Shinsengumi (新選組)

The site of Shinsengumi military post at Mibu

Shinsengumi was a military organization which, during the last days of the shogunate at the end of the Edo period, suppressed anti-shogunate forces and engaged in police activities, primarily in Kyoto, and fought for the Edo shogunate in the Boshin War. There are also many documents inscribed with "Shinsengumi" (with a slightly different character for "sen"). Even Isami KONDO, a Commander, wrote it as both "選" and "撰".

It was placed under the control of Katamori MATSUDAIRA, the feudal lord of the Aizu Clan, who held the position of Kyoto Shugoshoku, which was established during the last days of the shogunate. In the Aizu Clan, the formal security force was the Kyoto Mimawarigumi (Commander = Tadazaburo SASAKI), and Shinsengumi (Commander = Isami KONDO), composed of men with the social position of farmers/merchants, was the non-formal security force of the Aizu Clan for the Kyoto area (in later years, KONDO and others became vassals of the shogunate, and thus Shinsengumi became a formal security force). Shinsengumi may be described as "a group of pro-shogunate killers" (actually their purpose was to capture, but there were too many lawless roshis who tried to escape, or who tried to attack them with their swords), and they were engaged through the Ikedaya Incident, etc., in controlling Sonno-joi extremists and lawless roshi's hiding in Kyoto. At the same time, KONDO and others were in a terrible struggle for power within Shinsengumi, and mercilessly killed their opponents. Significant number of men were purged on such grounds as violating internal rules, etc., and according to one view, more men lost their lives through such purges than through fighting with Imperial loyalists.

The ambition of Shinsengumi was to become samurai, and with this goal in mind they were just as active as samurai, and modern day young people in particular regard them as a symbol of Japan during the last days of the shogunate, and Shinsengumi continues to be popular. Many female fans also visit the tombs of Shinsengumi members, who, together with Imperial loyalists such as Ryoma SAKAMOTO, are "idols of Japanese history"; but as the Meiji Government was established by Imperial loyalists who were opposed to them, hardly any notice was taken of Shinsengumi from a historical standpoint until recently, and their current popularity owes much to many novels about them written by such people as Kan SHIMOZAWA, Ryotaro SHIBA, and also TV dramas, movies, etc.

However, some people from Yamaguchi Prefecture and that area, which produced many Imperial loyalists, regard Shinsengumi as "a group of terrorists employed by the shogunate " (Masuo MATSUOKA, member of the House of Councilors/taken from his speech at the National Diet, during his time in office).

They are also known for setting strict Kyokuchu Hatto (Shinsengumi Rules) to maintain order within Shinsengumi, purging those who violated the rules, and for their group flag with one kanji character, "Makoto", and original short coats with mountain-like patterns painted on the sleeves.


In 1862, upon the visit of Iemochi TOKUGAWA, Seii Taishogun, to Kyoto, the Edo shogunate recruited roshi for the purpose of guarding the Shogun. This was because the shogunate accepted a proposal by Hachiro KIYOKAWA, a Goshi of the Shonai Clan.

On February 27 of the following year, 1863, over 200 roshis gathered and formed the group Roshi-gumi, and before the Shogun's trip traveled westward to Kyoto via Nakasen-do Road. Tadatoshi MATSUDAIRA, Kyuo UDONO, Jibuemon KUBOTA, Tesshu YAMAOKA, Kinnosuke NAKAJO, Tadazaburo SASAKI and others were assigned as Roshi Torishimari-yaku. After arriving in Kyoto, KIYOKAWA communicated secretly with imperial loyalist parties, and his scheme to make Roshi-gumi a force under control of the Emperor was discovered. After discussion among Roshi Torishimari-yaku, it was decided that Roshi-gumi would return to Edo in order to obstruct KIYOKAWA's plan. On the other hand, the Shiei-kan Party lead by Isami KONDO and Toshizo HIJIKATA, and the Mito Party lead by Kamo SERIZAWA, argued that they should remain in Kyoto by all means, in order to guard the Shogun.

