Shinsengumi: The Shogun’s Last Samurai Corps



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A Tale of Bushido
To bear the full and final burden of responsibility for one's actions was a fundamental requirement ofBushido. The Code of the Samurai was given precedence over personal rights and wrongs in any given situa­tion, just as it superseded family, clan, and liege lord. And it was by this unyielding and noble code that the samurai preserved their ancient and unchallenged honor, even as their social and political sys­tems crumbled around them.

After the Ikeda'ya Incident, the authorities ordered the Shinsengumi and other security forces to patrol the city day and night in search of Choshu samurai or their accomplices who might still be lurking in Kyoto. The Shinsengumi performed their job well. "Their surveillance at night brought them from rooftop to rooftop," wrote one contemporary. "If they discovered ronin, they'd kick down the doors to arrest every last one of them, even thirty or forty at a time." According to Shimada Kai, Kondo went out on patrol astride a white horse and was always accompanied by five or six men wearing white Ileadbands and carrying spears.

On the night of June 10, just five days after the Ikeda'ya Incident, the Shinsengumi learned that Choshu men had assem­bled at a restaurant, the Akebono-tei, in the Higashiyama hills on the east side of the city. Several of the Shinsengumi proceeded to the Akebono-tei, accompanied by Aizu men. Upon arriving, instead of Choshu men, they found one lone samurai of the Tosa clan. The man's name was Asada Tokitaro. He served as an official at Tosa headquarters in Kawaramachi. When accosted, Asada attempted to flee. One of the Aizu samurai, Shiba Tsukasa, assumed that Asada was from Choshu. Shiba pursued Asada, and when he caught up to him, stabbed him on his side. The wound was not iatal but certainly debilitating. Asada now identified himself and demanded the rea­son for the Aizu man's actions. Shiba, of course, was perplexed by his blunder. After administering first aid to Asada, the Aizu men brought him to Tosa headquarters. Meanwhile, Shiba returned to Aizu headquarters to inform his lord of the mishap.

The Tosa men in Kyoto did not accept the affront lightly. One hundred of them gathered at the Akebono-tei to plan a retaliatory attack on Shinsengumi and Aizu headquarters. Meanwhile, the Aizu daimyo dispatched several men to the restaurant to apologize. But the Tosa men would not accept their apology. According to cer­tain sources, an Aizu samurai, one Chiba Jird, took matters into his own hands. He proceeded directly to Tosa headquarters, where he disemboweled himself, '['he Tosa men were finally appeased, but the incident at the Akebono-tei would not be settled so easily.

Although the Tosa daimyo was an outside lord and his domain a hotbed of anti-Tokugawa sentiment, it was a well-known fact that Yamanouchi Yodo himself was loyal to the Tokugawa. Tosa was one of the most powerful clans in Japan, and Lord Yodo one of the Four Brilliant Lords. The Lord of Aizu worried that the incident might adversely affect relations between Aizu and Tosa and, as a result, between Tosa and Edo. On the following day, he sent one or his samurai, accompanied by a physician, to Tosa headquarters. They brought gifts and offered to administer medical care to the wounded man. The Tosa officials refused their offer with the telling explanation that "the customs of our ban do not permit a samurai to regret [the loss of his] life after allowing himself to be recklessly wounded." The Aizu representatives, of course, did not need to be reminded that the whole incident had been a violation of Bushido.

Nor did Shiba. Regretting that his actions "might not only damage relations between Aizu and Tosa, but that [as a result] they might cause harm to the entire nation," he determined that "regard­less of right or wrong, I have no alternative but suicide."58 On the day after the incident, he prepared himself accordingly. After shav­ing the crown of his head and neatly arranging his topknot, he dressed himself in white and quietly sat down to die. He exchanged parting cups of sake with his two brothers and others of his com­rades, then uttered his final word: "Farewell." He unsheathed his short sword and plunged the blade into his lower abdomen. That instant one of his brothers drew his long sword and decapitated him with one clean stroke. Shiba Tsukasa was twenty-one years old.

While the Lord of Aizu was distraught at the loss of this loyal vassal, he immediately sent a messenger to Tosa headquarters to inform them of Shiba's atonement and to request that a Tosa rep­resentative inspect the corpse. Meanwhile, Asada's own gross violation of Bushido had not escaped him. Asada was shamed for having attempted to flee the initial danger. But even more dis­graceful was that he had returned to Tosa headquarters without fighting the men who had wounded him. When the Aizu messen­ger reached Tosa headquarters, he was duly informed that Asada had similarly taken his own life.
A question comes to mind: Has Bushido survived the social and political systems of the samurai? Three decades after the end of feudalism in Japan, this question was put to no less a spokesman of the samurai class than Katsu Kaishu, at the close of the nineteenth century, shortly before his death in 1899.

