Okita Sōji (沖田 総司 Edo, 1842 or 1844-ibidem, July 19, 1868) was the captain of the first division of the Shinsengumi, a Japanese military grouping that resisted during the Meiji Restoration.
Famous in history for being considered a genius with the sword and for his gentle character, being one of the best warriors in the Shinsengumi along with Saito Hajime and Nagakura Shinpachi.
According to Yagi Tamesaburō (the son of Yagi Gennojō) and Satō Shu'sen (a descendant of Satō Hikogorō), Okita was tall, slender with prominent cheeks and high cheekbones. His face was "flattened. "
He was born Okita Sōjirō Fujiwara no Harumasa in 1842 or 1844 to a samurai family in Shirakawa Domain. His great-grandfather was Okita Kan'emon (?-1819) and his grandfather, Okita Sanshiro (?-1833).
His father, Okita Katsujiro, died in 1845 and he had two older sisters, Okita Mitsu (1833-1907) and Okita Kin (1836-1908).
In 1846, in order to marry off the Okita family's male child, Okita Rintarō (1826-1908) who was adopted by the Okita family, his older sister Okita Mitsu went on to become Kōndo Shusuke's de facto adopted daughter. Kōndo Shusuke was the third master of the Tennen Rishin Ryu school and Sōji began Shieikan training under his tutelage at the age of 9.
At that time, Shusuke had previously adopted Shimazaki Katsuta (who would later adopt the name Kondō Isami although Hijikata Toshizō had not yet enrolled in the institution).
Okita proved to be a prodigy with the sword. He mastered all the techniques of his school by the age of 18 and earned the Menkyo Kaiden diploma (license of total transmission of knowledge.).
In 1861, Okita became the Head Trainer (Jukutō) at the Shiekan. Although it has often been remarked that he possessed an honest, gentle and kind personality with those around him, he was also known as a teacher of little patience and strict with his students.
Okita changed his name some time before leaving for Kyoto in 1863, so that it remained Okita Sōji Fujiwara no Kaneyoshi. He soon became one of the founding members of the Shinsengumi group and Fukuchō Jokin (assistant vice commander).
Okita Rintarō, also a student of the Tennen Rishin-ryu, was appointed commander of the Shinchōgumi (the Shinsengumi's sister force in Edo).
Okita was the second youngest member of the Shieikan next to Tōdō Heisuke. He was one of those involved with Serizawa Kamo (one of the original commanders of the Shinsengumi) and the assassinations of Ucchiyama Hikojiro in 1863.
He was a highly trained swordsman in both the use of the shinai, bokken and katana, and his special technique was called Mumyo-ken8 (basically translated as "the sword without light") or Sandanzuki ("three-motion lunge"), a technique that could attack both the neck and the left and right shoulder with a single movement.
The Mumyo-ken technique was his own invention and may have been taken as the basis for another of Hijikata's (the Hirazuki).
There are theories that his tuberculosis was discovered when he coughed up blood and fainted during the Ikedaya Incident, but some sources claim that he contracted it later. Both are reasonable, as tuberculosis can kill quickly within weeks or more slowly, over many years.
Although many fans consider the fact that Okita killed Yoshida Yoshimaru during the Ikedaya Incident (based on the fictional works of Shimosawa Kan and Shiba Ryōtarō) to be real, this is historically unrealistic.
Based on Ryōtarō's fictional works, many believe that Okita and Hijikata were almost brothers. In historical reality, Yamanami Keisuke was the vice commander with whom Okita shared a brotherly relationship.
Yamanami's act of seppukku (along with Okita as his second) in 1865 was a terrible incident in the swordsman's short life. There are no documents to support the theory that Hijikata and Okita maintained a friendship and it is even debatable whether the two got along.
In 1865, Okita was captain of the first Shinsengumi unit and also served as a kenjutsu instructor. That same year, he was appointed by Kondō Isami to succeed him as the fifth master of the Tennen Rishin-ryu school. His hygienic habits were considered almost obsessive.
Although difficult to verify, rumors at the time told of a famous katana named Kiku-ichimonji that was said to have belonged to him.
What has been confirmed is that he possessed a set of Kaga kiyomitsu (katana and wakizashi), thus the so-called "Kikuichimonji Norimune". It was probably one of the swords in the aforementioned set.
During the Boshin War, and after the Battle of Toba-Fushimi on January 4 of the Keiō era, Okita entered the Matsumoto Ryōjun hospital in Edo.
He was then transferred to a lodging house along with Okita Rintarō, Okita Mitsu and their children. When the shogunate forces (including the Shinsengumi and Shinchōgumi) retreated to the Tohoku region, Okita remained alone in Edo.
He died of tuberculosis on July 19 (May 30 according to the lunar calendar), 1868. It is believed that he died without knowing that Kondo Isami had died. He was buried by his family that same night at the family temple in Edo under his original birth name (Okita Sōji is listed on death documents of the time).
The tomb is located at Senshou-Ji Temple in Tokyo. Today, his grave is not open to the public.
The information that Okita died when he was 25 years old is based on the theory that he was born in 1844 and was therefore 25 years old according to the Asian system of age calculation in 1868.