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!