Doso (also pronounced tokura or tsuchikura) were moneylenders during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. Like modern pawnshops, they required borrowers to leave goods as collateral. They loaned money equivalent to the value of the pawned item at high interest.
Originally, doso meant a warehouse surrounded by earth walls. The word 'doso' was found in a record written in the Nara period. However, the theory that strong doso (warehouse) appeared during the late Kamakura period has been widely accepted. Sadaijin (minister of the left), FUJIWARA no Yorinaga was famous as a book collector and his book storerooms were said to have been strengthened by applying caustic lime or oyster shell to their wood walls. Judging from Yorinaga's character, his book storerooms are thought to have been the strongest storerooms of the time.
In the late Heian period, a lot of Sung Dynasty Chinese coins were imported into Japan, and a monetary economy prevailed mainly in cities. Wealthy priests and jinin (associates of Shinto shrines) started high-interested moneylending businesses without security (Mujinsen-doso [unsecured moneylender]) under the protection of powerful temples including Enryaku-ji Temple. Such people were called Kashiage (moneylenders). Such businessmen then started to take items as collateral and built earthen storehouses in which to store them. It is for this reason that moneylenders came to be called doso. On the other hand, due to the instability of society, there was a trend of merchants who owned storehouses being asked to store precious assets or documents in order to keep them safe from accidents and disasters. Some of those merchants started moneylending businesses using the fortunes they were asked to keep. Doso are thought to have developed from these merchants. This trend is considered to have spread not only among merchants but also among the Imperial Court, bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and common people. It is considered to have developed into Nosenkata (an institution to collect tax from moneylenders and sake breweries) and Kubo-okura (finance branch).
From the late Kamakura period to the Muromachi period, many sakaya (sake liquor dealers) ran such moneylending businesses and they were often known as doso-sakaya. It is said that, during the Showa period, there were 330 doso in Kyoto and a large number in the Sagano and Sakamoto (Otsu City) outskirts.
The Muromachi bakufu imposed a specific tax called kurayaku (also known as dosoyaku) on doso, and the tax was a major source of revenue for the bakufu. Particularly in 1393 when, in return for an annual payment of 6,000 kanmon paid by doso to the bakufu, all control rights held by temples and shrines were negated and special taxes were repudiated. This was followed by intense bargaining between the bakufu and temples including Enryaku-ji Temple. However, the bakufu was very strong at the time, and temples could not mount an opposition. Doso, which gained independence from temples became associated with the bakufu and formed doso-za (doso guilds, 土倉方一衆). The bakufu formed Nosenkata (an institution for collecting taxes from moneylenders and sake breweries) and collected taxes from these institutions. However, powerful owners of doso-sakaya were appointed to Nosenkata and they naturally came to affect the bakufu's economic policy. The Muromachi bakufu protected doso while controlling them. Doso set high interest of eight to ten mon-ko (monthly interest was eight to ten mon on a borrowing of 100 mon) but the bakufu passed a law that the interest should be four mon-ko (four mon of interest per month) or less. However, the law was not strictly observed and a doso's average interest was six mon-ko (six mon of interest per month). It is said that Shidosen (money donated to a temple) was usually two mon-ko (two mon of interest per month). The bakufu's regulations did not permit doso to begin or discontinue business at will. As a rule, the bakufu would not allow tax exemption even when disasters such as a fire occurred. After the battle between the Southern and Northern Courts and the ensuing collapse of the manorial system, nobles, temples or shrines which served as manor lords faced financial difficulties, and many used the services of doso-sakaya. Some doso-sakaya took the power to levy taxes on manors as collateral from these nobles, temples and shrines. Some actually entered the manor as governor and collected land tax. While the temples and shrines that once acted as sponsors declined, doso-sakaya prospered and became independent.
As important local businessmen with financial strength, these doso-sakaya took the leadership of autonomous cities. On the other hand, after the mid-Muromachi period, money brokers called hizeniya, who loaned money at a high daily interest on a small scale, began to encroach on doso's business. Doso-sakaya were likely to incur people's hatred and were often the target of attack during the Tokusei Ikki (uprising demanding debt cancellation). Doso-sakaya protected themselves from the attacks by employing yojinbo (bodyguards). In addition, the Muromachi bakufu had to make doso-sakaya exempt from the kurayaku tax when Tokuseirei (a debt cancellation order) were issued, which affected financial revenues. The bakufu struggled with the situation, later introduced the buichi-sen tax system, and made it a condition of Tokuseirei that one-tenth (later, one-fifth) of the debt amount should be paid to the bakufu. The bakufu later also recognized that doso would pay this amount so that Tokuseirei would not be applied to them. In addition, the bakufu attempted to stabilize kurayaku tax revenue by introducing a contract system in Nosenkata.