Republic of Ezo: Wikis


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Republic of Ezo
Secessionist state



Ezo's location in Japan
Capital Hakodate
Language(s) Japanese, Ainu
Government Republic
President Enomoto Takeaki
Vice President Matsudaira Taro
Historical era Bakumatsu
 - Established December 15, 1868
 - Surrender May 17, 1869
 - Disestablished June 27, 1869

The Republic of Ezo (蝦夷共和国 Ezo Kyōwakoku ?) was a short-lived state formed by former Tokugawa retainers in what is now known as Hokkaidō, the northernmost - large but sparsely populated - island in modern Japan.



After the defeat of the forces of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the Boshin War (1868–1869) of the Meiji Restoration, a part of the former Shogun's navy led by Admiral Enomoto Takeaki fled to the northern island of Ezo (now known as Hokkaidō), together with several thousand soldiers and a handful of French military advisors and their leader, Jules Brunet. Enomoto made a last effort to petition the Imperial Court to be allowed to develop Hokkaidō and maintain the traditions of the samurai unmolested, but his request was denied.[1]

Establishment of the Republic

The governmental hall of the Republic of Ezo, inside the fortress of Goryōkaku.

On December 15, 1868, the independent "Republic of Ezo" was proclaimed, with a government organization based on that of the United States, with Enomoto elected as its first president (sosai). This was the first election ever held in Japan, where a feudal structure under an emperor with military warlords was the norm. Through Hakodate Magistrate Nagai Naoyuki, they tried to reach out to foreign legations present in Hakodate. The French and British extended conditional diplomatic recognition, but the Meiji government did not.

The Ezo Republic had its own flag[2], a chrysanthemum (symbol of Imperial rule) and a red star with seven points (symbol of the new Republic) on a sky-blue background. The treasury included 180,000 gold ryō coins Enomoto retrieved from Osaka Castle following Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu's precipitous departure after the Battle of Toba-Fushimi in early 1868.[3]

During the winter of 1868-9, the defenses around the southern peninsula of Hakodate were enhanced, with the star fortress of Goryōkaku at the center. The troops were organized under a joint Franco-Japanese command, Commander-in-chief Otori Keisuke being seconded by the French captain Jules Brunet, and divided into four brigades, each commanded by a French officer (Fortant, Marlin, Cazeneuve, and Bouffier). The brigades were themselves divided into eight half-brigades, each under Japanese command.

Brunet demanded - and received - a signed personal pledge of loyalty from all officers and insisted they assimilate French ideas. An anonymous French officer wrote that he had taken charge of everything,

...customs, municipality, fortifications, army; everything passed through his hands. The simple Japanese are puppets whom he manipulates with great skill....he has carried out a veritable 1789 French Revolution in this brave new Japan; the election of leaders and the determination of rank by merit and not birth - these are fabulous things for this country, and he has been able to do things very well, considering the seriousness of the situation....[4]

Defeat by Imperial forces

Imperial troops soon consolidated their hold on mainland Japan, and in April 1869 dispatched a fleet and an infantry force of 7,000 men to Hokkaidō. The Imperial forces progressed swiftly, won the Battle of Hakodate, and surrounded the fortress at Goryōkaku. Enomoto surrendered on May 17, 1869, turning the Goryōkaku over to Satsuma staff officer Kuroda Kiyotaka on May 18, 1869.[5] Kuroda is said to have been deeply impressed by Enomoto's dedication in combat, and is remembered as the one who spared the latter's life from execution. As per the arrangements for the surrender, the Ezo Republic ceased to exist on June 27, 1869. On August 15 of the same year, the island was given its present name, Hokkaidō ("Northern Sea District").[6]


The Naval Battle of Hakodate Bay, May 1869; in the foreground, Kasuga and Kōtetsu of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
The French military advisors and their Japanese allies. Front row, second from left: Jules Brunet, beside Matsudaira Taro, vice-president of the Ezo Republic.
Government officials

Leaders of the Republic of Ezo, with the President Enomoto Takeaki, front right (1869).