The samurai spirit must in time disappear. Although it is certainly unfortunate, it does not sur­prise me at all. I have long known that this would happen once the feudal system was eliminated.

But even now, if I were extremely wealthy, I'm sure that I would be able to restore that spirit within four or five years. The reason for this is simple.
During the feudal era the samurai had to neither till the fields nor sell things. They had the farmers and the merchants do those things [for them], while they received stipends from their feudal lords. They could idle away their time from morn­ing until night without worrying about not having enough to eat. And so all they had to do ... was to read books and make a fuss about such things as loyalty and honor.

Once the feudal system was eliminated and the samurai lost their stipends, it was only natural for the samurai spirit to gradually decline. ... If you were now to give them money and let them take things easy like they did in the old days, I am cer­tain that Bushido could be restored.



Battle at the Forbidden Gates
Choshu had thrown restraint to the wind. As a means for revolution, it was determined to regain the imperial grace it had lost in the Coup of 8/18. The Tokugawa regime must be destroyed, the Choshu men declared, and they would stop at nothing to realize this great objective. They would capture the emperor as they would a king in a game of chess—because the side in control of the Son of Heaven ruled the nation. But first they must attack their archenemies. Choshu blamed the Lord of Aizu, master of the Shinsengumi, for the Ikeda'ya slaugh­ter. It rightly surmised that Satsuma's alliance with Aizu was one of expedience, which the former would terminate when the time was ripe. Since its banishment from Kyoto, Choshu had been convinced of Satsuma's treachery. It suspected Satsuma of plotting to overthrow the Tokugawa Bakufu at Edo only to establish a Shimazu Bakufu at Kagoshima.^ The Choshu men would do everything and anything within their power to prevent this. They would even lay down their lives and incur the stigma of "Imperial Enemy" in the Battle at the Forbidden Gates.
News of the slaughter at the Ikeda'ya reached Choshu Han four days after the incident. The Choshu samurai were outraged. The entire domain was up in arms. Seven days later they dispatched troops to retaliate. Until the Ikeda'ya, Choshu policy had been divided between conservatives who advocated restraint in the face of']bkugawa authority and radicals who screamed for war. But their mutual outrage now united the two sides, who called for full-fledged war against the Tokugawa regime.60

By the end of June, more than two thousand Choshu-led Loyalists, including some three hundred ronin who had been hid­ing at the Choshu estate in Kyoto, were raring to fight. They divided into four divisions at as many locations outside the city—Saga in the northwest, Fushimi and Yamazaki in the south, and Yawata in the southwest. They communicated to the Imperial Court their complete devotion to the emperor; they defended the innocence of the Lord of Choshu and the court nobles who had been banished after the coup. They informed the court of their intention to remain in Kyoto to investigate those responsible for the Ikeda'ya slaughter. If their appeal was not accepted, they would attack the troops sur­rounding the Imperial Palace and retake the court by force, although they were outnumbered more than ten to one. Once in control of the Imperial Court, the Loyalists would reinstall the ban­ished nobles for the dual of purpose of restoring Choshu to imperial grace in order to finally topple the Bakufu, and revenging the slaughter of their comrades at the Ikeda'ya.

Neither the Tokugawa nor the Imperial Court would accept Choshus demands, which they correctly interpreted as a threat rather than a peaceful entreaty. The Bakufu placed fifty thousand troops on high alert throughout the city. Among them were samurai under the command of the protector of Kyoto, defending the Nine Forbidden Gates of the Imperial Palace. The court issued an edict stating that the Aizu-Satsuma coup of the previous summer was in complete harmony with the emperor's will, and that Choshu must withdraw from Kyoto immediately. When the edict reached the Choshu commanders at their camps surrounding the city, they rejected it as having been arranged by the Bakufu and Satsuma. The Bakufu now set July 19 as the deadline by which Choshu must withdraw its troops.61

In the face of impending war, Kondo Isami, clad in chain mail and helmet, two swords at his side, now issued his nine Martial Prohibitions, which he read in a loud, clear voice laced with auster­ity and conviction, to an assembly of his entire corps at the black-tiled front gate of Shinsengumi headquarters. Standing at his side was Hijikata Toshizo, also in chain mail and helmet, observing his troops through piercing dark eyes, his overpowering presence a constant reminder to the rank and file of the mortal allegiance they had pledged when joining the corps. One hundred warriors stood at perfect attention in so many well-formed lines, beneath the red and white banner of "sincerity," each with two swords at his left hip, many bearing lethal spears, some wearing iron helmets, all clad in the light blue jackets with the pointed white stripes on the sleeves. The Martial Prohibitions were explicit instructions that each man must strictly obey his duties and follow the orders of his squad cap­tain; never comment on the power of an enemy or ally, or start false rumors; abstain from eating delicacies; never become agitated in an emergency situation, but rather calmly await orders; abstain from fighting or quarreling with others, regardless of personal grudges; check his food and weapons before leaving for battle; fight to the death if his squad captain should fall in battle, and kill any cowards or those who try to flee; during a fierce battle, never remove the body of a fallen comrade other than the squad captain, and never flee; never loot or plunder after victory, but obey the law.

