Saito Hajime

saito-hajime

Saitō Hajime (Japanese: 斎藤 一, transcribed by Hepburn as Saitō Hajime; 18 February 1844 - 28 September 1915) was a Japanese samurai of the Edo period and captain of the famous third squadron of the Shinsengumi (Japanese: 新選組, transcribed by Hepburn as Shinsengumi). He was one of the few founding members to survive the bloody era of the Bakumacu.

Saito Hajime background

He was born in Edo (now Tokyo), in the province of Saito Musashi, as Yamaguchi Hajime (Japanese: 山口一, transcribed by Hepburn as Yamaguchi Hajime).

Little information survives about his youth. His father, Yamaguchi Yushuke, was an asigaru (foot soldier) in the service of the Akashi clan, and after moving to Edo, he bought himself the rank of gokenin (a low rank in the service of the Tokugawa shoguns).

His mother, the daughter of a farmer from Kavagoe, was called Masu. He had a brother named Hiroaki and a sister named Katsu.

According to family records, in 1862, she accidentally killed a hatamoto (vassal of her son-in-law), left Edo, and took the name Saito. He went to Kyoto, where he studied at the kendzsucu dojo of an old friend of his father's named Josida, Sōtoku Taishi-ryū (Japanese: 聖徳太子流, transcribed by Hepburn as Shōtoku Taishi-ryū).

Shinsengumi

Saito joined the Rósigumi on 5 March 1863. Along with Okita Sōjō and Tōdo Heisuke, who were the same age, the three were the youngest (nineteen years old) in Kondō Isami's group and were considered among the most talented swordsmen.

According to their original position in the Shinsengumi, they were the assistant to the second-in-command (Japanese: 副長助勤, Hepburn transliteration: fukuchō jokin). His duties also included teaching the kendzsucu. Despite his connections in Aizu, his descendants dispute that he was also a spy.

It is also questionable whether he was an inside spy for the Shinsengumi; the best-known story is that he was secretly commissioned to join Itō Kasitarō's breakaway group the Gorjo Edji (Japanese: 御陵衛士, transcribed by Hepburn as Goryō Eji) in 1867 and spy on them. Although Abe Juro (a corporal in the Shinsengumi) did not believe he was a spy.

It is likely that Saito was monitoring intelligence and enemy activity. In addition, it was his job to filter out potential spies within the Sinsengumi - members always thought carefully about what they said before they said it.

This also contributed to the mystery surrounding the character of Saito. Part of his controversial reputation is the suggestion that he killed several corrupt members of the Sinsengumi; although speculation differs as to exactly how much he was involved in the deaths of Takeda Kanryusai and Tani Sanjuro.

When the ranks were organised, at the end of 1864, he was first registered as captain of the fourth division. It was not until April 1865, when he moved to his new headquarters at Nisi Hongan-ji (Japanese: 西本願寺, Hepburn transcription: Nishi Hongan-ji) temple in Shinsengumi, that he was registered as captain of the third squadron.

It was believed that Saito was on a par in terms of swordsmanship with the captain of the first squadron, Okita Sōji, and the captain of the second squadron, Nagakura Sinpachi. It was rumoured that even Okita was a little afraid of Saito's skills, if only because, despite his dangerous missions, he was rarely wounded.

Along with the other members of the Sinsengumi, he became a hatamoto in 1867. After the outbreak of the Bosin War, Saito took part in the first battles of the Sinsengumi, the Battle of Toba Fusimi and the Battle of Kosu Katsunuma, before retreating with the other Sinsengumi survivors to Aizu.

As Hijikata was unable to carry out his duties in the battle of Ucunomiya Castle due to injuries sustained by Tosizo (Isami Kondo had already been captured and Hijikata took his place), he was sent to the battle of Aizumi in 1868.

