Danzaemon was the chieftain of the eta (an outcaste class in feudal Japan, people whose occupation considered unclean in Buddhism, such as skinning of animals and the tanning of hides) and the hinin (literally, nonperson; actors, beggars and other categories of the population of feudal Japan regarded along with the eta caste as socially inferior), both of which were collectively called 'hisabetsumin' (literally, discriminated people) in the Edo period. Etagashira (head of the eta). The person who succeeded to the hereditary name 'Danzaemon' was given the authority to supervise the hisabetsumin living in the discriminated communities located in the eight provinces of the Kanto region (excluding Mito Domain, Kitsuregawa Domain, Nikko Toshogu shrine, etc.), the entire area of Izu Province, a well as in a part of the Gunnai area of Kai Province, Sunto District of Suruga Province, Shirakawa District of Mutsu Province and Shirata District of Mikawa Province. He was also granted the authority to give command to the hisabetsumin all over the country as furegashira (the head administrative spokesman) for them. While 'etagashira' was the title designated by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), he called himself Chorigashira (head of the choir, another term of the eta) Danzaemon YANO, and this name was successively handed down within the family.
Since Asakusa (in present downtown Tokyo) was the home base of his activities, he was also called 'Asakusa Danzaemon.'
It is said that during the Sengoku period (the period of warring states), a person called Tarozaemon living in Sannobara in the vicinity of Odawara City exercised the power over the hisabetsumin in the Kanto region, while Danzaemon was no more than a influential figure in a limited area around Yuigahama near Kamakura City. However, the authority of the Torazaemon's family was supposedly not so strong compared with the one that Danzaemon acquired afterwards. When the Gohojo clan lost the dominion over the Kanto region in 1590, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA took over its position of ruler. It is said that Tarozaemon living in Odawara appealed the right to continuously controlling the hisabetsumin on the ground of a certificate issued by the Gohojo clan, but Ieyasu TOKUGAWA lift the certificate that Tarozaemon had, and instead, he issued a certificate of authorization to Danzaemon.
Danzaemon was given the authority to rule over the hinin, geinomin (entertainers without permanent residence), some craftsmen and keiseiya (brothels) (according to a bogus document, "History of Danzaemon"). Out of these people, the craftsmen got out of Danzaemon's control at an early stage. In 1708, Shinsuke KOBAYASHI, a puppeteer in Kyoto City, made a claim to machi-bugyo (town magistrate) about an incident in which Danzaemon hindered his show entertainment. Since Danzaemon lost the trial, the puppeteers and kabuki (traditional drama performed by male actors) actors were also considered to have broken Danzaemon's bonds. "Sukeroku," one of the eighteen best Kabuki plays of the Ichikawa family, played first in 1713 is said to have been produced by Danjuro ICHIKAWA (the second) to express his happiness of having been freed from Danzaemon's control. Hige no Ikyu (literally, 'Mustache Ikyu'), a male villain in the play is said to have been modeled after Danzaemon Shusei (集誓) who died in 1709 (it is said that the first performance clearly portrayed Ikyu as a personality from the discriminated community called Buraku). The head of the hinin, Zenshichi KURUMA (車善七), who was inspired by the play, raised a voice in protest against Danzaemon's control but the Danzaemon family won the case (1722). The hinin continued to be placed under the Danzaemon's control until the end of Edo period along with the sarukai (monkey trainers) and the gomune (street entertainers).
Although the family belonged to one of the discriminated classes as ever, it was allowed to monopolize the production and distribution of leather goods, toshin (wicks used for paper shade lanterns) and bamboo works, gripping a great reign of power with great funds. As the leather industry was a munitions industry indispensable for the armor production, Danzaemon was protected by the authority although it was discriminated at the same time. The title of Danzaemon was considered hereditary, and a person taking this name was given various privileges and enjoyed a prosperous life. The family was comparable with kokan (town) hatamoto (direct retainers of the bakufu) and daimyo (Japanese feudal lords) in their social status and financial assets; it is said that the family's social status was equivalent to that of a hatamoto or daimyo with a stipend of 10,000 koku (a measure of crop yield) while its financial assets were equivalent to 50,000 koku. On the other hand, 'Yano,' the name that the family commonly used, was an informal family name just like ordinary people's ones, and it was never used in the official documents.