In preparation for the war, the Shinsengumi were stationed with the Mimawarigumi (literally, Patrolling Corps), a separate security corps supervised by the protector of Kyoto, to defend the Kujo-Kawaramachi area in the south of the city. The warriors of the Shinsengumi must have been a particularly impressive sight, because the townspeople flocked to get a glimpse of them at their encampment in Kujo-Kawaramachi.

On the sweltering night of July 18, one day before the announced deadline for Choshu's withdrawal, the warriors of that c'an began their nightlong march toward the Imperial Palace at the deep, dark toll of the eight o'clock bell. The fighting broke out at dawn the next morning. The Choshu samurai, completely outnumbered, were armed with swords, spears, and guns. They attacked Aizu and Kuwana near Hamaguri Gate, one of the Nine Forbidden Gates of the Imperial Palace. The Choshu men fought fiercely, and for a while it seemed they would win the fight. But Satsuma sud­denly joined in, firing upon Choshu's flank with four field guns.

Kondo, Hijikata, and their entire corps were certainly eager for battle. It is doubtful, however, that they actually had the chance to fight. All they could do, Hirao wrote, "was listen to the roar of gunfire coming from the direction of the Imperial Palace, with the knowledge that a fierce battle had begun." Meanwhile, no less a loyal retainer of the Tokugawa Shogun than Katsu Kaishu, deeply troubled by the fighting in Kyoto, wondered about the outcome from his naval academy in nearby Kobe—where he imparted his extensive knowledge of naval science to allies of Choshu, most notably Sakamoto Ryoma. "At night the sky over Kyoto was bright red," Kaishu recalled of his view of the distant flames that destroyed much of the city. After the fighting he proceeded to Kyoto. He trav­eled on foot along the Yodogawa River. On the way he encountered a boat carrying three samurai heading away from Kyoto. The three samurai disembarked when they saw the elite Tokugawa official. At first Kaishu thought they intended to kill him, until "two of them suddenly stabbed each other to death, while the other one stabbed himself through the throat. It was only then that I realized that [these were Choshu samurai and that] Choshu had lost the war."

Indeed, before the end of the day all four Choshu divisions had been defeated in the Battle at the Forbidden Gates. More than one hundred Loyalists perished. Forced to retreat once again, the rebels returned to Choshu in disgrace. Choshu was declared an "Imperial Enemy" for firing upon the palace. The Loyalists' second defeat in less than a year was the deathblow to the movement or Imperial Reverence and Expel the Barbarians, as the Tokugawa Bakufu, and its most dreaded security force, reigned supreme.

The Shinsengumi had brought their captives from the Ikeda'ya to Mibu headquarters for questioning. Shortly after, these men were transferred to Rokkaku Jail, in western Kyoto, just north of Mibu. Among the prisoners were numerous ronin from various domains, including Furudaka Shuntaro, and the proprietor of the Ikeda'ya. When Furudaka saw his fellow Loyalists brought into the jail, wrote Shimosawa, "so ashamed was he for giving them away that he was unable even to exchange words with them. [Rather] he prayed silently that his day of execution would come soon." Furudaka's prayers were answered on July 20, the day after the Battle at the Forbidden Gates.

The flames of war fast approached the jail. The jailers worried that the prisoners might escape. The magistrate of the jail pan­icked. He took drastic measures. The following is an eyewitness's account of the ensuing bloodbath:

The fire had started in the east on the morning of July 19. The roar of guns thundered in the sky and the cries of war pierced my ears. Two or three hun­dred Bakufu troops suddenly came to guard the jail. After a while the flames in the east died down, but [another] fire started near the Imperial Palace. The flames were spreading southward, explosions shook the earth and the report of guns rang out even more violently. I thought that Choshu must have finally attacked Kyoto, as they had previously intended, but that it was disquieting that they would bring the fire to the palace gates. . . .

. . . That night I found out that Choshu had been defeated. . . . From the window I could see that Kyoto was engulfed in flames, gleaming brilliantly and colorfully in the night.

