Shimada Kai (島田魁)

Kai SHIMADA (February 29, 1828-March 20, 1900) was the corporal in the second unit of Shinsengumi (a group who guarded Kyoto during the end of Tokugawa Shogunate) and the Shoshi shirabeyaku ken kansatsu (Shinsengumi's organizational post for investigating movements of the opponents and keeping the Shinsengumi members under control). He was the commander of Shuei Shinsengumi (the Shinsengumi unit to guard Toshizo HIJIKATA at the Hakodate war). His family name "Shimada" can be written in two ways by Chinese characteristics, "島田"and "嶋田". He changed his first name from "Kai" to "Sakigake" later. His birthplace was Obusa Village, Katagata District, Mino Province. His real name was Yoshiaki. The pattern of his family crest is what is called "Maru ni Mitsu Uroko (three pieces of triangular scale surrounded by single circle)".

Mino Province

Kai SHIMADA was born as the second son of Iuemon KONDO, a headman of Obusa Village, Mino Province (present Nagaraobusa, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture), in 1828. In his childhood, he was adopted by Hanzaemon NAGANAWA living in Ishida Village, Haguri County, Gifu Prefecture (present Kakamigahara City, Gifu Prefecture), whose wife was a sister of SHIMADA's real mother, while he was entrusted to Kauemon KAWASHIMA, SHIMADA's maternal grandfather living in Hino Village, Atsumi County (present Hino, Gifu City) after Hanzaemon's death. In those days, engrossed in Japanese swordsmanship training, he won a championship under presence of the lord of Nagoya castle, with the result that he was adopted by Sai SHIMADA in Ogaki Domain, who was captivated by Kai SHIMADA, to succeed the Shimada family. He went to Edo, and received training at the dojo (hall used for martial arts training) managed by Shume TSUBOUCHI of Shingyoto-school kenjutsu (classical sword tradition).


Although it is uncertain when Shinpachi NAGAKURA and Kai SHIMADA met again in Kyoto, Kai SHIMADA seems to have already joined the Shinsengumi by June 1863. Then, he assumed the post of Shoshi shirabeyaku ken kansatsu. It is believed that he was a man of gigantic build with superhuman strength.

In June 1864, bringing his ability into full play as the Shoshi shirabeyaku ken kansatsu, he contributed to the arrest of Shuntaro FURUTAKA, which triggered the Ikedaya Incident. He held the additional post of corporal after the following organizational restructuring.

In the Abura-no-koji Street Incident in November 1867, he fought with Takeo HATTORI. In the assault on Isami KONDO, planned by the remaining group of Goryo-eji (guards of Imperial mausoleums, and also called Kodai-ji Temple party) on January 12,1868, he was traveling along with KONDO as a bodyguard. It was SHIMADA that saved KONDO, who was shot while riding on a horse, by making KONDO's horse run.

In the Battle of Toba-Fushimi on January 27, 1868, he organized the Kesshi-tai (suicide corps) with Shinpachi NAGAKURA and others, and cut their way into the enemy position. However, the enemy's intense gunfire forced them to withdraw. There is an anecdote about him during the war; after having found the heavy-armed NAGAKURA's difficulty in climbing over a mud fence, SHIMADA easily pulled up NAGAKURA on the fence with his inborn superhuman strength. Afterwards, he fought on the Boshin War through the battle in Hakodate.

After the Meiji period

He surrendered in June 1869. He was suspended until December of the same year. Then he was left to the Nagoya Domain, and he started a kenjutsu dojo (training hall for swordsmanship) in Kyoto after the suspension was lifted. Although he was requested to serve the Meiji Government or to visit Takeaki ENOMOTO's lodging to renew their friendship, he refused their requests saying; "If a person had a wish to meet someone, that person must visit him or her".

He worked as a night guard at Nishi Hongan-ji Temple from 1886.

He collapsed at his working place, Nishi Hongan-ji Temple, and died at 73 years old on March 20th, 1900. NAGAKURA attended his funeral.

Although his grave had been in Higashi Otani Cemetery, it was removed, so his remains are kept at Otani Sobyo Mausoleum (Higashi Otani) at present.


After the Hakodate war, SHIMADA regularly prayed to Amitabha for the repose of departed Shinsengumi souls including Isami KONDO, always putting in his bosom the posthumous Buddhist name of Toshizo HIJIKATA, who died in the Hakodate war. He also kept various records and articles including "Diary written by Kai SHIMADA" to pass on the Shinsengumi and themselves to future generations. These records and articles are considerable contributions to today's research on the Shinsengumi.

In the sumo wrestling performance sponsored by the Shinsengumi, he was nicknamed "Riki-san (a powerful person)" for his critical plays. He also had such a sweet tooth, ill-matched to his gigantic build, that he cooked a cauldron full of shiruko (sweet adzuki-bean soup) and ate it all up. It is said that other members of the Shinsengumi could not eat this "Shimada shiruko (shiruko cooked by SHIMADA) ", because the Shimada shiruko was so sweet as to form sticky threads due to the large quantity of sugar he put in. After he was released from the new government, he returned to Kyoto and started various businesses including a lemonade shop, a variety shop, a kenjutsu dojo, however, it is said that he lived in poverty because his businesses gained little popularity.

SHIMADA's photograph of his last years, which was taken with his brothers and others, proves that he had frequent communication with his relatives. It is said that such intercommunication left articles belonging to him to the Kishi family and the Naganawa family, both of which were his relatives.

SHIMADA seems to have had a taste for literature, leaving a memorial poem for Toshizo HIJIKATA's soul.

Whenever I view the moon on the battlefield, I cannot help but imagine that the moon may be shining on my dead body tomorrow.

[Original Japanese]