The Shinsen Gumi (新選組, newly selected group) was a group of samurai from the late Tokugawa Shogunate.
Primarily composed of rōnins, the Shinsen Gumi was responsible for the security of Kyoto during the events of the Bakumatsu (1853-1868), first under the authority of Matsudaira Katamori and then directly under that of the Shogun.
During the deterioration of the conflict the group was one of the last ramparts of the Bakufu, with the domain of Aizu, facing the imperialists of the Ishin Shishi. Their fame is associated with the efficiency of an organization of very competent warriors subject to a rule based on a strict code of honor.
The Shinsen Gumi consisted of ten divisions and was led by Isami Kondo until his death in 1868, when the group was headed by Toshizo Hijikata. The organization's top recruits included captains Soji Okita, Hajime Saito and Shinpachi Nagakura.
The few survivors continued to serve the Meiji government in careers related to law enforcement.
The arrival of Commodore Matthew C. Perry in Tokyo Bay in July 1853 threw the Bakufu into turmoil. Several wills asserted themselves: those who wanted to find a compromise with the foreigners, the Emperor who wanted to send them away, and the daimyo who wanted war.
In the absence of consensus, the Bakufu finally accepted Perry's demands by opening Japan to foreign trade, while making internal military preparations.
Then developed massively the sonnō jōi, "Revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians," a political philosophy derived from neo-Confucianism. This slogan came from the mixture of the theory of absolute loyalty to the emperor and the identity crisis Japan suffered at the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1853. It became a rallying cry in the provinces of Chōshū and Satsuma.
This sentiment even took precedence over clan affiliations, as many samurai left their domains despite the threat of the death penalty for desertion. These samurai, having become ronin, gathered in Kyoto and began to cause more and more trouble in the capital.
Some supporters of the Sonnō jōi wanted to exploit foreign technologies in order to better fight the Western powers. To do this, they allied themselves with the Bakufu, who found it expedient to employ these ronin rather than endure their wandering presence in Kyoto.
Thus were formed in 1863 "roshi-tais" or "ronin-tais", a group of warriors engaged under the orders of the Bakufu. In a curious coincidence, Hachiro Kiyokawa was sent to recruit the ronin, who was in fact against the Bakufu. The entrance tests were based on an evaluation of the level of kenjutsu.
In Tama province, near Edo, in the Shieikan, a sword school called the Tennen Rishin-ryū was taught. Kondo Isami, heir to Kondō Shūsuke, was its master. Among his students and friends were Hijikata Toshizō, Okita Sōji and Inoue Genzaburō.
Occasionally frequenting the dojo were Yamanami Keisuke, Tōdō Heisuke, Harada Sanosuke and Nagakura Shinpachi. Ardent patriots, they answered the call of the roshi-tais of Hachiro Kiyokawa.
In Kyoto, Serizawa Kamo was waiting to be executed, following his participation in the Mito rebellion. But he was spared by Kiyokawa who needed experienced ronin for his group of bodyguards of shogun Tokugawa Iemochi for a historical trip to Kyoto.
Serizawa joined Kiyokawa with his friends from the Tengu-to (an extremist jōi group) Niimi Nishiki, Noguchi Kenji, Hirayama Goro and Hirama Juusuke. He is appointed officer.
The group is then called the Roshi Gumi. During the trip from Edo to Kyoto, Kondo was in charge of the reservations of inns for the 234 ronin. One day he forgot a room for Serizawa, in reaction Serizawa set fire to the inn.
Although he was pro-Bakufu, in reality Kiyokawa wanted to use his ronin to serve the revolutionary imperialist faction. The Roshi Gumi arrived in Kyoto in February 1863 and stayed in Mibu village.
A few days later, Kiyokawa asked the ronin to return to Edo to serve the Emperor's cause. Serizawa, Kondo and their friends refused. After a brawl, the Roshi Gumi returned to Edo leaving 13 men behind, including Kondo and Serizawa.
