Kugonin was a group, during the medieval period in Japan, that belonged to the Imperial court who presented food such as special products from the mountains and the sea, and various handicraft products to the Emperor and the Imperial Family. Kugonin later obtained exclusive sales rights of the products presented and conducted activities similar to those of merchants belonging to Za. Kugonin were also called Kinrikugonin.
In ancient times, there was a custom where Oshokuryo (side dishes excluding grain) including mainly fishery products were presented to the Emperor and the Imperial Family as sacrifices, and it is considered that, under the Ritsuryo system, this was stipulated in addition to Soyocho (a tax system).
Non-agricultural people, including those who presented these items, made their living from the mountains, fields, rivers, and the sea that were originally lands 'not owned by anyone' and were 'beneficial publicly and privately,' however, regulations were initiated by Shoen owners after the disbandment of the Ritsuryo system and the establishment of the Shoen-Koryo system from the 8th Century. Since the 11th Century, the non-agricultural people became jinin (associates of Shinto shrines) because they presented their products to the major temples and shrines, however, the residents of Kurodo dokoro and mikuriya (manors of Imperial Family and powerful shrines) which was controlled by mikuriya (the place to cook for Emperor) which was under Kurodo dokoro were called Kugonin when a policy of directly controlling mikuriya which had been set in mountains, fields, rivers, and sea to enrich the economy of the court was taken under the administration of Emperor Gosanjo. In addition, it seems that the jinin and Kugonin system was established with the 'Hogen new system' in 1156.
Because Kugonin were wanderers seeking places to collect raw materials for their products, to work on their products, and trade them, they were exempted from traffic taxes such as sekisen (tolls) and tsuryo and, therefore, they had the right to freely travel around the various provinces. Kugonin also obtained exemption from national duties and the provision of Kyumenden as a holy existence.
The mikuriya of the Imperial Family were limited to Kinai (the five provinces in the immediate vicinity of Kyoto) and provinces nearby, and there is the opinion that Kugonin and their leaders were the origin of warriors in western Japan including the Watanabe-to seen as a typical model for them. On the other hand, Kugonin handled various handicraft products such as sumi (charcoal) Kugonin and himuro (warehouse for ice) Kugonin and, therefore, it seems that they also acted as merchants because of the fact that their products, in excess of those presented to the Imperial court, were sold in their distribution networks by themselves utilizing their right to travel to various provinces.
Since the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan), Kugonin had obtained the exclusive sales rights of the presents and conducted activities similar to those of Za, however, they lost their holiness with the loss of the dignity of the Imperial Family, which was the source of their privileges, some of them succeeded as large-scale merchants, and it is disputed that they were the origin of buraku one of the origins of the discriminated people.
When the Sengoku Period (period of warring states) started later on (in Japan), economic measures like Rakuichi-Rakuza (free markets and open guilds) were taken under the daimyo-ryogoku system (the system where daimyos controlled feudal domains) by those including daimyos (Japanese territorial lords) and, as a result, the number of Kugonin rapidly decreased.