|A Propensity to Kill
"I despise killing and have never killed a man," Katsu Kaishu once said. "Take my sword, for example. I used to keep it tied so tightly to the sword guard, that I couldn't draw the Hade even if I had wanted to. I've always been resolved not to cut a -person even if that person should cut me. I look at such a person as no more than a flea. If one lands on your shoulder, all it can do is bite a little. This causes nothing more than an itch, and has nothing to do with life." Sakamoto Ryoma, also noted for his abhorrence of bloodshed, killed a man only once—in self-defense. Both Ryoma and his mentor Kaishu were expert swordsmen whose respect for life was founded on strength. Similarly, the cherished slogan of Saigo the Great, quintessential samurai and military leader of Satsuma, was "Love mankind, revere heaven." Certainly it was the conviction of these three warriors, among the most lauded in Japanese history, that killing in any situation hut a last resort was a gross violation of Bushido. Not so the men of the Shinsengumi, whose propensity to kill, bolstered by their own stringent and sanguine code, was unsurpassed during those extraordinarily bloody times.
The Shinsengumi's loyalty to the Tokugawa Bakufu was unquestionable. They nevertheless embraced the same rigid antiforeignism and Imperial Loyalism espoused by the anti-Tokugawa radicals whom they were commissioned to destroy. In October 1863, two months after Choshu had been expelled from Kyoto and one month after the assassination of Serizawa Kamo, Kondo Isami attended a gathering of representatives of various han, including Satsuma, Aizu and Tosa, who supported a Union of Court and Camp. The men consumed large quantities of sake and talked a great deal. Little was said, however, about the myriad problems confronting Japan, the most pressing of which regarded foreign relations, the punishment of Choshu, and a union between the emperor and shogun to solve these problems through a national consensus. Kondo, stern as always and probably annoyed at the mute silence regarding these critical matters, was urged by Aizu and Satsuma men to present his political views. "Both Satsuma and Choshu have attempted to expel the barbarians," he said, referring to the former's sea battle against the British in the previous July38 and the latter's attack on foreign ships in May "But both were attempts by only one han. Still we have not come together as a whole nation to act against the barbarians. Through a Union of Court and Camp we must embrace the Imperial Court, aid the Bakufu, arrive at a [consensus in] national sentiment through cooperation between those in high positions and those below [them], and by so doing expel the barbarians."
With the exception of Choshu and the radical elements of Tosa and Satsuma who were not represented at the gathering, Kondo's political stance was common among samurai throughout Japan. Even the most radical of the anti-Tokugawa men would have agreed with Kondo, had he not called for Kyoto to unite with Edo and for the feudal lords to aid the Tokugawa. While Kondo and most, if not all, of the men under his command fully intended to expel the foreigners, they would do so under the legal authority of the Tokugawa Shogun and not under the renegade Choshu domain. This had been their primary motive for breaking ranks with Kiyokawa Hachiro, when the latter returned to Edo in obedience of an imperial order. The Bakufu, of course, had no intention of expelling the foreigners. Edo's immediate concern was to suppress the Loyalists in Kyoto, to which end it worked to form an alliance with the Imperial Court. The Imperial Court, however, refused to relinquish its xenophobic stance, while the Bakufu, which had monopolistic control of international trade, favored intercourse with foreign nations. Further complicating the situation were certain powerful feudal lords who, jealous of Edo's trade monopoly, supported a Union of Court and Camp even as they vied among one another to gain political ground on the Bakufu. The most prominent of these lords were the so-called Four Brilliant Lords of these very troubled times: Shimazu Hisamitsu of Satsuma, Yamanouchi Yodo of Tosa, Date Munenari of Uwajima and Matsudaira Shungaku of Fukui. The former three were outside lords, the latter a close relative of the shogun.
As sole commander of the Shinsengumi, then, Kondo Isami's two immediate objectives were to suppress the enemies of the Tokugawa and to expel the foreigners. Needless to say, the Edo authorities were pleased with this powerful security force under the protector of Kyoto. In October, in recognition of their loyalty, the roshi of the Shinsengumi were invited to officially join the ranks of the hatamoto, the so-called Eighty Thousand Knights of the Tokugawa Shogun.39 A generous monthly stipend was attached. Although the entire corps, from Kondo and Hijikata on down, undoubtedly and indisputably coveted official ranking within the Tokugawa hierarchy, Kondo refused the offer. As long as the foreigners remained in Japan, he felt that his corps had fulfilled only one of its objectives. Until the foreigners could be expelled, he did not feel deserving of official rank. Kondo did, however, accept the stipend, which he badly needed. He now received fifty ryo per month, Hijikata forty ryo. Lesser officers received thirty ryo, and the rank and file ten ryo each.40
During the two and a half centuries of Pax Tokugawa, many in the samurai class, particularly those in the service of the Bakufu, had lost interest in the martial arts. Their swords had become symbols of their social status rather than weapons of war. These samurai had become administrators and government officials instead of warriors. Katsu Kaishu, always critical of his fellow Tokugawa samurai, had the following to say about the situation:
Originally many hatamoto of the Tokugawa . . . had fortitude and invincibility. But during the more than two hundred years of peace they indulged in luxury, lapsed into idleness, and eventually became pulpy. Long ago they lost the hereditary customs of their ancestors. And so, in the face of the great difficulties of the final years of the Bakufu, all they could do was get excited and make a lot of noise, as if someone had turned over their toy boxes. They were completely useless.