I spent a sleepless night. The fire had swept through the lower part of Kyoto . . . and [from the smoke] the sun was the color of copper. But the fire still burned. Suddenly there was a great uproar outside. The jailers rang the alarm bell to call the troops. "The enemy is approaching the jail," they said. They told them to load their guns, and ran around with their unsheathed swords in hand. But they soon realized that what they had feared was only a [Bakufu] artillery corps patrolling Kyoto. ...

At around noontime I heard a voice saying that since the flames had reached Horikawa,62 the prisoners should be moved elsewhere because of the danger. In the afternoon a number of officers carrying spears were coming and going outside my cell, preceded by the jailers.

Thirty-three men, including Furudaka, were now taken frorrn their cells. The author of the account above remained alive in his cell to hear "the sound of swords severing heads," until all thirty three of them were finally executed before nightfall. When th| massacre was brought to the attention of the Lord of Aizu, even h|J was disturbed. He is said to have immediately summoned the mag istrate and censured him harshly.

Choshu continued to bring disaster upon itself. After the thrashm; they had incurred by the American and French warships Shimonoseki in the previous summer, the Choshu men realize! that expelling the foreigners by military force was impossible. Thejl nevertheless continued to menace foreign ships passing througrl Shimonoseki Strait. "The [Choshu] batteries had been destroyed, wrote Sir Ernest Satow, then-interpreter to the British minister i Japan, "but as soon as the foreign men-of-war quitted [sic] tb scene, the Choshu men set to work to rebuild forts, to construc| others, and to mount all the guns they could bring together. So th hornet's nest was after no long interval in good repair again, an more formidable for attack and defence than before." Choshu show of antiforeignism was actually a ploy to stir up indignatio throughout Japan, particularly in Kyoto, against the Bakufu for fail ing to expel the foreigners.

The foreign legations at Yokohama would not suffer Choshu political charades. Of this the Bakufu was well aware, just as il secretly welcomed the foreigners' ultimatum for Choshu to allo' their ships peaceful passage through Shimonoseki Strait. Chosh' ignored the ultimatum, much to the satisfaction of the Baku Edo, in fact, fully expected the foreigners to punish the renegade han. These expectations were realized on August 5, when an alii squadron of seventeen warships of Great Britain, France, the United States, and Holland, carrying 288 cannon and more than five thousand troops, pounded the Shimonoseki coastline. In one day the foreigners destroyed nearly all of Choshu's forts at Shimonoseki, and easily overran the hundreds of samurai defend­ing the coast.63 "The Japanese could not stand our advance, the sharp musketry fire threw them into disorder, and they had to run for it," wrote Satow, who had landed with the troops. "In only one case was an attempt made to come to close quarters. One fellow had concealed himself behind a door with uplifted sword in both hands ready to cut down a man just about to enter. But contrary to his expectation, his intended victim gave him a prod in the belly which laid him on his back and spoilt his little game."

Nine days later a peace treaty was concluded between Choshu and the four foreign nations. The leaders of the movement to Expel the Barbarians finally abandoned their xenophobic pol­icy—this time both in name and in practice and, as a matter of course, forfeited their claim that they alone were the true champi­ons of the Imperial Court. For the next three and a half years, Choshu would instead focus its energies on its one great objec­tive—toppling the Tokugawa Shogunate.



Return of a Hero
His indomitable will to power notwithstanding, the commander was endoived with a certain purity inherent in his humble background and refined through years of training with the sword. In the Imperial Capital his corps had metamorphosed from a vehicle of "loyalty and patriotism" into an instrument of cold-blooded murder; hut he had nevertheless retained in his heart the essence of that purity. And while that essential purity was indeed diminished by fleeting wealth, rank, and distinction, which with a poet's brush he claimed never to have desired, it was embellished by a permanent and historical heroism that would accompany him in death.

Atter the Ikeda'ya Incident there was not a soul in Kyoto who did not recognize the name Kondo Isami or who did not know of the lethal corps of swordsmen he commanded. This is not to say that the Shinsengumi had gained the favor of the good people of the imperial Capital, whose sympathy still rested with the Loyalists, the mere mention of Kondo's corps evoked hatred among the Loyalists, whose comrades they had slaughtered; fear among those whom they now hunted; gratitude and praise among the protector Kyoto and Bakufu elite; awed reverence and even adoration among the people of Musashi province and the shogun's capital three hundred miles to the east.



