Shinsengumi: Wikis


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For the NHK television series, see Shinsengumi!.

The Shinsengumi (新選組 or 新撰組 ?, "newly selected corps"[1]) were a special police force of the late shogunate period.

Mannequins dressed in Shinsengumi outfits


Historical background

After Japan opened up to the West following U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry's visits in 1853, its political situation gradually became more and more chaotic. The country was divided along various lines of political opinion; one of these schools of thought (which had existed prior to Perry's arrival) was sonnō jōi: "Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians."[2] Loyalists to the emperor began to commit acts of murder and violence in Kyoto, the imperial capital. In 1863, hoping to respond to this trend, the Tokugawa Shogunate formed the Roshigumi (浪士組), a group of 234 masterless samurai (rōnin), under the nominal command of the hatamoto Matsudaira Tadatoshi and the actual leadership of Kiyokawa Hachirō (a dynamic ronin from Shonai Domain[3]). The group's formal mission was to act as the protectors of Tokugawa Iemochi, the 14th shogun, who was preparing to embark on a trip to Kyoto.[4]

Historical facts

Statue of Kondō Isami at Mibu Temple

The Rōshigumi, as stated above, was funded by the Tokugawa regime. However, Kiyokawa Hachirō's goal, which he revealed following the group's arrival in Kyoto, was to gather rōnin to work with the supporters of the emperor. In response, thirteen members of the Rōshigumi became the thirteen founding members of the Shinsengumi. Other members loyal to the Tokugawa government returned to Edo and formed the Shinchōgumi 新徴組, which came under the patronage of the Shōnai domain.[5]

The Shinsengumi members were originally also known as the Miburō (壬生浪), meaning "ronin of Mibu", Mibu being the suburb of central Kyoto where they were stationed. However, the reputation of the Shinsengumi became tarnished quite early on, and their nickname soon changed to "Wolves of Mibu" (壬生狼, pronounced the same). Shinsengumi could be translated to "Newly Selected Corps" (Shinsen means "new chosen (ones)", while "gumi" translates to "group", "team", or "squad".)

The original Commanders of the Shinsengumi were Serizawa Kamo, Kondō Isami, and Niimi Nishiki. At first, the group was composed of three major factions: Serizawa's group, Kondō's group, and Tonouchi's group (members below). However, Tonouchi and Iesato were assassinated shortly after its foundation.

Serizawa's faction:

Serizawa Kamo
Niimi Nishiki
Hirayama Gorō
Hirama Jūsuke
Noguchi Kenji
Araya Shingorō
Saeki Matasaburō

Kondō's faction:

Kondō Isami
Hijikata Toshizō
Inoue Genzaburō
Okita Sōji
Nagakura Shinpachi
Saitō Hajime
Harada Sanosuke
Tōdō Heisuke
Yamanami Keisuke

Tonouchi faction:

Tonouchi Yoshio
Iesato Tsuguo[6]
Abiru Aisaburō
Negishi Yūzan

After the elimination of Tonouchi Yoshio and his third faction, the group was composed of just two factions: Serizawa's Mito group and Kondō Isami's Shieikan members, both based in the Mibu neighborhood of Kyoto. The group submitted a letter to the Aizu clan requesting permission to police Kyoto, and to counteract revolutionaries who supported the emperor against the Tokugawa shogunate. Their request was granted.

On September 30 (lunar calendar August 18), the Chōshū clan were forced out of the Imperial court by the Tokugawa regime, the Aizu clan and the Satsuma clan. All members of the Mibu Rōshigumi were sent to aid Aizu and help keep Chōshū out of the imperial court by guarding its gates. This caused a power shift in the political arena in Kyoto, from the extreme anti-Tokugawa Chōshū forces to the pro-Tokugawa Aizu forces. The new name "Shinsengumi" was said to have been given to the group by either the Imperial Court or Matsudaira Katamori (the daimyo of the Aizu clan) for their job in guarding the gates.[7]

The Shinsengumi's greatest enemies were the ronin samurai of the Mori clan of Chōshū (and later, former ally Shimazu clan of Satsuma, who supported the emperor.)

Ironically, the reckless actions of Serizawa and Niimi, done in the name of the Shinsengumi, caused the group to be feared in Kyoto when their job was to keep the peace. On October 19, 1863, Niimi Nishiki, who was demoted to sub-commander due to a fight with wrestlers, was forced to commit seppuku by Hijikata and Yamanami. Less than two weeks later, Serizawa was assassinated by Kondō's faction under Matsudaira Katamori's order.