Kyuo UDONO instructed Yoshio TONOUCHI and Tsuguo IESATO of Roshi-gumi to recruit men to remain in Kyoto. In response to this, the Shiei-kan and Mito Parties, along with Yuzan NEGISHI and his group controlled by TONOUCHI, remained in Mibu Village of Kyoto, but the NEGISHI party withdrew immediately afterwards, TONOUCHI and IESATO were excluded, and in March of the same year "Mibu Roshi-gumi" (also known as "Seichu Roshi-gumi") was formed. Their purpose was to assist in carrying out Joi based on a union of the Imperial court and Edo shogunate.

They set military posts in the YAGI residence, MAEKAWA residence, and other locations in of Mibu Village, and conducted initial recruiting of members. As a result, Mibu Roshi-gumi became a group of about 36 men, and was assigned by Katamori MATSUDAIRA, Kyoto Shugoshoku, to control lawless acts by Sonno-joi extremists (loyalists aiming for overthrow of the shogunate), and guard in the city of Kyoto.

In August of the same year, Mibu Roshi-gumi was dispatched to subdue the Political Turmoil of August 18th, and was recognized for their efforts. On this occasion, they were granted a new group name. "Shinsengumi" was born. There are two stories regarding this name, one is that it was granted by Buke Denso (at that time, Sadaisa NOMIYA and Masanori ASUKAI), and the other is that it was granted by Katamori MATSUDAIRA, feudal lord of the Aizu Clan.


In September 1863, KONDO, HIJIKATA and other members of Shiei-kan Party purged SERIZAWA and other Mito Party members, gained control of Shinsengumi, and established an organizational structure headed by KONDO. In the Ikedaya Incident of June 5, 1864, they prevented a planned uprising by the Sonno-joi Party, and also fought in the Forbidden Gates Incident.

After being awarded a letter of appreciation and a reward of over 200 ryo from the Imperial court/shogunate/Aizu Clan, they recruiting a second round of members, and when KONDO returned to Edo, he let Kinetaro ITO and his followers join Shinsengumi. Shinsengumi developed into a group of over 200 men, and to accommodate its members, moved its headquarters from Mibu military post to Nishi Hongan-ji Temple (Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto City). Around summertime of 1867, they were promoted to vassals of the shogunate.

In March 1867, ITO and his group, due to differences in ideology, were assigned the post of Goryo Eji and separated from Shinsengumi, but were purged by Shinsengumi in November of the same year.


In November 1867, Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA enacted Restoration of Imperial Rule. Although Shinsengumi fought in the Battle of Toba Fushimi together with the army of the former shogunate, they lost to the army of the new government. Subsequently, they moved to Edo on a war ship owned by the shogunate and headed by Takeaki ENOMOTO.

Shisen-gumi was given a mission by the shogunate to prevent advancement of the new government's army into Kofu, changed their name to Koyo Chinbutai and set out, but lost the war. They returned to Edo after the Battle of Koshu-Katsunuma, but due to policy differences, Shinpachi NAGAKURA, Sanosuke HARADA and others separated to form Seihei-tai. Although Isami KONDO, Toshizo HIJIKATA and others moved to Nagareyama and tried to regain power, Isami KONDO was caught by the army of the new government and executed, and Soji OKITA also died in Edo as his tuberculosis worsened.

Shinsengumi participated in the Battle of Utsunomiya Castle, the Battle of Aizu, and others, but in Aizu, Hajime SAITO and others left the group. Subsequently, they joined Takeaki ENOMOTO and others who were aiming to establish the Republic of Ezo, and actively fought in the Battle of Futamataguchi. The army of the new government was advancing, and when Toshizo HIJIKATA and a few others tried to advance and rescue Shinsengumi who were fighting at Benten Daiba with the army of the new government, Toshizo HIJIKATA was hit by a bullet and died, and as there was almost no food or water left, Shinsengumi surrendered. The army of the former shogunate surrendered to the army of the new government at Goryokaku in Hakodate.
(Hakodate War)


Roshi-gumi departed from Edo on February 8th and arrived in Kyoto on February 23rd.