At the end of August 1864, the Shinsengumi commander was a different man from the reserved and stoic fencing instructor who, with seven of his top swordsmen, had left Edo in February of the previous year to join the disorderly ranks of the Roshi Corps, and different even from the co-commander who less than one year before had eliminated his only rival. The germ of self-importance in Kondo, nurtured by his unyielding will to power, had, according to Nagakura, degenerated into "reckless . . . and egotistic behavior." Kondo had ruled the Shinsengumi like a tyrant since Serizawa's assassination. "He treated our comrades at Mibu headquarters as if they were his vassals. If they did not listen to him, he would resort to the sword." Many of the corpsmen, including Nagakura, had become disillusioned with the corps and even indignant at their commander. They contemplated quitting the Shinsengumi, which, of course, was a capital offense. "There were signs that the corps would break apart." Six ranking corpsmen, including Nagakura, Harada, Saito, and Shimada, submitted to the Lord of Aizu an appeal expressing their grievances. They probably expected to be ordered by Kondo to commit seppuku for the violation of protocol. But the Lord of Aizu was neither about to let these six tried-and-true warriors die nor his crack security force break up, which, as protector of Kyoto and master of the Shinsengumi, he worried "would be attributed to my lack of insight." He would not inform the commander of his meeting with the six corpsmen or of their appeal. Instead, he called together the seven of them, including Kondo, to settle the matter over amicable cups of sake.
Perhaps it was the combination of the uncertainty of life, the con­stant threat of imminent death, and the virulence of youth that encouraged unbridled profligacy among samurai on both sides ot the revolution. There is a saying: a hero is fond of the sensual pleasures. Katsura Kogoro of Choshu was certainly a hero. His vis­its to the Yoshida'ya inn, in the Sanbongi pleasure quarter near the western bank of the Kamogawa, are the stuff of both history and legend. Katsura gleaned valuable information through his lover-spy and future wife, the geigi Ikumatsu, who entertained patrons from Aizu and Kuwana, the Shinsengumi, and others of the Tokugawa camp.64 Ikumatsu saved Katsura's life in the dangerous aftermath of the Battle at the Forbidden Gates. After his comrades retreated to Choshu, he remained in Kyoto undercover to gather information. He was the most hunted survivor of the Ikeda'ya Incident. The Shinsengumi and Aizu samurai scoured the city in his pursuit. Disguised as a beggar, he hid for five days and nights under the bridges of the Kamogawa, among the throngs left homeless from the conflagration of war. Each night Ikumatsu braved the danger­ous streets to bring him cooked rice as sustenance from starvation. She was later arrested and interrogated as to his whereabouts, but to no avail. Katsura eventually escaped to Tsushima Han, leaving Ikumatsu behind in the safe confines of Tsushima's Kyoto estate.

It has been suggested that Katsu Kaishu had numerous mis­tresses only because he was a hero. As the great man began to rise through the ranks of the Tokugawa hierarchy, he purchased a siz­able house in Edo's Akasaka district, suitable for a man of his station. Young live-in maids came to serve at the Katsu residence, and the master had his way with each of them. They remained in his home with the children they bore him, under the same roof as his wife and other children. Kaishu's wife, Tamiko, was a former geisha. She was very much the madam of the household, whom the servants at once respected and feared. In 1887 Kaishu was created a count by the Imperial Court. The former geisha was now a count­ess and the wife of one of the most illustrious men in Japan. Her servants displayed their reverence to their mistress each morning. They sat formally in a row at the entrance to her room. They greeted their mistress with a simultaneous bow. Kaishu, in his own way, also respected his wife: "Had Tamiko been born a man, she would have certainly made a great statesman. It is much to her credit that she never quarreled with any of the women I bedded." Kaishu had the following to say about the carnal desire of great men:

Try as he might, carnal desire is not something that a young man can easily suppress. On the other hand, the most vigorous [driving force] in a young man is the ambition to achieve greatness. It is extremely admirable if he can use the fire of his ambition to burn up his carnal desire. It is a true hero who can calm himself when his passion is aroused. Before he knows it, he will gradually be driven by his ambition to achieve great things . . . no longer thinking of anything else.

If Katsu Kaishu analyzed the hero's carnal desire, his teacher, Sakuma Shozan, encouraged prurience among great men. During the Tokugawa era, unless the patriarch of a samurai household pro­duced a male heir, his family line was in danger of being discontinued. Sakuma was as concerned with the dire necessity of producing a son as he was convinced of his own historical great­ness. He professed that a woman's sole purpose was to procreate, and that a great man should sire children with as many women as possible for the sake of society. Since a woman was merely a vehi­cle of procreation, her sexual appeal was secondary to her robust ability to bear healthy children. In addition to his wife, Junko, who was Kaishu's younger sister, Sakuma kept at least two mistresses— one of whom bore his only son. In September 1864, two months after Sakuma was assassinated in Kyoto65 and while Kondo Isami was in Edo, Hijikata Toshizo sent a letter to Kaishu informing him that his "nephew," Sakuma Ikujiro, had joined the Shinsengumi to avenge his father's murder.66

