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From Tales of Rokugan

(The Structure of a Village)
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Revision as of 00:33, 9 June 2019

Storytelling in Rokugan often occurs during a time of war, when the role of the warriors and the movements of armies rightly dominate. However, the Empire has lasted for a thousand years, and during that time it has sustained its people and given rise to fine art, and the reserves to support those mighty armies. Power becomes centralized into the mighty and defensible cities which are well described in various sourcebooks, including Otosan Uchi, Toshi Ranbo, Ryoko Owari, Naishou Province, and so on. However, during peacetime and in regions untouched by war, it is small towns and villages that provide the Empire's plenty and demonstrate that Rokugan still bears the Mandate of Heaven. This section describes the Mandate of Heaven, how these villages and small towns are governed by their samurai, the role of courtiers outside of the high courts of daimyos and the Emperor, and how a model village might vary from one clan to another. Some of this material comes from Legend of the Five Rings source books, some based on governance in Japan and Korea, with allusions to Chinese governance, and some is material created by myself as a source for my own fiction writing and our campaigns.

The Mandate of Heaven

When the Eight Kami first fell from Heaven, they encountered a peaceful tribe of farmers led by the wise woman, Seppun. Hantei spoke with her, and in his heavenly wisdom made an agreement with her, and through her, all the peoples of the Empire. The agreement was simple: Follow and support us, and we will grant you Protection from your enemies, Defense against the spirits of other Realms, and The prosperity of your lands.

It was based on this promise that the people of Ningen-do recognized in Hantei the Mandate of Heaven, and have put their faith in him ever since. In order to fulfill this promise, Hantei looked first to his brothers and sisters, and they, in turn, looked to those special men and women of Ningen-do who proved themselves before them, to help them in this task. And so the samurai caste was formed: sons and daughters and those commissioned by the kami, who took up these promises. Samurai stood as bushi, protecting against enemies, as shugenja, defending against the dangerous influence of other spiritual realms - especially Jigoku, and as courtiers, developing the health and prosperity of the land. In these roles, samurai touch upon every aspect of life in Rokugan. And the smallest unit of life in Rokugan is the family.

The Samurai Family

The family is the smallest functional unit of governance in Rokugan. Though families vary in wealth and structure throughout Rokugan, certain fundamentals stay the same.

The Household Together

Each of the Seven Great Clans is made up of a number of Greater and Vassal Families that, united, form the members of the samurai clan. These families, descended along a family line from a single notable ancestor, carry with it the schools, training, and traditions of that family. They are granted their Family Name by the Clan Champion, and the Family Daimyo serves as the Lord for all the samurai who bear his or her name.

However, that Named Family is made up of many, many smaller households, traditionally made up of a husband and wife and their children. This household serves as the central unit of civic governance.

A Household consists of a Mother and Father, their children, and elderly parents who have chosen not to retire to join the brotherhood. It can also include unmarried brothers or sisters, sick or permanently injured family members, and the widows and orphans of the previous members of the family.


The head of each household is responsible for Katokusozoku, the continuation of the family line, as well as making certain the household meets its obligations to its family Daimyo and to the Emperor. The head of household in Rokugan has varied by Great Family and by period of Rokugan's history. Prior to the coming of the Kami, succession was passed from mother to oldest daughter. Later, with the coming of the Kami, many families opted for patriarchal succession, granting leadership of the family to the eldest son. The Matsu, Utaku, and Moshi remained strictly matriarchal. In modern Rokugan, most households pass the succession to the oldest child, male or female, though this is an area of conflict between tradition and the modern view of the family for some households when the oldest child is not a son.

Marriages are arranged with the needs of the Daimyo and the continuation and prosperity of the Household in mind. They are expected to be monogamous, however, if there has been no heir and the household can afford one, the husband may take a concubine. The child of a concubine may legally be the heir if no child was born in the marriage before them. Children may also be adopted and made successors to the Household line.

If the normal successor of the household line dies or is unable to assume those duties, the role falls to a younger brother or sister. The new successor of the family line is expected to care for the spouse and children of the previous heir as if they were their own children. Children in the household who do not become the head of household are expected to either marry into a different household or go out and establish their own new households, carrying on and spreading the family name. These new families, however, do not hold the same status as the primary family line.