Kiyokawa planned to use his new group, the Shincho Gumi, to attack the foreign trading post in Yokohama. The Bakufu got wind of the betrayal, and had Kiyokawa assassinated by Sasaki Tadasaburo, leader of the Kyoto Mimawarigumi.
In fact, Kondo and Serizawa had made a secret agreement with Matsudaira Katamori, the Daimyo of Aizu and Military Commissioner of Kyoto who appointed them as defenders of Kyoto. They called themselves Mibu Roshi Gumi. But the group was without resources or wages, which partly explains the increase of extortion and racketeering by some bushis on the merchants of Kyoto.
The thirteen ronin recruit 70 new members from Kyoto, Osaka, and surrounding areas and rank their group.
Chouyaku Narabi Kansatsu Gata (Spy)
Kanteiyaku Narabi Konida Gata (logistics)
If Kondō's men were the soul of the Rōshi Gumi, Serizawa actually held the connections necessary in order to make it known.
But very quickly the behavior of some members became a problem. This was the case with Serizawa: he frequented brothels, provoked duels, and extorted money from merchants.
This violence, competing with the ronins who roamed the capital, was the origin of the group's nickname: Miburo (the Wolves of Mibu), from the term Miburōshi (Rōnins of Mibu). It was thus tainted with a terrible reputation in Kyoto that persisted long after Serizawa's death.
The code of conduct established thereafter would be a severe means of clearing this reputation and establishing order among the bushi.
When Serizawa brought a prostitute into the Rōshi Gumi quarters, Kondō and Hijikata decided to finish him off at the first opportunity. The memory of the fire on the trip to Kyoto was still vivid.
A similar incident occurred at another inn. Niimi and Serizawa demanded from the innkeeper some discounts and benefits, and when he refused, they decided to take revenge. Hijikata could only gather enough evidence against Niimi, who was forced to commit seppuku.
From that moment on, the hostilities between Kondō and Serizawa continued to grow in intensity. Another incident broke out: since June[When?], the anti-Bakufu of the Tenchu Gumi had been racking merchants who traded with foreigners.
One merchant asked for the protection of the Kyoto police who sent the Roshi Gumi. But wanting to double his protection, he hired a warrior of Daigo's family, close to the Emperor. Furious, Serizawa ordered to burn down the store, watching the show from the roof of a nearby house.
On August 20, 1864 at the gates of the imperial palace in Kyoto, rebels aligning themselves under the slogan sonnō jōi attempted to control the emperor himself to restore the imperial throne. During the bloody crackdown that followed, the clan of the Chōshū domain was held responsible for the insurrection. The Aizu and Satsuma domains lead the defense of the imperial palace during the battle.
During the coup, Nomura Sahyoue, an Aizu official, requested the presence of the Roshi Gumi to protect the gates of the imperial palace. The gates of Hamaguri were already guarded by clan soldiers summoning Kondō and Serizawa to identify themselves.
Only the Aizu officers were able to avoid a conflict. The Shinsen Gumi was ordered to guard Sendo Palace and the southern gate.
With the emperor's permission, the Rōshi Gumi took the official name of Shinsen Gumi.
With this official assumption of the group's duties, their superior Matsudaira Katamori ordered Serizawa's death, particularly because of the store incident. Kondō and Hijikata devised a plan to get rid of Serizawa and his group. Niimi was the first to disappear, however it is possible that he was executed by Okita.
On September 18, 1863, taking advantage of a celebration, Kondō and Hijikata put their plan into action. Serizawa, drunk, returned to Mibu with Hirayama Goro and Hirama Juusuke. Okita and Hijikata executed Serizawa and his mistress. Hirayama was killed by Harada and Yamanami, Hirama managed to escape in the night.
The executed men were buried in an official ceremony and bandits were accused of the crime. Their graves are next to those of the other members of the Shinsen Gumi in Mibu.
