Kondo Isami (近藤勇)

Isami KONDO (November 9, 1834 - May 17, 1868) was the head of the Shinsengumi (a group who guarded Kyoto during the end of Tokugawa Shogunate). He served as a shogunate retainer in his later years. Isami was his nickname, and his real name was Masayoshi. His family crest was the Marunimitsubiki (a circle with three straight parallel lines laid horizontally inside).

Joining the Shieikan Dojo

He was born the third son of a farmer called Kyujiro MIYAGAWA. His childhood name was Katsugoro. In addition to Katsugoro, the Miyagawa family included a daughter Rie (who died two years before Isami KONDO's birth), the oldest son Otogoro MIYAGAWA, and the second son Kumejiro MIYAGAWA. He was from Kamiishihara Village, Tama district, Musashi Province, which is currently (in the northwestern part of) Nomizu, Chofu City, Tokyo. His birthplace was torn down in the Chofu Airport expansion work during the war.

On December 6, 1849, Kondo joined the Tennenrishin-ryu school fencing dojo (hall used for martial arts training) called the Shieikan Dojo. He was recognized by Shusuke KONDO (Shusai KONDO) for killing thieves, and this led him to become an adopted son of the Shimazaki family where Shusuke was from, and he then called himself Katsuta SHIMAZAKI. Afterwards, he was officially adopted by the Kondo family; therefore, he first called himself Isami SHIMAZAKI but later began calling himself Isami KONDO. In 1860, he married Tsune MATSUI, the oldest daughter of Yasogoro MATSUI, who was serving the Shimizu family. In September of the next year, he had an exhibition match at the Okunitama-jinja Shrine in Fuchu City, Tokyo, to announce his succession as the fourth head of the Tennenrishin-ryu school fencing originator family, and as he officially became the successor of the family, he became heavily responsible for it. In 1862, his first daughter, Tama KONDO, was born.

In 1863, accepting Hachiro KIYOKAWA's suggestion, the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) recruited participants of the 'Roshigumi (Ronin Corps),' which was an organization consisting of ronin, or lordless samurai, for guarding the 14th Shogun Iemochi TOKUGAWA on the way to the capital. The eight members of the Shieikan Dojo other than Hajime SAITO decided to join, and on March 26, they left for Kyoto with other Roshigumi members. The party arrived in Kyoto on April 10 after proceeding down Nakasendo Road, and Mibugoshi (Mibu samurai) Gennojo YAGI kindly let them stay at his residence.

Becoming the head of Shinsengumi

Kiyokawa suggested to the Imperial Court that the Roshigumi return to Edo (the old name of Tokyo), by submitting a petition. 24 members, including Kondo and Kamo SERIZAWA, who was a samurai from the Mito domain, opposed the idea of returning to Edo remained in Kyoto. He submitted a petition to Katamori MATSUDAIRA, who was the head of the Aizu domain in the Kyoto Shugo Shoku post (the deputy of Kyoto), such that they could call themselves the 'Mibu Roshigumi' and start their own activities under the control of the Kyoto Shugo Shoku.

Mibu Roshigumi did not operate smoothly after its establishment, and on May 12, one of the initial members of Mibu Roshigumi, Yoshio TONOUCHI, died there (there has been an assassination theory). Members of the Yuzan NEGISHI faction and Shingoro KASUYA left the organization, Eizaburo ABIRU died of illness (there has been an assassination theory), and Jiro IESATO killed himself. As a result, Mibu Roshigumi consisted of two factions, the Kondo and Serizawa factions.

When the coup of August 18 led by Imperial prince Nakagawa no miya Asahiko, the Aizu domain, and the Satsuma domain occurred for the purpose of removing the Choshu domain from the politics in Kyoto, Mibu Roshigumi was appointed to guard the Ohanabatake-mon Gate. Their performance was then recognized and the organization was given a new troop name of 'Shinsengumi' by the Buketenso (Imperial official in charge of communication between the shogunate and the court). When the members of the Serizawa factions were assassinated on October 28 (or 30) of the same year, a new organization system was established under the leadership of Isami KONDO.

In July, 1864, Shinsengumi captured Shuntaro FURUTAKA who was an ally of Teizo MIYABE of the Kumamoto domain. Knowing from the statement of Shuntaro FURUTAKA that there was a plan to set fire to the Nakagawanomiya-tei Imperial house, the Shinsengumi immediately started to search for the Miyabe faction, committed the Ikedaya Incident, and destroyed the faction. For this, Shinsengumi received a commendation and an award from both the Imperial Court and the bakufu. After fighting in the Kinmon Incident, Isami KONDO returned home to recruit new members. He then successfully recruited new members, including Kashitaro ITO. In 1865, he left for Hiroshima to serve as Naoyuki NAGAI's squire. In 1867, the entire Shinsengumi became a shogunate vassal, and Isami KONDO held rank as the vassal with the privilege to have an audience with the shogun. This promotion allowed Isami KONDO to carry out negotiations with important individuals as one of the bakufu representatives, and Shojiro GOTO, who was a politician from the Tosa domain, was one of the examples.