Despite his unquestionable ambition, Kondo Isami, who had left his wife and child at his home in Edo, would never "burn up his carnal desire" in Kyoto. Ruggedly handsome, the notorious swords­man certainly struck a dashing figure in the pleasure quarters. According to Shimada Kai, Kondo was accustomed to dressing for­mally in wide riding trousers of fine silk, patterned with thin dark stripes, with a black crepe jacket, so that he looked more like a feu­dal lord than a lordless samurai. His clothes were adorned with the Kondo family crest—three horizontal bars in a circle. He often wore his full head of thick black hair tied in a bushy topknot, his large mouth closed in firm resolution. On his feet he wore wooden clogs. The two swords at his left hip were of a modest makeup, with black hilts and wax-colored scabbards. His "reckless and egotistic behavior" notwithstanding, the Shinsengumi commander exercised due discretion so as not to be recognized coming and going on his frequent visits to the Kyoto pleasure quarters. As Shimada recalled, "He always kept the curtain of his palanquin tightly drawn and cov­ered his face with a hood."

During the nearly five years Kondo Isami spent in Kyoto, he enjoyed the favor of numerous women. One of them, a courtesan named Miyuki, he kept in a house in the southwestern part of the citv. According to Shimosawa, she was "a tall and slender beauty, twenty-three or twenty-four years old." A half century later, in 1911, Miyuki recalled her first meeting with Kondo. "I was being kept [by another man at a house] near the Ikeda'ya, where all that commo­tion had occurred. The Shinsengumi suddenly raided the house, saying they suspected that a ronin by the name of so-and-so was hiding there. They searched the entire house most violently. I was frightened because during those days the Shinsengumi derived pleasure from killing people. While I was shaking with fear, a per­son who seemed like the commander came and quieted everyone down. . . . That was the first time I ever saw Kondo." Soon after the incident, Miyuki received a station at the Kitsu'ya, a house in the Shimabara pleasure quarter. Kondo apparently expected to find her at the Kitsu'ya, because he "came the first day I was there." Miyuki had a younger sister. Her name was Otaka. "He took care of us both," Miyuki said. Otaka was eighteen years old and, Shimosawa wrote, "no less a beauty than her older sister."

"I had rheumatism," Miyuki recalled. "While I was away receiving treatment at a physician's house in Fushimi, Kondo flirted with Otaka over drinks. They eventually became close with each other. Since she had worked at a teahouse in Osaka, I wouldn't exactly say that she was respectable, but my little sister had not intended to steal him from me, either." Otaka had Kondo's child— a girl she named Oyu. The name was written with the Chinese character for courage. That the name well suited the father is a fact of history. That the child was deserving of her father's namesake is attested to by her aunt. "They were like two peas in a pod," Miyuki said.

Kondo sired a baby boy with a woman named Komano, who worked the Sanbongi pleasure quarter. Like Ikumatsu, who enterained men of the enemy side to provide Katsura Kogoro with information vital to Choshu, Komano spied for the Shinsengumi. Miyuki was "determined not to lose out to her. There were a num­ber of times when I sent someone to get Kondo away from her and bring him back to the Kitsu'ya." Kondo enjoyed the pleasures of another geigi named Ueno, who, Shimosawa was quick to mention, "was no beauty." He was also intimate with a courtesan named Kin, one of Miyuki's rivals at the Kitsu'ya. At age twenty-three, Kin "was one of the most beautiful women in all of Kyoto," wrote Shimosawa, "with the refined elegancejaf trickling water." Kondo also spent a good deal of time at the Ogaki'ya house in the Nijo district just north of Mibu. Another one of Kondo's favorite haunts was the Yamaginu teahouse in the Gion district, which, Miyuki said, "was the Shinsengumi's gathering place. When they got money for enter­tainment after the uproar at the Ikeda'ya, they were always telling us to drink and dance [with them], day and night."

Their exorbitance required money. Unlike many of the rene­gades they hunted, the men of the Shinsengumi received steady pay. As Miyuki pointed out, "they had no shortage of money. ... No matter where they went, they were well received by the women."

Hijikata was also a famous carouser. "Kondo often brought Hijikata Toshizo with him," said Miyuki. "He was intimate with a courtesan named Shinonome." And he liked to make his escapades known. In a letter to Kojima, Hijikata boasted of intimate relation­ships with twelve women in Osaka and Kyoto. Once he sent a package from Kyoto to his fencing friends at the Hino Dojo. Accompanying the package was a short note, indicating "something precious inside for you all." Hijikata's friends eagerly opened the package. Inside they found numerous and passionate love letters to Hijikata from women of the pleasure quarters. The Hino men just laughed at Hijikata's antic, saying: "It looks like Toshizo has scored another point on us."