On 26 May 1868, Saito became commander of the Sinsengumi in Aizu, under the name Jamaguchi Jirō (Japanese: 山口次郎, transcribed by Hepburn as Yamaguchi Jirō) - the name he had used since his return to the Sinsengumi in 1867.

After the Battle of Bonari Pass, when Hijikata Tosizo decided to retreat from Aizu, Saito joined up with Hijikata and stayed with Aizu's army until the end of the Battle of Aizu.

Saito, with the Sinsengumi members who stayed with him, fought against the imperial forces (Japanese: 官軍, Hepburn transliteration: kangun) at Njorai-dono (a small temple near Aizuvakamatsu Castle). At the Battle of Njorai-do, Saito was thought to have died in battle, but managed to return to Aizu, where he joined the Aizu Province army.

After the fall of Aizuvakamacu Castle, Saito was taken southwest with the former Aizu retainers to the Takada estate in Ecsigo Province, where he was taken as a prisoner of war. In the records, in the list of prisoners at Takada Manor, Saito was listed as Icsinohe Denpachi.

After the Meiji Restoration

Saito took the name Fujita Gorō (Japanese: 藤田五郎, transcribed by Hepburn as Fujita Gorō) and moved to Tonami, the new estate of the Aizui Macudaira clan.

An old friend from Kyoto, an Aizu-based karo (the daimyo's immediate vassal), Kurasava lived in the residence of Heijiemon Kurasava, who was involved in the migration of Aizu samurai and established settlements in Tonami (now Aomori Prefecture, mainly in Gonohe village). In Tonami, Saito met Sinoda Yaso, the daughter of an Aizu retainer.

They were introduced by Kurasawa, who was then living with another Aizu retainer, Ueda Shichiro. Kurasawa financed the wedding of Saito and Yaso on 25 August 1871; the couple lived in Kurasawa's house. It was around this time that Saito first came into contact with the police.

On 10 February 1873, Saito and Yaso moved away from Kurasawa and began living in the Ueda household. On 10 June 1874, Saito left Tonami (it is still not known why) and went to Tokyo. Jaso moved in with Kurasawa and is last mentioned in the Kurasawa family records in 1876. The rest of his life is unknown, he probably died in the same year.

It is not possible to determine exactly when Saito became a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Some evidence suggests that he was involved with the police as early as 1871 or 1872.

Another possibility is that he joined the force in 1874 with the help of Sagava Kanbei. When, in 1873, Saigo Takamori fell out with the government and resigned from office, all his supporters went with him. This caused a huge manpower shortage for the police.

Through Sagawa's contacts, help was sought from the Aizu clan. Having suffered a bitter defeat in the Bosin War, poverty forced many to work for the Meiji government - three hundred volunteers in all. Perhaps because Saito was one of them, or perhaps for some other reason, but when he decided to go to Tokyo, he approached Saiga about the job.

The first specific record of Saito working for the police is his appointment as an inspector on 20 February 1877 and his permission to wear a special licence samurai sword. In the same year, the Satsuma Uprising broke out under the leadership of Saigo Takamori, and Saito was sent to the front with the Imperial Japanese Army on 18 May.

There he served under Superintendent-General Hagivara Sadamoto, commanding a small detachment of one hundred and seven men. On 12 July, in Miyazaki Prefecture, half of the troops advanced on the main road to Fukuhara Pass and reached the enemy at Jakio.

They managed to push them back all the way to the mountains, where the other half of the force was already fighting the rebels. In the battle, Saito was shot. Unfortunately, it was not revealed how badly he was wounded, but it was serious enough for him and his men to retreat for a while.

However, he was soon back in action, forced the enemy to flee and captured two cannons. Saito returned home on 28 October. A year later, he received a reward of 100 yen and the Order of Paulownia (Japanese: 桐花章, transcribed by Hepburn as Tōkashō) for his services.

He continued his police work, and on 1 November 1888, he was appointed Superintendent. He finally retired in April 1891 at the age of 47.

