Yonin (steward) (用人)

Yonin was a member of the organization that formed part of a samurai family during the Edo period. The Yonin handled feudal related matters on behalf of the whole samurai family and, was the key figure responsible for administering a broad range of matters. As such, it was common to select a capable individual for the role of Yonin. It is also known as Goyonin.


Yonin were also known to be called Soba-Yonin (adjutant steward), Ko-Yonin (assistants of Daimyo (feudal lords) and Komyo (minor feudal lords)), Hiroshiki-Yonin (Daimyo's wife's steward or, key steward in a merchant household). However, in a broader sense, the role of Yonin included all the above roles however, in this text the Yonin meaning is interpreted in a narrow sense.

The Yonin role was mainly responsible for taking care of the lord's affairs. However, the role Soba-Yonin refers to the individual mainly responsible for dealing with a lord's domain and senior vassals. The Soba-Yonin is said to have mainly handled the lord's 'general business including private and political affairs' and, dealings with others. On the other hand, the Yonin was mainly responsible for keeping the lord informed of 'official matters' within the domain and family and, handling general negotiations and dealings with other parties. he Yojin had to be careful as the person who actually informed the lord of matters within the domain and his family was not the Yojin themselves.

At the beginning of the Edo period, it was not unusual for domains not to have an established Yonin role. However, with the coming of peace, Yonin that were responsible for office clerical and related roles were appeared in place in various provinces across Japan. In larger domains, the role of Yonin could not be said to be chief retainer but, was a role that handled business, dealing and general affairs for the lord and elders of the domain. In the smaller domains, the Yonin was second to the elders as chief retainers and, it was common to provide the elders with a whole range of assistance. At times, there were occasions when the Yonin made their own decisions.

The status of Yonin differed between the various provinces in Japan however, generally speaking, in the larger domains the Yonin's status was not higher than the senior retainers and, there is no doubt that the smaller the domains there was a tendency for the Yonin's status to be relatively higher. In many provinces the Yojin were senior vassals who were permitted to ride on horseback. Also, in many provinces where the Yojin worked as highly paid senior vassals, those vassals engaged retainers themselves to act as their own Yojin.

However with the exception of the high ranking families and alternative arrangements, as a general rule as vassals of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), Yonin were not provided for family elders and the elderly within families. In many provinces it was customary for Yojin to be treated the same as senior vassals and on a par with family elders. As vassals of the Shogun, the role of Yonin had a high ranking cachet. For example, it was common for 500 koku (2500 bushel) vassals to be allowed one Yonin.

[Original Japanese]