The Duties of the Family

Beyond the duty of providing succession for the family line, households have additional obligations. During the summer and the season of war, most able-bodied bushi in the family are expected to fight in the armies of the Clan. Even if there are not active battles being waged, armies muster and train to be prepared for conflicts to come. During the winter, Artisans or Courtiers who might not be regular members of the court can be called away to attend to the political needs of the Clan. Shugenja, though rare, are often called out during the spring and autumn to bless the shrines in the area and pray for the planting and harvest. When members of the Household are called away on duty, the spouse or other household members are supposed to take up the abandoned household tasks.

Even in times of peace when all household members are present, everyone in an household has duties to perform. Child-raising and household chores are time-consuming tasks, and only families that have sufficient wealth to support both themselves and servants have servants to perform such duties. Diligence is a virtue for heimin and samurai alike. Of course, for individual families, their amount of diligence varies: this is the overall social expectation.

Among these duties are:

  • Study and training
  • Housekeeping chores such as cleaning, laundry, and the preparation of food. This takes at least 60 hours a week for traditional households.


  • Acquiring the goods the household needs through trade or favors
  • Generating additional income for the household either by creating goods that can be traded or sold (for example, by woodcrafting, painting, weaving, and so on). This can be artwork, commissions, or crafted goods, and is often the primary activity during the winter months for the many not attending any Winter Courts.
  • Growing a vegetable garden and preserving food for the next season. Even in cities there is usually enough space for a small patch or communal garden.
  • Fulfilling the spiritual obligations of the household to honor the ancestors and appease the kami
  • Patrolling and maintaining the property one has been given
  • Caring for the ill, injured, or disabled within the family
  • Fulfilling the duties required of the household by one's Daimyo (of course)


Servants play an essential role in the lives of most samurai households.

A single samurai household of the lowest ranks of a clan would be performing all of these duties themselves. Local heimin could be ordered to assist the family on tasks of heavy and unpleasant physical labor, though many bushi would take it as a point of pride that they are able to chop wood and haul water as ably as anyone. However, as a household grows in wealth, these tasks can be passed on to servants or retainers that are then paid out of the samurai household's supply of rice to assume such duties. At the lowest levels, this will be heimen who live in the surrounding town to come in and do periodic chores such as gardening or laundry. Then, if the household is wealthy enough, it might bring in a young unmarried woman more permanently to take care of the children, or a wetnurse to nurse an infant. With greater wealth, a cook or some servants to assist with cleaning or dressing could be brought into the home. The number and role of the servants depends on the wealth of the household.

Some of the duties that may be taken by servants are:

  • Housekeeping chores such as cleaning, laundry, and the preparation and preservation of food - This will usually be done by household servants or cooks, usually heimen women who might do this with part of their days and then return to their own households to do the same in the evening.
  • Childrearing - This will be done usually by a wetnurse (for infants), a nursing heimen woman who has or has recently lost an infant of their own. Older children are cared for by nursemaids, called Komori, unmarried teenage girls who are moved into the household for this task.
  • Acquiring the goods the household needs through trade or favors - This would be done by the Goyo Shonin, the main purchaser of goods who oversees many of the other servants.
  • Growing a vegetable garden - Done by gardeners, often who tend the gardens as part of their tasks outside the samurai estate.
  • Fulfilling the spiritual obligations of the household to honor the ancestors and appease the kami - This can be done by a household monk or spiritual advisor, though it is usually supervised by the elderly parents left in the home.
  • Patrolling and maintaining the property one has been given - Hired ashigaru guards, or even samurai guards for households of sufficient stature.

As the Samurai Family grows in wealth, due to the productivity of their village or due to greater support and upkeep from their daimyo, or through their own actions, they are able to bring in more servants, fulfilling more roles in the house, and those servants are more likely to become full time residents of the house.

Changes through the Ages

In ancient Rokugan, when Inari first blessed the lands with rice and the blessings of the kami and new technologies first allowed for the mass cultivation of rice, the population of Rokugan was low, with only a handful of samurai directly related to the ruling families of Rokugan and many, many heimen.

This low population, coupled with a new food source that was much more productive per field-worker than any previous crop, as well as a peaceful Empire, allowed for each samurai to have many servants indeed. Even the poorest, most ascetic monk would travel with a servant during these ancient days, and it was unthinkable for a samurai to travel without a whole retinue of at least four or five servants.