President Enomoto Takeaki
Vice-President Matsudaira Taro
Navy Minister Arai Ikunosuke
Army Minister Otori Keisuke
Assistant Army Minister Hijikata Toshizo
Hakodate Magistrate Nagai Naoyuki
Assistant Hakodate Magistrate Nakajima Saburosuke
Esashi Magistrate Matsuoka Shirojiro
Assistant Esashi Magistrate Kosugi Masanoshin
Matsumae Magistrate Hitomi Katsutaro
Minister for Land Reclamation Sawa Tarozaemon
Finance Minister Enomoto Michiaki
Finance Minister Kawamura Rokushiro
Commander of Warships Koga Gengo
Infantry Commander Furuya Sakuzaemon
Judge Advocate General Officer Takenaka Shigekata
Judge Advocate General Officer Imai Nobuo

While later history texts were to refer to May 1869 as being when Enomoto accepted the Meiji Emperor's rule, the Imperial rule was never in question for the Ezo Republic, as made evident by part of Enomoto's message to the Dajōkan (太政官 Dajōkan ?) (the Imperial governing council) at the time of his arrival in Hakodate:

The farmers and merchants are unmolested, and live without fear, going their own way, and sympathising with us; so that already we have been able to bring some land into cultivation. We pray that this portion of the Empire may be conferred upon our late lord, Tokugawa Kamenosuke; and in that case, we shall repay your beneficence by our faithful guardianship of the northern gate.[7]

Thus from Enomoto's perspective, the efforts to establish a government in Hokkaidō were not only for the sake of providing for the Tokugawa house on the one hand (burdened as it was with an enormous amount of redundant retainers and employees), but also as developing Ezo for the sake of defense for the rest of the country, something which had been a topic of concern for some time. Recent scholarship has noted that for centuries, Ezo was not considered a part of Japan the same way that the other "main" islands of modern Japan were, so the creation of the Ezo Republic, in a contemporary mindset, was not an act of secession, but rather of "bringing" the politico-social entity of "Japan" formally to Ezo.[8]

Enomoto was sentenced to a brief prison sentence, but was freed in 1872 and accepted a post as a government official in the newly renamed Hokkaido Land Agency. He later became ambassador to Russia, and held several ministerial positions in the Meiji Government.


  • Ballard C.B., Vice-Admiral G.A. The Influence of the Sea on the Political History of Japan. London: John Murray, 1921.
  • Black, John R. Young Japan: Yokohama and Yedo, Vol. II. London: Trubner & Co., 1881.
  • Onodera Eikō, Boshin Nanboku Senso to Tohoku Seiken. Sendai: Kita no Sha, 2004.
  • Hillsborough, Romulus (2005). Shinsengumi: The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0804836272.  
  • Suzuki, Tessa Morris. Re-Inventing Japan: Time Space Nation. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1998.
  • Yamaguchi, Ken. Kinsé shiriaku A history of Japan, from the first visit of Commodore Perry in 1853 to the capture of Hakodate by the Mikado's forces in 1869. Trans. Sir Ernest Satow. Wilmington, Del., Scholarly Resources 1973


  1. ^ Hillsborough, Shinsengumi, page 4
  2. ^
  3. ^ Onodera, Eikō. Boshin Nanboku Sensō to Tōhoku Seiken, Sendai: Kita no Sha, 2004, p. 97
  4. ^ Richard Sims, French Policy towards the Bakufu and Meiji Japan 1854 - 1895, Richmond: Japan Library, 1998
  5. ^ Ibid, p. 196
  6. ^ Ibid.
  7. ^ Black, John R. Young Japan: Yokohama and Yedo, Vol. II. London: Trubner & Co., 1881, pp. 240-241
  8. ^ Suzuki, Tessa Morris. Re-inventing Japan: Time, Space, Nation, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1998, p. 32


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