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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

And the eta gashira in the case of beggars

The above penalties were applicable to common folk. In the case of samurai the chief punishments were detention (hissoku), confinement (heimon or chikkyo), deprivation of status (kaieki), placing in the custody of a feudatory (azuke), suicide (seppuku), and decapitation (zanzai). Among these, seppuku was counted the most honourable. As a rule only samurai of the fifth official rank and upwards were permitted thus to expiate a crime, and the procedure was spoken of as "granting death" (shi wo tamau). The plebeian classes, that is to say, the farmers, the artisans, and the tradesmen, were generally punished by fines, by confinement, or by handcuffing (tegusari). Priests were sentenced to exposure (sarashi), to expulsion from a temple (tsui-iri), or to exile (kamai).

For women the worst punishment was to be handed over as servants (yakko) or condemned to shave their heads (teihatsu). Criminals who had no fixed domicile and who repeated their evil acts after expiration of a first sentence, were carried to the island of Tsukuda, in Yedo Bay, or to Sado, where they were employed in various ways. Blind men or beggars who offended against the law were handed over to the chiefs of their guilds, namely, the soroku in the case of the blind, and the eta-gashira in the case of beggars.* Some of the above punishments were subdivided, but these details are unimportant.

*For fuller information about these degraded classes see Brinkley's "Oriental Series," Vol. II.


In Yedo, the buildings employed as prisons were erected at Demmacho under the hereditary superintendence of the Ishide family. The governor of prisons was known as the roya-bugyo. Each prison was divided into five parts where people were confined according to their social status. The part called the agari-zashiki was reserved for samurai who had the privilege of admission to the shogun's presence; and in the part called the agariya common, samurai and Buddhist priests were incarcerated. The oro and the hyakusho-ro were reserved for plebeians, and in the onna-ro women were confined. Each section consisted of ten rooms and was capable of accommodating seven hundred persons. Sick prisoners were carried to the tamari, which were situated at Asakusa and Shinagawa, and were under the superintendence of the hinin-gashira. All arrangements as to the food, clothing, and medical treatment of prisoners were carefully thought out, but it is not to be supposed that these Bakufu prisons presented many of the features on which modern criminology insists. On the contrary, a prisoner was exposed to serious suffering from heat and cold, while the coarseness of the fare provided for him often caused disease and sometimes death. Nevertheless, the Japanese prisons in Tokugawa days were little, if anything, inferior to the corresponding institutions in Anglo-Saxon countries at the same period.


In the eyes of the Tokugawa legislators the cardinal virtues were loyalty and filial piety, and in the inculcation of these, even justice was relegated to an inferior place. Thus, it was provided that if a son preferred any public charge against his father, or if a servant opened a lawsuit against his master, the guilt of the son or of the servant must be assumed at the outset as an ethical principle. To such a length was this ethical principle carried that in regulations issued by Itakura Suo no Kami for the use of the Kyoto citizens, we find the following provision: "In a suit-at-law between parent and son judgment should be given for the parent without regard to the pleading of the son. Even though a parent act with extreme injustice, it is a gross breach of filial duty that a son should institute a suit-at-law against a parent. There can be no greater immorality, and penalty of death should be meted out to the son unless the parent petitions for his life." In an action between uncle and nephew a similar principle applied. Further, we find that in nearly every body of law promulgated throughout the whole of the Tokugawa period, loyalty and filial piety are placed at the head of ethical virtues; the practice of etiquette, propriety, and military and literary accomplishments standing next, while justice and deference for tradition occupy lower places in the schedule.

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