Many of the customs of the Highest Courts developed around this time period, and some of the most wealthy still live in this fashion. However, as population grew and more once-servants were elevated to the orders of the samurai caste, the ability to have dozens of servants in attendance on you diminished for most samurai save the most wealthy...and ostentatious.

The Samurai Home

The residence of Samurai households vary greatly based on the family wealth and status, and whether the family is in the country or in a more urban environment. An individual bushi while on deployment might have only a futon in a barracks, but have a family back home in a traditional house, described in this section.

Individual homes for Samurai households vary widely. For ji-samurai and ronin families, they may be only a single room, but most clan samurai would have three to four rooms in their homes.

Samurai homes would more often have tile roofs compared to heimen roofs of rice thatch, but be built primarily of wood. Around them would be a small garden, and often a wall around the larger property, though it may not be high.

Some of the features of a traditional Samurai home would include:

  • Shoji: Waxed paper screens that make up the exterior walls of the house, able to allow in light into the interior.
  • Engawa: The covered pathway that surrounds the exterior of the home. When the storm shutters (Amado) are closed around the house, or during the winter, this pathway will be protected, a narrow corridor surrounding the inner rooms. When the storm shutters are open, this corridor is on the outside of the house, while the shoji are free to let in light.
  • Amado: The storm shutters used to encase the house during storms or in the cold, made of heavy planks of wood.
  • Fusuma: Sliding walls that act as walls and doors in the interior of the house. The interior configuration of the house is very customizable due to these screens.
  • Tokonoma: An elevated area within a room to display a prized artwork or ikebana to greet guests at.
  • Genkan: A lower area where one removes one's shoes as one enters the house.

Tatami: The woven straw mats that cover the floors of a samurai's house.

  • Chabudai: Low tables at which one kneels while eating in a samurai's house.
  • Zanbuton: Thin pillows used to sit or kneel on tatami mat floors.
  • Kamidana: A small household shrine to the Fortunes within the house.
  • Ofuro: For those households large enough and with sufficient servants to supply the heated water, this is the bath for a household. One would always wash off thoroughly with buckets of water before entering the bath. Baths are usually wooden washtubs and are heated with buckets of hot water brought in from elsewhere in the house.
  • Irori: A sunken hearth, often placed in the middle of a room, used to prepare food and heat the room. It is a stone lined square pit built into the center of a floor, often with a decorative hook above it from which a cooking pot may be hung.
  • Byobu: Folding screens, used within a larger room for privacy.

Of Koku: Samurai Economics

We are told that Clan Samurai do not care about money or commerce. All that a samurai needs is provided by their lord. But the governance and structures of villages centers around their production of rice, so a basic understanding of samurai economics is required.

Samurai Economics

When discussing Economics in Rokugan, particularly the Economics of the Family, we are give a few primary pieces of information:

  • That all the needs of a samurai are provided by their Lord or Daimyo
  • That the basic unit of currency is the Koku, which is the equivalent of one years supply of rice for a heimin
  • That it is not honorable for a samurai to discuss commerce.

However, in this world, as in any other, samurai must acquire goods and services for themselves and their households, even if it is not and should not be a major pursuit of players. The rice must be grown to pay the taxes that become the way the needs of the samurai are met, and goods and services must exchange hands for everyone except those with sufficient retainers to do the task for them.


Those interested in this topic might believe that the book A Merchant's Guide to Rokugan might provide a valuable resource. However, that is the Kolat sourcebook and has no useful information about samurai demographics and economics. I will only touch on these topics briefly.


Samurai are supported primarily by their Daimyo, and the Daimyo is supported primarily through the taxes placed upon their heimen. It takes the labor of 14-18 heimin to produce enough rice to support one samurai. That means it would take a village of about 100 people to support a single samurai household, especially considering some village members will not be productive members of society. In addition, a samurai family may certainly have members that are not in a productive role for their Lord, such as children and the extremely elderly.

Given the numbers involved, in general a Daimyo, while he will see his bushi well-supplied, will not have the wealth to provide for a large family and large number of servants for each bushi samurai in his armies. A bushi would be supplied enough to bring home and support their household over the winter if they were diligent, but most of the rank and file will certainly want to supplement their income in any way they can.


The currency of taxes is rice. A village's rice crop is collected by the local samurai in charge of a village. Part goes to the samurai's household as their entitlement, while the rest is passed on as tax to the district governor or local daimyo. The local daimyo pays their household and retainers from that tax, and passes the rest as tax to the family daimyo, then the clan daimyo, and so on to the Emperor.