In 1874, he married Takagi Tokio, the daughter of an Aizu retainer, Takagi Kodjuro. Tokio's original name was Sada, and she was at one time a courtier to Princess Macudaira Teru.

The expenses of the wedding were financed by Javakama Hirosi, Sagava Kanbei and Macudaira Katamori. Saito and Tokio had three children, Cutomu (1876-1956), Cujosi (1879-1946) and Tacuo (1886-1945).

As you might have guessed, Saito made sure his sons knew how to swordplay. One of them vividly remembered a year that they found 'unbearable', as Saito would regularly rush in unexpectedly to beat them with a sinai. He was always angry with his sons for not being careful.

He was always shouting at them, "You are not ready for manhood!" (Japanese: 士道不覚悟, transcribed by Hepburn as Shidōku fukakugo, literally: "Unprepared for manhood"). As for the grandchildren, Cutomu and his wife Nisino Midori had seven children.

The Fujita (Saito) family survives to this day, in the persons of Fujita Taro and Fujita Naoko, children of Cutomu's second son Makoto. Saito's third son, Tacuo, was adopted by the Numazava family (Tokio's maternal relatives), who were almost completely exterminated in the Bosin War.

Throughout his life, Saito sometimes shared his experiences in Shinsengumi with some of his acquaintances, to whom he often visited. He often shared sake with his Aizu-based relative Jamakava Kenzhiro, or Tokyo's cousin Takamine Hideo, and told stories about his past, but unlike Nagakura Sinpachi, he never wrote anything down about these memories.

In the Meiji era, Saito was the only person allowed by the government to wear the katana even after the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate. His feelings for the Shinshengumi are best expressed by the fact that Saito helped Nagakura and Macumoto Ryojun to erect a monument to Kondo Isami and Hijikata Tosizo.

After he was discharged from the police in 1891, Takamine Hideo helped him find a job. He worked as a security guard at the Tokyo Museum of Education, which was affiliated with the Teacher Training College. At this time he also taught kenshu in the school's clubs. It is said that his students could not even touch his finger.

Takamine was the headmaster of the school during Saito's stay, and had a shed where valuable swords and artifacts were stored. It was always locked, and Saito was the only person allowed free access. Apparently, one of the late Sinsengumi's captains had a keen eye for swords, or even the ability to repair them, so he was always given an opinion.

In April 1899, he retired from this post and became secretary or administrator of the Women's Teacher Training College (which became the Tokyo Women's Teacher Training College a year before his retirement in 1908). He handled the school's budget and general affairs. He finally retired in 1909.

Saito Hajime Death

According to the official view, Saito's death was caused by the development of a stomach ulcer. While he was ill, he was cared for by his daughter-in-law Midori. Towards the end of her illness, she had to use carefully wrapped chopsticks to remove phlegm from her throat to allow her to breathe.

When the medicine no longer worked, Saito realised her final hour was approaching and refused to stay in bed. Her family helped her get up and dress in white (in Japanese, white is the colour of death and mourning), and she sat in the living room in seiza before the alcove.

It is said that at one in the morning, his eyes lit up and he died. Saito died on 28 September 1915, aged 71. He was buried at the Amida Jin Temple in Aizu (now Fukushima Prefecture).

Saito Hajime Feature

Appearance

At 173 centimetres tall, Saito stood out among the Japanese of his time; moreover, his appearance gave the impression that he was taller than he actually was. But opinions are divided about his build.

Some records describe him as a rather thin man, while others describe him as a very large person who was very muscular in his youth. The reason for these differing opinions is probably that there are descriptions from different periods of his life.

Most likely, he was indeed muscular in his youth, but the war and the hardships of his years of hardship caused him to lose considerable weight, which made him look thin. In later life, of course, it is conceivable that he may have put on some weight in prosperity and become bulkier.

Records also mention that his face was bushy and his eyes were particularly thin-cut. But there are no completely reliable documents regarding his exact appearance.

