Honjin was a special lodging established in a post station of the main national roads in the Edo period (1603-1868). It was built for use by daimyo, Hatamoto (direct retainers of the Shogun), government officials, Imperial envoys, Imperial family members, and Monzeki (Buddhist priests of aristocratic or imperial lineage). The word “honjin” originally means the camp or field headquarters of a general from the late Heian period to the early Edo period. Later on, accommodations for a general were also called honjin, and then it was diverted to lodgings for travelers of high social rank.
In most case, the proprietor of general office managing a post station (Toiya) or the village head officer (Nanushi) was appointed to be the proprietor of a honjin. Those who owned honjin were not warriors but they were given the privilege of wearing swords and a surname (myoji taito). They were also allowed to build the gate and the entrance porch for their private area.
The site where Honjin was built usually had an area of more than 3,300 sq m, and the main building was built in accordance with formalities, which included the Onarimon Gate and the raised room (Jodan-no-ma) as the main guest room. Presently, there are 13 honjin existing and open to the public. Among them, the largest is the honjin at Kusatsu-juku post station on the Tokaido Road. With as many as 39 rooms, a building area of 1706 sq m, and a site area of 4727 sq m, it is designated as a national Historic Site.
Seki-juku, with “seki” meaning checkpoint, was a post town with a checkpoint as the name suggests. However, it was not a checkpoint in Edo period, but was built in 672 at the time of Jinshin War. It was known as Suzuka no Seki at that time and was referred to as one of Three Great Checkpoints in ancient Japan, along with Arachi in Echizen and Fuwa in Minou. The checkpoints were abolished in 789.
During the Middle Ages, under the control of Seki Clan, the town developed around Jizou-in Temple first as a temple town and later prospered as a post town.
In 1601 (Edo period), Tokugawa government brought back the checkpoint system and Seki-juku became the 47th post town starting from Shinagawa-juku, covering the present areas of Kizaki, Nakamachi and Shinjo in Seki Town, Kameyama, Mie Prefecture. The area is the only post town along Fifty-three Sations of the Toukaidou where stores and houses from ancient times still remain intact. Since it was designated as an Important Cultural Buildings Preservation District in 1984, the town has been reinventing itself utilizing and preserving unique local historical assets.
Seki-juku post town consist of four boroughs each with unique characteristics; Kizaki, where a line of low rise housing exists: Nakamachi with “honjin” (inns for lords and samurai) , “hatago” (inns for general people) and wholesalers gathered: Shinjo, an area in front of Jizou-in Temple: Kitaura where there are many temples and shrines.
Waki-honjin (sub-honjin) were spare lodgings for honjin, the inns for nobility, daimyo and government officials. Waki-honjin was used when there were any problems with honjin; for example, when the number of guests was beyond the capacity of honjin, or two daimyo happened to stay in the same post town. In the latter case, it was the custom that the low-ranked daimyo stayed at waki-honjin. If there were vacancies, general travelers could also stay at waki-honjin.
Though waki-honjin were smaller in scale than honjin, the equipment including the special room for nobility and daimyo, which was called “Jodan-no-ma,” was in accordance with those of honjin. The proprietors of waki-honjin were mostly wealthy men of the post towns. As the privilege that distinguished honjin and waki-honjin from ordinary hatago inns, it was permitted that those buildings could be equipped with the gate, the entrance hall and the shoin (reception room).
Old Shimoyoichi Unjoya in Yoichi Town in Hokkaido is a nationally designated Historic Site. Unjoya was a shop established at the center of a fish market by the merchants who contracted for selling fish for the Matsumae domain in the Edo period (1603-1868).
With the increase in the number of Wajin (ethnic Japanese), the contractors came to assume an official function as agents of the state and controlled fisheries by collecting a levy from fishers.
During the herring season, the unjoya was operated by the manager (shihainin) with the assistance of a bookkeeper (choba), an interpreter (tsuji) and overseers (bannin), who supervised Ainu labor. In the off-season in winter, only the observers stayed at the shop.
The system of contract fisheries was abolished when the Development Agency (Kaitakushi) was established by the Meiji government in 1869. The premises of unjoya were bought by the government and changed to accommodation facilities, meeting halls and police stations.
Old Shimoyoichi Unjoya is the only existing unjoya building, which was dismantled and restored according to the design drawing made at the time of its reconstruction in 1853.
Kusatsu-juku is the 52nd of the 53 post stations along the Tōkaidō from Edo to Kyoto. From 1635 to 1870, a period of 235 years, Kusatsu-juku Honjin was a special inn used only by nobility and government officials.
Kusatsu-juku lies at the branch of the Tōkaidō and Nakayama roads and there used to be over 100 inns here. Kusatsu-juku Honjin is the largest of its type still standing. Names like Asano Naganori and Kira Yoshinaka can be seen on the register.
The head of the honjin, the Daifukucho, kept a record of visitors from 1692 to 1874, a total of 182 years. There is one register book per year, and in total there are 182 books. In Kusatsu-juku, there were 2 honjin, 2 sub-honjin, and about 70 inns.
Of all these, the Tanaka Shichizaemon Honjin has kept to its original appearance. In 1949, it was designated as an important cultural asset and attracted many people to the world of Edo. It was restored and opened to the public in April 1996.