Buke hokonin (武家奉公人)

Buke hokonin literally means a person who served a samurai family.

Summary

Buke hokonin also refers to a wakato (foot-man), chugen (the rank below common soldier), or komono, but these cannot be clearly discerned because their meaning varied by region, clan, or samurai family. Therefore, the following description dividing them into wakato, chugen, and komono should be read only as a guide.

At the end of the Edo period, the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and its domains were forced to eliminate their 'matchlock infantry' armed with matchlocks and to form a 'musket infantry' or 'musket unit' armed with Western style firearms, however, the number of ashigaru (common foot soldiers) was sometimes not enough to form these infantries or units and, in these cases, new members were recruited to create a musket infantry similar to the ashigaru troops in the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States). Those who belonged to these classes were treated as chugen class, lower than ashigaru.

Wakato

This word referred to new or young people among the roto (retainers) in the Sengoku Period.

Generally, it is little different from komono, but in the Edo period the word was sometimes used to refer to vassals who served hatamoto (direct vassals of the shogun) or vassals of the castle keeper of the Daimyo (Japanese feudal lord), and in these cases the name refers to people of samurai status. In the expression 'number of accompanying samurai' 'samurai' means wakato.

In the Meiji period, it was believed that if a baishin (indirect vassal) was ranked as being of the warrior class affairs of state would begin to worsen, so they were treated as heimin (commoners) even though they had been 'samurai' in the Edo period.

However, vassals of the Inada clan, the keepers of Sumoto-jo Castle, who were known for the Kogo incident (also known as Inada uproar), were exceptionally promoted to the warrior class under strict conditions such as their migration to Hokkaido.

Chugen

They sometimes participated in battles with a short sword and did odd jobs in times of peace. They also served as yakko (a servant or attendant) in the daimyo's processions, and so on.

Many served temporarily as watari-chugen (itinerant servants).

Type 1: Temporary chugen

They were what would now be called deemed public servants. This refers to chugen who were widely and generally known.

In the Edo period, chugen were servants under articles of apprenticeship or were recruited from an on a temporary basis only when needed. Those who served as chugen were the second-oldest sons or younger brothers of peasants, but in big cities such as Edo, many were recruited as professional servants such as watari-chugen who served from residence to residence.

Type 2: Special chugen

In reality they were treated as equivalent to ashigaru. Widely and generally known chugen were as mentioned above, but this special type of chugen refers to those from families who served domains by heredity and had the right to bear a surname and to wear a sword during the Edo period, or those who were formally employed by domains or recruited for special occasions at the end of Edo period. Their class was between heimin and samurai. They were special cases rather than the norm.

The class of Aritomo YAMAGATA and Hirobumi ITO of the Choshu Domain is given as ashigaru in historical sources because the term special chugen would have been likely to be misleading and easily mixed up with widely and generally known chugen.

Komono

Private buke hokonin
They were live-in servants who did mainly odd jobs. They were also called shonin or genan (houseboys). When a doshin (police constable) of a town magistrate's office arrested people he sometimes called them komono. They were of the heimin class.