The term "Monchu" means to question both parties in connection to a case, to have them confront each other, and to record the details of the case. Therefore the "Monchujo" refers to a place where the monchu took place. There was no designated place where the monchu was held during the Heian period. It was the Kamakura bakufu which established the Monchujo as the place specifically reserved for holding the monchu.
The Monchujo was established in Kamakura on November 25, 1184.
The Monchujo was established amid a large scale civil war (the Jisho-Juei War), and despite the war (or because of it), there were many lawsuits resulting at the time. The smooth and swift handling of lawsuits was one of the requirements for the unofficially established military government (later Kamakura bakufu) to be recognized as a stable government.
Yasunobu MIYOSHI was appointed as the first head of the Monchujo. The Sando (study of mathematics) had been the family business of the Miyoshi clan, who were the decedents of Kiyoyuki MIYOSHI. Through the influence of his relative who worked as a wet nurse of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, Yasunobu, known as a competent government official, was invited from Kyoto to Kamakura to assume the role as the first head of the monchujo. From then on, the members of the Miyoshi clan served as the head of the Monchujo for generations during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods.
In the "Buke myomoku-sho" (Compilation of Historical Data of the Warrior Class), it is written (under the entries for the titles of offices of the first volume): "Monchujo is a government body different from Mandokoro (Administrative Board) but makes political decisions together and functions as a court of justice." Furthermore, in the entry about the titles of office written on January 15, 1191 in "Azuma Kagami" (The Mirror of the East), while the betto (the assistant chief officer) and other officers of Mandokoro and Samurai-dokoro (the Board of Retainers) were each inserted at the start of a new paragraph, the "head of Monchu-dokoro" is described in the last line of the paragraph concerning Mandokoro, which may explain, according to Fumiaki SASAKI, that the Monchu-dokoro in the beginning might have been a body belonging to the Mandokoro but later become a separate and independent body.
Monchu-dokoro in the Kamakura period
In the beginning, the Monchu-dokoro did not handle the judicial administration pertaining to lawsuits, but simply conveyed to MINAMOTO no Yoritomo, the head of samurais, the details of lawsuits. Azuma Kagami describes that Monchujo were two small buildings located on the east and west sides of the Yoritomo's residence. Disgusted by the shouts and arguments exchanged within his compound, Yoritomo ordered the relocation of the Monchu-dokoro. Although the Monchu-dokoro was relocated on April 27, 1199, Yoritomo had died shortly before the relocation. Today the "historical monument of Monchujo" stands in front of the Kamakura City Onari Elementary School, which was the site of the relocated Monchujo.
As the Monchujo, which at first was responsible for lawsuits and judicial affairs in general, could no longer cope with the increasing number of lawsuits, much faster handling of the cases was called for. As a result, the position of Hikitsukeshu (member of the Hikitsuke, a judicial body of the Muromachi period) was established on January 13, 1249. Responsibilities were divided between the Monchujo and Hikitsukeshu; Hikitsukeshu dealt with Shomu-sata (lawsuits brought about by gokenin (an immediate vassal of the shogunate in the Kamakura and Muromachi through Edo periods)), whereas Monchu-dokoro handled Zatsumu-zata (other civil cases) and served within the court (mainly receiving petitions.). Samurai-dokoro (the Board of Retainers) handled Kendan-sata (criminal cases).
The above mentioned Hikitsukeshu, Monchujo, and Samurai-dokoro handled cases that took place in Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly the Kanto region); Rokuhara Tandai (an administrative and judicial agency in Rokuhara, Kyoto) controlled cases that took place in Saigoku (the western part of Japan). Therefore Monchujo handled general civil suits in Togoku. However, it was Mandokoro, and not Monchujo, which held jurisdiction over general civil suits within the city of Kamakura.
Kubodokoro in the Kenmu Restoration Period
"Kubodokoro", a government body whose precise function is unknown, was established during the Kenmu Restoration Period. According to Hiroshi KASAMATSU, the Kubodokoro was a place where people filed lawsuits, because the kanji character for "kubo" can be seen as the overlapped kanji characters for "monchu" written in the cursive script style (there is also a theory that the Kubodokoro was a station for security guards). The people such as Kanemitsu IGA, Chikamitsu YUKI, KO no Moronao were appointed to the post.
Monchujo in the Muromachi period
At the beginning, the Muromachi bakufu established the Monchujo also as a body that dealt with lawsuits, but its function remained only to manage the recordings and summaries of lawsuits. Hikitsuke (judicial board) under Hyojoshu (a member of Council of State) was responsible for general lawsuits.