March 12th, became Oazukari, samurai serving the Aizu Clan, and named themselves Mibu Roshi-gumi.

March 25th, stabbed Yoshio TONOUCHI to death.

June 3rd, scuffled with sumo wrestlers of Osaka.

August 12th, burned down Yamato-ya.

August 18th, the Political Turmoil of August 18th.

September 13th, Nishiki NIIMI committed hara-kiri (this is disputed).

September 18th, Kamo SERIZAWA and Goro HIRAYAMA were purged and Jusuke HIRAMA escaped, as the result of an internal strife (this is disputed).

September 25th, name of the group was changed from Mibu Roshi-gumi to Shinsengumi.

September 26th, Isetake MIKURA, Samanosuke ARAKIDA and Kojuro KUSUNOKI were purged on the grounds that they were spies of the Choshu Clan.

December 27th, Kenji NOGUCHI committed hara-kiri.


May 20 1864, stabbed Hikojiro UCHIYAMA to death.

June 5, 1864, in the Ikedaya Incident Sotaro ANDO, Kakuzaemon NITTA and others were injured and died 1month later, and Eisuke OKUSAWA died in action.

June 10 1864, Akebono-tei Incident.

July 19 1864, the Forbidden Gates Incident.

Around August of 1864, Shinpachi NAGAKURA, Sanosuke HARADA, Hajime SAITO, Kai SHIMADA, Masajiro OZEKI and others, who were unsatisfied with Isami KONDO's attitude, submitted a five-point report of misconduct to Katamori MATSUDAIRA of Aizu.

October 27 1864, Kinetaro ITO and others joined Shinsengumi.


January 8 1865, Zenzai-ya Incident.

February 23 1865, Keisuke YAMANAMI committed hara-kiri.

March 10 1865, transferred military post to Nishi Hongan-ji Temple.

September 1 1865, Chuji MATSUBARA died.


February 15 1866, Kisaburo KAWAI committed hara-kiri.

April 1 1866, Sanjuro TANI died.

September 12 1866, Sanjo Seisatsu Incident.


March 20 1867, 13 men, including Kinetaro ITO and Heisuke TODO, left Shinsengumi.

June 10 1867, it was decided that Shinsengumi members will be promoted to vassals of the shogunate.

June 15 1867, military post was moved to Fudo-do Village.

June 22 1867, Kanryusai TAKEDA was stabbed to death.

November 18 1867, Kinetaro ITO, Heisuke TODO, Arinosuke MONAI, Takeo HATTORI and others were stabbed to death in the Aburano-koji Incident.

December 7 1867, Tenman-ya Incident.

December 18 1867, Isami KONDO was attacked and injured.


January 3 1868, in the Battle of Toba Fushimi 2 members died in action.

January 5 1868, Battle of Yodo Senryo Matsu, 14 members including Genzaburo INOUE died in action.

January 6 1868, Battle of Hashimoto, 4 members died in action.

January 10 1868, when Shinsengumi was on their way to Edo on war ships Fujiyama and Jundo-maru, Susumu YAMAZAKI died (this is disputed).

March 6 1868, Battle of Koshu-Katsunuma, 2 members died in action.

March 12 1868, Shinpachi NAGAKURA, Sanosuke HARADA and others formed Seihei-tai and left Shinsengumi.

March 13 1868, established military post around the KANEKO residence in Gohei Nitta (present-day Ayase 4-chome, Adachi Ward, Tokyo) and stayed there (until April 1st).

April 2 1868, took up a position in Shimousa Nagareyama.

April 3 1868, Isami KONDO surrendered to the army of the new government.

April 12 1868, Toshizo HIJIKATA joined the army of the former shogunate.

April 19 1868, Battle of Utsunomiya Castle.