The decadence of samurai in Edo notwithstanding, the threat of foreign aggression served as a great awakening to those in other parts of Japan. There was a renaissance in the martial arts. Many among the warrior class rediscovered the original purpose of their swords, and practiced kenjutsu with a renewed passion. Even men of the peasant class dressed themselves as samurai, armed themselves with two swords, and took up the study of kenjutsu. The latter phenomenon, of course, was prevalent in the native countryside of the master of the Shieikan. Kondo Isami held to the common belief that rigorous martial arts training was essential for cultivating courage, martial spirit, and fighting technique. With Hijikata, he established a mandatory curriculum based on this belief. Included in the corps' curriculum were kenjutsu, jujutsu, yarijutsu, artillery, and horsemanship. It was not tolerated for any member to miss even one training session. Members were also required to study the manly art of literature. Kondo himself practiced calligraphy with near-religious fervor for two hours each night—rarely, if ever, missing a session. He was determined to take his place among the great men of his time, most of whom excelled in both poetry and martial arts. He took the pseudonym Toshu, literally Eastern Province, from his belief in the warlike superiority of the samurai of the east over their counterparts in the west.
To further prepare the rank and file for the myriad and unknown dangers of street fighting and actual warfare, special practice sessions were held in the dark of night, using real swords instead of the bamboo or wooden practice weapons of the training hall. Upon occasion the men were aroused from sleep by a fellow corpsman brandishing a drawn blade. The result could be bloody, if not fatal. (Since the men slept in barracks, it is not inconceivable that even a man who successfully defended himself from a surprise attack might have ultimately been ordered to commit seppuku. In such a scenario, the defender, after disposing of his assailant, might have been cut from behind by a man near him who had been aroused from sleep by the sudden disturbance. It was, after all, a violation of Bushido to be attacked from behind, and it was against Shinsengumi regulations to violate the Code of the Samurai.) To hone their ability to cut through human flesh, the men of the Shinsengumi were subjected to performing executions, or serving as seconds for fellow corpsmen who had been condemned to commit seppuku. It was the obligation of the second to decapitate the condemned man only after the latter had duly sliced open his belly—or if the condemned man was not up to the task, to push him over the brink with one clean stroke of the sword.
Every day the men would go out and cross swords with the enemy. One corpsman claimed that the blood of the man he had killed today splattered on the ridge of the adjacent house. Another said that the blood [of his victim] hadn't splattered beyond the white paneled wall. Still another boasted that the blood of the man he had cut down had reached the roof of the house.
This passage from Shimosawa's narrative suggests, at the very least, that more men were killed by the Shinsengumi than can be accounted for. Killing had become a daily occupation for the corps-men, whose very livelihood now depended on terror and bloodshed. Perhaps the most brutal killer in the corps was the commander. "He ^as fearsome even when drinking," Kondo Isami's former mistress, who had been employed as a courtesan in Kyoto, reminisced nearly half a century later. "People would talk about whom they had killed today, and whom they were going to kill tomorrow. It was all so frightful. According to what I had heard, by that time Kondo had killed fifty or sixty men."
While the men of the Shinsengumi were possessed of superior martial spirit, fighting technique, and an unflinching propensity to kill, not even these attributes necessarily distinguished them from others of their countrymen, including their enemies. Takechi Hanpeita, the leader of the radical Tosa Loyalist Party, wielded a hit squad to terrorize the streets of Kyoto in the early 1860s. Hanpeita's notorious hit men, Okada Izo and Tanaka Shinbe, both of whom used the nom de guerre Hito-kiri (literally, Person Cutter), had cut down numerous men during Hanpeita's reign of terror. There were many such professional killers as Okada and Tanaka on both sides of the revolution. What distinguished the Shinsengumi, then, from other terrorists and assassins was the advantage they held in their official sanction to kill. For better or for worse, their martial spirit, fighting technique, and propensity to kill were bolstered by the support they received by the central government in Edo.
