Sannan Keisuke (山南敬助)

Keisuke SANNAN (1833 - March 20, 1865) was the chief (vice chief) of Shinsengumi (a group who guarded Kyoto during the end of Tokugawa Shogunate). He was from the Sendai Domain of Mutsu Province (later Rikuzen Province).
Another way of reading his last name was 'Yamanami,' but he signed his name as '三南 (Sannan)' and '三男 (Sannan),' so it was highly likely that his last name was pronounced 'Sannan.'
He called himself Saburo SANNAN in his old age. He excelled in both the literary and military arts and was an educated and warm person.
He became known to people as 'Sannan-san.'

Place of origin

It was supposed that he left the Sendai Domain and went to Edo, but his last name of '山南 (Sannan)' or '三南 (Sannan)' does not exist in Sendai, so this fact is unknown. On the Menkyo-kaiden (full proficiency) in Ono School Ittoryu (swordplay tradition), he later became a student of Shusaku Chiba of Hokushin Ittoryu.


He challenged other schools of Tennenrishinryu Swordplay Shieikan of Isami KONDO and defeated the opposing Kondo. At this time, he admired Kondo's skill and personality and began to respect Kondo. After that, he carried out activities with Kondo as well as the students in Shieikan. Toshizo HIJIKATA, Soji OKITA, and Shinpachi NAGAKURA joined the Shieikan who would later be the top officials in Shinsengumi.

In September 1861, he joined the nojiai (game) as the Red Army for Isami KONDO to announce the appointment of the fourth head of Tennenrishinryu. At New Year's in 1862, he traveled to Onoji to instruct swordplay with Soji OKITA.


In March 1863, he joined roshi-gumi (an organization of masterless samurai) that was suggested by Hachiro KIYOKAWA that aimed to protect the shogun and Sonno Joi (slogan advocating reverence for the Emperor and the expulsion of foreigners) with Kondo and others, and went to the capital to become a member of Mibu-Roshigumi (Mibu masterless warriors group). On May 13, he assassinated Yoshio TONOUCHI at Shijo-Ohashi Bridge with Kondo and Kamo SERIZAWA due to the hegemony dispute within the troops. In doing so, Mibu-Roshigumi, which gained the hegemony through an illicit union of Kondo's and Serizawa's group, placed Kondo and Serizawa as leaders and Sannan was appointed to be an assistant head (vice chief) with Toshizo HIJIKATA as a member of the Kondo group (Nishiki NIIMI from Serizawa group).

The roshi-gumi was formed with aims for Sonno Joi, but it was under the custody of the Aizu clan, so he devoted himself to cracking down on repined masterless samurai in Kyoto. Around August 1863, Sannan and Hijikata had a fierce battle against a few repined masterless samurai who intruded into a kimono fabrics dealer called 'Iwaki Shoya' and repelled them. Sannan also joined a coup on September 30 and killed roshi (masterless samurai) from the Choshu group, who were hiding in Kyoto, with Hijikata two days later.

In October 1863, he joined the assassination of Kamo SERIZAWA who had been feuding for a while. The roshi-gumi was unified by the Kondo group (Sieikanha group), and Sannan was appointed to the chief for the organizational restructuring and positioned himself between the leader Kondo and the vice chief Toshizo HIJIKATA. However, he escaped after this incident.

His name disappeared from the activity report of Shinsengumi until he committed Seppuku (suicide by disembowelment). He did not join the Ikedaya Incident in July 1864.
(Some say that he had been sick or protected the quarter during this time.)

In December 1864, Kashitaro ITO was enrolled in the troops. Ito was Sannan's fellow from the Hokushin-Ittoryu Kobudo School, an extreme proponent of Sonno Joi, and educated person. Ito was appointed to a higher rank position of general staff than Sannan and received special treatment.


In March 1865, Sannan left a note saying 'I'm going to Edo' and escaped from Shinsengumi. Escape was a capital crime according to the rules set forth by the Shinsengumi. Kondo and Hijikata sent Okita to chase him, and Sannan was was captured in Omi Province, Otsu City and brought back to the quarter.
(*Some say it was not an escape.)

There were several theories on the reasons behind Sannan's escape.

According to Kanefumi NISHIMURA, a valet of West Hongan-ji Temple, the issue of relocating the quarter is what drove Sannan into the corner. It was to move the quarter from Mibu to West Hongan-ji Temple. The reason was not only because Mibu was too cramped as the members grew in number, but also because West Hongan-ji Temple had strong loyalty to the Emperor and had close relationship with the Mori family of Choshu Domain. Moving to the temple, Hijikata thought to eradicate it all at once. Therefore, although the temple wanted to stop the transfer, he stubbornly refused to listen. Sannan, who was high-spirited in his loyalty to the Emperor, strongly opposed it, but Kondo and Hijikata paid absolutely no attention to him. Sannan, angry that he was being ignored, finally decided to break away from Shinsengumi.

Some say that he had doubts on the way Shinsengumi was organized as what they actually did was oppress supporters when in fact it was meant to be organized for Sonno Joi.

Some say that he made a secret promise with Ito, who would later withdrew from Shinsengumi.

According to 'Roshi (masterless samurai) Bunkyu Era Patriotism Articles' (written by Shinpachi NAGAKURA) found in 1998, he stayed in the quarter on the day of security patrol on July 29, 1864 due to the illness. Also, there is no statement about Sannan on the Kinmon Incident in the article, so some say that he suffered from illness.