When villages do not grow rice, they can trade for it, or offer metals, jade, or other trade goods in a rate of exchange for rice determined by the Imperial bureaucracy. However, rice is the standard, which is a source of considerable political power for major rice-growing areas such as those held by the Crane clan.

While the heimin who grow the rice generally themselves live off of other crops, they can earn rice through trade or service to the local samurai household. Most hiemin families work in the paddies during planting and harvest, but spend the rest of the year in other tasks, such as growing crops for themselves, smithing, basket-weaving, pottery, sewing, doing chores for the samurai household, and so on to supplement their personal income.

Trade and Barter

Commerce is not considered an honorable skill, and no samurai, save perhaps the Yasuki would consider haggling at the market like a fishmonger. However, samurai still have to exchange their earnings from their lord, or their own creative endeavors, for goods for themselves and their households.

Here are some of the many ways that a samurai in Rokugan may do so.

  • Trust the task to an honorable heimin. There is no dishonor in passing a koku or two to a trusted heimin servant to go haggle for a good or service. The simple order of "Get this item for me" should suffice for any purchase.
  • Order a heimin shopkeeper to give it to you. If a shopkeeper serves in the same clan lands as the samurai, asking a shopkeeper for a good is a legitimate way of acquiring an item. The shopkeeper would then note who the item was given to and that amount would be reflected back in a reduction of the taxes paid to the daimyo at the end of the harvest season, or for reimbursement from the daimyo's karo. However, there are consequences for greed and abuse in such a system, which will be described later. If the samurai demands an item in the lands of another clan, the shopkeeper will usually surrender the good anyway, but such an act would see a prompt request from the local magistrate to investigate and remove the offending samurai...or offer a worse consequence.
  • Trade in goods. While commerce is looked down on, gifts, or tokens of appreciation, are clearly virtuous and expected. If I were to admire your fish, and you happened to admire my plums, then I am free to give you a gift of plums and you would of course give me a gift of fish. Barter in this fashion requires a delicate balance of understanding the needs and desires of another, but this is simple to do within the bounds of a small area with a limited number of avenues of exchange.
  • Trade in services. Even samurai can volunteer for tasks if there is sufficient need, and a heimin would surely reward the samurai who did so with both reverence and gifts of appreciation. Whether chopping firewood (for the exercise), penning a message, defeating some bandits, investigating a minor mystery, carrying a warning against a rival, or offering a recommendation to a future customer, a shopkeeper can express a need that a samurai could fulfill. Should the samurai be willing to fulfill it, the shopkeeper would be happy to provide a worthy reward for their assistance from items out of their wares.
  • Leave the change. This is used in areas where the shopkeepers are used to dealing in coin, such as larger cities. If you are speaking with a shopkeeper about an item, and say you want it, the shopkeeper (if accustomed to samurai ways), may insist on offering it to you as a gift. If you accept, the shopkeeper would expect that you would take the item, but happen to leave, someplace inconspicuous but nearby, the value of the item in coinage for the shopkeeper. As a sample transaction:

Innkeeper: Ah, samurai-sama! Please, welcome to my humble inn. Would you like a meal and sake tonight? Samurai: That sounds good. Innkeeper: These rough louts... (the innkeeper gestures at some other heimin), value my glorious cooking at 3 bu, but, please let me offer it to you, Samurai-sama, with my best wishes. After the meal the samurai departs, leaving behind on the table at least 3 bu, and, if they value their honor as a samurai, more, to show how much more worthy they are than the heimin.

Abusing the System

This system of payment and barter relies on the honor of the samurai to pay an appropriate return to the value of the good or service offered. Samurai are called to be compassionate and honest, and they have a duty to their lands. However, greed is always a vice to which even samurai succumb. In Rokugan, when the lands are being properly managed, such vice will have consequences that encourage honesty among even the greediest samurai.

