The Sakai Incident (堺事件)

The Sakai Incident refers to the case in which a retainers of the Tosa Domain committed seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) to accept the responsibility for the killing of French sailors in Sakai City, Izumi Province in 1868. It is also called the Senshu Sakai Incident.


On March 8, 1868, when people who supported the principle of excluding foreigners were still active, the party of the French consulate was entering Sakai from Osaka by land. The security officer of the Tosa Domain, who was not informed of the party from a foreign affairs office, blocked them and forced them to retreat.

In the evening, Dupleix, a corvette of the French Navy, arrived at the Sakai port to pick up the party, and several dozens of French sailors of under-officer ranks landed on the area to roam around the city. The Gunkan-fu (warship section) of the Tosa Domain ordered Tosa security retainers to police the sailors and urge them to return to their ship; confused as a result of the language barrier and the congestion in the area, however, the French sailors tried to escape from the security retainers, knocking over a flag of the Tosa security group in the process. Therefore, the Tosa retainers fired a gun at once instead of arresting them, and killed, wounded or drowned eleven French people. According to the account of the Tosa Domain, the French sailors caused nuisances and behaved irreverently. The bodies of the French sailors were returned by the Japanese police on March 9.

On March 12, A minister to France, Leon Roches, had a meeting with Osaka-based other foreign ministers and provided a protest note to the Japanese government, which consisted of five articles requesting the beheading of the murderers, government apology, compensations, and so forth. At that time, as foreign ministers and warships resided or anchored in between Izumi Province and Settsu Province, the deeply concerned Meiji government asked the England minister, Harry Smith Parkes, to mediate the matter, but the attempt failed and on March 15, the Meiji government reluctantly accepted all the conditions including compensation of 150 thousand dollars and the beheading of the Japanese offenders. This incident ended up in the matter of the involved countries' power and footing at that time, and with the outstanding power of France, Japan had no choice but to accept the unconditional requests, but at the same time, it was true that Japan's primitive action using a gun instead of a rope frightened off foreign countries.

For the request from the French foreign minister asking seppuku of twenty Japanese retainers, people involved in the case drew a lot in Inari-jinja Shrine of Tosa, (present-day, Nishi Ward, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture) to decide who would commit seppuku. On March 16, the twenty retainers of the Tosa Domain were executed in the seppuku style at Myokoku-ji Temple of Sakai City in accordance with the sentence announced by the Osaka Court. At the moment of seppuku, the retainers grabbed their own intestine out and threw it to the French sailors who watched them being executed. Petit Thouars, the chief of French warship, saw this dreadful sight and requested Saisuke GODAI, a judge of foreign affairs, to stop the execution after the eleventh Tosa retainers was executed (the same figures as French casualties), resulting in saving nine retainers' lives. According to one theory, as sun was setting in, the chief was afraid of the raid by Japanese people on his way back. In his own diary, the chief wrote that while he felt pity for the retainers, he also thought the execution in that manner would not serve as a warning against future killing but it would merely hero-worship the retainers and that was why he stopped the execution.

On March 17, Imperial Prince Yamashinanomiya Akira, governor-general of foreign affairs, together with Munenari DATE, an official of Osaka garrison and foreign affairs, visited the French warship to apologize for the incident and paid the compensation of 150 thousand dollars.

The nine retainers including Aihei HASHIZUME who were spared their lives were sent to Irita, the west of Watari-gawa River (Shimanto-gawa River) of Tosa, and put under the charge of a village headman, Yunoshin UGA, and later returned to Tosa with a pardon from the new Meiji government. The executed Tosa retainers were buried in a revered manner on the precinct of Myokoku-ji Temple and a monument for the French sailors killed was also elected in the foreign cemetery of Kobe City.

[Original Japanese]