Hinin (非人)

The term Hinin is used to describe mainly (1) persons who worked in special occupations or as entertainers in feudal Japan; however they gradually became victims of discrimination, and (2) in the Edo Period, Hinin as well as Eta (Chori) were described as people of the lower classes. Hinin did not belong to the four-tiered class system of samurai or warrior administrators, farmers, artisans and merchants; however, in terms of social status on the class system like kuge (court noble), doctor, jinin (shrine associates), they clearly differed from Sanka (nomads) who were outcastes. In the opinion of most viewers of the history, Hinin absolutely differed from Fujiyu-min or slave who was called 'Genin' (low ranked person).

The term Hinin comes from Buddhism and it is found in the 'Devadatta' chapter of the "Hokke-kyo Sutra." The first reference of the term 'Hinin' could be found in the literature describing that TACHIBANA no Hayanari faced treason charges in 842 and was deprived his surname as well as official rank; He was also reduced to the nonstatus signified by 'Hinin' by the Emperor. Depending on time or region, the contents (positions, employment forms and exclusive duties on social affiliation) indicated by the term Hinin are greatly different. Also, the meaning of the term Hinin is divided into broad and narrow senses. The Hinin in a broad sense is a general term for Inujinin (shrine associates), grave keeper, Kawaramono (discriminated position), Homen (ex-convicts), Gomune (vagrants or beggars), itinerant entertainers, Yasedoji (person who carried Emperor on a palanquin) and etc. There are a lot of various theories regarding Hinin in a narrow sense; therefore, further study and research are needed.


During the formation of Hinin, under Kebiishi (officials with judicial and police power), those who had an exclusive privilege worked in 'looking after prisoners, execution, demolition of convict's house, interment of the dead, animal slaughter, cleaning streets, digging well, landscaping, town guard' and etc. Also, since they were housed in the Hiden-in Temple or Hininshuku, there were regions and groups which undertook a task of taking care of the sick and the disabled. In addition, some were entertainers who became part of the entertainment history.

In the early feudal period, Hinin engaged the tasks which people feared and evaded; however, in the later feudal period, as the people's perception of those tasks gradually changed from 'evasion of fear' to 'evasion of impurity,' they could also change in their perspective on Hinin from fear to contempt.

In the Kamakura period, with restoration of Hiden-in Temple by Eison and Ninsho, Hinin residents were organized under the Shingon Ritsu sect of Saidai-ji Temple (Nara City), some of Hinin travelled with monks of Ippen's Jishu sect of Buddhism. In the feudal period, the appearances (unkempt hair, beard and childish clothes) of many Hinin people differed from majority Japanese people. Later, Kawaramono and homeless wanderer were referred as Hinin. In the Edo period, the social status, the residential areas and the occupational functions were fixed.

Hinin refers to

There are differences in being Hinin such as (1) those who 'inherited their status,' those who were imposed a punishment called Hinin teka and (3) Nobinin (homeless wanderer). Among these, (1) and (2) were called Kakae Hinin, so distinguished from (3).

(1) Hinin in general belonged to Hinin-goya (Hinin-hut) where was ruled by Hinin-gashira or head of a Hinin organizational section (Hiden-in Temple Toshiyori, Gion-sha Shrine, Kofuku-ji Temple, Nangu-taisha Shrine) and organized under Koya-nushi (Hinin kogashira or subforeman・Hinin-goya kashira or Hinin-goya foreman)
The names of these Kashira (or a head) and Koya-nushi (or a residence owner) varied with regions. Hinin belonged to Koya and was identified to be formalized as Hinin.

Punishment which was to be relegated to Hinin due to committing a crime or violating the laws was called Hinin-teka. Carrying out a sentence was completed by transferring custody to Hinin-gashira. The person was identified and became Hinin. Refer to the social status list of punishment.

(3) Nobinin or Mushuku-Hinin were homeless people who did not belong to Hinin's organization. Commoner, Kakae-Hinin, Eta became homeless because of economic hardships. Nobinin who was under control and captured was returned to original place or transferred to Kakae-Hinin's place. If Hinin escaped three times, this person was sentenced to death.

The occurrence of Hinin in early modern age was in the process of establishment of towns and villages as well as a relationship neither too close nor too far of these in the Edo Period. During Jikatachigyo system (provision of lands from a feudal government or domains to retainers as salary) changed into horoku system (salary) in villages, Samurai's (warrior's) direct engagement to villages weakened and the Murauke system (Village taxation system) did not move ahead. Also, peasants who were not able to pay Nengu (annual taxes) due to sickness or disaster removed from the Ninbetsu-cho (ledgers of names of villagers of each village) and flowed into towns. As part of its security and fire prevention measures for upgrading the castle town's structures, the municipal government continued to employ the Satogaeshi system (whereby Nobinin were sent back to their villages) by capturing Nobinin as a protected group and cracking down on Nobinin as Kakae-Hinin. Those who became Hinin for some reason could return to their original status in regular society if certain conditions were met (Ashi-arai ・Ashi-nuki).

Occupation and responsibility

The occupation that supported Hinin's living was Kanjin (soliciting contributions for pious purposes). There was a territory that was called Kanjin place in each hut with its own monopoly of Kanjin. Hinin was put in charge of important public functions such as a subordinate of implementing punishment and police.

Essentially towns and villages employed guards due to eliminating outsiders or beggars to maintain the community, but Hinin served as the role (Ban-Hinin, Hinin-ban). They were also called Bantaro ・Banta.

Hinin and Eta (Chori, Kawata, etc.) worked in animal slaughter and leather-making separately depending on the period or regions; however, Hinin mostly engaged these tasks exclusively. However, those privileges were returned to Eta.

Town and Rural district

Differences of Hinin people between in towns and in rural districts

Kanto region

In Edo region, in the early-modern times, Hinin was under control of Eta-gashira (head of Eta) Danzaemon YANO in Asakusa. There were Hinin-gashiras (heads of Hinin) who were under control of Danzaemon in each region and they put Hinin under control of them. Hinin was regarded as being of lower status than Eta in Edo region while there was no dominance relationship between Hinin and Eta in Kyoto, Osaka and other regions. Kanhasshu or the eight provinces of Kanto region (the Mito Domain ・Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine), Izu Province, the southern end of Mutsu Province and a part of Kai Province ・Suruga Province besides Edo were in the control of Danzaemon, so Hinin people in these regions were under Danzaemon.

Kansai region

In Kinai (now refers to Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto areas), Hinin had strong ties with influential temples and shrines since the feudal period and many remained under the control. However, it differed from the relation that Hinin remained under organizational control by Danzaemon in Kanto region where was maintained as the system. For that reason there are many cases remaining that could not be solved by Machi-bugyo (town magistrate) of Kyoto or Osaka. It varied depending on the period and the region, and many parts remain unexplained.


As a famous example, because orders dramatically decreased in the period of peace and tranquility, a swordsmith Kiyomitsu KASHU ended up living in a Hinin-goya and was called 'Hinin Kiyomitsu.'

Unlike Eta they were not allowed to hold a short sword and like Eta, an umbrella, either.

[Original Japanese]