Hijikata Toshizō (土方 歳三 義豊, Hijikata Toshizō Yoshitoyo, May 31, 1835-June 20, 1869) was a Japanese warrior, vice commander of the Shinsen gumi, a notorious militia that, under the orders of the Tokugawa shgun, was to maintain order in Kyoto during the Bakumatsu at the end of the Edo period (1863 to 1868).
He later served as vice-minister of the Armed Forces of the Ezo Republic. He also wrote a collection of haiku under the literary pseudonym of Hōgyoku.
Born in Hino, Tama district (now a suburb of Tokyo), into a family of wealthy peasants, he was the youngest of six children. His father died a few months before his birth, probably of tuberculosis.
His sister was also suspected of having contracted the disease before his death in 1838. Two years later, his mother also died, probably of the same disease.
Tamejiro, the eldest son, was blind and therefore unable to inherit the family property. A refined man, he probably inspired Hijikata's passion for haiku.
His brother Kiroku inherits the estate; it is he and his wife who raise the young boy. Kiroku tried, in vain, to push him towards a career as a merchant.
His older sister married Sato Hikogoro who had a dojo practicing Tennen Rishin-ryū, from the Shieikai of Kondō Shūsuke. Hijikata often practiced self-taught kenjutsu in the dojo while working as a traveling family medicine dealer.
He met the young Kondō Isami (Shūsuke's heir) at the dojo and became friends with him. He then became a disciple of the Shieikai in 1851, but did not officially join the dojo until 1859.
His role at the Ryū-Ha was only mokuroku, but he is recognized as a weapon master. Much speculation revolves around the katana that Hijikata owned, an ancient weapon from the famous blacksmith Izumi-no-Kami Kanesada (和泉守兼定), however it is possible that the sword was a copy given its exorbitant cost and Hijikata's status as a non-samurai.
In 1863, Hijikata and the other members of the Shieikan joined the Roshi gumi of Kiyokawa Hachiro.
Hijikata was 29 years old when the Rōshi gumi was formed. He co-held the title of vice-commander with Yamanami Keisuke after the assassination of Serizawa Kamo, who was killed by Okita Sōji and Hijikata himself.
After Yamanami's death, he continued to fulfill this role alone. It is commonly accepted that he was the tactician of the group. If Kondō was the soul of the Shinsen Gumi, Hijikata was its spirit.
Nicknamed the demonic vice commander (鬼の副長, Oni no Fukuchō), Hijikata was feared for his intransigence and toughness in the strictest adherence to bushido. It is assumed that he was the main instigator of the internal regulations of the Shinsen gumi that cost the lives of many members.
But during the years in Kyoto, the men under his command did not seem to find his methods too drastic or violent. Matsumoto Jun, a Tokugawa doctor, believed that the group would have disbanded earlier, if not for Hijikata's presence and his ability to keep Kondo and some members together.
In the petition submitted to Matsudaira Katamori against Kondo by Nagakura, there is no mention of the vice-commander. On the other hand, his relationship with the military advisor Ito Kashitaro, who was later executed by the Shinsen gumi, is quite tense.
With the rest of the Shinsen gumi, he became hatamoto of the shogun in 1867.
The battle of Toba-Fushimi had a profound effect on Hijikata. Immediately after being defeated by Western artillery, he decided to adopt the modern style by combining it with that of the bushi, carrying a revolver next to his katana.
Shortly after the defeat at the Battle of Kōshū-Katsunuma, Kondo is captured and executed as a common criminal. This event comes as a shock to Hijikata, consumed by guilt and the inability to save his friend.
In May 1868, he was wounded at the battle of Utsunomiya castle and Saito Hajime took the temporary command of the Shinsen gumi.
Knowing that he was fighting a losing battle, Hijikata headed north, leaving behind Saito Hajime and half of the survivors of the Shinsen gumi.
It is not sure whether the split was a conflict or the result of an inevitable dissolution, as Saito had always had close ties with the Aizu clan.
Hijikata joined Takeaki Enomoto, a former Bakufu naval officer on the run in Hokkaidō, who established the short-lived independent republic of Ezo. He was appointed deputy minister of the army.
In October 1868, Hijikata and Ōtori Keisuke's forces occupied the fortress of Goryokaku, eliminating local resistance. But the imperial troops continued to attack by land and sea.
In an interesting postscript about his involvement in the Boshin War, the French officer Jules Brunet praises vice-commander Hijikata. Praising his leadership ability, he indicates that if he had been in Europe, he would certainly have been promoted to general.
He was shot during the battle of Hakodate in June 1869, the second year of the Meiji era, at the age of thirty-four. One week after his death, Goryokaku was taken and the army of the Ezo Republic surrendered to the new power on June 27, 1869.
It is not known where Hijikata was buried but on a cenotaph in Tokyo, next to Kondo's, there is a haiku given to his page shortly before his death:
Although my body may decay in Ezo,
my spirit keeps
my lord in the east.
His physical appearance was much talked about during his lifetime. Like Okita, he was taller than the average Japanese man of the time. From his childhood, he attracted attention, and his success with women only increased with time.
He seems to have had many mistresses during the Kyoto period, but remained single until his death. A persistent rumor is that he broke off an engagement with a young girl from Edo, shortly before his departure to the capital.
The reason for this was the dangerous and uncertain nature of his situation. Today, he seems to be often considered as the archetype of the ideal man by Japanese women. Most notable example, in the dating simulation and anime Hakuōki, Hijikata serves as the heroine's default and canon partner.
In March 1868, Hijikata took the name "Naito Hayato" when he served the Tokugawa directly. Hayato resembles his father's name. However, he returned to his original name after Kondo's capture.
The fact that he can use his surname openly is apparently an anomaly. At the beginning of the Edo period, the Bakufu had abolished the right for anyone below the social rank of samurai to have a surname.
For many this was not a problem, however prominent families like the Hijikata were forced into secrecy. It was not until he arrived in Kyoto that he could use his name openly.