Shinsengumi

Like leaves in Autumn they fell one by one. Who will remember? Many... As they are a beautiful gold, like leaves in Autumn.

The following is just a very brief intro the Shinsengumi, you can find more information in Shinsengumi Sagashite

What is the Shinsengumi?

Simply put the Shinsengumi were a group of men dedicated to the samurai code (bushido). To go a bit further they were loyal men to the Bakufu (Shogunate government) and was appointed as a special police force by the Daimyo of Aizu (Kyoto’s protector) during the time when there was civil unrest due to the arrival of the foreigners and the “hans” (Samurai Clans) were fighting amongst themselves, some supporting the Bakufu and others supporting the principle “sonno joi” (revere the emperor, repel the foreigners) like the Ishin-shishis composed mainly of Choshu and Satsuma. Many consider them the last true samurai, however they will disappear at the end of the Bakumatsu only to be revived in popular culture and become one of the most beloved historical figures in Japan's history.

 

Who were the charter members of the Shinsengumi?

  • Kondou Isami - Commander

  • Hijikata Toshizou – Vice Commander

  • Itou Kashitarou – Military Advisor

  • Okita Souji – Captain of the first troop

  • Nagakura Shinpachi – Captain of the second troop

  • Saitou Hajime – Captain of the third troop

  • Matsubara Chuunji – Captain of the fourth troop

  • Takeda Kanryuusai – Captain of the fifth troop

  • Inoue Genzaburou - Captain of the sixth troop

  • Tani Sanjuuro - Captain of the seventh troop

  • Todou Heisuke - Captain of the eight troop

  • Suzuki Mikisaburou - Captain of the ninth troop

  • Harada Sanosuke - Captain of the tenth troop

  • Serizawa Kamo – Former Co-commander

  • Niimi Nishiki – Former Vice-commander

  • Shimada Kai - Corporal

  • Yamazaki Suzumu – Head of Intelligence

Actually there are many other members but the above members were the more popular as they were the officers in the group. The Shinsengumi actually had internal restructuring several times, indeed when they first got to Kyoto they were not yet the Shinsengumi but were part of the Miburoshigumi until they were officially sanctioned by the Bakufu as Shinsengumi, during their last days they will be known as Koyou Chibuntai reduced to only twenty men with most of the core members either dead, gone or have deserted the group.

 

The Five Articles - these are the five most important and dreaded rules in the Shinsengumi...

  • It is not allowed to deviate from the path that is proper to man
  • It is not allowed to leave the Shinsengumi
  • It is not allowed to raise money privately
  • It is not allowed to take part in other's litigation
  • It is not allowed to engage in private fights

There were many other rules especially when the Shinsengumi was at it's pinnacle. Since there were many recruits, rules were added as the pool did not mainly consist of loyal samurais, persons of "shadowy" backgrounds joined the group and also to hinder the entrance of those samurai whose intention was only for money.

  • If the leader is mortally wounded or dies, the members in his unit must fight and die on the spot

  • One is not allowed to retrieve the bodies of the dead except the corpse of the leader

  • If a member engages in any fight with a stranger, if he is wounded and cannot kill his enemy, even if he was wounded at the back, he must commit seppuku

Seppuku - a suicide act, wherein one guts ones own stomach. If any of the laws above where broken the Shinsengumi would ask the member to commit seppuku. It is usually done in front of many other members with a "second" who is adept at handling a sword or one who has a "live blade". A live blade isn't really referencing a sharp edge of the sword but rather the skill of the swordsman, they show their mercy by letting the other die in an instant. In anytime that the member "chickens out", the second will immediately behead the one ordered to commit seppuku. You might say that this is inhuman, but one must always remember that this was a very turbulent time, the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the Bakumatsu.

 

So why spend time and learn about the Shinsengumi?

The Shinsengumi as a group is an interesting unit for a number of reasons, for their strict rules (Hatto which included those mentioned above) and adherence to bushido, for the circumstances surrounding them in Kyoto during the Bakumatsu (last days of the Shogunate), for each member’s personality, for their origins and finally their fate in the past and now in the present. It has been more than 130 years since this group came to past, but up to now people still remember them, that alone should speak volumes of the group.

As for myself, I have never met a group so controversial, that from time to time I question myself on why I still continue to devote my free time (whenever I have one) to learn more about this group. The group is best described laterally, there are those who hate them and those who admire them. They have been branded as “Miburo” which can either mean Mibu ronin (their headquarters were located in Mibu) or Mibu wolves (a derogatory term for the gruesome murder of several people in the town of Mibu). As with any group who loses a civil war, their memories have almost been wiped out (except till recently). Their memories used by the winning group as either a laurel for their own cause or twisted to hide the complete truth. Till now people's opinions are split. In this society wherein we are advocates for peace, you will see other write vehemently of their doings, some brand them as hit-men, assassins, garbage and traitors. Search the net and you will see what I mean. Others consider them patriots, men of undeniable integrity and character. I consider them as men caught in the times, fighting for what they believed was right, yes it's a cliché but it is essential to understand that through all the blood spilt this was the underlying motive. Some say history dictates who is on the right but that is questionable when history is shaped by the dominant force of that time. The Shinsengumi fought for a dying cause and simply put I admire them for that. Just because they did not win, does not mean they were on the wrong.

            Only a few of the Shinsengumi survived the Bakumatsu, most had died valiantly fighting on the field and others executed by the Ishin-Shishis. Those who did live in the Meiji era and had families kept a low profile and unfortunately up to now they still have not come out nor have they made all facts public.

 

When did I first meet the Shinsengumi?

Approximately December of 2003 when I forced myself to watch Rurouni Kenshin. I had watched the first episode back in 1998, but a smiling wandering ronin (Rurouni) misnamed ”Samurai X” was not my cup of tea. That was a big mistake though as I did not know that I was missing out on the greatest animated enigma that I would spend my waking hours writing, investigating and dreaming about, Saitou Hajime. Saitou Hajime IS the most mysterious man in the Shinsengumi. This interest in Saitou eventually lead to another love of mine, the Shinsengumi! Although I do have favorites in the Shinsengumi, when I really think about it, each member has qualities that I like, even the one considered most notorious, Serizawa Kamo! Admittedly my first love is fictional Shinsengumi, there are certain traits that have been passed on from the real people to the fictional characters themselves and I always think that an interest in the Shinsengumi would not be complete without appreciation for the real people too! However as some already know there have been larger than life portrayals of these men, like in Rurouni Kenshin (and other movies, anime, game and manga), the mixture of reality and imagination is what keeps my interest going. ^__^ Oh but wait! I ranted again... Gomen! Gomen!

 

Shinsengumi FAQ
What is the Shinsengumi?
Who are the Shinsengumi?
What is the Hatto?
Why Shinsengumi?
First Crossing?
Shinsengumi Sagashite!

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