April 25 1868, Isami KONDO was beheaded in Itabashi.

April 25 1868, Battle of Shirakawa-guchi.

May 17 1868, Sanosuke HARADA died (this is disputed).

May 30 1868, Soji OKITA died from tuberculosis.

August 21 1868, the Battle of Bonari Pass.

August 24 1868, 13 men, including Hajime SAITO and Shichisaburo IKEDA, remained in Aizu.

October 26 1868, army of the former shogunate entered Goryokaku, in Hakodate.


April 13 1869, Battle of Futamataguchi.

April 24 1869, Battle of Futamataguchi.

May 5 1869, Tetsunosuke ICHIMURA escaped from Hakodate.

May 11 1869, Toshizo HIJIKATA died in action near Ippongi Kanmon.

May 14 1869, Kazue SOMA assumed position as Commander of Shinsengumi, Shinsengumi surrendered at Benten Daiba.

May 18 1869, the army of the former shogunate surrendered, and the Boshin War ended.

Kyokuchu Hatto/Internal purging

Kyokuchu Hatto (Kyokuchu Hatto-sho), together with Gunchu Hatto, are said to have been established to maintain order in Shinsengumi. The rules are said to have originated during the Roshi-gumi days, when members became Oazukari, samurai serving the Aizu Clan, and KONDO and other Shiei-kan Party members handed down the rules to SERIZAWA and other Mito Party members.

The rules started to function as law when Roshi-gumi changed its name to "Shinsengumi," and the organization lead by KONDO/HIJIKATA had been well-established, and are said to have been applied when Kinetaro ITO and his group were purged. The contents were abstract, as can be seen in Article 1, "One should not act against the ways of the samurai," and interpretation of the rules was up to the Commander or Vice Commander. The total number of Shinsengumi members purged up to the Battle of Toba Fushimi, including Kamo SERIZAWA (initial Commander) and Nishiki NIIMI, is 41.

The rules became famous after Kan SHIMOZAWA introduced them in his book "Shinsengumi Shimatsuki," and are known by the following 5 Articles, although no historical materials describing all 5 Articles have been found as of now. However, in the memoirs left by Shinpachi NAGAKURA in the Meiji era there is mention of a Hatto "Prohibition," consisting of 4 Articles, excluding "One shall not be allowed to engage in a private battle." Thus, it is assumed that Kyokuchu Hatto was created by SHIMOZAWA based on the above Prohibition, and by mixing "Gunchu Hatto" which had been separately set forth. Also, it has been pointed out that the rules are similar to Shin-mon Chou, on which the pupils of Tennen Rishin-ryu take a pledge.

One should not act against the ways of a samurai. One shall not be allowed to escape from the group. One shall not raise money at one's own discretion. One shall not handle cases at one's own direction. One shall not be allowed to engage in a private battle. A man violating the above Articles shall be ordered to commit hara-kiri.

Maintenance of Public Order

Due to the impact of many works which will be described later, there is a strong general understanding that Shinsengumi took a leading part in maintenance of public order in Kyoto during the last days of the shogunate, but actually, the important area around the Imperial Palace was guarded by 2,000 elite troops under direct control of the Aizu Clan, and around that were another 500 men of Kyoto Mimawarigumi, composed of vassals of the shogunate. Shinsengumi was composed of 200 men, in charge of such areas as Fushimi Ward (which in those days was a town that did not belong to Kyoto).

Nevertheless, while Kyoto Mimawarigumi dutifully stayed in their area, Shinsengumi is said to have often gone outside their assigned area, for various reasons such reasons as escape of members, etc.


Short coats

They are said to have worn short coats colored very light blue, with mountain-like patterns painted in white at the sleeves, and most members in movies, etc., are usually wearing this coat. The mountain-like patterns on short coats are those of Ako Roshi of Chushingura, when they marched into and attacked the KIRA residence, and very light blue is said to be the color of the seppuku kamishimo worn by a samurai when he commits hara-kiri, but the short coats of Shinsengumi seem to have been abolished after the 1st year, and the last recorded instance of the coats being worn was in the Ikedaya Incident.

