The Sakuradamongai Incident (桜田門外の変)

The Sakuradamongai Incident refers to the event of March 24, 1860, when the roshi (masterless samurai) of the Mito Domain attacked the procession including the Tairo (Chief Minister), Naosuke II, and assassinated him outside the Sakuradamon Gate of Edo-jo Castle (Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo).

The Details

Naosuke II was a man who had arbitrarily signed the Five Nations Treaty of Ansei without imperial sanction from the Emperor Komei, and settled a problem of heir of Shogun caused between the Hitotsubashi group (group supporting Yoshinobu from the Hitotsubashi-Tokugawa family) and the Nanki group (group supporting Yoshitomi from the Kisyu-Tokugawa family), and who had also suppressed the opposition to the Ansei no Taigoku (the suppression of extremists by the Shogunate); his opposition was a group of radical roshi (masterless samurai) from the Mito clan, including Taichiro TAKAHASHI and Magojiro KANEKO, who were strongly opposed to the confinement and punishment of Nariaki TOKUGAWA, the father of the lord of domain and thus left the clan. They contacted Jizaemon ARIMURA and others from Satsuma with the intention of going to the capital and obtaining an Imperial sanction from the Emperor Komei to attack Naosuke II, but, due to some changes in the political situation in Satsuma, the plan between the two clans was aborted. Radical retainers of Mito themselves, with the help of one man from Satsuma, ARIMURA, attacked the Tairo.

Early that morning, the group left the inn at Shinagawa (Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo) where they had had a party the night before, and proceeded along the Tokaido (now the National Route 15); they turned at Fudanotsuji after going through Okido; they passed Amisaka (near present-day Keio University, Minato Ward, Tokyo), Myojinzaka and Nakanohashi (now the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway Ring Route) to Sakurada Street, and finally assembled at the Atago Jinja Shrine on the street leading to the Sakuradamon Gate. They attacked Naosuke on the way to the castle from his residence (now the Constitution Memorial Center or "Kensei-Kinenkan") along Uchibori Street, outside the Sakuradamon Gate (now the Sakuradamon gate crossing); the persons concerned are listed below. The Ii family had received a prior warning about his safety, but Naosuke refused to strengthen his protection.

Surprise attack

It was a day of unseasonable snow and poor visibility, so the samurai attendants were dressed in raincoats and had covers attached to the hilts of their swords, which was advantageous for the attackers. Since the start of the Edo Shogunate, the government had not considered it possible that such an attack would occur on the palanquin of a daimyo (a Japanese feudal lord), so the Hikone clan was caught unawares. The attackers, with the "Bukan" (a book of heraldry) in their hands, disguised themselves as onlookers of a daimyo palanquin and waited for Naosuke's palanquin to pass.

When the palanquin came close, Gorokuro MORI who was assigned to a vanguard approached the head of the party as though making a direct appeal to the palanquin, but, when he got close enough, he suddenly drew his sword and struck Saburoemon KUSAKABE who approached Gorokuro to subdue him. With the guards at the front thus distracted, Chuzaburo KUROSAWA (possibly Tetsunosuke SEKI) fired a shot toward the palanquin which signalled the start of the main attack.

Naosuke had been hit by a bullet and was wounded from waist to thigh, making him unable to move. Surprised by the attack, the palanquin bearers ran away, and some of the samurai attendants, while trying to move the palanquin, were struck down, leaving the carriage unattended in the snow. The retainers of the Hikone clan who were not able to draw their swords quickly enough were in disadvantageous situations because they were blocked with sheath covers, so they fought with sheathed swords or bare hands and ended up with their fingers cut off. Only the famous two-sword style fighter, Chuzaemon KASAI, was able to calmly remove his outer coat and sheath cover and release his sword using a cord; he fought hard to protect the palanquin, killing Jyuzo INADA in the process. However, he could not handle the resistance alone, and was finally struck down (the blade of the offending sword is now preserved in the Hikone Castle Museum).

