Machi bugyo

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  • Japanese: 町奉行 (machi bugyou)

Machi bugyô, or "City Magistrates," were Tokugawa shogunate officials who oversaw the administration of certain cities during the Edo period.

Edo was administered by two machi bugyô, who were divided into North and South town offices. Each magistrate was responsible for matters across the entire city, but operated on a monthly rotation (tsukiban). Each month, either the North or South Magistrate would report regularly to the shogun, receive petitions, preside over judicial hearings, and otherwise accept new business, while the other magistrate worked on matters he had begun the previous month, and closed the main gates to his office to signal he was not accepting new business.

Though Aoyama Tadamasa was the first to be granted this title, in 1601,[1] it was in the 1630s that the powers and responsibilities of this and other positions were more thoroughly articulated. Alongside the jisha bugyô (Magistrates of Temples & Shrines) and kanjô bugyô (Finance Magistrates), they were known as the Sanbugyô (Three Magistrates), one group of the most powerful officials in the city. The machi bugyô also served as members of the Hyôjôsho, the chief judicial organ of the shogunate government, alongside the rôjû, the jisha bugyô, kujikata kanjô bugyô (Magistrate of Judicial Finances) and their associated kanjô ginmiyaku, and the kujikata ômetsuke and metsuke (Inspectors).[2]

The machi bugyô answered directly to the rôjû. They were assisted by officials known as the machi doshiyori,[3] and commanded the city's yoriki and dôshin (constables & patrolmen) and prison wardens. In 1723, the magistrates' stipends were set at 3,000 koku.

As daimyô yashiki, other samurai property, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and certain other areas did not fall directly under shogunate authority, these magistrates chiefly oversaw only merchant and artisan neighborhoods. As those neighborhoods expanded dramatically following the 1657 Meireki Fire, the jurisdiction of the machi bugyô expanded accordingly, though it began to run into grey areas, where daikan overseeing the rural areas outside of Edo proper claimed jurisdiction. Beginning in 1746, the machi bugyô were granted additional authority, shifted from the authority of the jisha bugyô.

Though Kyoto was overseen by the Kyoto shoshidai, machi bugyô were appointed for Kyoto as well, beginning in 1668.

Some domains also appointed their own machi bugyô to administer cities within their domains; Fukuoka han, for example, appointed machi bugyô to oversee local urban administration in the twin cities of Hakata and Fukuoka.[4]


  • Katô Takashi, "Governing Edo," in James McClain (ed.), Edo & Paris, Cornell University Press (1994), 41-67.
  1. Morgan Pitelka, Spectacular Accumulation, University of Hawaii Press (2016), 86.
  2. Mitani Hiroshi, David Noble (trans.), Escape from Impasse, International House of Japan (2006), xxx.
  3. Arai Hakuseki, Joyce Ackroyd (trans.), Told Round a Brushwood Fire, University of Tokyo Press (1979), 321.
  4. Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (1995), 20.
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