February 02, 2012
Back in chapter 10 of Serpent of Time, Ryô learns that discharged palanquin bearers often turned to lives of crime. In chapter 12, she runs into two of them.
In Irezumi: The Pattern of Dermatography in Japan, Willem R. van Gulik explains that the term "palanquin bearer" or kumosuke (雲助) can refer to a reckless taxi driver or ruffian. "When business was slack, palanquin bearers would often resort to highway robbery as a side line."
Ryô's concerns about her own palanquin bearers notwithstanding, kumosuke served middle-class travelers. Palanquin bearer for the noble classes were known as rokushaku (六尺), or six shaku (尺 = .995 feet), a wooden pole used to carry things across the shoulders.
Nowadays, rokushaku more often refers to rokushakudoshi (六尺褌), the loincloth (made from a six-foot strip of cotton) worn by rokushaku.