Kiheitai Army (奇兵隊)

Kiheitai Army
A troop of Choshu Domain organized in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate and Edo period
A troop of Aizu Domain formed during the Aizu War to resist the restoration government
A troop organized by the member of Saigo's army during the Seinan War

Choshu Kiheitai army

Kiheitai Army of Choshu Domain was one of the standing armies called troops of Choshu Domain. Kihei' means a mixed troop formed by retainers of the domain, the common people, and samurais excluding retainers of the domain compared with a troop (spearhead troop) organized by only retainers of the domain and samurais.
It is an antonymous word with 'the regular army.'

Those several Choshu Domain's troops including Kiheitai Army were organized by the proposer Shinsaku TAKASUGI who was chosen to be one of the retainer of Choshu Domain after Shimonoseki War in 1863. It was pointed out that the organization and the training of those Choshu Domain's troops was influenced by "The Theory of Western Foot Soldiers" written by Shoin YOSHIDA who was the school manager of the Shokason Juku TAKASUGI studied at. The original purpose was to defend against the attack made by Foreign fleet. Their home ground was located at a Kaisen donya (wholesaler in port) Shoichiro SHIRAISHI's residence. Then the home ground moved to Akama-jinngu Shrine. After Kiheitai Army was formed, many other troops composed of soldiers excluding retainers of domain were organized, and they were called troops of Choshu Domain.

TAKASUGI was replaced as the governor-general due to the responsibility for the Incident at Kyoho-ji Temple occurred in the same year in which the member of Kiheitai Army had clashed with a spearhead troop. After the two Yaichi KAWAKAMI and Yataro TAKI served as the post of the governor-general, Taketo AKANE took the post of governor-general and Aritomo YAMAGATA served as an Assistant Deputy General. In the same year, with the Coup of August 18 occurred, the Choshu power was expelled from the Imperial Court. The following year, 1864, Choshu Domain, after the Ikedaya-Incident which was a bloody raid by Shinsengumi against the patriots of Joi (principle of excluding foreigners) group of Choshu Domain, clashed with the supporters of bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) including Aizu Domain and Kuwana Domain trying to recapture Kyoto by using the military force and attacking Kinri (the Imperial Palace). Choshu Domain suffered a crushing defeat after the Satsuma Domain which had kept strict watch against Choshu Domain's suspicious movement joined the incident which caused the decisive change of the situation. Choshu Domain became Emperor's enemy due to their attack on Kinri (the Imperial Palace) in the Kinmon Incident. The Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) made the Choshu Conquest (the first Baku-Cho War) to subjugate the Emperor's enemy Choshu Domain. In the Choshu Conquest, Kiheitai Army was used as military force.

TAKASUGI who had been in exile returned to Choshu Domain after the domain was defeated in the first Baku-cho War. Choshu Domain set their policy as overthrowing the Shogunate after TAKASUGI wiped out conservative power by taking the initiative in the administration of the domain. The following year, 1865, Bakufu made the Choshu Conquest (the second Baku-cho war, Shikyo War) again with Kiheitai and other troops.

In 1866 Choshu Domain forged a military alliance (Satsuma-Choshu Alliance) with Satsuma Domain arriving at a consensus on overthrowing the Shogunate, as a result, in January 1868 the Restoration of Imperial Rule came into effect under Saccho's (Satsuma-Choshu Alliance) leadership after Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor) was put into practice in November 1867. Kiheitai Army and other Choshu Domain's troops became a part of Imperial army fighting against old Shogunate army in the Boshin War. Around this time, the second Kiheitai Army (south Kiheitai Army) was also formed in Suo Province.

Although Kiheitai Army had a mixed personnel organization which consisted of samurais who were free from the class system, peasants and citizens from any social rank, they were hierarchically distinguished by the emblem on sleeves. Kiheitai Army's officers trained hard themselves on condition that they were paid by the government building of domain and given a place to stay. So, Kiheitai Army was a standing army of Choshu Domain not the militia. Kiheitai Army placed the governor-general on the top of the organization and systematically organized musket unit and cannon unit. TAKASUGI was believed to have thought that those officers of Kiheitai Army having spirit could be more military power than those samurais fallen in the peaceful world. Those officers gained military achievements by handling the newest weapons absorbing the Western art of warfare.

The fact that Kiheitai Army involved people in Buraku problem was worthy of special mention. At the beginning, separated from Kiheitai Army, humble or lowly people were treated as Toyutai. They were incorporated into the member of Kiheitai Army later on which was the cause of abolition of discrimination that was the drastic policy Choshu Domain put into force. As a result, people in buraku (hamlet) in Choshu Domain were liberated from discrimination raising the standard of living. Because the substantial policy of liberation meant to deny flatly Shinokosho (hereditary four-status order consisting of warrior-rulers, peasants, artisans, and merchants), bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) became to avoid Choshu Domain more and more. At the beginning of Meiji period, although opposition uprisings broke out throughout Japan after the Kaiho Rei (Emancipation Edict) was put into effect, on the contrary there were few opposition uprisings in the territory of old Choshu Domain. It was an extremely special case that the buraku (hamlet)-elimination policy was put into effect from the end of Edo period through the early Meiji period and sonnoron (the thought respecting the Emperors) coexisted with the buraku-liberation policy that was supposed be incompatible with Emperor system. So it is understandable that the Buraku Liberation League is the grounds that Yamaguchi Prefecture calls itself the most advanced prefecture in the respect of Buraku Liberation appealing to other prefectures.

With the construction of chindai (garrison in Meiji era), Kiheitai Army was abolished after the Meiji restoration. From 1869 through 1807 a part of officers caused a trouble trying to withdraw from Kiheitai Army besieging government building of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Gentaro DAIRAKU who was thought to have been the ringleader of the dispute ran away and went to Kurume, Kyushu region. Although DAIRAKU tried to make a come back gathering comrades, DAIRAKU and other approximately one hundred thirty members were executed after Takayoshi KIDO (Kogoro KATSURA)'s troop suppressed the dispute. It is also said that a part of the members of Kiheitai Army had participated in peasants-uprisings which would have influence on Shizoku no hanran (revolt by family or person with samurai ancestors) that often occurred in the early Meiji era.

Aizu Kiheitai Army
A troop that Aizu Domain organized

Kiheitai Army of Saigo's army
This is a troop that Saigo's army organized when they reformed large-sized troop to medium-sized troop after their withdrawal to Yabehama Town lifting a siege around Kumamoto-jo Castle due to the defeat at the battle of Takase-Tahara in the Seinan War. Ninkai NOMURA commanded the Kiheitai Army, advancing the troop to Bungo Province (Oita Prefecture), and played an active part in the middle, latter period of the Seinan War.

[Original Japanese]