Homen (放免)

Homen was the name of Shimobe (miscellaneous servants and attendants) of Kebiishi (a official with judicial and police power) which was Ryoge no kan (a post outside the original Ritsuryo code created by Imperial edicts) in Japan.
Homen means 'released prisoner.'
Homen served as a lower-level executioner in Kebiishicho (Office of Police and Judicial Chief), and practically took charge of searching, capturing, and torturing criminals; and guarding a prison.


The existence of Homen can be surely confirmed in a document dated back to at least the early 11th century. Originally, Kebiishicho recruited a person with a criminal record in view of convenience of investigation such as collecting information on criminals.
Some Homen committed crimes even after they became Homen ("Konjaku Monogatari Shu" [The Tale of Times Now Past], volume 29, 'The tale of Homen who broke in a house to rob and were arrested.')

Their appearance had remarkable characteristics. They had mustaches and beards, which were not common at that time, and wore clothes with patterns called 'Ryorakinshu' (embroidered fine clothes) or 'Suriginu (Surigoromo)' (plant dyeing cloth) that were allowed to wear only in the special rites and festivals or only for a part of women. These patterns were described as 'kinubakama (clothes and divided skirt) with stenciled patterns dyed by products from giblets in the historical material about that period, and Shinichi SATO interpretes that this description suggests the share of kebiishi. Further, Homen had a pike made with seven crooked natural wood. The pike is thought to have some relation to a saibo (wooden stick as a weapon) used by the sohei (warrior monk), and both are assumed to have a magical meaning against impurity.

There is a historical material about that period describing that these appearances to be distinguished from normal people were because they were hinin (one group comprising the lowest rank in the Japanese society, often ex-convicts or vagrants) and did not avoid taboos, so it can be understood that they were assumed as hinin. However, hinin at that period were different from hinin of after ages, and they were not only the subject to be discriminated but also the awesome existence.

[Original Japanese]