Goshi (country samurai) (郷士)

Goshi is historical terminology referring to samurai hierarchy that existed during the Edo period. Although it is difficult to establish a common definition because actual rank and method of rule differed depending between the bakufu (shogunate) and each clan. In a general sense, the term `goshi` came to refers to lower-ranking samurai residing in rural villages. Gosho (rural samurai) were permitted to adopt a surname and to wear a pair of swords. The origins (birthplace etc) of many Gosho (rural samurai) was well known.


Typically during the Edo period samurai warriors tended to live gather together in castle towns (` jokashi` (castle town men) or hanshi (feudal retainer of a domain)), whereas, the goshi (rural samurai) generally indicated a lower level samurai warrior residing in a village or hamlet. The status of Goshi (rural samurai) was generally middle class: somewhat lower than samurai (hanshi) residing in castle towns but, higher than peasants.

Goshi are mainly divided into the following.

There were examples of goshi who held the rank of samurai prior to the `heinobunri` system (separation of samurai from farmer roles) coming into effect, but continued to reside in rural areas while maintaining the rank of samurai.

The goshi (rural samurai) experienced a change in status of their main residences, were forced to relocate or were not permitted to leave their local area and were given permission by the feudal lord to be goshi. There were some families of daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) during the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States) forced to become Kaieki or senior vassals who settled and took up farming again, but most of them belonged to the rank of their branch family or jizamurai (local samurai). These people were influential local leaders, and there were many examples where a new feudal lord made such people goshi in the samurai class, as an appeasement policy, instead of giving them a farming rank.

Because there were no forced relocations of daimyo families from the middle ages onwards, there was insufficient separation of samurai and farmers amongst the ranks of vassals and as such, the fiefs of provincial samurai perpetuated and the goshi continued to live in rural villages..

There were some examples of peasants and townspeople who were promoted to samurai.

Individuals who were peasants and townspeople (eg. prosperous merchants or wealthy farmers) were awarded samurai status (by becoming goshi) as a reward for monetary tributes paid to the daimyo or in recognition of developments in new pursuits. Those prosperous merchants or wealthy farmers were often decedents of provincial samurai or family/vassals of daimyo who was punished during the Sengoku (Warring States) period by being dispossessed of their lands.

There were some examples of lower-ranking samurai who could not survive just living on their Karoku (hereditary stipend) in a castle town because of their low status and because they were not allowed to farm in agricultural villages or the outskirts of the castle town.

Specially exempted samurai (eg. Goshi hailing from the Totsugawa area in Nara and others).

The above goshi were categorized depending on the process by which they became goshi, however the essential elements they had in common were categorized as follows:

The leading researcher of the goshi, Motoi KIMURA defines goshi as having the following 4 characteristics:

Goshi were clearly differentiated depending on whether they resided in a castle town or in a rural village
All or a part of a goshi`s land forming their fief was given to them and was the basis of their livelihood. Within a the hierarchy of a grouping of vassals, an individual was given a formal ranking of `goshi`. The goshi had to bear the burden of military service but, there were cases where this did not occur.

Moreover, KIMURA (the academic mentioned above) points out that there are individuals who are easily mistaken for goshi, however, those individuals who are difficult to be considered as goshi as mentioned as follows:

It is necessary to exclude these individuals by virtue they are in a different category to goshi.

Castle town based samurai who for some reason or other lived in rural hamlets. Vassals of a daimyo (commander) but residing in a rural hamlet. Individuals from the upper rungs of peasants and village headman permitted to dress as samurai, use a surname and wear a pair of swords.

It is particularly easy to confuse goshi with individuals in this third category: upper-rung peasants and wealthy merchants, dressed the same as samurai, permitted to adopt a surname and wore a pair of swords. In this case, the foundation of this 3rd group's livelihood was the possession of agricultural land or a commerce, and they did not belong to the ranks of vassals.

Although they were not of goshi status, peasants and city dwellers with special rights allowing them to use a surname and wear swords existed in every province.

Although of peasant status, such individuals held regional power, were appointed as village officials (eg. headman) at the lowest end of the ruling structure, or their children were used as common foot soldier by the Satsuma clan.

Such individuals received special dispensation to use a surname and wear swords by virtue of their responsibilities and contribution to the fringes of the fief's finances and control.

Amongst such individuals there were people who gave themselves the (unofficial) private title of `Goshi` however this was not formal arrangement, but instead, a private title, and therefore such individuals can be easily confused with `true` goshi when considering goshi from an academic standpoint.

