Yamakawa Hiroshi

Yamakawa Hiroshi

Baron Yamakawa Hiroshi (山川浩) (December 4, 1845 - March 6, 1898) was a Japanese samurai of the late Edo period who became a famous general of the Japanese Imperial Army in the early Meiji era.

He was a servant of Aizu known for his ingenious strategies against the early Meiji government during the Boshin War, he was the first person born in Aizu to write a history of the years before the war, along with his brother Yamakawa Kenjirō.

Yamakawa Hiroshi Early years

Yamakawa Hiroshi, or from his first name, Yōshichirō (与七郎), was born in Aizuwakamatsu (present-day Fukushima Prefecture), in 1845. His father, Shigekata Yamakawa (山川重固), was a karō (elder) of the Matsudaira clan, and his mother, Tōi (唐衣), was the daughter of another karō family, the Saigō. At the age of 15, Yōshichirō's father died, so he became the head of the family.

Yamakawa Hiroshi The Kyōto Shugoshoku years

In 1862, Yōshichirō, now called Shigeyoshi (重栄) or generally, Ōkura (大蔵), accompanied the daimyō Katamori Matsudaira from Aizu to Kyōto when the latter was appointed to the Kyoto Shugoshoku post.

After distinguishing himself in the 1863-65 clashes, Yamakawa was allowed to accompany the Shogunate's foreign affairs magistrate Hidezane Koide to Russia, where he assisted in negotiations over the delineation of the international border from Karafuto Prefecture to Sakhalin. Back in Japan, he participated in the battle of Toba-Fushimi in the Boshin War, which he survived, and took refuge in Edo.

Yamakawa Hiroshi The beginning of the Boshin War

During the early months of 1868, Yamakawa helped restructure the Aizu domain and its army. He was appointed commander of the reorganized artillery corps (Hōheitai 砲兵隊), replacing the veteran Hayashi Gonsuke, who died of wounds received at the battle of Toba-Fushimi.

Upon his return to the estate, he was appointed wakadoshiyori (young advisor) in charge of military finances. In order to improve the financial situation of the estate (which had been in deficit for over a decade), he attracted skilled engravers such as Katō Munechika and Akichika among others, and built a foundry inside Tsuruga Castle, casting three kinds of coins, 1 bun, 2 bun, and 1 ryō.

Joining the Shogunate infantry under Magistrate Keisuke Otori, Yamakawa fought Taisuke Itagaki's Tosa forces with great effectiveness, and his fame eventually reached Tani Tateki.

Lion Dance

In preparation for the Battle of Aizu, Yamakawa was called back to Aizuwakamatsu in his capacity as Nikkōguchi-Tajima, but he realized that even if he rushed there at full speed, by the time he got there, the net surrounding the estate would be so tight that he would not be able to get through.

Therefore, he devised a plan to get his soldiers between the enemy lines. Setting up a "lion dance troop" at the nearby village of Komatsu, he formed a "tōri-hayashi" (Japanese for brass band), and marched each of his soldiers in without any trouble, passing right in front of the besieging army.

The commanders present at the castle were stunned by this miraculous entrance, which greatly improved morale. Katamori Matsudaira himself was moved to tears and praised Yamakawa's ingenuity. Thus, Yamakawa was placed in charge of the castle's defense, but although the defense was strengthened, the castle fell in the fall of 1868.

Yamakawa Hiroshi Exile

After the fall of Aizu, Yamakawa was imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp in Tokyo with other Aizu men. He became head of the first post-war domain liaison office in Tokyo, and when the government pardoned him, he supervised the reform of the land tax in Tonami (now in Aomori Prefecture), and became vice-governor of Tonami, working hard at management.

After the abolition of the estates, he resigned in 1871 and on the recommendation of General Tani Tateki, an army commander, he got a job in the military court.

Yamakawa Hiroshi Military career

In 1873, Yamakawa became a commander and served in Kumamoto. In 1874, he fought for the imperial side during the Saga Rebellion where he was wounded.

Promoted to lieutenant colonel, he served as administrator of the "2nd Independent Brigade" during the Satsuma Rebellion, and was imprisoned in Kumamoto Castle by Satsuma forces, where he saved the life of Tateki Tani. For his actions, he was promoted to the rank of colonel in 1880, and soon after, to major-general.

End of Yamakawa Hiroshi life

After his time in the army, Yamakawa entered education, becoming the president of the Tokyo Women's Normal School, replacing Hideo Takamine, also from Aizu. Then he became a member of the House of Peers.

During his last years he devoted himself to writing, and produced the Kyoto Shugoshoku Shimatsu, which was one of the first texts that gave an insight into the Aizu area without being part of the triumphalist discourse of the Meiji oligarchy.

Yamakawa was elevated to the title of danshaku according to the kazoku noble system. He died in Tokyo in 1898, and was buried in this city.