Local government in Edo

A warm spring breeze is blowing through the willows along the Kanda river. Today I am going to take you to visit the home of the machi-bugyo (city mayor). His official residence and office is about halfway between Nihonbashi and the banks of the Sumida river, in a neighborhood called Kodenmacho.

The machi-bugyo is one of the top government officials, and is officially responsible for all local matters that affect the city of Edo. There are many different levels of officials in the bakufu (military government), and although the machi-bugyo is a few steps down the ladder, he has a great deal of power in local matters. The Shogun is the head of the government, and exercises almost absolute control over the central parts of the country, though his authority in regional areas is a bit weaker, due to the relative independence of the daimyo in running their local affairs. The Shogun is advised by a council of top advisors, known as the roju (chief elders). This group includes my master, Lord Matsudaira. The roju, meets frequently at Edo Castle with the other top advisors to the Shogun, making policies to help run the country smoothly. Any time the policies and laws issued by the central govermnent will affect the citizens of Edo, they will inform the machi-bugyo, since he has the direct responsibility for governing the city. The machi-bugyo meets with one of the roju, or perhaps even with the Shogun, almost every day, informing the central government of the major issues that were handled by his officials the previous day, and asking for advice when necessary.

Most jobs in the government are hereditary. For example, the mizu-bugyo, who is in charge of Edo's water supply, is always chosen from the same family. Only a few officials are appointed directly to their jobs by the Shogun. The main appointed positions are machi-bugyo and roju. With most government positions, you can be sure of keeping the same job until you retire, but the machi-bugyo and the roju are sometimes replaced, especially when one Shogun dies and a new one takes charge of the government.

There are actually three machi-bugyo in Edo. The two "main" machi-bugyo are known as the "North" and the "South" machi-bugyo, because their homes are at opposite ends of Kodenmacho. These two men take turns governing the town for one month at a time (so each one is actually "in charge" for only six months a year). This system of two machi-bugyo was set up in order to prevent corruption. If one machi-bugyo is doing things that the townspeople don't like, they can wait until the other machi-bugyo is in charge and then take their complaint to him. It also allows the machi-bugyo and his staff to rest from time to time, since their jobs are among the most strenuous in the entire government.

In addition to the North and South machi-bugyo, there is a third official who is in charge of only the new neighborhoods of Honjo and Fukagawa, on the east bank of the Sumida river. He is known as the Honjo machi-bugyo. As Edo grew, the work of managing all parts of the city became too much for one person to handle, so a third machi-bugyo was appointed in the early 1700s to govern only the new sections of the city.

The machi-bugyo are only responsible for common townspeople, the daimyo and other members of the samurai class have their own government structure, which reports directly to the Shogun. Monks, priests and other people who live in the temple districts are governed by special jisha-bugyo (temple area mayors), which have a bit more independence from the central government. Still, the job of machi-bugyo is very difficult, and there are many different things he has to take care of. There are two main jobs that take up the majority of his time. First, he is responsible for informing everyone in the city about new laws or rules created by the Shogun and his advisors. Second, he is responsible for maintaining law and order in the city.

The machi-bugyo has a large staff of several hundred assistants, known as yoriki, to help him run things, but actually his staff is quite small. There are only about three hundred yoriki to help him run the entire city. The reason why Edo is able to manage with such a "slim" city government is that the townspeople play an important role in city management. In addition to the full-time "government employees", the government depends a great deal on local leaders. Each machi ("town" or "neighborhood") has its own leaders. In most cases, these men and women are chosen from among the landlords who own most of the land in the area. These landlords are known as na-nushi (literally: "name owners"), because they own a certain area of land in their own name. Other residents of a town may rent a house or a shop from one of the na-nushi. All of the na-nushi in a district get together and select a few respected individuals to represent them. These people are known as toshi-yori , or "elders".

When the Shogun passes a new law governing the people in Edo, he sends a message to the machi-bugyo. The machi-bugyo is directly responsible for making sure that everyone in Edo gets the message, so he calls all of the toshi-yori to a meeting and tells them about the new law. The toshi-yori then go back to their own neighborhoods and inform each of the na-nushi. The nanushi then have the responsibility to inform each of the people who lives in a rented house or apartment on their land. This system ensures that everyone in Edo gets the news about any new rules or laws.