According to bogus documents including "History of Danzaemon," the origin of the family was the Hata clan (written as 波多 or 秦) that came from Qin Dynasty (China). Its descendent, Danzaemon Yorikane FUJIWARA, who was TAIRA no Masamori's retainer, abandoned the position without leave and became the chieftain of the chori (roundabout expression referring to the hisabetsumin). In 1180 Kamakura Chorigashira (chief of the chori in Kamakura) Danzaemon FUJIWARA established the status as the chieftain of the medieval hisabetsumin by acquiring the Shuinjo (shogunal license literally meaning the 'vermilion seal') issued by MINAMOTO no Yoritomo. However, there was no historical evidence that supports the family's history before the Edo period, and this story was probably created by themselves to appeal the legitimacy as a venerable family. Nevertheless, the reason why the Edo bakufu accepted the family's allegation was probably because it was more beneficial for the bakufu to give the authority of control to Danzaemon than Tarozaemon, and in this sense, the interests of both parties might have been matched.
The residence of Danzaemon was located by the Sanya-bori Moat, between two bridges, Mitani-bashi Bridge and Imado-bashi Bridge, roughly where the playground of Tokyo Metropolitan Taito Commercial High School is located today. The residential complex was extended in a vast area called Asakusa Shinmachi or Danzaemon Kakoiuchi (premise) and since the residence was surrounded by temples, shrines and walls, the inside was not visible externally. There were many buildings on the estate grounds, including Danzaemon's office building and private residence as well as storage warehouses and a Shinto shrine; in addition, there were residences for various officials and their families, 300 to 400 people in all. Danzaemon had jurisdiction not only over the subordinates within the ruling area but the hisabetsumin living in the tenryo (shogunal demesnes) in the provinces around the Kanto region, and those who committed crimes were tried by a private court called 'shirasu' (literally the white sandbar) set up in the premise, and locked up in a prison also constructed within the premise. There are hardly any structural remains that evoke the days of Danzaemon because of the damages caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake and the Great Tokyo Air Raids. The shrine located in the premise (the shrine of Buraku) was integrated into a nearby Shinto shrine and there is no remains related to it.
Danzaemon, the 13th, who played an active role at the end of bakufu was raised from the outcaste hisabetsumin to the common citizen along with his 65 subordinates in January 1868 for his distinguished cooperation for the bakufu in the Choshu Conquest and the Battle of Toba and Fushimi. He changed his name to Naoki DAN (or Naiki DAN) after the Meiji Restoration and he made efforts to promote the modern leather and western shoes industry until he died in 1889. The Dan (Yano) family's temple is Honryu-ji Temple (established in 1617) of Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism of Otani School), which is located across the street from the site of his residence.
Successive generations of Danzaemon
The section below outlines the period each successive Danzaemon was in control. Note that they are not the dates of birth and death.
Danzaemon Chikafusa (also called Shubo)
Danzaemon Shukai (集開) (until 1617)
Danzaemon Shudo (集道) (until 1640)
Danzaemon Shuren (集蓮) (Joren) (until 1669)
Danzaemon Shusei (集誓) (Josei)(1669-1709)
Danzaemon Shuson (集村) (1709-1748)
Danzaemon Shuyu(集囿) (1748-1775)
Danzaemon Shueki (集益) (1775-1790)
Danzaemon Shurin (集林) (1793-1804)
Danzaemon Shuwa (集和) (1804-1821)
Danzaemon Shumin (集民) (1822-1828)
Danzaemon Shuji (集司) (later Jo Dan) (1829-1840)
Danzaemon Shuho (集保) (later Naoki DAN) (1840-1868)
Shubo and Shukai (集開) are believed to be the same individual.
Kichijiro was a family head situated between Josei (乗誓) and Shuson (集村) but he died young.
The above listed names from Shukai (集開) to Josei (乗誓) are homyo (posthumous Buddhist name).