Tuesday, February 03, 2009

11/8/08: Day 9 in Japan Part I - Shinsengumi

Today is one of the most highly anticipated day of the trip, as I will take a day trip to Kyoto. One of the first places of visit is the home of Yagi and Maekawa families, which served as a base for the band of samurai known as Shinsengumi (新選組・新撰組).

Mid-1800s was a very interesting time in Japan. With increased pressure from other nations to open the country to trade, the country became divided into those who want to maintain the purity of tradition versus those who preferred modernization. Even those two factions were subdivided among those for the Imperial governance or those in favor of the Shogunate. It is in this turbulant climate that Shinsengumi was formed.

The leader of the group was Kondo Isami (近藤勇), dojo master of Shieikan and a practitioner of Ten-nen Rishin Ryu (天然理心流) martial arts.

Although raised from farmers, Kondo strived hard to prove that he is worthy to be a Samurai, and dedicated himself to the bushido (武士道) warrior code. This belief ultimately formed the creed of "sincerity" (誠 "makoto"), which is evident in their flag.

With this belief, Kondo opened up Shinsengumi to fighters of all different backgrounds instead of limiting to Samurai warriors. Although they were initially based in the home of Yagi family, their eventual popularity led to increase in membership.

When the member grew too large for the Yagi home, they procured Maekawa home right across the street. In order to support the membership financially, Shinsengumi was able to align with Aizu Clan (会津藩) who served under the powerful Tokugawa Shogunate (徳川幕府) and gain recognition as the official guardians of Kyoto.

Here is the sign for Maekawa home. As evident on the sign and robe from photo #2, Shinsengumi's signature look was the light blue/white combination of triangles.

Like any organization, Shinsengumi had their share of internal problems. Initially, there were two dominant leaders in Kondo Isami and Serizawa Kamo (芹沢鴨). While Serizawa Sensei was skilled swordman, he was equally ill-tempered. After numerous incidents that defied the Makoto code and defamed the Shinsengumi name, Aizu Clan ordered Kondo to take care of their business. Serizawa-sensei was assassinated by several lieutenants shortly thereafter.

Serizawa Sensei's grave and few other memorials are located in Mibu Temple, right in the neighborhood.

Within the Temple, there is an island in a pond that forms the memorial garden.

The legacy of Shinsengumi is interesting. While they were true in their purpose to served the Emperor, once Tokugawa Shogunate fell and Imperial Courts were aligned with the bitter enemies of Satsuma/Choshu alliance (薩長連合), Shinsengumi suddenly became the enemy of the Emperor.

Shinsengumi fought under the "Makoto" flag until the bitter end. As the culture of battle shifted from sword to guns, Shinsengumi disappeared from history along with rest of the samurai.