He was advised to escape again by a top official, Shinpachi NAGAKURA and Ito, who had a long lasting relationship since they met in Shieikan, but Sannan prepared himself for death. This sad story was told that through Nagakura's kind offices, Sannan's old friend, Tenjin (upper rank prostitute) Akesato in Shimabara, who came to see Sannan and bade him a last farewell (but there was no description of Akesato in Nagakura's journal 'Shinsengumi Tenmatsuki' and 'Roshi Bunkyu Era Patriotism Articles,' so it was highly likely that this was created by Kan SHIMOZAWA).

On March 20, 1865, he died from Seppuku. Sannan wanted Soji OKITA, whom he treated like his brother, to be Kaishaku (to assist someone in committing Seppuku by beheading him). He was 33 years old.
Kondo praised his Seppuku as 'even Takuminokami ASANO couldn't die this beautifully.'
Keisuke SANNAN was adored in Shinsengumi, and even Toshizo HIJIKATA, who was famous for the devil vice chief, cried when Keisuke SANNAN committed Seppuku.

His grave is in Koen-ji Temple in Kyoto.

Kashitaro ITO wrote four poems of waka in mourning Sannan's death.

Characters and others.

Sannan was a kind-hearted person and was adored by women and children in Mibu area.

There was a saying 'kind persons are Sannan and Chuji MATSUBARA' which was popular in the Mibu until the early Meiji period.

According to "Shinsengumi Ibun (exceptional matters)," he had a good reputation among troops and in the Mibu area, unlike Kamo SERIZAWA.

Shikanosuke KOJIMA, a sponsor of Shinsengumi, described Sannan as a 'warrior but literate.'

Even Kanefumi NISHIMURA, who was known for his sever criticism of Shinsengumi, called him 'a person who understands method of matters in some degree' in "Mibu Roshi Shimatsuki"

He was small in stature and had a fair-skinned lovable face. According to Tamesaburo YAGI who was a child of a house where the Shinsengumi was stationed, 'he was not so tall, had fair-skinned lovable face, liked kids and talked to them wherever he met them' (Rojin Mibu Banashi (the Aged Mibu Story) by Tamesaburo YAGI).

It seemed that when he left for the coup on September 30, while Kondo and Hijikata wrapped themselves up in Kacchu (armor and helmet), Sannan as the head did not receive Kacchu, so he was mad but Chuji MATSUBARA served as a buffer to ease his anger.

Iwaki Masuya Incident
In February 1864, while he was staying in Osaka to guard Iemochi TOKUGAWA, a few repined masterless samurai intruded into a kimono fabrics dealer called 'Iwaki Shoya,' and both Toshizo HIJIKATA and Sannan rushed to the scene and repelled them after a fierce battle. For this achievement, Sannan received gold eight ryo (currency unit) from Katamori MATSUDAIRA. The sword (about 86.4cm) Sannan used in the incident was 'a work by Okimitsu SEKISHIN, the resident in Harima Province,' had a nicked edge, and was broken at about 33.3cm. The impression (paper that traced a shape of sword like fish prints) of this sword was sent to Shikanosuke KOJIMA by Hijikata's own hands, and even today, you can still see it in Kojima Shiryokan (Museum) (but the exhibit is a copy). According to "Ishin Shiseki Zusetsu (Restoration Historical Sites Book)," Sannan injured his left arm in this incident, and one theory was that his arm became crippled due to this injury, so he reconciled himself to be rusui (a person representing the master during his absence) during the Ikedaya Incident, and losing his footing as samurai and having a different opinion from Kondo's and Hijikata's served to facilitate his escape from the Shinsengumi. On the other hand, there was another theory that he only stayed as the head of a left-behind team to prepare for the attack on the quarter of roshi in Nagato Province during the Ikedaya Incident. In addition, on the Iwaki Masuya Incident, one theory said that the incident occurred around August 1863 and another theory said that only Sannan rushed to the scene.

In 2004, in the NHK Historical drama 'Shinsengumi!!' written by Koki Mitani, when Masato SAKAI, who was not very well known at that time, was hired to play the Keisuke SANNAN role, both Sakai and Sannan exploded in popularity. When he played the Sannan role, Sakai said that the smile he frequently showed was originally a smile to look down on the Tennenrishinryu group but gradually changed to become a caring smile, and this smile emphasized his benign image.

NHK rebroadcasted (re-rebroadcasted to be exact) episode 33 'Friend's death' where Sannan committed Seppuku, entitled 'encore of 2004' after all episodes and omnibus were broadcast at the end of 2004.
It was extremely rare for only one episode out of 49 episodes to be rebroadcast, and this 'Friend's death' had the most response from the audience in the 'Shinsengumi!' and it was said that some enthusiastic fans sent letters saying 'please do not kill Sannan-san.'
(It seemed an impossible request on first glance, but on the other hand, Kenji NOGUCHI and a few others survived in 'Shinsengumi!' while they had been in fact killed historically. There was a precedent of Tokisuke HOJO in "Tokumune HOJO (NHK Historical drama)".)

With the popularity of 'Shinsengumi!,' there was an explosive increase in the number of tourists visiting Koen-ji Temple where Sannan buried, former Maekawa residence, and Mibu-dera Temple. On March 11, 2007 when the tourists calmed down, 'Sannan-ki (memorial service for Sannan)' was held to mourn Keisuke SANNAN in the neighborhood of the former Maekawa residence, and a memorial event was held where offering of incense was made in the room where Keisuke SANNAN committed Seppuku. Incidentally, the festival to mourn an individual member of Shinsengumi was only fconducted for the five members of sami KONDO, Toshizo HIJIKATA, Soji OKITA, Hajime SAITO, and Keisuke SANNAN.

[Original Japanese]