The Shinsengumi, the warriors of the Tokugawa Shogunate, is a group of individuals recruited by the Bakufu. They were to safeguard Kyoto from the radical loyalists of the Imperial House. Japan idolizes and romanticizes the Shinsengumi despite having a limited spot in history.
They were a small faction of Ronin. It was them who policed the area during the destructive final moments of the Tokugawa Shogunate. During this time, the group instantly rose to fame and infamy. Today, the Shinsengumi has become the subject of numerous games, anime, films, manga, TV shows, and even books.
The Striking History
By the end of the year 1862, things have worsened as an uncontrollable throng of renegade Samurai abandoned their clan. This was to fight for Imperial Loyalism despite them being a Ronin, a derogatory term for a Samurai without a master.
These warriors transformed the once tranquil and calm Imperial Capital into a sea of blood. They were also keen on overthrowing the regime of the Shogun which ruled the country for two and a half centuries.
At some point, a revolutionary movement started along the trails of Kyoto. A large number of Samurai had left their masters and the capitol to become Roshi. They were the Kyoto Defenders – a group of 234 Ronin founded in the year 1862 by Kiyokawa Hachiro.
The Roshi are broken down into two distinctive factions. One faction consisted of those who were loyal to the Bakufu, the Japanese government. They believed in Sonno Joi or Rever the Emperor and Dispel the Barbarians.
The other faction was the Ishin Shishi, the Imperialist group who fought for change in their government. Their aim was to have the country more open and accepting of foreigners. A reason for this was for them to learn and gain knowledge from these people.
Peace and Order
Authorities were controlling the terror and chaos. So, they formed a band of skilled swordsmen. They were the Shinsengumi. Their main job was to restore laws and guarantee order to the Imperial Capital. They are known as Ronin hunters, murderers, wolves, a band of assassins, and thugs. Later, they are one of the most dangerous security force in Japanese history.
Aside from restoring laws and guaranteeing order, the primary mission of the Shinsengumi was to protect and ensure the safety of the Shogun. However, their assigned purpose was clear – to eliminate all Ronin who would destroy the government of the Shogun.
The Shinsengumi and its Members
During this period, a Shieikan was present. It was a Kenjutsu Dojo within the district of Tama which is close to Edo. The master here was Kondo Isami, and he taught the sword style called Tennen Rishin Ryu. He had several students and specifically, they were Hijikata Toshizo, Okita Soujiro, and Inoue Genzaburou.
The four treated themselves like brothers where Okita was the youngest of all. Despite this, he faces rumors as one of the strongest of them. There were also numerous individuals who visited the Dojo. They also had their meals in the place. Other known visitors included Harada Sanosuke, Yamanami Keisuke, and Nagakura Shinpachi.
Upon learning about the Roshitai in Kyoto, Kondo and Hijikata both left the city with just a small number of their disciples. These include the men mentioned previously. Due to the situation, Kondo decided to leave the Dojo under the care of Hijikata’s elder brother.
Upon reaching Kyoto, Kiyokawa Hachiro recruits Kondo’s party. There were a total of 13 Roshi including Kondo and his companions. Matsudaira Katamori appoints them as Roshigumi. He was then the Daimyo of Aizu which is the present-day Fukushima.
Concealment of Identity
Kiyokawa appeared in public as an individual who supported the Bakufu. However, he supported the other side instead. He plans to gather a group of Roshi to appear as if they were formed in the name of the Bakufu. Instead, he would train them to become the Ishin Shishi.
Together with the other members of the Ishin Shishi, he planned to attack a foreign settlement located in Yokohama. This was under control by the Bakufu. They aimed to set fire on the buildings and constructions to kill off the foreigners there. The reason for this was to have the image and diplomacy of the Bakufu plummet as low as possible.
The Shogunate heard of this plan and sent a number of assassins to destroy Kiyokawa. This was on the 13th of April on the third year of the Bankyu. After the incident, Kondo and his party insisted on assisting the Bakufu, hence, the establishment of the Shinsengumi that consisted of 13 members.