  • Samurai who order shopkeepers to give up too many of their goods without repayment, to the point where they put the daimyo or the shopkeeper's livelihood in jeopardy, may be challenged by the shopkeeper's local magistrate for their action when the shopkeeper seeks redress.
  • Samurai who embezzle or otherwise claim too much of their daimyo's wealth without any individual shopkeeper being aware may be audited by the daimyo's karo and will be called to explain himself before the daimyo. Seppuku is a possible result.
  • Samurai who do not leave enough payment for goods or services rendered may find themselves shut out of all the business of a district, with the shopkeepers refusing to 'be open' in order to sell goods to the cheapskate samurai.
  • Samurai who overtax their heimin, leaving them without enough to eat or working them too hard, can cause the heimin to bring an appeal to that samurai's lord. If that does not work, they will find that the heimin population of their village can pick up and move away. It is extremely difficult to force any people to stay in an area of land where they are being oppressed, and in normal times, even the lowest castes can flee a truly unjust lord. The unjust lord will then have no one to put in the crops, and so lose the source of their wealth, as well as trying to explain to their clan champion's karo why his fields have stopped producing rice.

This last is an important point. Oppressive village magistrates and local lords do happen often. It is difficult for people to pick up and move away from a home they have always known for an uncertain future elsewhere. In particular in situations other than farming, such as in a mining town, it is easier to control and constrain the population and not allow them to escape. In times of war, the outside world is often so dangerous that heimin do not dare to leave, giving their local lords more freedom to abuse the peasantry. It is in situations where a lord makes things unbearable, and the people lack the ability to slip away, that peasant rebellions have been known to occur.

However, under normal circumstances, there is nothing requiring the heimin to remain in a specific village. To the daimyo, it does not matter if the income generated by that heimin came from one village or another. Much of Rokugan is wilderness, up to 70%. There is a lot of space around other villages to set up new fields. A bad sonchou or magistrate will find his heimin slip away, meaning they are unable to put in or harvest as much rice. The village's wealth will be reduced while villages with good magistrates who govern well will grow as heimin join. This is a powerful motivator to keep local magistrates honest.

The Structure of a Village

Beyond the family, the basic structure of governance is the village, from tiny hamlets to villages of up to a thousand people. Beyond the Samurai family, the next smallest unit of local governance is the village. A village is a group of five to over one hundred heimin households, gathered together for common purpose and protection. The villagers share the surrounding fields and resources, working them in service to their daimyo and for the Emperor.

Despite the presence of large cities like Ryoko Owari and Otosan Uchi or Toshi Ranbo, the majority of Rokugan is largely rural, governed by local village governments with only distant oversight from the major clan apparatus. A single village covers a comparatively broad area with small clusters of houses surrounded by fields. Each small cluster of houses is usually called a buraku, or hamlet. A number of buraku makes up a mura, or village.

Each small village or hamlet will have a heimin village headman or woman, a shōya, who is responsible for governing the village, seeing that the villagers do their work, that taxes are paid, and that disputes are resolved. The shōya does not have the authority to execute anyone, but can punish minor transgressions with shunning, extra work, or caning. The shōya will also be responsible for reporting problems and harvests to the local magistrate, the samurai in charge of the area.

When samurai become involved with the affairs of the village, the village's costs often increase and they are susceptible to orders and constraints that could cause the heimin villagers difficulty, so villagers often prefer to have no samurai involvement in their affairs. However, a group of villages or a single large, wealthy village will receive samurai oversight none the less.

A samurai household will be tasked by the daimyo to oversee one or more villages based on their size, with a member of the household serving as the village magistrate. This position of samurai of a village can be passed as a hereditary title within a samurai household. The samurai leader of a village is called a sonchou, or simply village magistrate. If the village is of sufficient status and wealth, there may even be lesser-ranked samurai that serve as yoriki to the village magistrate in keeping the peace in the area of the village.

Note: In 5th Edition, most samurai live in cities, and sonchou or village magistrates are rare. This would reflect a more tumultuous period of Rokugani history, when samurai would need to be called quickly to the front, and higher-ranking samurai would prefer living in cities in order to increase their glory and status and exposure to the important people of the Empire. However, in different periods of time, samurai families act more as landowners and caretakers. Choose the distribution as your campaign sees fit.

The duties of the Sonchou and Yoriki

The samurai household serving as sonchou are ordered by the daimyo to do these primary tasks:

  • Protect the land from bandits, wild animals, shadowlands creatures, or enemy clans.
  • Administer justice on behalf of the local daimyo, routing out dishonorable ronin or investigating and punishing crimes in the area too great for the village shōya.
  • Settle disputes and prepare agreements between villages regarding shared resources.
  • Prepare taxes and maintain records regarding the productivity of the village for the daimyo.
  • Support village-wide religious obligations and festivals
  • Improve the land by commissioning irrigation or public works, flood control, maintaining walls, and so on.