To date, no photographs of Saito have been found that depict him beyond any doubt. There is a well-known drawing, but it is a composition by Cutomu. The other is a photograph of the police squad of which he was a member.

By terminating the search, it was established that the man in the picture is most probably Saito Hajime, in his later years, as Fujita Goro. The photograph was taken in Yokohama, by the way.

Personality

Saito was known to be a heavy drinker. It is likely that his stomach ulcer, which was responsible for his death, was caused by his love of alcohol.

For most of his life, he was known as a quiet man (though he could be really intimidating when he needed to be). Even later in life, he only became talkative after a few drinks, when he talked about his memories of the Sinsengum or Bosin wars. He usually spoke of these times with sadness and excitement mixed with anger.

He is also described as a dignified, respectful, cautious person, especially in his older years. He always made sure that his belt (obi) was properly fastened and that he did not drag his feet when walking. When resting, he always positioned himself in seiza (Japanese kneeling posture) and never relaxed his attention: he was thus able to react immediately to any situation (attack).

Martial arts

According to the Fujita family, Saito learned swordsmanship at the Ittō-ryū (Japanese: 一刀流, transliterated by Hepburn: Ittō-ryū), kendzsucu school, probably also the Mizoguichi branch (Japanese: 溝口派一刀流, transliterated by Hepburn: Mizoguchi-ha Ittō-ryū), at the Aizuk headquarters in Edo.

However, police records indicate the Mugai-ryū (Japanese: 無外流, trans. by Hepburn: Mugai-ryū) school as his swordsmanship style.

In addition, it appears that Saito had knowledge of at least two branches of the Sōtoku Taishi-ryū (Japanese: 聖徳太子流, transcribed by Hepburn as Shōtoku Taishi-ryū) after having served as an instructor in Josida's dojo for a time. In fact, Saito's style remains uncertain to this day.

In truth, even Nagakura Sinpachi was not entirely sure on the subject. In the Meiji era, he visited the Sieikan dojo where Tennen Rishin-ryū (Japanese: 天然理心流, transcribed by Hepburn as Tennen Rishin-ryū) was practiced, and briefly assisted Kondo Isami's nephew in teaching it.

One of the students asked him about Saito's sword style, to which he replied, "Since Saito-kun and I rarely talked, I have no idea." What makes this statement really peculiar is the fact that Nagakura knew Saito even before the Sinsengumi was formed.

Even if one might think that they were very busy in Kyoto, and perhaps too exhausted from fighting to exchange ideas about swordsmanship; it's hard to imagine that he at least didn't see Saito's style while he was on Sieikan.

According to Kojima Sikanosuke (a disciple of Kondo) and Nagakura, Saito spent some time at the Sieikan dojo before going to Kyoto. This was confirmed by Saito when he told how he bought a Kotecu sword for Kondo. It was his way of thanking Kondo for the lessons he had received from him at Sieikan.

Among his other skills, Saito was also proficient in the Sekiguchi-ryū (Japanese: 関口流, Hepburn transcription: Sekiguchi-ryū) style of judo.

Sword

The name of the sword of Saito is Kidjinmaru Kunisige (Japanese: 鬼神丸国重 with Hepburn transcription: Kijinmaru Kunishige). In the name of the sword, "Kidjinmaru" refers to a demon. The blade was made by a swordsmith named Kunisige in the Tenva era, in the 1680s.

Interesting facts of Saito Hajime

Left-handedness

Word has it that Saito was exceptionally good at a left-handed stabbing technique called hirazuki (Japanese: 平突き). This is the basis for the assumption that Saito was left-handed, which is still unproven. To complicate the investigation, for cultural reasons, the Samurai carried their swords on their left side and drew them with their right hand.

Traditional Japanese swordsmanship techniques are designed so that the right hand is on top, guiding the direction of the cut, and the left hand is on the bottom, supporting the grip and providing the force to cut.