In addition, there are examples where within goshi classes there was further sub-division. For example, there are differentiations made based on whether a goshi was a Kyuzoku goshi (of ancient pedigree) and Toritate goshi (appointed goshi) owner of land or landless, receipt of a stipend (in the form of rice) from the fief), and whether or not they held a village role etc.

Furthermore, in various periods/provinces, legitimate samurai below the rank of Kishi (mounted samurai) that held special military rights were referred to as `goshi` (like titles given to an English Esquire or a Spanish Hidalgo, etc.).

Examples of Goshi

Please also refer to the respective paragraphs relating to samurai from the Totsugawa area in Nara and junior officials in Hachioji.

Harakatashu (the Yonezawa clan)

The Uesugi clan in the Yonezawa domain was a Dai-daimyo (a grand feudal lord) family of a 1.2 million koku income subordinate to the Toyotomi government, however, after the Battle of Sekigahara, their wealth was reduced to 300,000 koku. However, the Uesugi clan struggled financially because the clan did not press any vassals into service. On top of this, in 1664 the third lord of the clan (Tsunakatsu UESUGI) died suddenly leaving no successor. Normally, a change in the rankings would result in grain tributes being reduced by half to 150,000 koku but, special permission was given to Tsunanori UESUGI (son of Yoshinaka KIRA) to become an adopted son. Due to rice stipend being reduced in half and no vassals pressed into service, the lower ranked samurai clansmen (who had been living in the confiscated Fukushima-jo Castle) were allocated homes and farmland on the outskirts of the castle town below Yonezawa-jo Castle,. The clansmen were not allocated a domain as such, nor given an amount sufficient for the upkeep up their household, but were told instead to concentrate on working their farmlands in normal times, and were only required to perform military duties on an ad hoc basis. These lower-class samurai were called harakatashu. In the pictorial map of the castle provided to the shogunate, the districts where people lived on the plains were marked as residential areas of samurai.

Tosa Goshi (the Tosa clan)

Prior to the Battle of Sekigahara, as a conciliatory gesture, older vassals of the Chosokabe clan (that controlled the Shikoku region and who had been farmer-warriors) were made goshi. On the other hand, goshi were created from high ranking eminent samurai (also called `kakegawashu` and `yamauchi` (monk) samurai, had been vassals since the time when Kazutoyo YAMAUCHI was the lord of Kakegawa-jo Castle, or master-less `ronin` samurai taken from Osaka jail prior to entering Tosa ranks. Whilst it can be said the goshi from Tosa domain were samurai, they suffered from systematic discrimination compared to other domains resulting in a situation where although the upper samurai ranks of Tosa were domain samurai all the same, there was latent confrontation and antagonism. At the end of the Edo period, when the authority of the bakufu and the clans had diminished, many of the Tosa goshi committed themselves to a movement whose rallying cry was ' Revere the emperor and expel the barbarians`.

Famous personalities included: Hanbeta TAKECHI, who organized the Tosa goshi, and formed the Tosa kinnoto (loyalist clique of Tosa), and Ryoma SAKAMOTO, who formed Kaientai association, mediated the union of the Satsuma clan and the Choshu clan and made great efforts towards the realization of transfer of power back to the Emperor, as well as Nobuyuki NAKAJIMA, who was the first Speaker of Japan's House of Representatives.

Also in the domain there was a policy of conciliation whereby the Tosa goshi were honored with the special title of `Shirofuda` (based on family line or merit) so they would receive the same treatment as upper ranking samurai.. Hanbeta TAKECHI was awarded the `Shirofuda` rank.

Higo Goshi (the Kumamoto clan)