But perhaps most significantly, the superior force of the Shinsengumi was tempered by their stringent code and by a strict screening process by which Kondo and Hijikata recruited the rank and file. Before a candidate would be accepted as a "regular corps-man," he had to prove himself worthy, demonstrating the proper degrees of courage, martial sprit, fighting technique, and propensity to kill. A candidate might be tested in the training hall, through a bout with real swords. He might be required to perform an execution or assist as a second in a seppuku. If a candidate even grimaced or turned the slightest bit pale at the sight of the gore, he would fail the test. Even if he passed the test, he might still receive only "temporary" status. Before being made a full-fledged member, he might be required to prove his worthiness through actual battle in the streets. If he demonstrated the proper skill, courage, and propensity to kill in real combat, he would become a regular. If not, he might be killed by the enemy or executed for violating the code. The following noted example of this requirement of success in combat is that of a man named Hashimoto Kaisuke.
In July 1864, in a failed attempt to regain the favor of the Imperial Court, Choshu fired upon its Satsuma and Aizu foes, who defended the palace gates.41 In the following month the Bakufu issued a decree for the great feudal domains to prepare their armies for a military expedition against Choshu.42 Edo's widely maligned intent, which would ultimately fail, was to punish Choshu while regaining its absolute authority of the past. In efforts to check rampant rumors in Kyoto regarding the expedition, to gain popular support, and to assure the people that Pax Tokugawa reigned now that Choshu had been suppressed, the Bakufu posted bulletin boards along roadsides and bridges around the city. These bulletin boards defamed Choshu for its "unequivocal treason." But the Bakufu would not gain the support of the people in Kyoto; and its ill-advised public relations ploy only further antagonized Choshu and its supporters, including the numerous ronin hiding in the Imperial Capital. It was generally believed that the Shinsengumi and their Aizu allies resorted to extortion, intimidation, and violence. The Shinsengumi and Aizu were, to say the least, unpopular among the local people, who were sympathetic, if not boldly supportive, of the Choshu Loyalists and their ronin allies.
The Bakufu continued to post the defamatory bulletin boards for two years, until they became an eyesore to the Loyalists. Finally, in August 1866, under the cover of night, a group of ronin smeared black ink on a bulletin board at the western approach of Sanjo Large Bridge.43 When the authorities discovered the vandalism the next morning, they erected a new bulletin board. When this and subsequent bulletin boards were similarly defaced, the Shinsengumi were called in.
On the night of September 12, Vice Commander Hijikata Toshizo dispatched thirty-four men to suppress the vandalism. The men divided into three groups on the eastern, western, and southern sides of the bridge. Two corpsmen, dressed like beggars in straw overcoats and armed with guns, waited for the vandals beneath the bridge.44
If anyone suspicious should approach, these spies would fire their guns to warn the others, who would rush to the bridge to apprehend the vandals. One of the spies was the candidate Hashimoto Kaisuke.
At around midnight Hashimoto spotted eight Tosa men approaching northward along the riverbed. In the bright silver light of a full autumn moon he could clearly see their long swords at their sides, and he could hear them singing as they walked deliberately over the rocky beach. As soon as it became apparent that they were headed straight for the bulletin board at the approach to the bridge, Hashimoto fired a warning shot.
Pandemonium ensued atop the bridge when the Tosa men threw two bulletin boards into the river below. The samurai fought beneath the moonlight, their swords clanging and flashing amid their battle cries. The Tosa men were outnumbered and outexperi-enced. They fled to a nearby street, where Hashimoto killed one of the enemy with his sword. Harada killed another; they captured a third, alive but badly wounded. The other five Tosa men escaped. Hashimoto and a few others of the Shinsengumi were slightly wounded. Soon they returned to headquarters to report the incident to Hijikata. Hashimoto passed the test, was awarded fifteen ryo for his valor, and became a full-fledged member of the Shinsengumi.
The grim propensity and formidable skills of the tried-and-true killers of the Shinsengumi were repeatedly wielded by their commander. As previously noted, Kondo Isami was possessed of an unyielding will to power, intensified by the germ of self-importance. It was this selfsame will to power that had been the demise of Serizawa Kamo, whom Kondo had purged from his corps. And certainly it was Serizawa's extraordinary sense of self-importance that in the previous summer had led him to cut down the lone sumo wrestler in Osaka, which, in turn, incited the attempted revenge by the wrestler's stablemates. Kondo had immediately reported the incident to a Tokugawa magistrate in Osaka. "We killed them because they insulted us," he said, fully expecting his statement to settle the matter. But there was an official at the magistrate's office, named Uchiyama Hikojiro, who did not approve of the Shinsengumi's strong-arm methods of procuring money. What's more, he was known for his unwillingness to look the other way. He prodded Kondo regarding the details of the alleged insult. Kondo strongly objected on the grounds that since his corps had acted under the authority of the protectpr of Kyoto, the matter was beyond the jurisdiction of an Osaka magistrate. Although Uchiyama was forced to drop the investigation, he would one day pay the ultimate price for challenging Commander Kondo's authority.
