Kawakami Gensai (河上彦斎)

Gensai KAWAKAMI (December 25, 1834 - January 13, 1873) was a Japanese samurai of Sonno Joi ha (supporters of the doctrine for restoring the emperor and expelling the barbarians) (statesman of the Kumamoto Clan). His imina (personal name) was Haruakira. He was one of the Bakumatsu Shidai Hitokiri (Four famous assassins of Bakumatsu, end of the Edo period).


In 1863, at the age of 30, he was recommended to be the chief equivalent to Teizo MIYABE in the selection of army for the Kumamoto clan. Generally, he is known as "Hitokiri Gensai" (Gensai the killer); however, the only person he actually killed was Shozan SAKUMA, and it is unknown as to when, who and how many people he killed thereafter. He stood only about 150 cm and had fair skin, looking like a woman at first glance. He taught himself how to use a sword; yet he was known to be adept at drawing a sword with only one hand (from the position as low as one knee almost touching the ground, cutting the opponent slashing from bottom to top up to the shoulder).

Some say that he was trained at Katayama-Hoki school; however, bases for this theory are that at the time most popular iai (instantaneous drawing of sword) had been that of Hoki style, and although the movement had been different, Hoki style of iai included cutting the opponent slashing from bottom to top up to the shoulder.

After the Coup of August 18, he moved to Choshu Domain and served as a guard for Sanetomi SANJO. Thereafter, he went back to Kyoto to avenge the killing of Teizo MIYABE by Shisengumi during the Ikedaya Incident in July 1864. On August 12, 1864, he killed Shozan SAKUMA, who belonged to kobu-gattai (integration of the imperial court and the shogunate) group and the leading figure advocating the opening of the country. After assassinating Shozan, Gensai had not killed anyone.

During the Baku-cho War (war between bakufu and Choshu), he joined the Choshu force and was victorious. In 1867, he returned to his domain; however, because the real power for Kumamoto Domain had been held by the Sabaku-ha (supporters of the Shogun), he was imprisoned. Due to his imprisonment, he was not able to participate in the Taisei Hokan (transfer of power back to the Emperor), Restoration of Imperial Rule and the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. In February 1968, he was released from prison. The Kumamoto Domain belonging to Sabaku-ha attempted to ride the tide of the Meiji Restoration by using Gensai; however, Gensai refused to cooperate.

After the restoration, the new government, aiming to open its country, feared Gensai, who never ceased to advocate the expulsion of foreigners. He was suspected of involvement with Nikyo Jiken (The Incidents triggered by two court nobles), then by further suspicion for the assassination of a Sangi (Councilor) Saneomi HIROSAWA, and he was beheaded on January 1872. It is said that Gensai was not involved in the assassination and he was beheaded actually for not following the policy of the Meiji Government.

Gensai's farewell poem composed on the eve of his death is as follows:
I am dying for you, I will return to the earth, grow and make red flowers bloom. I think of you and die for you, I hope and dream to be of use to you and for you to be useful to society. I knew I would not live long, but my thoughts of you will live on forever.

His Kaimyo (posthumous Buddhist names) was 應観法性居
He is buried in the Ikegami Honmon-ji Temple. There are temporary graves at both Myoho-in Temple in Kyoto and Sakurayama-jinja Shrine in Kumamoto.


When royalists gathered for drinking, one shogun's retainer was singled out for criticism. When drunken royalists said "he is unforgivable" and "he should be slain," Gensai KAWAKAMI left the place. Gensai returned a while later holding the head of the shogun's retainer who was being talked about.

[Original Japanese]