Sworda were thrust into the palanquin one after another, which was no longer protected. Jizaemon ARIMURA threw open the door, grabbed the faintly breathing Naosuke by the hair and dragged him out of the palanquin. Naosuke tried to crawl away, but ARIMURA issued the 'monkey cry' of the Yakumarujigen School, and his head flew like a ball in the air. From the start of the attack until the time of Naosuke's death, it is said that the whole incident only lasted a few minutes. The incident and the detailed sequence of events are skillfully depicted by Hogai KANO in a painted scroll, "The Sakurada Incident Emaki" (owned by the Hikone Castle Museum).

As ARIMURA and the others celebrated their victory and headed back with the head of Naosuke at the tip of a sword; Hidenojo OGAWARA, who had been lying unconscious on the ground, regained consciousness by a shout of victory and, in an effort to take back his master's head, went after ARIMURA, striking him in the back of the head with a sword. OGAWARA was killed with a sword by Nenojiro HIROOKA, while ARIMURA, who was also seriously injured and had difficulty walking, killed himself in front of the gate at the residence of Tsunenori ENDO, the Wakadoshiyori (a "Junior Elder").

Although the Hikone Domain sent people to assist immediately when receiving news of the surprise attack, it was too late; they had to recover casualties, the palanquin and even snow on which a number of bloody fingers and earlobes fell. Although Naosuke's head was kept at the ENDO residence, the Hikone clan which found out where his head was, having been deceived, took the head of Kurota KATA, who was chosen from feudal retainers dying on a battle field because he was a similar age and build to Naosuke, and sewed it to Naosuke's body, with the help of a doctor in the hantei (the residence maintained by a daimyo in Edo).

Casualties and consequences

Juzo INADA, who was the first to attack the palanquin with a sword on the attacking side, was struck down by KAWANISHI and died immediately. In a desperate counterattack by the Hikone Domain, Jizaemon ARIMURA, Nenojiro HIROOKA, Tatsunosuke YAMAGUCHI, and Kaname KOIBUCHI incurred serious injuries and, after surrendering themselves, died by their own swords. Many other people surrendered, were captured and murdered, or later died in prison. Kinpachi MASHIKO and Sakinosuke KAIGO went into hiding and survived until the Meiji period.

From the Ii family, eight people died in addition to Naosuke (four died immediately while another four died later), and 13 people were injured. Although the families of the deceased received their inheritance, the survivors of those who had failed to protect Naosuke were punished in 1862, two years after the incident. Those who had been seriously injured, such as Shugoro KUSAKARI, were exiled to clan territory in Sano, Shimonotsuke Province and confined to Ageya, and had their rice rations reduced. Those who had minor injuries were ordered to commit seppuku, while those who had no injuries, whether they were samurai or palanquin bearers, were decapitated after being forced to forfeit the family name. As for the consequences, not only the individuals, but even their relatives and Edo Jofu (a daimyo lord's retainer who remained permanently with their lord in Edo) were suppressed.


The Ii Tairo's policy to prevent the Imperial Court from taking initiatives in politics by removing the coalition of dominant clans from government in favor of the Shogunate government failed, and, not only that, but the authority of the Shogunate had begun to fade, leading to the escalation of the Sonno Joi Movement (the movement that supported the Emperor and the expulsion of foreigners). In addition, a time of conflict and use of military force resulting in the Kioizaka Incident started.

In 1864, the Tenguto no Ran (Rebellion of Tenguto) occurred, where retainers of the Hikone clan, seeking revenge for their late master Naosuke, blocked Nakasen-do Road and intercepted retainers of the Mito clan who were heading toward Kyoto from Mt. Tsukuba. The Tenguto were forced toward Echizen from Mino Province through Hida, and surrendered in Tsuruga. There, 352 members of the Mito roshi, including Kounsai TAKEDA, were executed. To be specific, the execution of the Mito roshi by the Hikone roshi took place at Raiko-ji Temple.

