Kurokuwa (a construction worker) (黒鍬)
Kurokuwa (黒鍬) (a construction worker) refers to people engaged in civil engineering in the Sengoku period (period of warring states) and Edo period. It was also written 畔鍬 in kanji.
Kurokuwa originally means black hoe with a thicker and wider blade than usual hoe, and the degree of angle between blade and shaft is 60 to 80. Furthermore, kurokuwa is a hoe whose shaft is thick and short so as to make is easy to apply force and dig into the ground deeply when banging down.
Kurokuwa serving daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) in the Sengoku period belonged to konidatai (caravan of men and animals carrying supplies) and engaged in constructing encampments, bridges and so on, and recovering and burying persons killed in war. It is considered that kurokuwa played a role corresponding to that of kohei (military engineer) in later periods.
Kurokuwa also indicated the unit of kurokuwa (construction workers) which was one of the organizations of Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun,) consisting of kurokuwa who had been fudai (hereditary vassals) since the era of Matsudaira clan of Mikawa Province and were in charge of repairing work in the Edo-jo Castle, transmission of orders issued by the bakufu, miscellaneous affairs such as zoritori (sandal bearer, equivalent to a batman,) and whose status was komono (a lower servant) or chugen (a rank below common soldier) under the control of wakadoshiyori (a managerial position in Edo bakufu). Shokuroku (a salary for samurais who worked at Japanese feudal governments) was 17 bales (a traditional unit for rice, which is 60 kilograms) per person in principle, and when kurokuwa assumed a post, yakudaka (salary paid in accordance with the rank of one's post) was added.
At first, kurokuwa were not permitted to adopt a surname or wear a pair of swords except for a short sword for self-defense, but those kurokuwa of fudai in Mikawa Province were allowed hereditary succession and were treated as the lowest rank of Gokenin (shogunal retainers of the Kamakura bakufu) later.
Kurokuwakashira, the head of kurokuwa (unit,) received yakudaka of 100 bales. The number of kurokuwa was fixed to 200 in the Tenna era, but increased to 430 in the Kyoho era, then to 470 at the end of Edo period. In order to respond to such increase in the number, the kurokuwa (unit) was divided into three groups at the end of the Edo period and each of which was headed by kumikashira (a head of group) (whose yakudaka was 35 bales) appointed by Kurokuwakashira.
At the end of the Edo period, kurokuwa were transferred to mimawarigumi (unit of patrolmen) or foot soldier with Western-style training in order to make up the vacancy in the newly established posts, and many of kurokuwa joined Shogitai (group of former Tokugawa retainers opposed to the Meiji government who fought in the Battle of Ueno.)
In addition, kurokuwa (a construction worker) also existed among territorial lords and ordinary citizens. The particularly renowned kurokuwa among ordinary citizens was a unit of 'kurokuwa,' a group of civil engineers in Chita County, Owari Province which was one of the production areas of kurokuwa (tool) and which held waju (settlement surrounded by dike) area in the downstream of Kiso-gawa River and Nagara-gawa River in the neighborhood, and such kurokuwa worked away from home to participate in the land development for civil engineering, flood prevention works and cultivation of new rice fields in various places.
"Kamui Gaiden" (Kamui the Ninja: Stories Other Than the Legend), a gekiga (graphic novel), has a scene in which the main character, Kamui, holes up in the aforementioned civilian kurokuwa in order to escape from chasers.
Kurokuwashu (construction workers) in "Lone Wolf and Cub," a gekiga and also jidaigeki (historical play,) originated from this kurokuwa.