In such cases, their actual title was not `goshi`, but Zaichu Gokenin (literally meaning lower ranked vassal). Initially because of a need for administration of rural areas etc, samurai status was conferred upon surviving retainers of the previous domain rulers (Konishi and Kato clans) who had returned to farming as well as local clans. Furthermore, foot soldiers who returned to faming were given goshi` (rural samurai) status and as such were permitted use a surname and wear swords as well as guard province borders and to patrol frontier areas.. Examples of this include a regional regiment of unpaid/honorary fusiliers called 'Jizutsu and Korizutsu'. In reality, it was a fusilier regiment in name alone and its members were mobilized to serve as local officials lower ranking samurai to work on an ad-hoc basis in Edo (now modern day Tokyo). In a strange twist, inquisitive sons of goshi (rural samurai) made use of these arrangements to volunteer as foot soldiers to serve in Edo as a means to broaden their horizons. Also, from the middle of the Edo period onwards, clans tended to confer goshi` (rural samurai) status in large numbers in return for a monetary contribution which came to form part of the clan's revenue; this practice of certain amounts of money changing hands to obtain particular titles became institutionalized and the practice was known as 'Sunshi Gokenin' (literally meaning `gifted low ranked vassal`). Basically, the status conferred this way almost identical with that of the foot soldiers (with the exception of 'Ichiryo-ippiki' (goshi senior Hosokawa clansmen) and upper-rank rural based samurai). The practice of `buying` goshi status also gave rise to gossip: recipient were called 'Kaneage zamurai' (literally meaning `give you money samurai`). From the Meiji period onwards, their descendants who in turn had inherited warrior class status were sniped at as 'Kaneage shizoku' (literally meaning `give you money samurai descendants`).

Satsuma Goshi (the Satsuma clan)

Goshi (rural samurai) were considered part of the ranks of vassals because the daimyo of ancient clans believed that the goshi samurai had lived outside the castle grounds since mediaeval times and, resided in castle support towns (on a stipend) which was different to arrangements in a large number of other clans. Furthermore, samurai such as those who were minor provincial lords at the time of the Sengoku (Warring States) period, regional samurai, and those in the unified Shimazu clan army in Kyushu were included in the ranks of vassals as goshi. For the above reasons such goshi samurai were also called `Tojoshi` (literally meaning `samurai outside a castle`). The duties of the `Tojoshi` were identical with those of clan affiliated samurai and included roles such as: participating in the Sankinkotai detail (where feudal lords were required to spend alternate years residing in Edo) and, military service.

At the beginning of the Edo period, there was negligible difference between samurai calling themselves 'Kagoshima shuchu' (living near Kagoshima-jo Castle) and Tojoshi (samurai living outside a castle) going by other local/hamlet demarking titles ('Izumi shuchu' or 'Kokubu shuchu'). It was also common for goshi to be appointed to posts such as Oshima Daikan Tsukiyaku (a post under the local governor in Amami-Oshima island). However, from the middle of the Edo period onwards (especially after Shigehide SHIMAZU instituted reformation of domain responsibilities), the 'Kagoshima shuchu' (literally meaning samurai resident in the Kagoshima area) were given the title 'jokashi' (literally meaning samurai outside the castle) which brought about an awareness of rigid status distinctions between 'Jokashi' and 'Goshi'. However, even after that, there were still changes in status because of adoptions between goshi and jokashi and commuting relationships. Also, there were many examples of individuals becoming `goshi` (regional samurai) after migrating from the Kagoshima region to other areas following the setting up of formalized `jokashi` (literally meaning samurai outside a castle) structured family systems.

Moreover, there was a hierarchical difference amongst goshi: middle and upper ranks resided in samurai residential districts called `fumoto` and in effect ran the local government administration. Also, when a samurai became a senior ranking goshi they controlled vast farming lands, forests and mountains, and moreover, it was possible for them to trade produce among samurai in the Satsuma clan. This led to many goshi (rural samurai) using their trading right to the limits allowed and, although of lower status, many goshi lived more prosperous lives than their higher-ranked jokashi (samurai outside castles) counterparts. However, the majority of goshi were considered `Mudaka` (receiving no stipend in the form of a share of crop yields). These unsubsidized `Mudaka` goshi made their livings by pursuing those professions permitted by the clan (carpentry, cottage industries) and, amongst the goshi there were individuals who maintained their senior goshi status whilst working as tenant farmers.

Following the Meiji Restoration, there were many goshi who successfully purchased and accumulated land holdings in contrast to jokashi/clan samurai who lost their stipends and were ruined. Many goshi also maintained a frigid attitude in relation to the Satsuma Rebellion. Afterwards, many jokashi (outside castle samurai) departed Kagoshima/home towns and leveraged clan links in pursuit of careers as central-government bureaucrats or in the military whereas those of goshi origin formed cliques within the police. Many goshi who did not relocate to urban centers often pursued careers in local areas as: public servants, teachers, police officers, or firefighters. It is said that in pre-war Kagoshima Prefecture, it was extremely difficult for 'Heimin' (commoners) to secure public service roles in a new government. in 1945 after the war ended and until the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (GHQ) took control, this political structure remained unchanged in Kagoshima political structures.

[Original Japanese]