Some of these roles, such as defense and the administration of justice, are best suited for bushi. However, negotiating, recordkeeping, and leading projects are tasks well-handled by courtiers. In a village led by a single samurai family, it is not uncommon to see these duties divided between the husband and wife, with one claiming the martial duties, and the other claiming the aspects better suited to courtiers. Although the perception for many is that most courtiers spend most of their times involved with intricate schemes between clans in the high courts of Rokguan, many more courtiers serve in the more humble role of village administrators.

Villages that are safe, well-organized, and where the heimin are treated fairly, and where the heimin will benefit from the fruits of their labor, will thrive. They will attract more heimin also, bringing in greater wealth. Villages where the heimin feel unsafe, where squabbles and bickering prevent work from being done, or where the heimin are abused or feel they do not benefit from their work, will lose population, grow poorer, and diminish.

Village Topography

Villages range widely in size from less than a hundred heimin up to over one thousand heimin. But they can share some common characteristics, provided here.

Villages could vary in size between less than one hundred people to over a thousand. It had very little layout or planning, and very rarely was walled, though the estate of a samurai household would be walled and in times of attack the villagers could gather behind the walls of the samurai's own house hold, if they did not flee.

Over 70% of Rokugan is given over to wilderness. Much of this wilderness has been untouched, such as the depths of the Shinomen Forest and Isawa Mori, or rocky hillsides unsuitable for farming. However, much of this wilderness are areas that have been farmed previously, but the villagers who lived there moved away or were killed due to a tragic event, a war, a drop in the fertility of the land, rumors of a curse or haunting, leadership under an unjust lord, or some other reason. These empty fields can be worked again, allowing villages to move or grow, or disappear depending on their circumstances.

Below is the layout of a traditional Samurai village. This beautiful map of the Japanese village of Iwaizumi in Japan was created by Michael Tumey. Village.jpg

As the picture above shows, there are several areas of importance, and a few not mentioned.

  • The Sonchou's Stronghold - Where the local Samurai Household resides.
  • The Village Square - Where celebrations, gathering, and merchant stalls are set up.
  • The Village Shrine - Often villages would show special veneration to one particular fortune or kami, but shrines to that fortune can be used to reverence all of them.
  • The Rice Mill - Rice can be refined by hand winnowing, or by the use of a water wheel as shown here.
  • Hinin Tannery - Those of the burakumin caste would not live in the village itself, but on the outskirts of town, where they could perform tasks such as preparing leather and handling cremations.

Many villages would also have these additional locations

  • Village inn and bathhouse - Providing a place for a cup of sake and cheer in the evenings and catering to travelers, the inn also allows the villagers to enjoy the luxury of a bath.
  • Public toilets - Heimin houses do not have toilets. A few areas on the outside of town are designated for this purpose.
  • The Shōya's House - The house of the village headman, larger than others in the village.
  • The Rice Storehouses - Where the rice or goods intended for taxes is stored before it is taken by the tax collectors.
  • Village Well - Villages not directly located on the water would have a spring or well, often in the center of the village square.
  • Livestock Pens - Although meat was eaten rarely by samurai, pigs, chickens, and other animals are kept in limited numbers by heimin to be eaten.

Of course, as the village grows, more residents can make a living in the space, often working the rice fields in planting and harvest, but pursuing other trades such as being a merchant or artisans at other times of the year. If the village is large enough, some might be able to pursue this other profession all year round. Some of the craftsmen in a larger village might be:

  • Blacksmith
  • Potter
  • Barrel-maker
  • Basket-maker
  • Bamboo Cutter
  • Healer
  • Scribe
  • Noodle or Mochi-maker
  • Teahouse or Geisha house owner
  • Midwife - Note: A midwife is of the hinin caste, but this is a position of considerable status, like a geisha or other esteemed professional.
  • Carpenter
  • Merchant

Ashigaru and Peasant Levies

Ashigaru For much of Rokugan, unmarried young heimin men of a village between the ages of sixteen and thirty serve as ashigaru if they are healthy. Unmarried heimin women of similar age may also choose to serve in this role, especially if they are taking the place of a family member or lover who would otherwise be required to serve as an ashigaru. Society overall does not expect women in these roles.