For this reason, in both traditional kendjutsu and modern kendo, left-handed practitioners use the sword in the same way as their right-handed counterparts. For this reason, it is not possible to determine who is left-handed and who is not, based on fencing alone.

Saito's left-handedness is probably attributed to the novelist Simozava Khan, and is associated with the mysterious death of Tani Sanjuro, a captain of the Sinsengumi. According to the supposed story, Tani was unable to make a clean cut when he had to assist Taucsi Tomo's seppuku, thereby committing an unforgivable offence.

(The story is certainly false, if only because official records show that Tani died before Tauji was obliged to perform seppuku.) In any case, Tani was found dead on the stone stairs leading to Gion Shrine (also known as Yasaka Shrine) on 1 April 1866. It was raining.

Saito and Sinohara Tainosin had returned from somewhere and were already wet, so they were sent to investigate the incident. According to the story, Tani was stabbed in the chest, which went all the way to his back, and he died leaning against the wall of a small restaurant, half collapsed. His sword rested in its sheath, he had no chance to draw it.

Sinohara laughed and said that, judging by the wound, the stab was certainly from the left, so the perpetrator "could only have been someone who was left-handed", like Saito. Saito then asked Sinohara not to say that he was the perpetrator. They both laughed, then put the body in a palanquin and went back to headquarters.

Unfortunately, this is the only description in which Saito mentioned that he was left-handed. Simozava claims that the source of the story is some kind of diary of Saito, the so-called "Muroku"; however, no one else has ever claimed to have seen such a document, so its very existence is a matter of debate.

So until it is somehow established whether or not Saito was indeed left-handed, this will remain one of the mysteries of the Sinsengumi.

Names

Saito changed his name four times in his lifetime.

  1. Jamaguchi Hajime
  2. Saito Hajime
  3. Jamaguchi Jiro
  4. Ichinohe Denpachi
  5. Fujita Goro

The original surname of Saito was Jamagucsi. He took the name Saito after leaving Edo after killing a hatamoto. It is not known why he changed his name, nor why he kept his first name, Hajime. Hadjime is spelled with the letter "one" (一), and tradition has it that he was given this name because he was born on the first day or first month of the New Year in 1844.

When Ito Kasitaro's breakaway group (which some believe Saito joined to spy) was disbanded, Saito returned to the Sinchengumi.

The terms on which Ito and Kondo had agreed made it impossible for anyone to return to the organisation. So Saito got around the problem by changing his name to Jamaguchi Jiro, entering as a new member but retaining his old rank and position. He used that name until the fall of Aizu.

During the confrontation with the imperial forces in the Bosin War, Saito changed his name again to hide his identity. Kondo's execution made it clear that anyone who once held a high position in the Sinsengumi could face similar consequences if captured.

Saito therefore assumed the name Icsinohe Denpacsi (also referred to as Icsinose Denpacsi or Icsinohe Depacsi by some sources).

When the Aizu clan moved to Tonami, in 1870, Saito was admitted as a member of the clan, at which time Macudaira Katamori (then daimyo of Aizu) gave Saito the name Fujita Goro. For this reason, Saito cherished his new name and could not allow any scandal to tarnish it. He used the name Fujita Goro for the rest of his life.

Before his death, Saito's family had spoken to him about what name should be on his tombstone. Saito's reply was: 'Up to this time, I have worn many names. I don't want any other name any more". So, in compliance with his wish, he was buried with an anonymous tombstone - not at all uncommon in Japanese funerals.

Saito Hajime portrayal in the media

The character of Saito became extremely popular after several manga and anime adopted his character. In Vacuki Nobuhiro's legendary series Ruroni Kensin, he appears as the main character, the mortal enemy of former hitokiri Himura Kensin. In terms of portrayal, Saito is very tall and, compared to the other characters, rather plain-looking, aloof and quiet.

