Kioizaka Incident (紀尾井坂の変)

The "Kioizaka Incident" (Kioizaka no Hen: May 14, 1878) was the incident when Genkun (oligarch with merits) of Meiji, Toshimichi OKUBO, was assassinated by six shizoku (family or person with samurai ancestors) on the Kiyomizu-zaka Slope at Kioi-cho, Tokyo. It is also referred to as the "Kioizaka Jiken" (Kioizaka Incident) or the "Assassination of Toshimichi OKUBO."

The movement of the assassins

The group of assassins consisted of 6 sizoku: 5 from Ishikawa Prefecture, Ichiro SHIMADA, Tsurahide CHO, Otogiku SUGIMOTO, Koichi WAKITA, and Bunichi SUGIMURA; and 1from Shimane Prefecture, Toshiatsu ASAI (Wakita quit the shizoku and became a commoner prior to leaving for Tokyo due to fear of punishment to his family for his conduct). Among this group, Ichiro SHIMADA was the central figure. Shimada was a ashigaru (common foot soldier) soldier of the Kaga Domain, fighting in the First conquest of Choshu and the Boshin Civil War. After the Meiji Restoration, Shimada continued to build a career in the military, but he sympathized with the seikanron (the policy of conquering Korea by military force). Thus, inflamed with anger by Takamori SAIGO's resignation due to the Meiji roku-nen no Seihen (the coup of 1873), Shimada actively engaged in the affairs of state afterwards.

Hiromasa SUGIMURA (the older brother of Bunichi SUGIMURA) also requested to take part in a campaign due to the Seikanron. Moreover, Sugimura and Cho again requested to take part in a campaign because of the Taiwan conquest. Those named in the petitions such as the one against the rumor to suspend the Taiwan conquest and the other criticizing the treatment of Saga War are as follows: Hiromasa SUGIMURA, Shimada, and Yoshinao KUGA, who drafted a zankanjo (a written vindication of an assassin's deed).

However, as these petitions did not have the desired effect, Shimada and others went down to the path to use of force. In 1874, Shimada and Cho met in Tokyo, finding a congenial spirit in one another.

In June of 1874, Cho entered Kagoshima with Hiromasa SUGIMURA and Kuga; and they intended on carrying out their mission, to receive the opinion on the Taiwan conquest from Saigo and Toshiaki KIRINO. Cho had stayed in Kagoshima for about half year, studying at a private school. Cho entered Kagoshima again in 1876 and renewed his friendship with Kirino.

Cho returned to his prefecture in October of 1876, and in the same month, revolts by families or persons with samurai ancestors such as the Shinpuren no ran (Shinpuren Rebellion), the Akizuki-no-ran War (turmoil of Akizuki), and the Hagi-no-ran War (turmoil of dissatisfied warriors at Hagi) occurred one after another. Shimada became busily engaged in the plan to raise an army at Kanazawa but he failed. Moreover, for the next year, 1877, Shimada and Cho cooperated, becoming busily engaged in plans to raise an army during the Seinan War. However, in April, they got an information that the government army entered into Kumamoto-jo Castle, while they struggled to persuade their surrounding people. Then, they suspended their plan since the fighting was over.

Afterward, Shimada and others changed their policy to the assassination of high officials. Sugimoto, Wakita, and Sugimura joined in Shimada's plan around this time. Five people went to Tokyo; Wakita in October; Cho in November; Sugimura in December; and Shimada and Sugimoto in April of the next year. Asai was the only shizoku among the Shimada circle who came from Shimane Prefecture, participating in the Seinan War as a soldier in the government army, making a triumphant return to Tokyo in August 1877. However, Asai broke a regulation and was forced to dismiss from the office in February 1878. Then, Asai acknowledged Shimada's assassination plot and joined them.

Their assassination plot has already reached the Daikeishi (top of the police department) Toshiyoshi KAWAJI, who was the head of the police organization in those days via several roots.
However, Kawaji did not take it seriously saying, "What could the Ishikawa Prefecture people do?"

The zankanjo

The zankanjo carried by Shimada and others when they assassinated Okubo was drafted by Kuga according to Shimada's request at the end of April.
In the zankanjo, Shimada accused the crime of Yushi Sensei (despotism by domain-dominated government), describing the five crimes as follows:

The high officials of the government have never established the National Diet or the constitution, so they are suppressing the civil rights.

They frequently revised the laws and orders without the guiding principles. Additionally, government officials are appointed based on personal consideration and the connections.

They have been wasting the national budget for unnecessary projects of civil engineering and construction.

They have expelled the patriots who are concerned for the nation and caused domestic conflicts.

They have not accomplished the revision of a treaty with foreign countries, and degrading the national prestige.

On May 14

On the early morning of May 14, Okubo was paid a visit by the Kenrei (governor) of Fukushima Prefecture, Morisuke YAMAYOSHI returning to Fukushima. After talking about two hours, Okubo described his 30 year plan when Yamayoshi was about to leave. In this plan, Okubo divided the 30 years from 1868 to 1898 into the three terms of 10 year intervals: the first 10 years as the establishment period, making efforts in militaristic affairs such as the Boshin Civil War and Shizoku no hanran (revolt by family or person with samurai ancestors); the next 10 years as the period to organize domestic affairs, encourage domestic production, and create new industries; and the last 10 years as the period of building up and maintaining this process by his successors; and he said he hoped to contribute his effort in the second term.

