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  • Japanese: 本陣 (honjin)

Honjin were a special type of elite inn maintained in post-towns and port towns of Edo period Japan. They were most typically used by daimyô traveling on sankin kôtai journeys, but also regularly served as lodgings for traveling court nobles (kuge), shogunate officials, members of the imperial family, and prominent religious figures (e.g. abbots of Buddhist temples, Shinto priests), as well as for envoys from foreign kingdoms such as Ryûkyû.[1] Honjin were often the private homes of village elders, which also served as centers of village administration, as well as hosting elite visitors.[2] In port towns in the western half of the Inland Sea, establishments known as chaya ("teahouses"), built chiefly for the daimyô's own use during vacations and voyages, often served these purposes, in place of or in addition to a honjin.[3]

Though well-apportioned, permanent establishments, honjin evolved out of the Sengoku period practice of warlords commandeering people's homes (or renting them, based on consenting agreement) to use them as a temporary headquarters, or simply as lodgings for a night.[4] The term is said to originate in Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiakira's usage of lodgings specially arranged for him, on a journey to the capital in 1363.[5] In the Edo period, honjin continued to serve metaphorically as the headquarters of a daimyô as military commander, a fact reflected in the term itself, which literally means "main encampment" or "chief tent."[6] This functions as one element of the metaphor of sankin kôtai - despite it being a practice of a period of peace - as a military action; that is, of sankin kôtai as a military march, the movement of a lord's troops from his home domain to Edo as part of the fulfillment of that lord's feudal obligations to his lord (the shogun).

A honjin might house a daimyô along with as many as sixty of his higher-level retainers, but rarely if ever housed an entire sankin kôtai mission; not only were few (if any) honjin large enough to accommodate that many people, but the idea of lower-ranking followers sharing the same lodgings with the lord went against social norms. Honjin were often accompanied by secondary establishments known as waki-honjin, where additional members of an elite group might stay; for example, when the lead ambassador (seishi) of a Ryukyuan embassy stayed at a honjin, his vice- or deputy envoy (fukushi) typically stayed at the town's waki-honjin, along with other members of the embassy above a certain rank, while the remaining, lower-ranking, members of their mission were given lodgings at hatagoya - a more regular sort of inn, frequented by individual samurai and commoner travelers. Lower-ranking members of a mission might also be housed in private homes, Buddhist temples, or Shinto shrines.

Honjin and waki-honjin sprang up quickly after sankin kôtai was made obligatory for all daimyô in 1642,[7] and soon became standard fixtures in major ports and post-towns across the realm. Most had previously been (and continued to be) the private homes of village elders or headmen (shôya or nanushi).[8] Across the fifty-three stations of the Tôkaidô Highway, there were 111 honjin and 73 waki-honjin.[9] While some towns had only one honjin (and perhaps not even a waki-honjin), larger towns often had several of each. Hakone and Hamamatsu, for example, were each home to six honjin. While in most towns the honjin outnumbered the waki-honjin, there were exceptions; at Ômiya on the Nakasendô, there were nine waki-honjin but only one honjin.[9]

These were often the largest buildings in a given town.[10] The sole honjin at the small post-town of Futagawa-juku, along the Tôkaidô in Mikawa province, survives today as a local history museum; the building is 17 1/2 ken wide, and covers a space of roughly 525 tsubo.[11] The largest honjin on the Tôkaidô were at Odawara-juku. This was in large part because of its location. The castle-town is both close to Edo, meaning that most daimyô and other travelers from western Japan would come that way, and it is located between a difficult mountain pass & a river crossing; as a result, Odawara was a place that few travelers merely passed through, and where most instead stayed the night.[12] Some of the largest honjin at other post-stations included those at Narumi-juku (676.5 tsubo), Kusatsu-juku (459 tsubo), and Ôtsu (394.5 tsubo). In total, there were thirteen post-stations which featured honjin larger than 300 tsubo. Most waki-honjin, by comparison, were around 100 tsubo in area.[13] The many rooms at the honjin at Ishibe totalled 264 tatami in area. As Ishibe typically saw on average parties of 28 guests at once, we can estimate that each member of that party would have had an area of 9-10 tatami to himself; when a larger party stayed at the honjin, each individual might have as little as four tatami mats to themselves. However, this is an average, and as the daimyô would have claimed a disproportionate amount of space to himself, we can presume retainers would most often have been forced to share an even smaller amount of space.[14]