Meanwhile, Kashitaro ITO parted from the organization as a Goryo Eji (Guard of an Emperor's Tomb), in which Heisuke TODO and Hajime SAITO (a spy belonging to the Kondo faction) also joined. Ito planned to assassinate Kondo (there has been a theory however that Ito never thought about assassinating Kondo), but instead, on December 13 of the same year, Kondo made Ito drunk and ordered Kuwajiro OISHI to assassinate Ito on his way home. Then, he invited other Goryo Eji out, made a nighttime assault on them, and killed Todo and others. In retaliation for that assault, Kondo was shot and injured by the remaining members of Goryo Eji on Fushimi-kaido Road on January 12, 1868. He therefore could not lead the troop in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi on January 27, 1868, and healed himself in Osaka-jo Castle. Ryojun MATSUMOTO, who was a bakufu teni (bakufu doctor) as well as a medical examiner of Shinsengumi, treated Kondo.

The Boshin War

The Shinsengumi returned to Edo by a bakufu battleship after losing the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. When he visited Ryojun MATSUMOTO at his residence after returning to Edo, a photographer, Kuichi UCHIDA, who happened to be there took pictures of him and two of them still exist. It is said that in one of the pictures he leaned a little bit because his right shoulder had been injured. In March, following the bakufu order, Kondo renamed himself Takeshi OKUBO, restructured the troop as the Koyo Chinbutai troop, and led the troop to Kofu for service, but the troop lost to the new government force in the Battle of Koshu-Katsunuma and he was routed, and at the same time, Shinpachi NAGAKURA and Sanosuke HARADA left the troop because of conflicts of opinion. He then renamed himself again, taking the name Yamato OKUBO, recruited former bakufu infantry in the Goheishinden district (currently Adachi Ward, Tokyo), and met them in the Nagareyama District, Shimosa Province (currently Nagareyama City, Chiba Prefecture) in April; however, they were surrounded by the new government force and he surrendered to the government force headquarters in the Koshigaya District (currently Koshigaya City, Saitama Prefecture).

Someone in the government force knew that Okubo used to be Kondo; therefore, he was taken to Itabashi-shuku (the first shukuba (inn town) from Edo on Nakasendo Road) where the government-general office was. Although Kondo insisted that he was Okubo, Washio KANO, a former Shinsengumi member as well as one of the Goryo Eji, found that he really was Kondo, and this led to him being captured. Then, there was a disagreement between the Tosa and Satsuma domains over how Kondo should be treated, but in the end, on May 17, he was beheaded at the Hiraoichirizuka mound (currently the Takino-gawa River, Kita Ward, Tokyo). He was 35 years old. His head was exhibited in Itabashi, the Sennichimae area in Osaka, and the Sanjo-gawara Riverside in Kyoto. It is not certain where the head went afterwards.


It has been believed that the high priest of the Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple received and buried Kondo's remains, but there is another theory that his comrades took the body back and buried it at Hozo-ji Temple in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, and there is in fact a mound for Kondo's head at this temple. There are also his graves built by his former comrade Shinpachi NAGAKURA at the Ryugen-ji Temple in Mitaka City, Tokyo (quite close to the present Nomizu, Chofu City, where he was from as described above) and in front of the JR Itabashi Station which is close to an execution ground. There is a grave at the Tennei-ji Temple in Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture, where part of his body was supposedly buried by Toshizo HIJIKATA, and there is also a grave at the Kokoku-ji Temple in Yonezawa City, Yamagata Prefecture, where a cousin of Isami KONDO, Kintaro KONDO, is reported to have secretly taken the head back and buried it. In Nagareyama City and Aizuwakamatsu City, the 'Anniversary for Isami KONDO's Death' is celebrated every year for his soul.

His descendents in Tokyo have been farmers for generations, and the present descendents are also farmers there. Also, one of his descendents, Seizo MIYAGAWA, became the ninth head of the Tennenrishin-ryu school fencing originator family (Isami KONDO was the fourth head).

His posthumous Buddhist name was Kantenindenjungiseichudaikoji.

His words of wisdom

He was featured in the NHK historical drama 'Shinsengumi!' by Japan Broadcasting Corporation. The source of the statement below about the poor insight was ' ' of the Shusui edition of "Soshi" written by Soshi, and the source of the highlighted part is unknown.

The frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean. But it knows the height of the sky.

[Original Japanese]