In July the Imperial Court issued an edict (arranged by Edo) order­ing the Bakufu to punish Choshu for its crime of attacking the Imperial Palace. On August 13, the Bakufu, in turn, issued orders for twenty-one feudal domains to prepare their armies for a military expedition against Choshu. Edo expected to take advantage ot Choshu's misfortunes to restore its own authority, which had been on the decline since the assassination of li Naosuke four years earlier, and had been seriously challenged by Choshu until the coup in Kyoto the previous year. But the days of the shogun's absolute rule were over—although neither his ministers at Edo, nor his allies at the Imperial Court, nor his deputies in Kyoto, nor the leaders of his most dreaded security force, would recognize this bitter fact. A lack of consensus between the ministers in Edo and Eord Yoshinobu, who in March had been appointed inspector-general of the forces protecting the emperor in Kyoto, and who two years hence would become the fifteenth and last Tokugawa Shogun, delayed the expedition. Furthermore, among those daimyo who had been ordered to provide troops for the expedition were sympathiz­ers of Choshu. Even the feudal lords who ostensibly supported the Bakufu were not eager to bolster Tokugawa prestige at their own monetary and human expense. Further complicating the situation, the shogun remained at Edo Castle—although he was expected to lead the expeditionary forces westward to Choshu.

Aside from the tense political situation, the Shinsengumi commander was concerned about the failing health of his adoptive father. Kondo Isami had been in Kyoto for a year and a half. He had not been home during that time. He greatly wanted to return to Edo to see Kondo Shusuke, and to visit his wife, Otsune, and their two-year-old daughter, Tamako. The dire situation in Kyoto, however, had not permitted him the luxury of absence to attend to personal affairs. But Choshu had been subdued, if only temporarily. Furthermore, Kondo worried that the Eoyalists would use I^mochi's lack of resolution to launch the expedition as an excuse to stir up anti-Tokugawa sentiment at the Imperial Court, under the pretext that the shogun was neglecting the imperial edict. Since his great victory at the Ikeda'ya, Kondo's political views had become respected by men at the highest levels of government. He now peti­tioned the Eord of Aizu for permission to travel to Edo to urge the shogun's senior council to send lemochi to Kyoto for an audience with the emperor as an indication of his good intentions to honor the edict. Official permission was granted Kondo in September.

On September 5, Kondo, Nagakura (by now the two men had mended their differences), Takeda, and a fourth corpsman hired as many express palanquins for the first leg of the three-hundred-mile Journey to Edo. Soon they arrived at the domain of the Eord of K-uwana on the Bay of Ise, where rough seas threatened their crossing. Braving the storm, they hastened across the bay by ferry. Upon landing, they continued eastward, again by express palanquin. Two days later they reached the official Hakone checkpoint, in the mountain pass some sixty miles west of the shogun's capital. A notice posted at the guardhouse informed travelers that they must produce a passport. But Kondo Isami was not about to be imposed upon by the formalities of a guardhouse. Ordering his perplexed palanquin bearers to proceed past the armed guards, he announced loudly from the confines of his sedan, "This is Kondo Isami, com­mander of the Shinsengumi in Kyoto. I'm coming through on official business." Dumbfounded, the guards merely watched as the four palanquins moved unchecked through the checkpoint. Kondo's party reached Edo on September 9, after a four-day journey that normally took two weeks.

When Kondo had left his home in Edo, he was a fencing instructor with high aspirations. He now returned in glory as com­mander of the Bakufu's top security force and a hero among the people of the east. The hero was reunited, however fleetingly, with his adoptive father, wife, and daughter. Kondo's biological father, Miyagawa Hisajiro, declined to meet his youngest son because he did not want to "take up his precious time, when he is working so hard for the country." Kojima and Sato were of a much different sentiment. They hurried to the Shieikan to see Kondo, who boasted to them of the details of the fighting at the Ikeda'ya and the Forbidden Gates. The Shinsengumi commander also met with the Lord of Matsumae, a member of the shogun's senior council, to press upon him the necessity of sending lemochi to Kyoto. Kondo's appeal was rejected. As the Eord of Matsumae hinted, the Bakufu simply could not afford the great financial burden occasioned by a shogunal entourage of some three thousand men on a three-hundred-mile overland journey lasting nearly three weeks.