Around 8:00 a.m., Okubo left his residence of Urakasumigaseki, Sannen-Cho, Kojimachi Ward. Okubo went to the temporary Akasaka Imperial Palace to meet the Meiji Emperor by the carriage pulled by a pair of horses. Around 8:30 a.m., six assassins attacked the carriage that Okubo was riding in; this took place at the Kyomizu-zaka Slope of Kioi-cho in Tokyo. They cut the legs of the horses with their Japanese swords, then stabbed the driver, Taro NAKAMURA, killing him. Then they attempted to pull Okubo out of his carriage. Okubo shouted to Shimada and the other assassins, 'Rude fellows!' but he was killed by their swords (died at the age of 49 by the traditional Japanese system, actually 47). A sword stabbed in his neck which assisted other stabs were piercing even into the ground. According to "The attendance at a funeral: The conferral of the posthumous rank, the Udaijin (minister of the right), Shonii (Senior Second Court Rank), Toshimichi OKUBO: the summary and Kan (乾)," Okubo received sixteen wounds to his body. Half of the wounds were concentrated upon his head.
Hisoka MAEJIMA, who came straight right after the incident and saw Okubo's corpse, expressed it 'the flesh was scattered and the bones were smashed. Additionally, the skull was cracked, so I could see the brain still shaking.'

Shimada and others abandoned their swords, and on the same day, they surrendered themselves to the police, handing over their zankanjo which included the five crimes of Okubo and those of other important governmental persons.

After the incident and the influence

On May 15, 1878, the Imperial court gave Okubo the Udaijin Shonii. Then, the Irei-shiki (one of the sequential funeral ceremonies of the Shinto religion) ceremonies for Okubo and his driver, Nakamura were performed. On May, 17, the funerals for both were performed. For Okubo's funeral ceremony, about 1,200 people attended the his residence, and the expense of the funeral was about 4,500 yen. It was the first 'state funeral' class ceremony in the modern history of Japan.

The police investigated the assassination in an extremely rigid manner. The police arrested 30 people including Kuga who drafted the zankanjo, those who send the zankanjo to each newspaper companies by Shimada's request (though it was not published. Asano Shinbun' [Asano Newspaper] published its outline, but police ordered its suspension on the same day), and those from Ishikawa prefectures who cheered the incident and sent letters to their home.

The Meiji government processed the assassins as 'political prisoner' which had no regulations under the penal code. Then, the government established the 'temporally court' inside the Daishin-in (Predecessor of the Supreme Court of Japan).
The temporally court existed inside the Daishin-in as a matter of form, however, it was actually an administrative court established by the approval of Daijokan (the Great Council of State) and decide a case based on the authority delegated from the Daijokan to the Ministry of Justice
Judge Yofumi TAMANO and other officers assigned by the Shihokyo (Predecessor of the Minister of Justice) wrote a decision draft and asked for the Ministry of Justice's opinions on July 5 in the same year, then the Ministry of Justice submitted a document to ask an opinion and direction to the Daijokan on July 17. The Daijokan made the decision on July 25, sentenced the 6 assassins on July 27, and they all were executed by decapitation.

In May 1888, 'The Memorial Monument for Sir Okubo, Udaijin (Minister of the Right), Posthumously Conferred' was build by Sutezo NISHIMURA, Yukiyasu KANAI, and Shigeru NARAHARA.

After this incident, the Meiji government ordered that imperial guards would escort and guard governmental high officials when the high officials were on the move ("Unbeaten Tracks in Japan" by Isabella BIRD).


In the zankanjo, Shimada criticized Okubo for mishandling the public's fund for his personal financial gain, however, Okubo was actually an incorruptible politician regarding money and left 8,000 yen debt behind. However, from the consideration for the bereaved family of Okubo who was one of the three contributors of Meiji Restoration, the government discussed and decided to support them with the total amount 16,000 yen raised by retrieving 8,000 yen donated by Okubo to Kagoshima prefectural office while he was alive as an educational fund and another 8,000 yen from donations.

Many well-known people wrote about this incident in their journals as shocking news; such as "The journal of Kanzo UCHIMURA" by Kanzo UCHIMURA.

When Goro SHIBA, a military man from Aizu and then a young boy heard of Okubo's unnatural death, he combined it with that of Takamori SAIGO and wrote, 'I am absolutely pleased that the two great men ended their lives in unnatural death, which was a natural consequence.'

Okubo had made an enemy to his home town Kagoshima (Satsuma) and Takamori SAIGO during the Boshin War. Because of that, people in his home town valued Okubo with a cold attitude and they had never permit a place for Okubo's ashes in a tomb at Kagoshima since very recent years. Thus, Okubo had to be buried in the Aoyama Cemetery in Minato Ward, Tokyo. Furthermore, there was the rumor that Okubo ran around with crying like a child when he was chased by assassins. Many people in his home town willingly believed this rumor because they regarded Okubo with an inferior, contrary to his established grave image. Some point out that the Choshu party circulated this rumor as manipulation tactic to preserve their image.

Okubo is said to have carried around a bag which contained the letters from late Saigo even without telling his family, and the two letters were in his pocket when he was assassinated. Additionally, after the incident, Iwao OYAMA seemed to possess those bloody letters ("Tokyo Nichinichi Newspaper" dated on May 27, 1878).

Later, Okubo's bereaved family dedicated the carriage in which he was riding at the moment of disastrous incident to the Goryu Sonryu-in Temple for the repose of his soul, and it still exists.

[Original Japanese]