However, he is blunt, sarcastic, indifferent to violence, and approaches every situation with unshakable superiority. Vacuki Saito is a chain-smoker instead of a drinker - he mentions in the manga that he gets bloodthirsty when drunk, which is why he hasn't had a drink since the Meiji Restoration - and he loves his room.

Just as in real life, in Ruroni Kensin, Saito, as a lieutenant, has special permission to carry a katana instead of a police saber. His special sword technique is the Gatocu (as "Wolf's Fang"), which, although similar to his real-life technique, is described in the series as being entirely fictional in itself, and rather inaccurate in terms of real swordsmanship.

The left-handed thrust is indeed used as a surprise-like attack in most styles. It is executed like a normal thrust, but with the right hand stepping forward and releasing the sword at the last moment, leaving only the left hand holding the end of the hilt. The change of grip and step increases the reach and changes the fighting distance.

But all this must be done very quickly and unexpectedly to be effective. The technique is also called "hirazuki" (Japanese: 平突き) and is used in many fencing schools, including the Tennen Risin ring. In the Ruroni Kensin, Gatocu appears as an "improved" left-handed version of hirazuki - an overt reference to Saito's left-handedness - but unlike hirazuki, Gatocu is a fictional technique that exists only in manga. 

The motto "Aku Szoku Zan" (Japanese: 悪即斬, transcribed by Hepburn as Aku Soku Zan, English: "Kill evil immediately") is also fictional, although it describes the general attitude of the Shinshengumi during the Bakumatsu.

It is an interesting coincidence that the "sai" tag at the end of both the beginning of Saito's name and the nickname of the protagonist, "Battosai", is written with the same character (斎).

The Peacemaker Kurogane series, also with a historical theme, follows the story of Ichimura Tecunosuke (Japanese: 市村 鉄之助, transcribed by Hepburn as Ichimura Tetsunosuke), who joins the Sinsengumi to avenge the death of his parents. Saito, as captain of the third squadron, appears in the series as a rather loose and mystical (shaman-like) figure, with a perpetually sleepy expression.

He appears in the manga Kaze Hikaru, in which a girl disguised as a boy joins the Sinsengumi. In the manga, Saito is portrayed as a quiet, serious character who is good friends with (and has remarkably much in common with) the protagonist's brother.

Saito is also the protagonist of the manga Burai, a fictional story about the Sinsengumi at the end of the Tokugava shogunate.

In the anime/visual novel series Hakuoki, the character of Saito Hajime also appears as an unassuming, measured, wise person who is a master of swordsmanship.

Of particular note is that (despite the actual customs of the time) in the anime, Saito wields the sword with his left hand. His appearance is also quite different from reality, since in the series he is relatively short and his hair is purple.

A character similar to Saito, portrayed in the Kensin series, Keichiro Wasizuka, appears in the anime series The Last Blade (Japanese: 幕末浪漫 月華の剣士, transcribed by Hepburn as Bakumatsu Rouman: Gekka no Kenshi). Once again he is portrayed as a cool, quiet character loyal to the Sinsengumi.

His appearance is very similar to how his character Saito appeared in the OVA series Ruroni Kensin: Cuiokuhen, and he has a unique attack very similar to Gatoku.

Joe Odagiri plays the role of Saito in the 2004 Japanese drama Shinsengumi! broadcast by NHK.

In the 2003 film The Last Sword Cut (Mibu gishi den), the role of Saito is played by Koichi Sato. Sato was first portrayed as a cold, mysterious, uncaring captain, but his character undergoes a significant character development as he becomes more and more involved with the main character, Josimura Kanichiro (played by Kichi Nakai), in The Last Years of the Sinsengumi.

It is worth noting that Saito, like Hakuoki, is a left-handed fencer, and the legend of Tani Sanjuro's death is also discussed in this context.

In the 2012 film Ruroni Kensin, Joszuke Eguji plays the role of Saito, created by Vacuki.