Rronin (masterless samurai) (浪人 (武士))

浪人 (ronin) indicated a person who wandered about provinces other than the one that was recorded in his family register, and was also called a furo (vagabond)
Anyone could be a roin regardles of his social status. The term of 流浪人 (ruronin: meaing a wanderer) originates here. In and after the middle of the Edo period, 牢人 (who was separated from his master and lost his salary) also came to be called 浪人 (ronin). Therefore, correctly, 牢人 and 浪人 each had a different meaning.

For it, 牢人 indicates a person who left (or lost) his master and lost his salary. In the strict sense, it was a term only related to the social status of a samurai who had a master-servant relationship from the Muromachi to the Edo period. When the Edo period started after the war period ended, the number of 牢人 who wandered around various provinces increased due to Kaieki (punishment whereby a samurai was deprived of his samurai status and his fief and residence were confiscated). Therefore, the 牢人 who wandered around came to be called 浪人.

In this item, descriptions are made for 牢人 (samurai).

In the Kamakura and Muromachi periods
In the Kamakura and Muromachi periods when a samurai owned his fief, the term indicated a person who lost his fief and position and became a wanderer. In these periods, small-scale wars frequently occurred in various places, and so, even if a samrai became 浪人, there were lots of opportunities to find a new master because daimyo (Japanese territorial lords) needed warriors. Because the public security was poor, 浪人 banded together in various places and some of them stole things or caused riots. In this period, the meaning of 浪人 was close to a person who wandered around, although 牢人 existed, and it was in the late Muromachi period that the social status-indicating the term of 牢人 came to be firmly used.

In the Sengoku period (period of warring states)
In the Sengoku period (in Japan), the master-servant relationship and social status relationships became clearer compared with the previous periods, and even if a samurai became 牢人 because the family of his master lost its position, there were many other opportunities for him to find a new master. However, since the master-servant relationship was a loosing one, compared with the later Edo period, it was possible that a samurai dissatisfied with his status would abandon his master and became 牢人 at his own discretion, and depending upon his ability, seeking better treatment, it was also possible to find a position in another daimyo family. In this period, there were many samurai who became 牢人 and changed daimyo families under which they were employed, and there were even 牢人 who eventually became a daimyo himself. Takatora TODO worked under ten master families in his life. In addition, in this period, the social status was not yet strictly specialized, and it was easy for a samrai to become a merchant or a farmer, and vice versa.

In the Toyotomi/Osaka period
When Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI unified the control of the nation and the war period ended, the situations around 牢人 changed. It became unnecessary for each daimyo family to retain many vassals. When Ieyasu TOKUGAWA of the eastern military group won the Battle of Sekigahara, many daimyo families of the western military group lost their positions as well as their territories or were forced to reduce their territories, producing lots of 牢人. In addition, the Edo bakufu government took the policy of abolishing daimyo families cantered on the tozama daimyo that had aided the Toyotomi family, and many daimyo families were abolished for the reasons that no heir existed or they violated a bakufu government law, also producing lots of 牢人.

The Siege of Osaka
Entering the Edo period, daimyo families recruited few samurai because they had already retained too many vassals. In addition, the master-servant relationship was fixed due to an influence of Confucianism, and when a vassal gave up his master and left the place, the master sent to other daimyo a letter called 'Hokokamae' to close the door in order to serve another daimyo. Mototsugu GOTO, who left the Kuroda family had the door closed for serving another daimyo due to the 'Hokokamae' issued and ended up participating on the side of Toyotomi in the Siege of Osaka.

The number of 牢人 who could not get a post in a daimyo family increased drastically, and 100,000 牢人 flocked to the side of Toyotomi when the Siege of Osaka arose.

In the Tokugawa/Edo period

Although many 牢人 were killed in the Siege of Osaka, the number of 牢人 increased because the bukufu continued abolishing daimyo and it is said that the number reached 500,000 towards the end of Iemitsu TOKUGAWA's life. Since a peaceful period started and few vassal positions were available, some 牢人 became merchants, craftsmen or farmers, and some other 牢人 became mercenaries overseas (for example, Nagamasa YAMADA), but most of them remained 牢人, living a life of poverty. Initially, the bakufu governent considered 牢人 to be dangerous and undertook the strict policy of expelling them from urban areas, of restricting the areas where they lived and of prohibiting them from serving a new lord. 牢人 were more and more hard-pressed and the situation led Shosetsu YUI and others to plan the overthrow of the bakufu (the Keian Incident). The 牢人 who wandered around or could not get vassal positions came to be called 浪人 (ronin).

For these reasons, the bakufu government reviewed and changed their policies so that the prohibition of Matsugoyoshi (adopting someone after the master of a samurai family died with no heir) having caused the state of no heir existence was loosened to reduce the chances of Kaieki (punishment in which a samurai was deprived of his samurai status and his fief and residence were confiscated), the restriction of the areas where they lived was loosened and help was given to find a new lord. However, even thereafter, there were many samurai who were fired from the master's families due to various reasons and became 牢人.

Situations of 浪人
牢人 in the Edo period lost Shiseki (samurai status), but was acknowledged as samurai, with use of his family name and wearing swords being permitted. Their everyday lives were placed under the control of town magistrate, as were those of the merchants and craftsmen. Although many 牢人 lived in a house loaned to them, were poor and were forced to live from hand to mouth, there were some successful 牢人 as well: For example, Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU was successful in literature, some opened a swordmanship-practicing hall and earned his living through training swordsmen, and some others worked as teachers at Terakoya (temple elementary school during the Edo period), contrubuting to education of the general public.
Some did fine craft work to earn a living, some others became successful merchants, but there were some who became desparate and committed crimes, like robbery
Musashi MIYAMOTO is a 牢人 famous for his swordmanship.

Towards the end of the Edo period
Towards the end of the Edo period, 浪人 actively participated in political activities. As Ryoma SAKAMOTO, a goshi (generally meaning a low-status samurai living in a village), was, there were many 浪人 who severed their ties with domains full of restrictions and acted freely. On the other hand, there appeared the persons who, though not being from samurai status families, such as merchants, craftsmen and farmers, got family names and wore swords by themselves, claiming to be 浪人. Many members of Shinsengumi (a group who guarded Kyoto during the end of Tokugawa Shogunate), which are said to have been a group of 浪人, came from, merchants, craftsmen or farmers.

After Meiji Restoration, the equality of all people was proclaimed and the status of 浪人 vanished as well.

From the middle of the Meiji period to the early Taisho period
From the middle of the Meiji period to the early Taisho period, some Shizoku (a social status given to former samurai after Meiji Restoration) class persons moved to Manchuria and the Korean peninsular (during the ages of the Joseon Dynasty, Korean Empire and Governor-General of Korea - Korea governed by Japan). These Shizoku class persons were also called 浪人. When Empress Myeongseong was assasinated in the Itsubi Incident on October 8, 1895, after Sino-Japanese War, many 浪人 were included in the assasination team led by Japanese troops. Such a team was called a training team.