Kondo Isami became the commander of the Shinsengumi. He was a peasant by birth but has the heart of a warrior. He has a martial mindset and upholds traditional values. Kondo was part of the Roshi corps with the goal of becoming a Samurai serving the Shogun.
As the leader of the most feared Samurai corps of the Shogun, Kondo was able to secure a spot in the top level of the Tokugawa hierarchy, as well as in history.
Originally, the Shinsengumi consisted of three commanders. Ranked next to Kondo and Serizawa Kamo was the close associate of the latter. His name was Shinmi Nishiki. However, he was a nominal member than a commander.
Under the lead of Kondo, the group was able to destroy the Sonio Roshi. He was also known for arresting a cell of Shishi in an incident that was known as the Ikedaya Jiken.
Hijikata Toshizo is one of the vice commanders of the Shinsengumi. Due to his nature as a warrior, he has earned himself the title of “Demon Commander”. He was Kondo’s confidant and closest friend.
Okita Sojiro was a child prodigy. He was the son of a Samurai from Shirakawa Han. The Daimyo from this domain was a direct retainer of the Shogun. By the age of fifteen, Okita served as an assistant instructor in the Shieikan. He was able to teach main Dojo located in Edo, as well as in the villages just around the countryside.
There were some who claimed that even Kondo Isami could not beat Okita in a match. This led him to receive the rank of Menkyo. When Kondo became the Shieikan’s master, Okita became the head of the Dojo.
Yamanami Keisuke was the son of a chief fencing instructor. When he arrived at the Shieikan, he had the Menkyo rank in Hokushin Itto Ryu. Yamanami challenged the sword master’s heir to one match. When Kondo defeated him, he eventually joined the Shieikan, as one of their most skilled and adept swordsmen. He subsequently aided Okita and Hijikata as an assistant instructor.
Saito Hajime was the 17th corpsman of the Shinsengumi. He had a very close connection with the Shieikan. He was one of the youngest members of Kondo’s group and was also among its most gifted and skilled warriors. Saito was born and raised in Edo. He was the son of a Matsudaira, retainer of the Akashi Han, which was among the Related House.
Roshi corps of Kiyokawa didn’t recruit Saito nor did he travel to Kyoto with others. Though there are claims that he killed a Samurai of the Shogun in Edo before fleeing to Kyoto to join his friends.
Harada Sanosuke was born in the year 1840 in Matsuyama Han. This domain was located in Iyo province on Shikoku. This was one of the four primary islands of the country. When Harada constantly visited Kondo’s Dojo, he brought and displayed his expertise in the art of Yarijitsu. This was the art of the spear.
Nagakura Shinpachi was one of those who admired Kondo Isami. He was the former captain of the Shinsengumi’s 2nd troop. He was eventually known as Sugimura Yoshie during the Meiji period.
Nagakura was born in the year 1839 in Edo. He was the only son of a finely-situated Samurai from his clan. For generations, the clan’s patriarch headquarters is in Edo. He functioned as an officer of the Matsumae domain which was located on Ezo island in the far north.
As a young boy, he studied Kenjutsu. When he returned to Edo, Nagakura served as an assistant instructor to a master of the Hokushin Itto Ryu. This was the time when he often visited Kondo’s Dojo.
Inoue Genzaburo was born in the year 1829 in Hino. He was the fourth son of a Samurai who served the Tokugawa. Inoue was the eldest of the Shieikan warriors. The Roshi corps recruited him. He started practicing martial arts at the Dojo of Sato Hikogoro at a very young age. Both he and his older brother gain Menkyo rank given by Kondo Shusuke.
Todo Heisuke was an illegitimate son of the Tsu Han’s outside Lord. It was highly possible that he was a Ronin when earning the Mokuroku rank for the Hokushin Itto Ryu. This was at the famous Chiba Dojo. Subsequently, he was an apprentice at the Shieikan.