Yasedoji, Yasenodoji, or Hasedoji was a group of people who lived in Rakuhoku Yasego, the Yase Village in the northern Kyoto (present day Yase, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture) serving as Yotei (koshi carrier) for the Emperor from the Muromachi period. The Yasedoji were considered descendants of Oni (a creature from Japanese folklore) whom Dengyo Daishi Saicho (Buddhist Monk named Saicho with the posthumous title of Dengyo Daishi) employed in Doji mura (village) as a domestic laborer for the Enryaku-ji Temple. Those who engaged in the temple chores had their hair hanging loose, were disheveled; and were like children wearing sandals, so they were called Doji (a child).
To maintain the tradition of the Yasedoji, people involved established the Yasedoshi-kai (the association of the Yasedoji), which collects and keeps related materials. In the Aoi Festival, members of the Yasedoshi-kai dress up as Yotei, recalling the way the Yasedoji served as koshi carriers for the Emperor.
During the Jinshin War in 672, Prince Oama, who was shot in the back with an arrow, built a steam bath to heal his wound; the place was called 'Yase' (矢背) in which 'ya' means 'an arrow' and 'se' means 'the back,' or '癒背' (healing the back), it then became known as 'Yase' (八瀬). Based on this legend, many steam baths were later built, and were known as hot spring resorts, mainly for the Court nobles after the Middle ages in Japan. From the historical viewpoint, the legend concerning Prince Oama is mostly denied, and the name of Yase probably comes from geographical features of the Takano River Basin.
The Yasedoji were engaged not only in chores at several temples on Mt. Hiei, but were also carrying koshi (palanquin) for the head priests of other temples. They sometimes carried temple visitors on a palanquin to the top of the mountain and charged fees.
When Emperor Godaigo, who had escaped from Kyoto, fled to Mt. Hiei in 1336, the heads of thirteen families in Yasego carried koshi and took up arrows to guard the Emperor. For these achievements, they received rinji (the Emperor's order) that they would be permanently exemption from taxation and labor duties, and only those chosen served the Court as Yotei, mainly going in for koshi carrier on the occasion of departure or a funeral of the Emperor and the Cloistered Emperor.
Border dispute with the Enryaku-ji Temple
As the Yasedoji had common rights on the estate of Enryaku-ji Temple, they enjoyed the privilege of selling firewood, charcoal or woodwork inside the capital. In 1569, Nobunaga ODA issued a letter to secure the privileges of the Yasego, and the establishment of the Edo bakufu in 1603, Emperor Goyozei also issued an order ensuring the privileges of the Yasego would continue.
The Yasego and the Enryaku-ji Temple often had disputes over the border between the temple estate and the village zone; however, after Monk Imperial Prince Koben became Tendai-zasu (head priest of the Tendai sect), he urged the bakufu to acknowledge the abolition of the Yasego's common rights with his political power. In response, the Yasego requested a retraction many times, but it was denied, and then in 1707, Senior councillor, Takatomo AKIMOTO, finally made a decision. It was concluded in such a way that the Enryaku-ji Temple's estate was transferred to some other place, and the former temple's estate and the village zone shifted to the sacred precincts of the Imperial Court; thus, the Yasego's common rights were secured by the Imperial Court's discretion. People in the Yasego felt grateful for his decision, and erected the Akimoto-jinja Shrine dedicated to Akitomo, and held a festival to praise his virtue. This festival centering on a dedicatory dance called 'Shamenchi odori' (the Shamenchi Dance) is now held (on Sunday preceding the second Monday in October every year).
Carrier for Sokaren (palanquin on which the Emperor's coffin is placed)
Since the Yasedoji were introduced in the book titled, "Tenno no Kageboshi" (A Silhouette of the Emperor) written by Naoki INOSE, they have been well known for carrying coffins of successive Emperors; however, they did not carry all the Emperor's coffins from Emperor Godaigo onward in fact, and especially in the early-modern times, they discontinued their service for a long time.
At the funeral of Emperor Meiji in 1912, there was some trouble over which military escort from the army or navy should carry the coffin from the palace in mourning to the funeral hall; a compromise was that the custom of the Yasedoji serving as carrier for Sokaren (palanquin on which the Emperor's coffin is placed) was revived. After the Meiji Restoration, they were deprived of the privilege of a land tax exemption; however, they followed precedent, such that they were granted money equivalent to the amount of land tax from the Emperor. The same principle was applied to the funeral of Emperor Taisho.
At the funeral of Emperor Showa in 1989, the coffin was carried in a car, and the Sokaren was used only to transfer the coffin inside the funeral hall. The Yasedoshi-kai requested that the role of Yotei be performed by the Yasedoji as in the past; however, it was rejected because of security reasons, and the Imperial guards became Yotei in historical costumes. Several members from the Yasedoshi-kai served as advisers only when the coffin was transferred from the car to the Sokaren.
Fiction in which the Yasedoji appear
"Hana to Hi no Mikado" (Emperor of A Flower and Fire) written by Keiichiro RYU, Kodansha Bunko Vol. 1 ISBN 406185495X, Vol. 2 ISBN 4061854968