The Ikedaya Affair of 1864, in which they prevented the burning of Kyoto, made the Shinsengumi famous overnight; they had a surge of recruits.

The Shinsengumi remained loyal to the Tokugawa bakufu, and left Kyoto peacefully under the supervision of the wakadoshiyori Nagai Naoyuki, shortly after the withdrawal of Tokugawa Yoshinobu.[8] However, as they had been posted as security forces in Fushimi, they soon took part in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi.[9] Later, while continuing the fight outside of Edo, Kondō Isami was captured and beheaded by the Meiji government. A group of Shinsengumi men under Saitō Hajime fought in defense of the Aizu domain, and many of the others went on northward under Hijikata, joining the forces of the Republic of Ezo.[10] During this interval, the Shinsengumi was able to recover some of its strength, bringing its numbers above 100. Generally, the death of Hijikata Toshizō on June 20 (lunar calendar May 11), 1869 is seen as marking the end of the Shinsengumi, though another group of survivors, under Sōma Kazue, which had been under Nagai Naoyuki's supervision at Benten-daiba, surrendered separately.[11]

A few core members, such as Nagakura Shinpachi, Saitō Hajime, and Shimada Kai, survived the demise of the group. Some members, such as Takagi Teisaku, would even become prominent figures in society.[12]

Members of the group

At its peak, the Shinsengumi had about 300 members. They were the first samurai group of the Tokugawa era to allow those from non-samurai classes like farmers and merchants to join. Previously, Japan had had a strict class hierarchy system. Many joined the group due to the desire to become samurai and be involved in political affairs. However, it is a misconception that most of the Shinsengumi members were from non-samurai classes. Out of 106 Shinsengumi members (among a total of 302 members at the time), there were 87 samurai, eight farmers, three merchants, three medical doctors, three priests, and two craftsmen. Quite a few leaders, such as Yamanami, Okita, Nagakura, and Harada, were born samurai.

Post-Ikedaya Shinsengumi hierarchy

Commander (局長 Kyokuchô): Kondō Isami, fourth master of the Tennen Rishin Ryū
General Commander (総長 Sôchô): Yamanami Keisuke
Vice Commander (副長 Fukuchô): Hijikata Toshizō

Military Advisor (参謀 Sanbô): Itō Kashitarō

Troop Captains (組長 Kumichô):

  1. Okita Sōji (instructor in Kenjutsu)
  2. Nagakura Shinpachi (instructor in Kenjutsu)
  3. Saitō Hajime (instructor in Kenjutsu)
  4. Matsubara Chūji (instructor in Jujitsu)
  5. Takeda Kanryūsai (instructor in Military Strategies)
  6. Inoue Genzaburō
  7. Tani Sanjūrō (instructor in Spearing Skills)
  8. Tōdō Heisuke
  9. Suzuki Mikisaburō
  10. Harada Sanosuke

Spies: Shimada Kai, Yamazaki Susumu

Shinsengumi regulations

The code of the Shinsengumi Regulations was most likely to have been written by Hijikata Toshizō.

The code included five articles, prohibiting the following:

  1. Deviating from the samurai code (Bushido)
  2. Leaving the Shinsengumi
  3. Raising money privately
  4. Taking part in others' litigation
  5. Engaging in private fights

The penalty for breaking any rule was seppuku. In addition, the Shinsengumi had these regulations:

  1. If the leader of a unit is mortally wounded in a fight, all the members of the unit must fight and die on the spot.
  2. Even in a fight where the death toll is high, it is not allowed to retrieve the bodies of the dead, except the corpse of the leader of the unit.

The most prominent of which is this: "If a Shinsengumi member engages in a fight with a stranger, be it on duty or not, if he is wounded and can't kill the enemy, allowing him to run away, even in case of a wound in the back, seppuku is ordered."

Hijikata forced them to follow extremely strict rules to make the group reflect bushido (or samurai) ideals, and to create fear within the group so that they would absolutely obey the orders of Hijikata and Kondo. These rules are a major reason why they rose to be such a strong, feared force consisting of hundreds of expert swordsmen, each endowed with official sanction and an unflinching readiness to kill.

Quite a few members were forced to commit seppuku for breaking the rules, or were killed for being spies.