That day came in the following May (1864). Kondo, accompanied by Okita, Harada, Nagakura, and Inoue, made a special trip to Osaka. They learned that Uchiyama worked until around ten o'clock each night, and that he employed a palanquin to take him from his office to his home. They knew that his palanquin must cross a certain bridge, and that the immediate vicinity would be desolate at that late hour. Kondo and his men waited in the darkness at the approach to the bridge.
Uchiyama's palanquin was accompanied by a bodyguard. But to no avail. With the sudden appearance of five men in the darkness, each brandishing a drawn sword, the bodyguard and palanquin bearers fled for their lives. Okita thrust his sword through the thin paper wall of the palanquin, stabbing Uchiyama. They pulled the wounded man onto the street and beheaded him. They skewered the bloody head onto a bamboo stake. They stuck the stake into the soft ground near the bridge. They left behind a placard to falsely announce to the world that Uchiyama had been punished with Heaven's Revenge for crimes against the people. Their plan, of course, was to make it appear as if still another Tokugawa official had been killed by ronin. Their plan was successful. The Shinsengumi would not be implicated in Uchiyama's assassination for more than a quarter century later, long after all of the men involved, with the exception of Nagakura, had died.
Slaughter at the Ikeda’Ya
On a windy night in June the rebels would set fire to the Imperial Palace and in the ensuing uproar kidnap the emperor. They would wait in hiding for the protector of Kyoto to rush to the scene, as he inevitably would, and cut him down on the spot. They would kill any other feudal lords who opposed them, and remove the emperor to Choshu. They would then request the Son of Heaven to issue an imperial decree to attack the Bakufu and have the court appoint the Lord of Choshu as protector of Kyoto.
That this plot was ill-timed, ill-devised, and ill-fated and that it would ultimately bring about the end of the movement to expel the foreigners did not diminish the far-reaching effect of the turning point in the revolution that was its natural result. Meanwhile, the propensity to kill that was the trademark of the Shinsengumi became most blatant at the bloody and infamous nexus of that turning point—the daughter at the Ikeda'ya.
In the fifth month of the first and only year of the era of Genji— May 1864—at the approach of yet another frenetic and even bloodier summer in the Imperial Capital, Commander Kondolsami had second thoughts about his role as chief policeman in Kyoto, and considered disbanding the Shinsengumi. In the previous January, Shogun Tokugawa lemochi had visited Kyoto for a second time to shore up consensus among the leading proponents of a Union of Court and Camp, who had regained political control after the August coup. Talks were held between January and March at both the Imperial Court and Nijo Castle, the Tokugawa stronghold in Kyoto. In attendance were six powerful feudal lords who supported a union. Included were Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu, and the Lords of Aizu, Fukui, Tosa, Satsuma, and Uwajima.45 Two main issues were discussed. The first concerned closing the eastern port at Yokohama to foreigners, which would restrict foreign trade to Nagasaki in the southwest and Hokodate in the far north. The Tokugawa side argued that Yokohama should be closed to demonstrate to the Imperial Court lemochi's good intentions of fulfilling his promise to expel the foreigners. But the Bakufu was bluffing. It had no intention of closing Yokohama or expelling the foreigners. Its ulterior motive remained constant: appeasing the xenophobic emperor in order to regain the political upper hand from the powerful feudal domains. The other feudal lords in attendance, most notably Shimazu Hisamitsu of Satsuma, opposed the Tokugawa side, arguing that reneging on the commercial treaties might incite a war with the foreigners. The other issue regarded treatment of the renegade Choshu domain. Yoshinobu led the Tokugawa side in calling for harsh treatment of this avowed enemy of the Bakufu, including a possible military expedition to punish Choshu. The other lords argued for leniency. Consensus could not be reached, and the talks broke down in March. Meanwhile, the shogun was presented with an imperial mandate to expel the foreigners.
But expelling the foreigners by military force was no more possible then than it had been in the previous year, when Choshu had fired on foreign ships at Shimonoseki. When it came to Kondos attention that the shogun would again leave Kyoto without a definite plan for Joi, he promptly submitted a letter to Aizu Han, requesting permission to disband the Shinsengumi. He reminded the authorities that he and his men had originally enlisted in the Roshi Corps not only to protect the shogun, which entailed round-ing up and killing enemies of the Tokugawa, but also to fight in Kyoto at the vanguard of the movement to Expel the Barbarians. As if to appease Kondo, the authorities again offered him and his men official ranking within the Tokugawa hierarchy. They also assured Kondo, tongue in cheek, that the shogun would close Yokohama and that the Shinsengumi would eventually return to Edo to help him expel the foreigners from Japan. Kondo expressed his inclination to accept this second offer to join the Tokugawa ranks, probably because he was beginning to realize that the Bakufu would not start a war with foreign powers. Kondo was absolutely correct—and it is an irony of history that despite his misgivings, just one month after he had submitted the letter to Aizu, an event occurred at an inn in Kyoto that firmly established the Shinsengumi as the Bakufu's most formidable force in rounding up and killing enemies of the Tokugawa.