The majority of ashigaru are seasonal soldiers. They depart for war after they have worked with their families in the villages to plant their village's crops. During the summer, they remain with their units, generally under the direction of a samurai commander. When summer ends, they will normally be permitted to return in time to assist bringing in the harvest, while they winter at home in their villages, crafting and otherwise working to create goods that can benefit their families.

However, war scars men and homes alike. When there is no warfare and the land is fully at peace, ashigaru are usually not called up up at all, working in harmony with their villages. Unfortunately, such times are few. As war intensifies, the ashigaru are called up for longer and longer periods, eventually, potentially, being needed year round. Ashigaru after intense fighting may be released to return to villages that have disappeared, their families fled or killed by the tides of war. The samurai lord they served may fall in battle, leaving them rudderless. They may have fled a superior foe against orders and been afraid to return to their own lands. Or, if they have been embroiled in warfare for a long time, these young men may be unwilling or unable to submit to the humble rhythms of a life of planting and harvesting, instead drinking to drown the memories of their experiences and looking for the camaraderie of their fellow ashigaru for comfort. In the aftermath of great wars, there are frequently periods of time when such heimin become permanent ashigaru, a class of mercenary wandering foot soldiers.

Ashigaru called seasonally from their villages are normally supplied by their lord, given food and the weapons the lord believes they require. However, they are not paid as samurai are. They can make additional money by looting the fallen or the lands they conquer, or wealthy lords can reward them for success. Permanent ashigaru will offer themselves to a lord for service by making an arrangement with a higher-ranked ashigaru, a jizamurai, a karo, or a lower-ranked samurai, in exchange for koku. Permanent ashigaru arm and supply themselves with the loot of the fallen. While ashigaru freely loot the dead, they are careful never to take a samurai's daisho as loot. They know they would be killed for daring to do so.

Ashigaru are not expected to have the discipline of samurai. If they are in battle against overwhelming odds, few expect the ashigaru units not to break and run. Ashigaru are not expected to come up with battle strategy or be superior fighters. If a samurai commander has made an order to stay, his ashigaru can expect to suffer for their cowardice at breaking the order, of course. However, if their commander is dead and no new orders have been given, it would be rare for an ashigaru to risk their life to push their unit towards victory. That said, those special ashigaru who do succeed in making a valiant stand against overwhelming odds, of their own initiative, truly can make an impression on their lord. If they survive and the battle is won, such ashigaru may win themselves the greatest glory an ashigaru may know: the reward of a daisho and an invitation to join the samurai caste as one of their lord's own followers.

Peasant Levies

Moderate warfare is frequent, and during such times only the usual heimin of villages are conscripted to serve as ashigaru: young unmarried people in fighting shape who tend to be called up frequently. They are generally conscripted along with their village sonchou as the season of war begins. However, as a clan begins to suffer significant losses in battle, their situation and manpower becomes more and more desperate. A second, third, or fourth level of conscription may be ordered from a village.

When second or third conscriptions occur, the heimin are required to report to serve their lord in battle. A first conscription would be only of the ashigaru: young, unmarried men of age. A second conscription might require one man from every family, regardless of marital status or age. A third might require all men and women between 14 and 45, excepting women with small children. A fourth conscription, in truly desperate times, could require everyone except the extremely old, extremely young, and extremely infirm. The heimin that report to such conscriptions serve as peasant levies.

Peasant levies are untrained, minimally armed, and often barely fit enough to fight. They are not expected to have discipline. They are only expected to obey the one who is put in charge of them and do what they can to survive. It is apparent to all that a Lord who has called up their peasant levies is in truly desperate straits. Peasant levies will be supplied and fed with what their lord can spare at such a difficult juncture. Their only hope is to be allowed to return home.

The Development of Cities

When villages grow in size or protect important people or key resources, they become a valued part of clan lands, points worth defending. They become cities.

The Transition to War

In peacetime the Empire is still, but interclan warfare or invasions of the Shadowlands turns the norms of families, villages, and cities upside-down.

The Role of Courtiers

Bushi and Shugenja have clear roles for villages and towns in Rokugan. But courtiers too fulfill a vital role, even outside the elegant boundaries of a Winter Court.

Variations between Clans

While all the Empire is built around Families, their Villages, and Towns, each clan has their own variations, in how their families are structured, in how their villages are formed and face adversity, and how their towns are built and deal with crisis. This section includes those differences, as well as some of the many differences in various traditions between the clans.