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For the 1932 assassination attempt, see Sakuradamon Incident
Woodblock print depicting the Sakuradamon incident.
The pro-foreign Chief Minister Ii Naosuke was assassinated in the Sakuradamon incident.
Arimura Jisaemon, on the point of committing the assassination.
Another depiction of the Sakuradamon incident. On the left, a samurai runs with a severed head.

The Sakuradamon incident ( Sakuradamongai no hen ?) on 24 March 1860 was the assassination of Japanese Chief Minister (Tairō) Ii Naosuke (1815-1860), by Ronin Samurai of the Mito Domain, outside the Sakuradamon gate of Edo Castle.



Ii Naosuke, already a leading figure of the Bakumatsu period and a proponent of the reopening of Japan after more than 200 years of Seclusion, was widely criticized by xenophobic opinion for having signed the 1858 Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United States Consul Townsend Harris and, soon afterwards, similar treaties with other Western countries.[1] From 1859, the ports of Nagasaki, Hakodate and Yokohama became open to foreign traders as a consequence of the Treaties.[2]

Ii Naosuke was also criticized for having reinforced the authority of the Shogunate against regional Daimyos through the Ansei Purge.[1] Ii Naosuke also made strong enemies in the dispute for the succession of Shogun Tokugawa Iesada, and forced retirement on his opponents, specifically the retainers of Mito, Hizen, Owari, Tosa, Satsuma and Uwajima.[3]

These policies generated extremely strong sentiment against the Shogunate, especially among proponents of the Mito school.[4]


The assassination took place outside the Shogunal Palace of Edo Castle in Edo (modern Tokyo), just as Ii Naosuke was reaching the premises.[1] Ii Naosuke had already been warned about his safety, and many encouraged him to retire from office, but he refused, replying that "My own safety is nothing when I see the danger threatening the future of the country".[5]

Altogether 17 Mito Rōnin samurai ambushed Ii Naosuke, together with one samurai from Satsuma Domain, Arimura Jisaemon (有村次左衛門).[6] Arimura cut Ii Naosuke's neck, and then committed seppuku.

The conspirators carried a manifesto on themselves, outlining the reason for their act:

While fully aware of the necessity for some change in policy since the coming of the Americans at Uraga, it is entirely against the interest of the country and a stain on the national honour to open up commercial relations with foreigners, to admit foreigners into the Castle, to conclude treaties with them, to abolish the established practice of trampling on the picture of Christ, to allow foreigners to build places of worship for the evil religion, and to allow the three Foreign Minister to reside in the land (...) Therefore, we have consecrated ourselves to be the instruments of Heaven to punish this wicked man, and we have taken on ourselves the duty of ending a serious evil, by killing this atrocious autocrat.
Manifesto of the Sakuradamon conspirators.[7]


The popular upheaval against foreign encroachment and assassination of Ii Naosuke forced the Bakufu to soften its stance, and to adopt a compromise policy of Kōbu Gattai ("Union of the Emperor and the Shogun") suggested by Satsuma Domain and Mito Domain, in which both parties would vie for political supremacy in the years to follow.[4] The popular xenophobic movement nevertheless continued unabated, and on the contrary amplified into the violent Sonnō Jōi ("Revere the Emperor, Expell the Barbarians") movement.[8][9]

The Sakuradamon gate today.

For the following years until the fall of Bakufu in 1868, Edo, and more generally the streets of Japan, would remain notably hazardous for Bakufu officials (see attack on Andō Nobumasa) and foreigners alike (Richardson murder), as the xenophobic Sonno Joi movement continued to expand. According to Sir Ernest Satow: "A bloody revenge was taken on the individual [Ii Naosuke], but the hostility to the system only increased with time, and in the end brought about its complete ruin".[10]

The conflict would reach its resolution with the military defeat of the Shogunate in the Boshin war, and the installation of the Meiji restoration in 1868.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Hiroshi Wata, The architecture of Tôkyô, p. 39
  2. ^ Satow, p. 31
  3. ^ Satow, p. 33
  4. ^ a b Michio Morishima, Why Has Japan 'Succeeded'? Western Technology and the Japanese Ethos, p. 68
  5. ^ James Murdoch, A history of Japan, Volume 3, p. 698
  6. ^ James Murdoch, A history of Japan, Volume 3, pp. 697f
  7. ^ James Murdoch, A history of Japan, Volume 3, p. 702
  8. ^ Michio Morishima, Why Has Japan 'Succeeded'? Western Technology and the Japanese Ethos, pp. 68f
  9. ^ Chūshichi Tsuzuki, The pursuit of power in modern Japan, 1825-1995, p. 44
  10. ^ Satow, p.34


  • Satow, Sir Ernest 2006 A Diplomat in Japan Stone Bridge Classics, ISBN 9781933330167


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