The Ii Family afterwards

An official record of the time states that 'Naosuke II had a sudden illness and, while struggling with the disease, he submitted a request for his succession, which was accepted shortly before his death.'
The Shogunate took special measures as above to prevent extinction of the Ii Family, fudai hitto, and escalation of conflict including revenge against the Mito Domain.
This is why, on his tombstone at Gotoku-ji Temple, the Ii family's ancestral temple, the date of Naosuke's death is recorded as 'March 28.'
To conceal his death, a report stating that Naosuke had only been injured at the Sakuradamon Gate was submitted to the Shogunate under the name of Naosuke to pretend as if he had been still alive; the Shogunate replied with a sympathy gift for Naosuke. Following this, various territorial lords sent envoys to express their sympathy, among them were executives of the Mito clan who were treated with contempt by soldiers of the Hikone clan. Records of the Oba family, the governors of the Setagaya region, an outland of the Ii family, also indicate that Naosuke had been at home struggling with a disease and that the Oba family's Kenin (slaves of nobles) were praying for his recovery. However, the scene of the attack had been witnessed by the Owari Tokugawa family, who had been following the daimyo palanquins that day, and also many people had seen the snow covered in blood, so knowledge of the Tairo's assassination spread quickly throughout Edo.

In 1862, Hisamitsu SHIMIZU gathered an army and headed for Edo, where he sent the Imperial envoy, Shigetomi OHARA to demand the reform of the Shogunate government, but with Yoshinaga MATSUDAIRA leading the Shogunate, the Ii government was cleared off. The Shogunate dismissed Nobumasa ANDO and Hirochika KUZE, Senior Councillors of the Shogunate who were also aides of Naosuke, and banned the Ii Family from entering the profession of Kyoto-shugo (Military Governor of Kyoto) on account of Naosuke's misgovernment, while Katamori MATSUDAIRA was promoted to Kyoto-shugo (Military Governor of Kyoto). Also, the Ii Family's kokudaka (the Edo system of determining tributes owed based on land value rather than volume of production) was reduced from 350,000 koku to 250,000 koku. Although Naosuke's confidants, Shuzen NAGANO and Rokunojo UTSUGI, had already been decapitated and killed by the Hikone clan, their families still incurred a reduction in land value.

There is some uncertainty about the circumstances of the Ii Family during the Meiji period. They were demoted to the rank of hakushaku (count) according to the Peerage Law, which developed from the Kokudaka System, where punishment incurred a deprivation of land and a decline in social status. The expectation of 350,000 koku, achieving the status of a so-called Omi Hangoku lord or a similar title, and also the potential of becoming a higher class marquis, surrounded the Ii Family. However, the deprivation of land left the Ii Family with 90,000 koku, which did not meet the standard of a marquis, but even a daimyo who had not been punished and did not suffer any land loss maintained land to the value of 150,000 koku. It was typical of the Peerage Law, which calculated value on what was received from a particular territory at the time of the Hanseki-houkan (the return of lands and people to the emperor), although it was still popularly believed that the Ii family were treated poorly by the new government and demoted to hakushaku due to the code of Ansei no Taigoku (suppression of extremists by the Shogunate). From the beginning of the Boshin War, the Ii Family showed their loyalty to the Emperor by guarding To-ji Temple and the town of Otsu with soldiers of the Satsuma clan at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi and, having achieved great success with the arrest of Isami KONDO, were rewarded with territory worth 20,000 koku. Naonori II, Naosuke's legitimate son, married a daughter of the Arisugawanomiya family, and it should be noted that the Ii Family were rather treated very well among other old fudai daimyo.

In 1970, 110 years after the incident, Mito City and Hikone City, which were kept apart by the Sakuradamongai Incident, reconciled and concluded a friendship city agreement. The plum tree of Kairaku-en Garden was sent from Mito City, and the swans that surround the moat were sent from Hikone City. The reconciliation between Mito and Hikone was made possible by Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture, although Tsuruga is the place where the Tenguto no Ran (Rebellion of Tenguto) was subdued completely. In 1964, Tsuruga and Mito entered into the sister-city affiliation due to a relationship of the Tenguto.

[Original Japanese]