The movement grew in numbers, with bushi who entered either dying in battle, being beheaded, committing suicide, or being murdered. After the Serizawa affair, Kondō and Hijikata were determined to better select the candidates, not only by tightening the entry requirements, but also by eliminating all those who strayed from bushido.
The selection was made by shinai combat, and then the best ones faced the instructors of the group.
The Shinsen Gumi was mainly a militia that patrolled Kyoto to keep the peace. Their way of fighting aimed at efficiency in the image of Tennen Rishin-ryū, the fighting style of Shiekan Kondo. Any rōnin not part of the Shinsen Gumi was suspect and had to produce an identification when checked.
Two months before June 1864, the Shinsen Gumi suspected many of the residents of Kyoto of covering up the presence of Chōshū and Higo imperialists in the city, but their activity remained unknown. Shinsen Gumi spies discovered guns and gunpowder in a shed. The owner, whose real name was Furutaka Shuntaro, a Shishi from Chōshu, was captured the day before the case.
He was interrogated and, according to rumors, possibly tortured by Hijikata, revealing the plan to burn the city of Kyoto, assassinate Matsudaira Katamori, capture the emperor and bring him to the Chōshu estate. Anxious to avoid a massacre, Kondō solicited the Aizu Clan.
The Shinsen Gumi, unaware of the location of the secret meeting decided to separate into two groups and search all the inns. The two groups consisted of only about ten men each. Kondō's group headed for the Ikedaya inn. The second group headed for the Shikoku Inn.
At about 10:00 p.m., Kondō entered through the back door and asked to check the guest register. The owner raised the alarm. Kondō, Okita, and Nagakura went up to the second floor and discovered about 30 Shishis while the other Shinsen Gumi blocked the exits.
Hijikata's group reached the inn a little later. The battle lasted two hours. There was one death on the side of the Shinsen Gumi and 7 among the imperialists, 23 were arrested. The samurai of the Aizu Clan arrived at the scene far too late, and the Shinsen Gumi alone received credit for the arrest.
The group gained popularity very quickly after this skirmish, and more and more members joined its ranks, including Kashitaro Ito (Menkyo Kaiden of Shinto Munen Ryu and Hokushin Itto).
But, with 300 members at its peak, the Shinsen Gumi movement was reorganized in 1865 around a better articulated hierarchy, still headed by the original men, those of Kondo. This is the most famous hierarchy:
Sanbō (Military Strategy Advisor)
Bantaï Kumichō (Capitaines)
Instructeur de lance
Professors of literature/culture
There were two corporals (Gochō) under each captain (Kumichō).
At the end of 1864, Yamanami Keisuke gradually isolated himself from Kondo and Hijikata by moving closer to the Sonno doctrine. In February 1865, he suddenly deserted but was easily captured by Okita.
Okita gave him a chance to escape, but Yamanami refused and was forced to commit seppuku. Although he seems to have chosen suicide, the harshness of the judgement imposed on Yamanami was badly felt by the other members, especially Kashitaro Ito.
There were other incidents in the internal life of the Shinsen Gumi. Shortly after the Ikedaya affair, Nagakura petitioned Matsudaira Katamori against Kondo, but he managed to reconcile them. Matsubara Tadaji, captain of the 4th unit, who was involved in an affair of vice, committed seppuku.
Kawai Kisaburo was executed because he couldn't justify an important error in the accounting. Tauchi Tomo was executed because he had been injured by his wife's lover and had run away. Takeda Kanryuusai, captain of the 5th unit, tried to ally with Satsuma and deserted, he was caught and executed by Saito.
The Shinsen Gumi changed its quarters and moved to hostile territory, to Nishi-Hongan-ji temple. The monks of the temple were Tobaku sympathizers, anti-Bakufu.
The most damaging internal conflict was the departure of the military advisor Ito, recruited in 1864, with fatal consequences and which marked a turning point in the history of the militia.