Since the Coup of 8/18, it had been rumored that troops in Choshu were planning an attack on the Imperial Capital. Imperial Loyalists continued to wreak Heaven's Revenge upon the Tokugawa and their supporters in Kyoto and Osaka. Choshu was naturally suspected of the crimes. In April the Shinsengumi arrested a Choshu man for arson. Under the pain of torture he divulged that some 250 Choshu samurai were hiding in Kyoto. On June 1 the Shinsengumi arrested two suspicious men on the east bank of the Kamogawa. Also under the pain of torture, they divulged that Choshu forces planned to assassinate the protector of Kyoto and burn the Imperial Palace. Previously, at the end of May, the Shinsengumi had learned that samurai of Choshu, banned from Kyoto, and renegade ronin had been coming and going from the Ikeda'ya inn. The Ikeda'ya was located in the Kawaramachi district, on the west side of the Kamogawa River, just north of Sanjo Small Bridge—in close proximity to the headquarters of feudal lords and the Imperial Palace, the nerve center of the city. It was known that the Ikeda'ya inn was frequented by Choshu samurai, and that the proprietor was a Loyalist sympathizer who was only too happy to provide his house to the rebels for the cause of the revolution. Kondo Isami assigned four corpsmen to investigate the potentially dangerous situation. Among them were Yamazaki Susumu and Shimada Kai.
Rondo's spies implicated a man named Furudaka Shuntaro.46 Furudaka was a ronin from the province of Omi, near Kyoto. Two years earlier he had inherited a shop called the Masu'ya, which he operated under the alias Kiemon.47 It did not escape the Shinsengumi command that the Masu'ya was located near the Ikeda'ya and the headquarters of both Choshu and Tosa. But they did not know that since the August coup, Furudaka's house had served as a place of refuge for dissident Loyalists, including men from those two clans, who plotted the overthrow of the government.
Among these dissidents was Miyabe Teizo, a ronin of Kumamoto Han. The kingpin of the planned uprising, Miyabe had previously served the powerful outside Lord of Kumamoto as chief instructor of military science. He was now counted among the national leaders of the anti-Tokugawa, antiforeign Loyalist movement. At age forty-four, he was one of the oldest, and most respected, Imperial Loyalists in Kyoto, the majority of whom were in their twenties or thirties. After the August coup, Miyabe had served as staff officer of the imperial guard, accompanying Sanjo Sanetomi during his flight to Choshu.48 Miyabe returned to Kyoto undercover in May.
An indiscretion on the part of Miyabe provided the Shinsengumi with a concrete lead to the Masu'ya. On June 1 he sent his elderly manservant, Chuzo, on an errand in town. Recognized by the Shinsengumi, Chuzo was apprehended near a Buddhist temple and interrogated as to the whereabouts of his master. When the old man refused to speak, they tied him to the main temple gate and left him there until such time as he would cooperate. When the proprietress of a nearby inn saw the old man, she set free. The Shinsengumi were watching. They followed Chuzo to the Masu'ya. By the time they arrived, Miyabe had left the jVlasu'ya for the safe confines of the Choshu estate but the samurai who called himself Kiemon, master of the Masu'ya, suffered dire consequences.
At dawn on June 5, more than twenty of the Shinsengumi, including Nagakura, Okita, Harada, Inoue, and a recruit of the previous October named Takeda Kanryusai, raided the Masu'ya. They were looking for Miyabe, who, of course, was nowhere to be found. Instead, they discovered Furudaka, whom they promptly arrested. Upon searching the house, they located a cache of guns and ammunition, along with incriminating documents exchanged among the plotters, hidden in a secret compartment in a closet wall. Through these documents the Shinsengumi confirmed the veracity of what they had heard from the two men they had recently arrested on the east bank of the Kamogawa. The rebels indeed planned to burn the palace and assassinate the protector of Kyoto. Equally startling, and certainly no less disturbing, was that the rebels also intended to kidnap the emperor. The Shinsengumi now confirmed that Furudaka was deeply involved in the plot, serving as procurer of weapons— although the details required to squelch the uprising, including the when, the where, and the how of it, eluded them.
They brought Furudaka to Mibu headquarters. He was placed in the dank and dim confines of a two-storied storeroom at the Maekawa residence, where he was interrogated by Kondo and Hijikata. Furudaka refused to speak. According to Nagakura, Furudaka had come to Kyoto resolved to die and wouldn't say a word." He was whipped until the skin on his back was shredded. He "closed his eyes, clenched his teeth, and passed out, but would not open his mouth." Finally Hijikata ran out of patience. He tied rurudaka's hands from behind, and hung him upside down with a heavy rope suspended from a wooden rafter. He drove wooden spikes through the soles of Furudaka's feet. He attached large candles to the spikes and lit the wicks. A steady stream of molten wax Mowed down Furudaka's legs. The pain was excruciating. After suffering for nearly half an hour, he finally broke down. Not only did "e confirm the plan for a coup d'etat, as had been previously indicated in the documents discovered at his home, but he also made known that his comrades, including men from Choshu, were hiding at private residences and inns around Kawaramachi.
The unexpected implications of Furudaka's confession at once alarmed and enraged Kondo and Hijikata—and stimulated their propensity to kill. No less alarmed and enraged were the rebels when they learned of Furudaka's arrest and the discovery of the incriminating letters and weapons cache. Most of the rebels were from Choshu, Tosa, or Kumamoto. While they did not believe that Furudaka would willfully divulge their plans to the enemy, the notorious reputation of the Shinsengumi was enough to incite their worst fears. The more levelheaded among them, assuming that Furudaka had been killed and their plot discovered, proposed returning to their respective domains and devising a counterplan to strike at a more opportune time. But certain hotheaded men argued to raid Shinsengumi headquarters without delay, kill any of the enemy inside, rescue Furudaka if he was alive, and proceed with their original plan. The rebels called a meeting that night to decide which course to take. The meeting place was the Ikeda'ya inn in Kawaramachi.
On the same evening, samurai of five pro-Tokugawa clans, including Aizu, Hikone, and Kuwana,49 along with the Shinsengumi and other forces, performed security checks at inns, teahouses, restaurants, and headquarters of feudal domains in and around Kawaramachi. The number of men in the Shinsengumi had dwindled to forty. Some of them were ill, leaving just thirty-four men available for service on that evening. Kondo took nine of these men to search the west side of the river. Among them were Nagakura, Okita, and Todo—three of the corps' best swordsmen. Hijikata led some twenty men, including Harada, Inoue, and Saito, to the east side.50
June 5 was the eve of the great Gion Festival in Kyoto, which attracted sightseers from all over Japan. It was a hot summer night. The vicinity of Sanjo Small Bridge, alight with a fete of red and white lanterns, was crowded with people seeking relief in the cool breeze blowing from the Kamogawa. As Nagakura would recall nearly five decades later, certainly none among the crowd suspected, even in their wildest imagination, that one of the bloodiest fights and most significant incidents of the sanguine final years of the Tokugawa Bakufu was about to unfold in their midst. Nor did Kondo's men, even as they reached the front gate of the Ikeda'ya at around ten o'clock, suspect that they were about to cross swords with numerous of the enemy upstairs.51
The rebels upstairs, meanwhile, had no inkling that ten expert swordsman, as resolved to die to protect the Bakufu as they themselves were to destroy it, now passed through the front gate of the inn. Kondo's men wore shirts of chain mail and iron helmets with flowing mail hoods and gloves, such as those Kondo had received from his friends in Tama.52 The rebels had no such protection. They were crowded into one room, dressed lightly for the hot night. They drank sake, and fervently discussed their war plans. The more they drank, the greater their excitement; the greater their excitement, the more they drank. The ten men downstairs must have heard the ruckus upstairs. Kondo entered first, followed by Nagakura, Okita, and Todo. The others remained outside to prevent escape. As the four swordsmen entered, they found guns and spears. They tied these weapons together so that they could not be readily used. Kondo called for the proprietor, who came quickly from the next room.
"Who's there?" the proprietor asked.
"Shinsengumi!" Kondo roared. "We've come to search the place."
The proprietor panicked. He ran up the rear staircase. The tour swordsmen followed him. Upstairs they encountered some twenty men, their swords drawn. "We've come to investigate," Kondo announced. "If you resist, we'll kill you without mercy." According to Nagakura's memoirs, "All of them trembled with fear and moved back. Just then, one of the rebels, a particularly brave man, suddenly attacked with his sword. Okita killed him with one stroke. Others fled downstairs. . . . Kondo instructed us to follow them."
Downstairs Okita began coughing up blood, incapacitated by a fit of the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him. Kondo guarded the rear of the house. Nagakura covered the area near the front door. Todo watched the garden. Soon Hijikata and his men arrived at the scene. As one of the rebels tried to escape through the front door, Tani Sanjuro, of Hijikata's group, stabbed him with a spear. Nagakura followed, delivering the coup de grace to the man's shoulder. Now another man tried to flee through the front door. Nagakura sliced open his upper body, from the shoulder to the opposite side. "When I went to the garden, there was one man hiding in the latrine. I stabbed him through. He tried to draw his sword, but was so weak that he collapsed. I immediately cut him again on the body."
Soon samurai of Aizu and other clans surrounded the Ikeda'ya. The rebels "came at us like cornered rats, brandishing their swords fiercely above their heads," Nagakura recalled. "Todo's helmet was knocked off by an enemy sword," Kondo wrote to his family and friends in the east. "Todo was cut at the center of his forehead," Nagakura wrote. "The blood ran into his eyes, making it difficult for him to fight." The man who had cut Todo came after Nagakura. A desperate fight ensued, during which the tip of the enemy's blade caught Nagakura about the chest, "not exactly wounding me but ripping my clothes to shreds." Nagakura blocked another attack to his wrist and immediately delivered a counterattack, cutting the man from the left side of the face to the neck. "Blood sprayed as he fell." Meanwhile, Nagakura "noticed that my right hand was sticky. Looking closer, I saw that the flesh had been torn away at the base of my thumb." Kondo fought furiously against four or five of the enemy. "He was nearly cut three different times. When Harada, Inoue, and Takeda burst into the house, four of the rebels threw down their swords and allowed themselves to be captured. Just then, several more corpsmen who had been guarding the front entrance rushed inside. Suddenly one of the rebels upstairs | fell through the ceiling. "Takeda Kanryusai cut him," and Shimada Kai delivered the deathblow with his sword.
"We fought against a large number of rebels," Kondo wrote. "The sparks flew [from our swords]. After we had fought for a cou- , pie of hours, Nagakura's sword had been broken in two, Okita's sword had been broken off at the tip, the blade of Todo's sword had been cut up like a bamboo whisk. . . . My sword, perhaps because it is the prize sword Kotetsu, was unscathed. . . . Although I have been in frequent battles . . . our opponents were many and all courageous fighters, so that I nearly lost my life."
By the time the fighting ended, thousands of samurai of the Tokugawa camp had been deployed to the area surrounding the Ikeda'ya. According to Kondo's letter, seven rebels were killed during the fighting, four subsequently died from their wounds, and twenty-three were captured. A number of rebels committed suicide after being severely wounded, both inside and outside the Ikeda'ya.
The rebel leader Miyabe Teizo had put up a fierce fight but was no match for Kondo, Okita, Nagakura et al. Miyabe received multiple wounds to the body. Rather than be taken alive, he committed seppuku at the base of the stairs. Miyabe had been particularly close to two late Loyalist leaders — Yoshida Shoin and Kiyokawa Hachiro. The former was the archetype of Japanese revolutionaries and beloved teacher of the Imperial Loyalists of the Choshu clan. He preached the doctrines of Imperial Reverence and Expel the Barbarians. Shoin was beheaded during li Naosuke's purge. Miyabe, Kiyokawa, and Shoin had all been eliminated. That the Shinsengumi were directly responsible for the demise of the first, had opposed the second, and killed disciples of the third certainly did not escape the appreciation of the protector of Kyoto or the authorities in Ldo.
Among Shoin's disciples killed at the Ikeda'ya was Yoshida Toshimaro of Choshu. Before his death, Shoin had expressed his expectation that Toshimaro would play a vital role in the revolution. Toshimaro was only eighteen years old when Shoin was executed in Edo in 1859. Five years later in Kyoto, he and Miyabe planned the foiled uprising. After receiving a minor shoulder wound, Toshimaro escaped from the Ikeda'ya to call for reinforcements at the nearby Choshu estate. The circumstances of his death are unclear. According to Shimosawa, after arming himself with a spear, he ran back to the Ikeda'ya to continue fighting. In the garden at the rear of the house, he encountered Okita, who killed him without a contest.53
Mochizuki Kameyata, a Tosa ronin, close friend of Sakamoto, and student of Katsu Kaishu, also died in the fighting. Although he had managed to escape from the Ikeda'ya, the dragnet on the streets outside was tight. When some Aizu men tried to arrest him, he abruptly hacked off one of their arms. With a second stroke he split open the face of another. He ran toward the safe confines of the Choshu estate. But he was badly wounded, and his energy drained fast. Rather than allow himself to be captured, he kneeled down, drew his short sword, and plunged the blade into his lower abdomen.
Of the scores of Choshu samurai hiding in Kyoto, few would survive the revolution. Among the survivors was Katsura Kogoro, a founding father of modern Japan.54 A brilliant scholar under Yoshida Shoin, expert swordsman, behind-the-scenes manipulator who was never in the wrong place at the wrong time, cagey negotiator of the future Satsuma-Choshu Alliance that would ultimately topple the Tokugawa, Katsura, age thirty-one, was the political leader of the Choshu revolutionaries. He had left Hagi, one of the two political centers of Choshu, the previous January. He arrived in Kyoto the same month, used an alias, and hid at the Kyoto estate of Tsushima Han.
While the radicals in Kyoto were raring to attack the Tokugawa side, the cool, calculating Choshu leader opposed them. After the breakdown of the talks among the leading feudal lords, Katsura surmised that Choshu was on the verge of regaining the political edge in Kyoto, and he wanted to postpone an uprising until that political edge could be secured. To this end, he negotiated undercover in Kyoto to gain support among the revolutionaries of certain powerful clans, including Tottori, Chikuzen, Bizen and Tsushima—all ruled by outside lords. He temporarily succeeded in persuading his comrades-in-arms in Choshu to delay their war plans. After the Ikeda'ya Incident, however, they would no longer be pacified. His whereabouts during the attack are a mystery of history. Having been requested by Miyabe and the others to attend the meeting, he had gone to the Ikeda'ya about one hour before the attack. Katsura mentioned in his autobiography that "since nobody had yet arrived, I went to the nearby Tsushima estate."
The proprietor of the Ikeda'ya fled with his wife and children. "His hands had not been tied," Nagakura recalled. After the fighting inside, the proprietor had "untied the ropes binding some of the Choshu rebels, allowing them to escape. When Harada Sanosuke noticed this, he pursued and killed them." On the following day, the proprietor was arrested, interrogated, and thrown in jail, where he "died from severe torture."
The aftermath of the "unparalleled tragedy," as described by Nagakura, was telltale of the extraordinary violence of the battle:
Not one of the paper screen doors was left intact, all of them having been smashed to pieces. The wooden boards of the ceiling were also torn apart when men who had been hiding above the boards were stabbed with spears from below. The tatami mats in a number of rooms, both upstairs and downstairs, were spotted with fresh blood. Particularly pitiful were the arms and feet, and pieces of facial skin with the hair still attached, scattered about.
The scene outside was similarly "pitiful." According to one eyewitness, the corpses of men who had committed seppuku remained on the streets for hours, which, in the intense summer heat, must have presented a ghastly spectacle.55 Another eyewitness reported vast amounts of blood in front of the nearby estates of the Choshu and Kaga domains and in the garden of a merchant house also in close proximity to the Ikeda'ya.
Only three of the men gathered at the Ikeda'ya inn on the night of June 5, 1864, would survive the revolution. The casualties suffered by the Loyalists, both at the Ikeda'ya and in the retaliatory attack by Choshu in the following month,56 were devastating. Through their raid on the Ikeda'ya, the Shinsengumi are credited with having delayed the Meiji Restoration by a full year. "Had the Shinsengumi not achieved a great victory by attacking the Ikeda'ya," Nagakura claimed, "the life of the Tokugawa Bakufu would have been that much shorter." But the outrage ignited among the Choshu samurai served to shore up previously lacking consensus in their clan for an all-out war against the Tokugawa, marking a turning point in the revolution. And it is this fact that gives pause to the widespread notion that the Ikeda'ya Incident delayed the Meiji Restoration and rather lends support to the argument that the slaughter actually hastened the final collapse of the Bakufu.
Unarguable is that at the Ikeda'ya the Shinsengumi cut their way into the very psyche of these bloody times, becoming the most feared police force in Japanese history. The men gloried in their victory. As Kondoand his men marched back to their headquarters the next morning, "a crowd of tens of thousands [watched us] from the roadside." They marched in double file. Some carried their drawn swords in hand—because their blades of tempered steel, bent or broken, could not be resheathed. Okita, having recovered from his coughing fit, walked of his own accord. Todo, covered with blood, had to be carried on a stretcher. Nagakura was also bloodied. According to Shimosawa, Kondo and Hijikata led the way, smiling at every step. Certainly the two Shinsengumi leaders were elated. They had wielded their propensity to kill to exercise their will to power and now walked away victorious, demonstrating to themselves and to the world their extraordinary importance. Merely suppressing ronin was a thing of the past; killing the enemies of the Tokugawa Shogunate was now their raison d'etre. In their victory, they were unfazed by the fact that they had butchered some of the finest men of their generation. Kondo and Hijikata "were so composed," wrote Shimosawa, "that one would never have thought they had just fought such a fierce battle."
Only one corpsman was killed during the fighting. Four others were wounded, two fatally. Two days after the Ikeda'ya Incident, Aizu Han rewarded the Shinsengumi with six hundred ryo, among other gifts. Of this, Commander Kondo received thirty ryo, a new sword, and a cask of sake. Vice Commander Hijikata was awarded twenty-three ryo. Okita, Nagakura, Todo, Takeda, and two others each received twenty ryo. Eleven corpsmen, including Inoue, Harada, Saito, and Shimada, were awarded seventeen ryo each. Twelve corpsmen received fifteen ryo each. The families of the three men who had been killed were each awarded twenty ryo.