Shinsengumi In Kyoto Part One: The Lair Of The Mibu Wolves
Shinsengumi: Japan’s “Special military police force” during the Bakumatsu years!
In 1853 Commodore Perry’s Black Ships arrived in Yokohama Bay triggering a series of momentous events that between 1853 and 1867 shook the very foundations of Japanese society, ending Japan’s enforced isolation under the Tokugawa Bakufu and culminating in 1868 in the Meiji Restoration and ,the abdication of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the fifteenth and last of the Tokugawa Shōguns, both of which heralded the end of the Japanese feudal era and its associated societal structure and the beginning of the industrial modernisation of Japan.
The Pro Shōgunate supporters included a militia group based in Kyōto made up of rōnin and peasants turned warriors, the Shinsengumi or newly elected Corps whose slogan was ‘Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians’, Sonnō jōi.
After arriving in Kyōto on the 23 February 1863 they set up their headquarters in the Mibu area at Shintokuji
Serizawa Kamo and his group set up residence in the house of Yagi Gennojō.
A sword cut can still be seen in the room at the house of Yagi Gennojō where Serizawa Kamo was assassinated. Tours at the house are in Japanese. A volunteer interpreter can be arranged via http://Kyōtofreeguide.sakura.ne.jp/
Kondō Isami and his group set up residence in Maekawa Shōji’s house which also served as a dojo.
The entrance is closed at weekends. There are no tours here but there is an information plaque, postcards and a detailed diagram of the house and its functions (in Japanese). Occasional exhibitions are held here. As this is now a family home respect for the privacy of the family is requested.
On the 5th June 1864, Takeda Kanryūsai of the Shinsengumi captured the pro Imperial Furutaka Shuntaro, who was taken to the Maekawa Shōji House where he was interrogated under torture by Hijikata Toshizō who hung him upside down and drove five inch wooden spikes into his heels and dripped hot wax into the wounds. Furutaka Shuntaro eventually revealed the plans and the meeting place of pro Imperial forces from Chōshū, the Ikedaya Inn, which led to the famous Ikedaya Incident.
Towards the end of September Kondō Isami uncovered a plot involving four Chōshū men who had infiltrated the Shinsengumi and ordered them killed. Nagakura Shinpachi, accompanied by two colleagues, discovered two of them on the veranda of the Maekawa Shōji house and killed them on the spot. Okita Sōji and Todo Heisuke Yoshitora discovered the other two, one of whom escaped. In addition two more were discovered one of whom escaped, the other was captured and beheaded by Todo Heisuke when he refused to cooperate.
Popular amongst the Shinsengumi was the Shimabara Pleasure Quarters
The Sumiya Restaurant, now a museum, was established in 1641. To visit Sumiya an appointment is required. The best way to do this for non Japanese speakers is at the Kyōto Tourist Information office located in JR Kyōto Station Building along with a volunteer Japanese interpeter. Sumiya Restaurant is an ageya, an elegant restaurant where lavish banquets and dinner parties were held, and where guests were entertained by Geisha (in Kyōto called Geiko,) and the highest ranking courtesans called Tayū.
In June 1863 one of the three leaders of the Shinsemgumi, Serizawa Kamo, reputedly an extremely bad tempered man and a violent drunk, lost his temper here when he was refused service for not paying his bills and smashed the place up. His sword marks can still be seen on either side of the tokonoma alcove in the Fan Room upstairs
On September 18th 1863 Kondō Isami and Hijikata Toshizō held a party here for Serizawa Kamo and his supporters. In the meantime a party of Shinsengumi had gone to the house of Yagi Gennojō where Serizawa was staying. Kondō Isami and Hijikata Toshizō tried to get Serizawa’s group so drunk they would not be able to fight back when ambushed at the house of Yagi Gennojō. On his return there Serizawa Kamo was assassinated with his mistress Oume and Hirayama Goryo. Both are buried at Mibudera Temple.
Another favourite watering hole was the Wachigaya Tea House, which was established in 1688 and is still operating.
Itō Kashitarō, Shinsengumi Staff Officer and eventually Goryo Eji Leader, had a mistress here; a Tayū. Though still operating after 320 years it is also a museum of Tayū culture though as with other older established teahouses still in operation access is as a customer and by introduction only.
Some of the Shinsengumi are buried here in the Mibudera Temple cemetery
Plot 3 – Nimi Nishiki was the right hand man of Serizawa Kamo. Nishiki was forced by the Shinsengumi to commit seppuku in a Gion pleasure house for extorting protection money which he then spent on his activities in the pleasure quarters
Plot 6 – Serizawa Kamo and Hirayama Gorō both assassinated at the Yagi Gennojō house.
Plot 8 – Kawai Kisaburō was ordered to commit seppuku for an apparent accounting fraud
Some of the Shinsengumi are also buried at Kōenji
Tani Sanjurō Tomokuni. It is not known if he joined the Shinsengumi but he was in the list of those paid for the Ikedaya Incident. Found dead near the Yasaka Shrine in Gion
Matsubara Chūji. Attempted seppuku after Hijikata Toshizō accused him of having an affair with the wife of a man he had killed. He later died of his wounds. The sword of Matsubara Chūji which was called Fujishima Tomoshige can be seen at www.tsuruginoya.com/mn1_3/f00032.html
Yamanami Keisuke was the Vice Commander of the Shinsengumi.
Sometimes the gate is closed but you can enter via the door on the left. Pay a small fee at the priest’s dormitory and head to the cemetery through the Hondo, the main hall. Records can be found in the Hondo, the main hall and the stables the Shinsengumi used to use were situated in the south west corner of the temple
Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.