Doshin: the Samurai Police

Many people express surprise upon hearing that many cities in Medieval Japan had organized police forces on patrol.

During the samurai era, the Shogun and the Daimyo (essentially “warlord”) in command of lesser territories often employed samurai policemen to protect and patrol the streets. The medieval equivalent of the “beat cop” was called a doshin, and their supervisors (really “assistant magistrates”) were known as yoriki.

The doshin served many functions, from general peacekeeping to dispute resolution and, when necessary, arresting criminals and bringing them before the magistrates for trial. Like modern policemen, doshin were generally overworked and under-appreciated. Other samurai looked down on the low-ranking doshin, and merchants frequently considered policemen little more than gangsters on the take. Given that the doshin’s minimal salary required many men to rely on supplemental “gifts” from merchants and others under their jurisdiction, this opinion might not be completely undeserved.

That said, there were plenty of honest doshin too.

The debut novel in the Shinobi mystery series, Claws of the Cat, features several doshin, a yoriki, and the interactions between medieval police and the citizens of Kyoto – specifically, the geishas and entertainers of the “floating world” (the Japanese name for the pleasure district).  I enjoyed having the opportunity to research the way the samurai police force functioned, and including some of those details in the novel.

Did you know about the medieval Japanese police? Are you surprised to learn that the idea of peacekeeping policemen and “beat cops” has existed for many centuries? Jump into the comments and let me know!

2 thoughts on “Doshin: the Samurai Police

  • September 3, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Hi Susan,

    Samurai as law abiding or not in medieval times, and their jurisdiction in floating worlds seem to push forward into the present day. The past I think is much more colourful, with the sword as the gun, sort of speak. The honour and dress is formidable with the recognition of the deep sense of respect for what is right. Your words bring a strong sense of an interwoven thread of lifelines that bring to the page an array of depth to your characters. It is what is not seen that the reader wonders. Thanks again for the backstory.

    • September 4, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Thanks Sandy! I agree with you that the samurai culture definitely permeates present-day Japan, and also that the idea of “sword as gun” (great phrase!) gave medieval Japan a distinct spin on knightly culture. In the West, the sword was important, but far less intimately a part of the wielder than it was in Japan. I’m hoping to give a sense of that in the Shinobi novels – along with the fast-paced mystery elements. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

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