State Proclamation No. 399
Promulgated Meiji 4-8-9 (23 September 1871)

ŽU”¯§•ž—ª•ž’E“‹¤‰ÂਏŸŽèŽ–
’AâX•žƒmßƒn‘Ñ“‰Â’vŽ–

Cutting of hair, regulated [uniform] clothing, abbreviated [informal] clothing, and removal of [dispensing of, not wearing] swords, together [all], shall be as one chooses [at one's convenience].
However [provided], on occasions of ceremonial [formal] clothing, the bearing [wearing] of a sword should be done.

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1873 proclamation

Forthcoming.

[RESUME]

[HRZS Volume 8, Meiji 6, page 34]

1873-1-30 GCS Proclamation No. 33 (Meiji 6-1-30)

‘¾­Š¯•z‘æŽO\ŽO†
(–¾Ž¡˜Z”NˆêŒŽŽO\“ú) (•z)

Great Council of State Proclamation No. 33
Promulgated Meiji 6-1-30 (30 January 1873)

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1876 proclamation

In the spring of 1876, the Great Council of State proclaimed the following general prohibition of the wearing of swords, except in certain court ceremonies, and by some officials at other times (

HRZS, Volume 11, Meiji 9, page 36).

GCS Proclamation No. 38 of Meiji 9 was directed mainly at shizoku, who had been exempted from the 1870 and 1871 measures that prohibited ordinary people from wearing swords.

The proclamation triggered strong reactions from some shizoku, particularly in Kyushu but also in Yamaguchi. Reactions to stripping former samurai of their last outward emblem of caste distinction fed the uprisings that led to a number of local uprisings at the end of the year and the Seinan War the following year.

1876-3-28 GCS Proclamation No. 38 (Meiji 9-3-28)

‘¾­Š¯•z‘æŽO\”ª†
(–¾Ž¡‹ã”NŽOŒŽ“ñ\”ª“ú —ÖŠf•

Great Council of State Proclamation No. 38
Promulgated Meiji 9-3-28 (28 March 1876)

Ž©¡‘åâX•ž’…—p•ÀƒjŒRl‹yƒqŒxŽ@Š¯—™“™§‹KƒAƒ‹•ž’…—pƒmßƒ’œƒNƒmŠO‘Ñ“”í‹ÖŒóžŠŸŽ|•zŒóŽ–
’Aˆá”ƃmŽÒƒn‘´“‰ÂŽæãŽ–

[This] article -- being that, from now, other than where excepted on occasions of wearing of great-ceremonial [formal court] clothing, or wearing clothing by military personal, police officers, and others for which there are regulations, the bearing [wearing] of swords is prohibited -- this [its] purports [principles] are a proclamation [i.e., nationwide regulation].
However [provided], those in contravention [of this proclamation], their swords shall be taken [confiscated].

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nullified Á–Å ”_H¤ƒm”yà΃j‘Ñ“ƒXƒ‹ƒ’‹ÖƒV’n•ûŠ¯ƒ’ƒVƒe’ñ—ƒZƒVƒ€ –¾Ž¡3”N12ŒŽ24“ú ‘¾­Š¯(•z) –@—߉ˆŠv Ú× ammended ‰ü³ ŽU”¯§•ž—ª•ž’E“ˆÓƒj”CƒZ—ç•žƒmßƒn‘Ñ“ƒZƒVƒ€ –¾Ž¡4”N8ŒŽ9“ú ‘¾­Š¯ –@—߉ˆŠv Ú× ammended ‰ü³ Žú”ÆŒq–Œˆ•ú•aŽ€“™ƒmÛŒg‘Ñ•iˆ•ªƒ’’胀 –¾Ž¡6”N1ŒŽ30“ú ‘¾­Š¯‘æ33†(•z) –@—߉ˆŠv Ú×

Sources

The following translations are my structural renderings of the cited Japanese texts, which are my transcriptions from the versions of the proclamations printed in the multi-volume "Complete book [set] of laws and ordinances [pandects]

" (–@—ß‘S‘ Hōrei zensho) or HRZS. The work is divided into volumes (û) with a Keiō or Meiji year.

Early Meiji ordinances can be found through the National Diet Library Dajokan database, which links to scans of texts in NDL's Recent era digital library, officially dubbed "Digital Library from the Meiji Era". See Meiji volumes of Horei zensho in the "Legal terminology" section of the "Glossaries" feature of the Yosha Research website for more information about HRZS and the NDL databases.

In addition to the HRZS texts available through the National Diet Library, I am indebted to the following two very informative papers.

Iwatani 2006 (NDL Dajokan law guide)

The following guide to early Meiji Great Council of State laws can be downloaded from the National Diet Library's Dajokan website (as of 14 February 2010).

Šâ’J\˜Y
–¾Ž¡‘¾­Š¯Šú–@—߂̐¢ŠE
“ú–{–@—ߍõˆøk–¾Ž¡‘OŠú•Òl‰ðà
•½¬19”N1ŒŽ
‘—§‘‰ï}‘ŠÙ
Iwatani Ichirō
Meiji Dajōkan ki hōrei no sekai
[The world of law during the period of the Meiji Great Council of State]
Nihon hōrei sakuin (Meiji zenki hen) kaisetsu
[Japan law index (Early period of Meiji volume) guide]
Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan
[Nationality Diet Library]
1 (cover), 34 (text) pages (35 page PDF file)
35-page PDF document

For more about the Hōrei zensho (HRZS) and NDL's Dajōkan database and related resources, see the Horei zensho section of the "Legal terminology" glossary on the Yosha Research website.

Nakamura 1959 (Four-caste equality)

The following article can be downloaded from the Faculty of Law (–@ŠwŠwp‰@) section of Waseda University Library DSpace website (as of 14 February 2010).

’†‘º‹gŽO˜Y
Žl–¯•½“™‚Æ‚¢‚¤‚±‚Æ
‘ˆî“c–@Šw (‘ˆî“c–@Šw‰ï)
‘æ35ŠªA‘æ3† (1959”N8ŒŽ10“ú)
ƒy[ƒW449-461 (75-87)
Nakamura Kichisaburō
Shimin byōdō to iu koto
[ The matter of four-people equality ]
< The Equality of the Four CastesF A change of Caste after the Meiji Restoration  
Waseda hōgaku < Waseda Law Review >
(Waseda hōgaku kai < Waseda Law Association >)
< Bulletin of [Waseda] Faculty of Law >
Volume 35, Number 3 (10 August 1959)
Pages 449-461 (75-87)
13-page PDF document

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