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  • Other Names: 年寄 (toshiyori)
  • Japanese: 老中 (roujuu)

The rôjû, also known as "senior councillors" or Elders, were a committee or council of four or five fudai daimyô who served as the highest decision-making body in Tokugawa Japan. While they acted in the name of the shogun, issuing hôsho which spoke with his authority, and often consulted the shogun on a variety of matters, it was the rôjû and not the shogun who applied their seals or signatures to the vast majority of documents,[1] and who were the de facto decision-makers in most matters of policy.

The rôjû, along with the junior councillors or wakadoshiyori, were selected chiefly from middle- to low-ranking fudai houses,[2] in order to help ensure that those families who already possessed considerable rank, wealth, and power, were not to be granted further authority to dominate policy. In short, it was something of a measure towards greater balance of power. On rare occasions, a tozama or shinpan daimyô was named to the rôjû council, but even then, it was never a member of the most powerful families. Members of the Tokugawa collateral families (the Gosanke and Gosankyô) were ineligible for membership on the council. In the early decades of the shogunate, the Elders were known as toshiyori (lit. "elders"), with the term rôjû coming into use later.[3]

The council met in a room known as the goyô beya, where they discussed both matters of internal (domestic) administration and foreign relations; the council was also responsible for overseeing the court nobility and all the daimyô domains/houses, and wielded the ability to dispatch ômetsuke (inspectors) to the domains to help determine that policy was being observed. Among their many responsibilities and powers, the rôjû served as regents for young shoguns, and as intermediaries in shogunal audiences (e.g. between the shogun and the daimyô of Tsushima han in audiences with Korean emissaries, and heard and decided petitions and cases regarding domainal politics and policies. The position of chair of the council (rôjû shuza) rotated every month, and in addition the post of tairô stood above the rôjû in rank, but with a few exceptions, the tairô was a purely honorary position and neither he nor the monthly chairman wielded much actual power. One or two rôjû assigned kattegakari (overseer of finance) did wield considerable power, however, as that position was the immediate superior to the kattekata kanjô bugyô, the Magistrate of Finance, who oversaw the shogunate's administrative budget.

The rôjû also served as members of the shogunate's chief judicial organ, the hyôjôsho, and oversaw a number of key shogunate offices, including those of the ômetsuke, kanjô bugyô (Finance Magistrates), sakuji bugyô (Construction Magistrates), fushin bugyô (Public Works Magistrates), ôbangumi (Great Guards units), and machi bugyô (City Magistrates).[4]

The term was also used at times for senior councillors within domain governments, figures more often referred to as karô today.

Selected List of Rôjû


  • Mitani Hiroshi, David Noble (trans.), Escape from Impasse, International House of Japan (2006), xxiv-xxviii.
  1. One of the only cases in which the shogun signed his own signature was on official communications with the King of Korea.
  2. Generally, of the tsumeshû, or those daimyô assigned to the gan-no-ma as their waiting room in the honmaru palace of Edo castle. Yamamoto Hirofumi, Edo jidai - shôgun bushi tachi no jitsuzô, Tokyo Shoseki (2008), 67.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Yamamoto Hirofumi, Sankin Kôtai, Kodansha gendai shinsho (1998), 178.
  4. Katô Takashi, "Governing Edo," in James McClain (ed.), Edo & Paris, Cornell University Press (1994), 46.
  5. Andrew Rankin, Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide, New York: Kodansha International (2011), 123.