Historical background

After Japan opened up to the West in following U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry's visits in 1853, its political situation gradually became more and more chaotic. The country was divided along various lines of political opinion; one of these schools of thought (which had existed prior to Perry's arrival) was sonnō jōi: "Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians." Radical followers of this ideology began to commit acts of murder and violence in Kyoto, the imperial capital. In 1863, hoping to respond to this trend, the Tokugawa Shogunate formed the Roshigumi (浪士組), a group of 234 masterless samurai (rōnin), under the nominal command of the hatamoto Matsudaira Tadatoshi and the actual leadership of Kiyokawa Hachirō (a dynamic ronin from Shonai). The group's formal mission was to act as the protectors of Tokugawa Iemochi, the 14th shogun, who was preparing to embark on a trip to Kyoto.

Historical facts

Statue of Kondō Isami at Mibu Temple

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Statue of Kondō Isami at Mibu Temple

The Rōshigumi, as stated above, was funded by the Tokugawa regime. However, Kiyokawa Hachirō's goal, which he revealed following the group's arrival in Kyoto, was to gather rōnin to work with the imperialists. In response, thirteen members of the Rōshigumi became the thirteen founding members of the Shinsengumi. Other members loyal to the Tokugawa government returned to Edo and formed the Shinchōgumi 新徴組, which came under the patronage of the Shōnai domain.

The Shinsengumi members were originally also known as the Miburō (壬生浪), meaning "ronin of Mibu", Mibu being the suburb of central Kyoto where they were stationed. However, the reputation of the Shinsengumi became tarnished quite early on, and their nickname soon changed to "Wolves of Mibu" (壬生狼, pronounced the same). Shinsengumi could be translated to "Newly Selected Corps" (Shinsen means "new chosen (ones)," while "gumi" translates to "group," "team," or "squad.")

The original Commanders of the Shinsengumi were Serizawa Kamo, Kondō Isami, and Shinmi Nishiki. At first, the group was composed of three major factions: Serizawa's group, Kondo's group, and Tonouchi's group (members below). However, Tonouchi and Iesato were assassinated shortly after its foundation.

Serizawa's faction:

Serizawa Kamo
Niimi Nishiki
Hirayama Gorou
Hirama Juusuke
Noguchi Kenji
Araya Shingorou
Saeki Matasaburou

Kondo's faction:

Kondo Isami
Hijikata Toshizo
Inoue Genzaburō
Okita Souji
Nagakura Shinpachi
Saito Hajime
Harada Sanosuke
Todo Heisuke
Yamanami Keisuke

Tonouchi faction:

Tonouchi Yoshio
Iesato Tsuguo
Abiru Aisaburo
Negishi Yuuzan

After the elimination of Tonouchi Yoshio and his third faction, the group was composed of just two factions: Serizawa's Mito group and Kondō Isami's Shiekan members, both based in the Mibu neighborhood of Kyoto. The group submitted a letter to the Aizu clan requesting permission to police Kyoto, and to counteract revolutionaries who supported the emperor against the Tokugawa shogunate. Their request was granted.

On September 30th (lunar calendar August 18), the Chōshū clan were forced out of the Imperial court by the Tokugawa regime, the Aizu clan and the Satsuma clan. All members of the Mibu Rōshigumi were sent to aid Aizu and help keep Chōshū out of the imperial court by guarding its gates. This caused a power shift in the political arena in Kyoto, from the extreme anti-Tokugawa Chōshū forces to the pro-Tokugawa Aizu forces. The new name "Shinsengumi" was said to have been given to the group by either the Imperial Court or Matsudaira Katamori (the daimyo of the Aizu clan) for their job in guarding the gates.

The Shinsengumi's greatest enemies were the imperialist-supporting ronin samurai of the Mori clan of Chōshū (and later, former ally Shimazu Clan of Satsuma.)

Ironically, the reckless actions of Serizawa and Shinmi, done in the name of the Shinsengumi, caused the group to be feared in Kyoto when their job was to keep the peace. On October 19, 1863, Shinmi Nishiki, who was demoted to sub-commander due to a fight with wrestlers, was forced to commit seppuku by Hijikata and Yamanami. Less than two weeks later, Serizawa was assassinated by Kondō's faction under Matsudaira Katamori's order.

The Ikedaya Affair of 1864, in which they prevented the burning of Kyoto, made the Shinsengumi famous overnight; they had a surge of recruits.

The Shinsengumi remained loyal to the Tokugawa bakufu, and left Kyoto peacefully under the supervision of the wakadoshiyori Nagai Naoyuki, shortly after the withdrawal of Tokugawa Yoshinobu. However, as they had been posted as security forces in Fushimi, they soon took part in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. Later, while continuing the fight outside of Edo, Isami Kondō was captured and beheaded by the Meiji government. A group of Shinsengumi men under Saitō Hajime fought in defense of the Aizu domain, and many of the others went on northward under Hijikata, joining the forces of the Republic of Ezo. During this interval, Shinsengumi was able to recover some of its strength, bringing its numbers above 100. Generally, the death of Toshizō Hijikata on June 20 (lunar calendar May 11), 1869 is seen as marking the end of the Shinsengumi, though another group of survivors, under Sōma Kazue, which had been under Nagai Naoyuki's supervision at Benten-daiba, surrendered separately.

A few core members, such as Nagakura Shinpachi, Saito Hajime, and Shimada Kai, survived the demise of the group. Some members, such as Takagi Teisaku, would even become prominent figures in society.

 

reference : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinsengumi

 

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