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Tonbo Karasu

Edo-period roads, passports, checkpoints, and tourism

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The following is quoted from a thread called 'So What Did We Learn Today' on rpg.net.  I repost it here with the permission of the author, Shadowjack.  Given the state of Otosan Uchi's outer wall, I could easily imagine it ending up the same way...

 

In the past week, I've been reading a history of Edo-period roads, passports, checkpoints, and tourism. Dry read, but fascinating stuff. How to sum up?


Okay, here is a thing that might actually happen to a person travelling during the Tokugawa shogunate:

So all women exiting Edo were to be inspected, and all baggage entering Edo was to be inspected. Baggage, so no one smuggled guns into the capitol, which actually makes sense. Women because theoretically some daimyo might try to smuggle his wife held hostage with him out to the provinces so he could revolt maybe. Everyone knew this was a dumb explanation, but it was The Rules.

You walk up to the border control checkpoint, and the guard checks your passport, and he frowns at you. "It says here one woman with long hair, but I see two women with short hair. No pass. Next!"

And you say, "Uh, yeah? The 'second woman' is my infant daughter, because I gave birth while in Edo. And I had a long convalescence, and the doctor cut my hair—"

And the guard says, "I don't want to hear any excuses, lady, people are waiting. No pass. New passports available from the Office of Women's Passports in Edo, 1500 mon, allow 3 to 20 days for processing. NEXT!"

So you stagger back to the teahouse where you spent the night, wondering what the **** you're going to do now. But a half hour later, that same guard wanders in on his lunch break, and sees you still there, and he seems surprised. "The heck? Hey, Hida!" he shouts at the innkeeper. "You sleeping on the job? Got a mother here wants to buy the special bag of sweets." And now you're really worried, because you're wondering what the heck the shakedown here is.

And the innkeeper is all apologetic for missing you in the crowd, and for the low price of 100 mon, gives you an actual bag of local-made artisan candy, and assigns one of his serving girls to take you out back to "show you how to eat it."

And right there, behind the teahouse, is the side road that leads up to the gap in the wall of the border station. There are people going back and forth like this is normal. There's a frikkin' guard tower right there. You see some person on the ground chatting with one of the spearmen in the tower, that guards the border, which has a hole in it, which people are using.

So you go through the gap in the wall, and come up in the border station. Like, the passport desk is right over there, you can see someone putting their hat and shoes back on right now after the pat-down. But the new guard currently on duty just waves you irritably the other direction. See, his job is to check all passports of people coming from the left, and going to the right. You're on the right, so you're not part of his job.

In a daze, you keep heading to the right, with the people who passed inspection the normal way, and the attendant asks, "Will you be renting a post-horse or palanquin with us today?"

"No, thank you," you stammer, "I'll manage."

"Thank you for your cooperation. Please check out our gift shop. You and your child enjoy your trip!" And you're free to go. And there really is a gift shop, too.

The next time you come through, you now know to head straight for the hole in the fence, and one of the locals scolds you for not leaving a little thank-you note or a tip for the guards. So you do that from then on, and everyone is fine.



Now, not every station was quite that loose, and there were some genuinely tight borders – especially if the chief of watch was a martinet, or if there was an alert on, or an official inspection (for the first time in years), or if the Shogun was on pilgrimage nearby, whatever. And they all would keep a serious eye out for wanted criminals. But basically everyone on up to the Shogun hissownself knew the travel rules were bull that no one cared about… but the law said there had to be passports and check stations, so there were passports and check stations. Like, 99% of the time, if you got caught travelling without proper papers, you'd get no more than a lecture, especially if you apologized right away. If you even got caught. Most people just took the unmonitored side roads and/or bought cheap papers – you could basically get anyone who was vaguely an authority figure to scribble you a legit travel pass, so long as you said it was for "pilgrimage". Ironically, the higher your social status, the more careful you had to be about proper papers and inspections. Commoners got to take a lot more tourist trips than samurai.

Why bother going through a check station in the first place? For one thing, you could hire porters and horses at below market rate…

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18 hours ago, Tonbo Karasu said:

Women because theoretically some daimyo might try to smuggle his wife held hostage with him out to the provinces so he could revolt maybe. 

The real explanation is even more hilarious: the woman-disguise was wildly popular for men for any and all reasons, with assassins and other trouble-makers going first for it because of the "free space" in the disguise. There are also some weird culture shenanigans so it is more acceptable to disguise yourself as a woman than as a, say, beggar. IIRC all three nation founders put up the woman-disguise at least once in their lives. 

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23 hours ago, Void Crane said:

And totally not surprised at all, if you know what I mean.

Indeed. It probably made being a border official a comparatively relaxing job since unless there was a reason to go through the border 'officially' (because either you were important enough or you were carrying something important or valuable enough that it had to be done 'properly'), it means that you wouldn't, so the officials don't have to deal with the plebs.

On ‎6‎/‎3‎/‎2019 at 10:54 PM, Tonbo Karasu said:

Ironically, the higher your social status, the more careful you had to be about proper papers and inspections.

I can see that being the case in Rokugan, too. After all, someone significant (like a clan champion) moving around matters. By comparison, if you want to harass a low-level crane merchant at the gates of Otosan Uchi, just figuring out which one of the hundreds of potential "Doji-Sama" in the city their travel papers were authorised by could take you all day and not actually achieve anything.

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On 6/4/2019 at 12:30 PM, AtoMaki said:

The real explanation is even more hilarious: the woman-disguise was wildly popular for men for any and all reasons, with assassins and other trouble-makers going first for it because of the "free space" in the disguise. There are also some weird culture shenanigans so it is more acceptable to disguise yourself as a woman than as a, say, beggar. IIRC all three nation founders put up the woman-disguise at least once in their lives. 

Not to get a bizarre here and risk censorship,  but that is part of why the Japanese have this fascination with "futanari".  There is just something about men pretending to be women to get through road blocks that set the Japanese psyche abuzz.   Of course, that is part of why I say, "Japanese: great in bed, but messed up in the head".

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On 6/3/2019 at 4:54 PM, Tonbo Karasu said:

Now, not every station was quite that loose, and there were some genuinely tight borders – especially if the chief of watch was a martinet, or if there was an alert on, or an official inspection (for the first time in years), or if the Shogun was on pilgrimage nearby, whatever. And they all would keep a serious eye out for wanted criminals. But basically everyone on up to the Shogun hissownself knew the travel rules were bull that no one cared about… but the law said there had to be passports and check stations, so there were passports and check stations.

 

By contrast, Ryoko Owari is notorious for holes in the walls, but somebody'd still be watching them.  Not because of security, but to collect all the bribes for real criminals and refugees getting in and out of the city.  Of course, the people watching are all Scorpions, so they'll still report who goes in and out to the clan leaders.  If they're leaving, they might be good for blackmail or more bribes elsewhere, and they just might say where they're going if the watchers are polite.  If they're coming in... well, it's a city ruled by Scorpions.  Just imagine...

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