With the Bakufu preparing for its expedition against Choshu, Kondo certainly expected that his corps would be called upon to fight in that war. To this end, he would need new recruits. Having hailed from eastern Japan, Kondo believed that the samurai of the east surpassed their counterparts of the west in the arts of war. Kondo, ever the warrior, took the opportunity of his return to Edo to enlist more than fifty new men. Among them was one Ito Kashitaro, who would serve as staff officer of the corps, third in command after Kondo and Hijikata. Ito was a ronin from the province of Hitachi, northeast of Edo, and very much a part of the eastern Japan whose warriors Kondo held in such high esteem. Ito, in fact, was a famous swordsman of the Hokushin Itto style. He was also an intellectual—a noted scholar of Japanese classical lit­erature and poetry, with a keen sense of politics. At age twenty-eight, Ito was "slender, clear-eyed, and extremely hand­some."67 He shared some basic qualities with Kondo and Hijikata. He was a man of ability and courage. He was a natural leader. He advocated Expel the Barbarians. Also like Kondo, Ito had been the chief instructor at a fencing academy in Edo. More significantly and in direct contrast to both Kondo and Hijikata, Ito was a devout Imperial Loyalist. His devotion to the emperor, however, did not necessarily belie his loyalty to the Bakufu or to the Shinsengumi. Emperor Komei did not condone the anti-Tokugawa radicals who had wrought havoc in his once peaceful capital. In fact, he quietly detested the Choshu-led Loyalists who revered him. The emperor would never oppose the Tokugawa, upon whom he depended to preserve the sovereignty of Japan. More than anything, the emperor desired harmony in his empire so that Japan might be strong enough to defend itself against foreign aggression. This was why in 1862 he had allowed his younger sister, Princess Kazu, to marry Shogun lemochi, despite bitter opposition among the Loyalists. And now that Princess Kazu was living in Edo Castle, Emperor Komei was deeply concerned for her safety. An attack on the Edo regime might cost the princess her life. It was with this reason in mind that in the summer of 1863 the emperor had secretly issued an imperial edict to Satsuma to restore order in his capital. Satsuma, of course, subsequently formed its alliance with Aizu to oust Choshu from Kyoto.

Although Kondo had been unable to convince the authorities in Edo to send the shogun to Kyoto, his success in bringing Ito into the Shinsengumi fold made his Edo trip worthwhile. Kondo had great expectations for Ito, who brought a number of his followers Jnto the Shinsengumi, including swordsmen from his dojo.

Perhaps Kondo Isami had begun to doubt the Bakufu's ability to expel the foreigners. Perhaps he had even come to question his own simpleminded, however widespread, belief that Japanese were superior to foreigners by virtue of samurai spirit, tradition, and culture. It was with these doubts in mind that, shortly before, leaving Edo, he visited the home of physician Matsumoto Ryojun, a scholar of Western ideas. In the previous decade Matsumoto had been among twenty-six Tokugawa samurai to join Chief Naval Cadet Katsu Kaishu at the Bakufu's naval academy in Nagasaki. Matsumoto studied medicine in Nagasaki under the Dutch naval medical officer Pompe van Meerdervoort. In 1863 Matsumoto modernized the practice of medicine at the Tokugawa medical facility in Edo, and was appointed official physician to the shogun. This progressive Tokugawa official was impressed enough with the reactionary Shinsengumi commander to include an account of their first meeting in his autobiography, dictated some forty years later.

My family was afraid of [Kondo Isami] because he was a roshi. (During those days roshi used to force their way into people's houses and intimidatingly demand money. Or they would come to the homes of people who had adopted Western ideas and conducted trade with foreigners. The roshi would use violent language and threaten them, and in extreme cases kill them if they did not abide by their demands. It was therefore not without reason that my family was afraid.) I told them there was nothing to fear. Although there are many people who say that Isami was a violent man, from his actions I could see that such was not the case. . . . A person [like him], who was ready to give his life for the nation, was a man of integrity and morals. I showed him to the drawing room and asked him the purpose of his visit.

Kondo told Matsumoto that he had come to hear about "foreign nations." Matsumoto replied that roshi had been "butcher­ing foreigners at random" and "were poorly lacking in good sense. He said that Japan must learn from the foreigners rather than despise them. He cited a Confucius saying: "A warrior must know his enemy to know himself." He warned of the militarization of the great Western powers, who vied among one another to reap the benefits of Asia. They had colonized India and China, and now they had designs on Japan. Matsumoto's words echoed the "control the barbarians through barbarian technology" slogan of Sakuma Shozan.68 He showed Kondo maps and mechanical drawings and went to great pains to explain them. And while it had been Matsumoto's intention to awaken Kondo to Japan's urgent need to adopt Western military technology, he probably only intensified the swordsman's resentment of the foreign intruders.

Three days later Kondo visited Matsumoto's home again. His second visit was for a more immediate, practical purpose. "He [Kondo] laughed, and said he was ill." Matsumoto diagnosed Kondo with a stomach ailment, caused by "bad diet." The physician gave the Shinsengumi commander medicine, arranged with him to meet again in Kyoto, and sent him on his way. Kondo left Edo the next day, October 15, and reached Kyoto twelve days later.



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