The number of nights per year that a honjin hosted elite visitors ranged quite widely from one post-station to another. Some honjin served only specific lords, and saw them only infrequently; a few honjin on the road to Nikkô were dedicated to the service of the Gosanke Tokugawa families, and were only called upon to host these lords a few times a decade.[15] By contrast, the honjin at Futagawa-juku saw as many as 100-200 elite individuals across the year, with parties of anywhere from zero to more than forty staying at the honjin in any given month.[16] The honjin at Ishibe might stand as a representative in-between example. Throughout the Edo period, Ishibe bounced back and forth between being occupied for as few as 20 or 25 nights a year, and as many as 50;[17] during the remainder of the year, it served simply as the village headman's personal home. Other honjin served concurrently as saké breweries, shipping businesses, or commercial storefronts.

Similarly, the percentage of visitors who stayed overnight at the honjin rather than simply stopping briefly for a "rest" (often referred to as 休 or 小休 in documents from the time) also ranged from one honjin to another, depending on a number of factors including their location relative to major destinations, other post-stations, and river or sea crossings. At Ishibe and Toriimoto, for example, roughly 80% of the elite guests who passed through stayed overnight, whereas at Tsuchiyama, only roughly 30% stayed overnight, while the remainder merely stopped for tea, lunch, or a brief rest.[14] A honjin's revenues accordingly ranged widely as well; while many honjin brought in around 20-40 ryô each year, some in particularly well-traveled locations, such as Hodogaya, Mishima, and Miya-juku, regularly brought in as much as 100-150 ryô per year, during peak decades.[14]

Daimyô typically established regular reservations with honjin along their sankin kôtai routes, such that the honjin would know to expect them on particular dates each year, and to have a reception prepared for them in a particular manner, with the daimyô paying a pre-arranged amount as a show of gratitude. Such arrangements helped avoid difficulties which might otherwise emerge from negotiating and re-negotiating the schedule, and the terms, each time. Still, there were times when a daimyô arrived in a town to find that another daimyô (or Imperial envoy, or another guest of similar elite status) had booked the inn for the night; most of the time, this resulted in the newcomer taking up lodging in the town's waki-honjin, or another similar establishment, when available. Daimyô also quite regularly passed through post-towns, not staying the night, but merely using the honjin as a place to rest for a bit, and to perhaps enjoy a meal. Such meals and rest-stops were also often pre-arranged, but daimyô could also simply arrive and have their men make an arrangement on the spot.

As a daimyô and his entourage approached a post-town, they would send a messenger ahead to alert the honjin to the daimyô's impending arrival. A special curtain was hung over the entrance, and plaques were placed both at the honjin and at both main entrances to the town, announcing who it was that had reserved the town's lodgings for the night.[18] A number of other preparations were also performed, including arranging small mounds of sand or salt, called morisuna, and a decorative broom and bucket (known as kazari-hôki and kazari-oke), outside of the inn as symbolic indications of the cleanliness and preparedness of the honjin. The messenger would often exchange a sekifuda, an official indication of his lord's wishes, for a receipt from the honjin confirming their acknowledgement of the reservation. When the daimyô then arrived in town, he would be greeted near the entrance to the town, and led to the honjin, where a proper reception awaited. It was not uncommon for all the officials of the post-town to contribute directly to the process of receiving a daimyô (or other figure of similar status), with some officials performing the greetings and formal reception, some ensuring the streets and the honjin itself were clean and in good condition, and others overseeing guardsmen and security concerns. Daimyô parties commonly numbered in the hundreds, or in the thousands when one includes the many porters and other commoner workers hired to accompany the group. Such groups could not be housed solely at a single honjin, or even in most cases across the multiple honjin and waki-honjin in a given town. Rather, it was quite common for as many as 150 inns (hatagoya) and private homes, often the majority of the town as a whole, to be given over to the task of housing middle- and lower-ranking members of a traveling party; such additional spaces were known as shimo yado (lit. "lower lodgings").[19]

