Umamawari (horse guards) (馬廻)

The Umamawari was established in the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States) (Japan) and was a job based on the government service system for samurai families. Horse guards were mounted samurai retainers who accompanied commanders' horses as their bodyguards and served as messengers or soldiers in wars. They also served as bodyguards for feudal lords (daimyo in Japanese) and performed administrative duties as their aides or deputies.


Horse guards were called differently by different daimyo families, and among them, those who served the Gohojo clan are particularly well known. Nobunaga ODA's horse guards, just like pages who served him, were chosen from among the second and third sons of local ruling families and played important roles as Nobunaga's aides. Elites among Nobunaga's horse guards and pages were chosen as his personal bodyguards known as "red guards" and "black guards" and many of these bodyguards were promoted to the position of troop commander.

Horse guards continued to exist during the Edo period as part of the staff organization of various domains and served feudal lords as bodyguards in their daily lives. Under the government service system of the Edo Bakufu, Shoinban (castle guards) and Koshogumi (page corps) called Ryoban were equivalent to the Umamawari in many domains. A child of the Tokugawa shogunate's direct vassal (called "hatamoto" in Japanese) was normally appointed as either a castle guard or a page and served as an aide of the shogun before starting out on his career as a shogunate government official.

In various feudal domains, the word "umamawari" (horse guard) was used not only as an occupational title but also to describe family status or ranks. Some domains allowed umamawari personnel to ride horses to perform their duties while others did not, and it is difficult to tell which of these practices was more common. Domains that did not allow umamawari to ride horses adopted different standards regarding the qualification as mounted retainers - some domains regarded those who held ranks higher than "kyunin" (direct vassals of lords) as being qualified as mounted retainers, while others regarded only retainers who belonged to families directly supervised by the chief retainer (known as "karo") as being qualified. In some domains, the words "kyunin" and "umamawari" were both used to express occupational titles or family ranks, while in others only one of these words was used. In a domain where both Kyunin and Umamawari existed due to family status or rank, the Kyunin were superior to the Umamawari. Umamawari personnel who were not allowed to ride horses were equivalent to escorts (called "kojunin") of the Tokugawa shogunate - they were middle-ranking retainers that were allowed to have an audience with their lords but not allowed to ride horses.

In domains where umamawari were allowed to ride horses, families with the umamawari status were mostly lower-ranking families among upper-class retainers in the broad sense. The umamawari of the Asano clan of the Ako Domain, well known for the Ako Incident during the Genroku era, were typical examples of this type of umamawari. They were regarded as a class of mounted retainers higher in rank than grooms or stablemen called "nakakosho," who were not allowed to ride horses. Of the forty-seven Ako samurai, fifteen were umamawari, including Takesune HORIBE, and these fifteen members were all earning incomes of 100 to 200 koku. Although they were not necessarily chief retainers, they all had incomes for upper-class retainers. There was a profound difference between these retainers and middle-ranking retainers who were not allowed to ride horses - Tadao OTAKA, a middle-ranking retainer with the largest income, only had an income of 30 koku.

[Original Japanese]