The uniform

The members of the Shinsengumi were highly visible in battle due to their distinctive uniforms. Following the orders of Shinsengumi captain Serizawa Kamo, the standard uniform consisted of the haori and hakama over a kimono, with a white cord called a tasuki crossed over the chest and tied in the back. The function of the tasuki is to prevent the sleeves of the kimono from interfering with moving the arms. The uniqueness of the uniform was most evident in the haori, which was colored asagiiro (浅葱色, generally light blue, but can also be light yellow). The haori sleeves were trimmed with "white mountain stripes", resulting in a very flashy outfit, quite unlike the usual browns, blacks, and greys found in warrior clothing. In the midst of a fight, the uniforms of the Shinsengumi provided not only a means of easy identification, but also a highly visible threat towards the enemy.

Depictions in media


In 2003, a Japanese samurai drama, When the Last Sword Is Drawn [1], depicts the end of Shinsengumi, focusing on various historical figures such as Saito Hajime.

The 1999 film Taboo (Gohatto) depicts the Shinsengumi a year after the Ikedaya Affair.

The Sword of Doom (1966) is about a fictionalized version of the samurai Tsukue Ryunosuke who at one point joins the Shinsengumi under Serizawa Kamo, and receives orders to kill Kondo.

In 1969, a film named Shinsengumi starring Toshirō Mifune, briefly depicts the rise and fall of the Shinsengumi.


In 2004, Japanese television broadcaster NHK made a year-long television drama series following the history of the Shinsengumi, called 新選組! (Shinsengumi!), which aired on Sunday evenings. Actors include Kōji Yamamoto, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Joe Odagiri, and Katori Shingo of the pop idol group SMAP. It was written by Japanese director and playwright, Mitani Koki. Many other series and specials have featured the history and fiction surrounding this group. The Shinsengumi are also mentioned and referred to in several anime series such as Rurouni Kenshin, Peacemaker Kurogane, and Gintama.

Video games

The 2004 video game Fu-un Shinsengumi developed by Genki and published by Konami is based on the Shinsengumi.


The 2003 manga Getsu Mei Sei Ki or Goodbye Shinsengumi by Kenji Morita depicts the life of Hijikata Toushizou.

The Manga Kaze Hikaru presents a fictional tale of a girl joining in the Shinsengumi under disguise and falling in love with Okita Soji.

The manga Peacemaker Kurogane by Nanae Chrono is a historical fiction taking place during the end of the Tokugawa period, following a young boy who tries to join the Shinsengumi.

References and further reading

  • Shinsengumi: The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps, by Romulus Hillsborough (2005) ISBN 0804836272
  • Samurai Sketches: From the Bloody Final Years of the Shogun, by Romulus Hillsborough (2001) ISBN 0966740181
  • Kikuchi Akira 菊地明 and Aikawa Tsukasa 相川司. Shinsengumi Jitsuroku 新選組実錄. Tokyo: Chikuma-shobō 筑摩書房, 1996.
  • Ōishi Manabu 大石学. Shinsengumi: Saigo no Bushi no Jitsuzō 新選組: 「最後の武士」の実像. Tokyo: Chūōkōron-shinsha 中央公論新社, 2004.
  • Sasaki Suguru 佐々木克. Boshin sensō: Haisha no Meiji ishin 戊辰戦争 : 敗者の明治維新. Tokyo: Chūōkōron-shinsha 中央公論社, 1977.


  1. ^ Watsuki, Nobuhiro. "Glossary of the Restoration." Rurouni Kenshin Volume 3. Viz Media. 190.
  2. ^ For more on pre-Perry sonnō jōi theory, see: Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, Anti-foreignism and Western learning in early-modern Japan : The new theses of 1825. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986)
  3. ^ Ōishi Manabu, Shinsengumi: Saigo no Bushi no Jitsuzō. (Tokyo: Shin Jinbutsu Oraisha, 2004), p. 65
  4. ^ Ōishi, p. 65
  5. ^ 新徴組−もう一つの浪士組−(我が愛すべき幕末)
  6. ^ Name reading as per Ōishi, p. 76.
  7. ^ An argument for Matsudaira Katamori bestowing the name can be made by comparing the similarity of the name "Shinsengumi" to one of Aizu's later frontline combat units, the Bessengumi 別選組, the "Separately Selected Corps." For more on this unit, see
  8. ^ Ōishi, pp. 172–174;
  9. ^ Ōishi, p. 177
  10. ^ Ōishi, pp. 217–230.
  11. ^ Ōishi, p. 246.
  12. ^ Takagi became a professor of economics at Hitotsubashi University.

External links

  • Shinsengumi Headquarters Website created to address the needs of those who are interested in the history, related film/TV/anime, fanfiction, fanart and various incarnations of the Shinsengumi.
  • Hajimenokizu A site dedicated to Saitou Hajime and the Shinsengumi in various fictional and historical incarnations.
  • Samurai Archives - Shinsengumi

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