While some records seem to suggest that daimyô (or, more likely senior members of their retainer band) were charged and directly paid a set amount of silver to the honjin or to the town authorities for their stay,[20] historian Miyamoto Tsuneichi writes that honjin operators neither asked for, nor typically directly received, payment for their services, but rather simply exchanged gifts with the daimyô, the amount received typically exceeding that which they would have officially charged. Where it was insufficient, sometimes a considerate and observant karô would make up the difference.[18]

Honjin lost their special status in 1871, officially (legally) becoming no different from regular inns, in the aftermath of the shogunate's loosening of sankin kôtai obligations in 1863, and the collapse of the shogunate five years later.[21]


  • Watanabe Kazutoshi 渡辺和敏, "Sankin kôtai to honjin" 参勤交代と本陣, Honjin ni tomatta daimyô tachi 本陣に泊まった大名たち, Toyohashi, Aichi: Futagawa-juku honjin shiryôkan (1996), 53.
  1. If the honjin at Futagawa-juku might be taken as a representative example, in an average year, more than half of the honjin's guests were daimyô; bugyô, daikan, and other shogunate officials comprised just over one quarter of the guests; court nobles around 7%; religious figures around 5%; and the heads of the Gosanke houses another five percent. Ina Toshisada 伊奈利定, "Tôkaidô Futagawa juku honjin ni okeru daimyô-ke no riyô," Honjin ni tomatta daimyô tachi, 57.
  2. Miyake Riichi 三宅理一, Edo no gaikô toshi 江戸の外交都市, Kashima shuppankai (1990), 77.
  3. Umimichi wo yuku: Edo jidai no Seto Naikai 海道をゆく-江戸時代の瀬戸内海-, Museum of Ehime History and Culture 愛媛県歴史文化博物館 (1999), 46. In some cases, the equivalent establishment was known instead as an okariya ("temporary house"), gochisôya ("reception house"), or by various other names. Umimichi wo yuku, 119.
  4. Miyamoto Tsuneichi 宮本常一, Nihon no shuku 日本の宿, Tokyo: Shakai shisôsha (1965), 166.
  5. Maisaka chôshi: shiryô hen 2 舞阪町史・史料編2, Shizuoka: Maisaka Town (1971), 649.
  6. Umimichi wo yuku, 120.
  7. With a very few select exceptions, such as for those clans whose service to the realm instead took the form of effecting the defense of the port of Nagasaki, for example.
  8. Miyamoto, Nihon no shuku, 176.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Miyamoto, Nihon no shuku, 167.
  10. Though there are obvious exceptions, such as in castle-towns such as Odawara, where the castle was far larger than the honjin.
  11. Watanabe, 53.
  12. Plaques and signs on-site at Odawara-juku nariwai kôryûkan.
  13. Miyamoto, Nihon no shuku, 168-169.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Miyamoto, Nihon no shuku, 178-179.
  15. Miyamoto Tsuneichi, Daimyô no tabi 大名の旅, Tokyo: Shakai shisô sha (1968), 43.
  16. Ina, 56.
  17. Miyamoto, Nihon no shuku, 177.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Miyamoto, Nihon no shuku, 175.
  19. Miyamoto, Nihon no shuku, 173, 179-180.
  20. Watanabe, 60-61, 73-74.
  21. Miyamoto, Daimyô no tabi, 47.
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