The machi-bugyo's second job -- and the one that takes up most of his time -- is preserving law and order in the city. Whenever a crime takes place or when somebody accuses someone else of wrongdoing, it is up to the machi-bugyo and his staff to sort out the matter and decide on a punishment. The first thing they need to do is apprehend the suspect. Usually this is not hard, because most areas have a "neighborhood watch" made up of local citizens who grab the suspected criminal and turn him in to the machi-bugyo. In the crowded city of Edo, it is not easy for a lone criminal to escape these "neighborhood watches".

Sometimes, however, the neighborhood watch cannot arrest the person by themselves. This is often a problem in the case of unruly gangs of outlaw samurai. Lower-class city people are not allowed to own swords, so it is hard for them to catch an armed samurai. In a case like this, the yoriki who work for the machi-bugyo will go out to apprehend the criminals. Most of the yoriki are also lower-class city people, so they can't own swords either. Instead, they have to trap the criminal using other methods. The most common technique is to surround the criminal and keep him at bay using large ladders, then try to trap him or wear him down using long, spiked poles and collars. Eventually this method usually allows the yoriki to catch their man. Only if they are having too much trouble with the suspect will the machi-bugyo join the posse. Since he is a highly trained samurai, often chosen in part for his military skills, he usually can take out even the fiercest opponent, expecially if he is backed up by a group of yoriki,

Once the suspects are caught, they are placed in the ro-yashiki (criminal hall). The ro-yashiki is sort of like a jail, but it is not usually used for people who have been found guilty. Instead, it is used only to hold a suspect in custody while the machi-bugyo tries to find out whether they are guilty, and decides whether or not to punish them. In a few cases, where the crime is not that serious, the punishment may be to spend a few months in the ro-yashiki, and to do heavy labor during the day to pay off your debt to society. However, this is the exception. In most cases, the punishment for a crime is either death, banishment, or a monetary fine, depending on the seriousness of the crime. When someone is banished, they may just be sent to the wild north of Japan to live on their own, or they may be sent to a prison island like Hachijo island or Sado island, to work the rest of their lives in the gold and silver mines. If their crime is not so bad, they may only be bankshed from Edo. Minor crimes are punished by fines, and if the person is poor and has no money to pay, they will be whipped instead.

There are no real "trials" in Edo. It is up to the machi-bugyo to decide on guilt or innocence. First, the yoriki go out and ask all the local people about the facts of the case. If there seems to be a good reason to suspect that the suspect is guilty, the machi-bugyo will question them and try to get them to confess. Confession is usually the way that most cases are solved. If the criminal does not confess, they may be tortured, to force them to give information, but if they insist on their innocence, the machi-bugyo may decide that there is not enough evidence and let them go. Most guilty people confess, though, because in all but the most serious cases (like murder or attempted murder), the torture reserved for those who refuse to confess is worse than the final punishment.

There are many, many laws in Edo, and the government maintains very strict control over the behaviour of citizens. There are rules about what sort of clothes people are allowed to wear, and what type of food they are allowed to eat, depending on their class. There are also rules telling them what sort of taxes and fees each class of people has to pay to keep the city running smoothly, and rules about public works projects. Each neighborhood has to provide a certain number of people to work on the Shogun's projects -- building canals and bridges, doing flood control work, clearing land, and so on. Although the laws might seem very strict, in practice the machi-bugyo and the local government leaders tend to be lenient in applying the rules. In most cases, it is enough just to give someone a warning.

One of the shogun's most popular public works projects is building large parks around the city and planting lots of flowering trees, like cherry trees, azaleas and hydrangeas. The citizens of Edo love to have picnics in these flower-filled parks, and few people complain about having to work on the projects to build these public facilities. Since the people of Edo work so hard on his other projects, the shogun also tries to include useful recreation spots like these to keep the people happy. Although the government of Edo is extremely strict, on the whole, it provides a great deal of safety and stability to the people of the city. This may be part of the reason why there have been no wars in Japan for almost 200 years.

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