The short coats were prepared by Daimonjiya Gofukuten (current Daimaru). Some say that it was not Daimonjiya but "Gofuku-donya Hishiya." Also, the group flag with one kanji character "Makoto" painted on it, is said to have been made by Takashimaya.

Group Flag

The group flag normally has a red background with a white "Makoto" character painted on it, and has mountain-like patterns the same as the short coats. Apparently, there is a secret meaning because when the flag flutters, the kanji character "Makoto" (誠) looks like the character "Shi" (試) used in "Shiei-kan" (試衛館) of KONDO's parents' home. It is sometimes said that this was because of HIJIKATA's ambition to strengthen KONDO and his followers.

There are also other group flags, thought to be 6 types in all. It is also said that when such group flags appeared, the enemies froze with fear. This flag was prepared on a special order, by Furugi Momen-sho, which is the current Takashimaya.


Shinsengumi was headed by a Commander who was supported by a Vice Commander, and under them were such functions as: Fukucho Jokin (Assistant Vice Commander), Kansatsu Gata (intelligence), Kanjo Gata (accounting), etc. Fukucho Jokin, as Kumicho, took command of non-officer members. There were No. 1 to No. 10 Kumi's, each with about 10 members. Gocho was placed under Kumicho. Furthermore, the organization of Shinsengumi was such that one person held one post, unlike many organizations in the Edo era where a post was generally held by more than one person, and influence of western military systems is pointed out.

Usually, the members were engaged in such activities as: practicing military arts, patrolling within Kyoto City, and searching for roshi in hiding. Shinsengumi, was comprised of men with strong kenjutsu (fencing) abilities, and in addition to KONDO's Shiei-kan, Tennen Rishin-ryu, which was the main line, there were men of various kenjutsu schools, including Shindo Munen Ryu, Hokushin Itto Ryu, etc., and also members who learned sojutsu (spearmanship), jujutsu (judo), etc., and they used group fighting tactics, with emphasis on actual fighting.

It is assumed that they were short of funds upon start of the group, but during the time when the group was placed under the control of Kyoto Shugoshoku, operating expenses of the group were covered by goyo-kin financed from the Aizu Clan. Also, wealthy merchants, etc., were made to provide part of the funds. Subsequently, when they became vassals of the shogunate, each member received wages from the shogunate. Rewards were also given when they were dispatched to various cases.

The following is a list of members. Including periods prior to using the group name of Shinsengumi (Mibu Roshi-gumi).


Ryojun MATSUMOTO, President of the shogunate's School of Western Medicine, conducted medical examination of the members upon invitation of Isami KONDO, and also acted as an army surgeon during the Boshin War.

Ryojin MATSUMOTO also recommended that Shinsengumi raise pigs, and when they were stationed in Nishi Hongan-ji Temple, piglets brought in from Kobe were raised (fed on leftovers), and MATSUMOTO made members eat pork. They asked a pupil of Seiichi NANBU, physician of Kiya-machi, to butcher the pigs.

Works About Shinsengumi

Only the works where Shinsengumi is the main subject will be described. In many works covering the last days of the shogunate, Shinsengumi appears as the enemy. After the establishment of the New Meiji Government, in which men from the former Satsuma and Choshu Clans played leading roles, and before the Pacific War, Shinsengumi, which had been opposed to the Imperial loyalists, was seen as the enemy in many cases, based on the historical view that Japan was a country developing under the rule of the Emperor. When Kan SHIMOZAWA made his Shinsengumi Sanbusaku public in the early Showa era, Shinsengumi's notoriety increased, and along with the reversal of views after the World War II, there were more cases where Shinsengumi was given the leading role, and attention was given to each member, and works were produced based on the members. As an aftereffect of the above, many works were produced that were set at a different period of time, but used the structure of Shinsengumi and its well-known members as a motif.

[Original Japanese]