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Bugyô, often translated as "magistrate," is a term used in a wide range of titles in medieval and early modern Japan, as well as in Ryûkyû. In the Edo period, the various bugyô positions were generally the top-ranking bureaucrat in a particular jurisdiction, often operating out of an office known as a bugyôsho.

Within the Tokugawa shogunate, the most important or most powerful of these magistrates were often called the sanbugyô, or "three magistrates," though each of these three positions was in fact filled by several people simultaneously. They included the jisha bugyô (Magistrates of Temples & Shrines), five officials who oversaw matters relating to Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines; the Edo machi bugyô (Edo Town Magistrates), a pair of officials in charge of a variety of aspects of administration of the shogunal capital; and the kanjô bugyô (Finance Magistrates), four individuals who oversaw the shogunate's revenues and expenses, making them among the most powerful officials in the realm.

Judging from their seats in the audience chambers of Edo castle, the jisha bugyô, typically selected from among the daimyô, were nominally the highest-ranking, followed by the Edo machi bugyô, who were typically selected from among the hatamoto. That the kanjô bugyô were the lowest ranking of these three helped place a check on their considerable de facto power.

Other prominent magistrate positions in Tokugawa Japan included the Nagasaki bugyô (a pair of officials, one based in Edo and one in Nagasaki, who oversaw commercial activity at that port), and machi bugyô of other cities.

Domains also employed the title "bugyô" for officials within their internal administrations. In Fukuoka han, for example, machi bugyô (town magistrates) oversaw the twin cities of Hakata and Fukuoka, kôri bugyô (郡奉行, district magistrates) oversaw farming villages and post towns, and ura bugyô (浦奉行) oversaw coastal villages.[1]


  • Mitani Hiroshi, David Noble (trans.), Escape from Impasse, International House of Japan (2006), xxviii.
  1. Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (1995), 19-20.

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