Goryo Eji, "Guardians of the Emperor's Tomb," was a group created by Ito in March 1867, following the death of the Emperor, in order to leave the Shinsengumi bypassing the rules. Ito was Sonnō jōi, so he took this opportunity to weaken the organization and get closer to the Satsuma clan.
However, Kondo and Hijikata placed a spy, Saito Hajime, within the new group, who sent them detailed reports revealing a plan to assassinate Kondo.
On November 18, Ito's group was executed in the Aburanokoji case. Ito Kashitaro, Hattori Takeo and Todo Heisuke were killed. Saito gained a detestable reputation and the incident was not forgotten. Okita narrowly escaped death and Kondo was shot in the shoulder during an assassination attempt by the surviving members.
On January 2, 1866, an alliance was created between Satsuma and Choshu, thanks to the mediation of Sakamoto Ryoma, Katsura Kogoro and Saigo Takamori. Yoshinobu Tokugawa relinquished his duties as shogun at the end of 1867, thus formally returning governmental power to the Emperor. Satsuma and Chōshū obtained an imperial decree against Yoshinobu, who was stripped of his lands and property. Yoshinobu objected and then mobilized troops to carry his message of protest to the court. When Tokugawa forces arrived at the outskirts of Kyoto, they were refused entry and Satsuma and Chōshū troops attacked them, setting off the first confrontation of the Boshin War.
On November 15, 1867, Sakamoto Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro were assassinated in Oumiya. The Shinsen Gumi was suspected with false evidence, the perpetrators were in fact members of the Mimawari Gumi. In December, the Shinsen Gumi was involved in the Tenmaya affair, an assassination attempt by Tosa's men on the person of Miura Kyutaro, a Bakufu official, wrongly suspected of having ordered Ryoma's death.
On January 3, 1868, the battle of Toba-Fushimi broke out. The Shinsen Gumi suffered heavy losses, including Inoue Genzaburō and Yamazaki Susumu. The group retreated to Osaka castle, then to Edo and reorganized itself:
Unit captains and vice-captain's assistants
On February 28, 1868, the Shinsen Gumi became the Koyo Chinbutai. On March 6, the defeat at the Battle of Kōshū-Katsunuma resulted in the retreat of the Shinsen Gumi to the Ookubo Shuzen Inn. However, when it was decided to head to Aizu, Nagakura and Harada left the group.
On April 1, the rest of the Shinsen Gumi moved towards Nagareyama, and on April 3 they were surrounded by the imperial army. Kondo Isami, under the name of Ookubo Yamato, was captured on April 25. Being a peasant's son, he was not allowed to commit seppuku and was beheaded. Sôji Okita died of tuberculosis in Edo two months later.
In April, Hijikata joined Ōtori Keisuke to form the last army of the Bakufu. After a defeat at Utsunomiya, it retreated to Aizu. Hijikata is wounded and Yamaguchi Jiro (Saito Hajime) takes the lead of the Shinsen Gumi. It is then that the last split of the organization occurs between Saito, who prefers to fight on the side of Aizu, and Hijikata who follows Enomoto Takeaki.
In spite of a guerrilla tactic, Saito's group lost the battle of Bonari Pass on August 21, retreating again to Aizuwakamatsu Castle. The Aizu forces were finally besieged in October 1868.
On October 20, Hijikata and the last survivors of the Shinsen Gumi arrived in Hokkaido, on December 15, he was appointed minister of the armies of the independent Republic of Ezo, led by Enomoto Takeaki.
But the Meiji government attacks Hokkaido, the imperial forces quickly advance to Ezo and win the battle of Hakodate Bay, encircling the fortress Goryōkaku. Takeaki Enomoto decided to surrender on June 30, 1869.
Toshizo Hijikata is shot and killed in the battle, his death marks the final end of the Shinsen Gumi.
Their most famous uniform is the haori with the character makoto (sincerity). Later, they adopted more neutral colors.
Breaking the Code of Conduct meant the sentence of Seppuku. However, death sentences were still carefully judged and some were not carried out. Among the most famous annexes, one often quotes: