Hirano Kuniomi (平野国臣)

Kuniomi HIRANO (May 12, 1828 - August 21, 1864) was a Japanese samurai, feudal retainer of Fukuoka Domain and patriot. He was commonly known as Jiro or Minokichi. His imina (posthumous names) were 種言 and 種徳. He was awarded the court rank of Shoshii (Senior Fourth Rank) after his death.

He was an active patriot and supporter of sonnojoi (the doctrine of restoring the emperor and expelling the barbarians), and became good friends with feudal retainers of Satsuma Domain including Takamori SAIGO and patriots such as Izumi MAKI and Hachiro KIYOKAWA, spreading anti-shogunate sentiment. In 1862, he planned to raise an army to in response to Hisamitsu SHIMAZU's move to Kyoto, however he was defeated in The Teradaya Incident and sent to prison. After being discharged from prison in 1863, he planed the Yamato gyoko (Imperial Trip to the Yamato Province) with court nobles of the Joi-ha (group advocating expelling barbarians), including Sanetomi SANJO and Izumi MAKI, however faced a setback with the Coup of August 18. In response to the Tenchu-gumi incident in Yamato province, Kuniomi instigated the Ikuno Incident in Tajima Province, however this also ended in failure and he was arrested. He was taken into custody at Rokkaku prison under supervision of the Kyoto deputy, however he was murdered there and his death was covered up by a fire which occurred at the time of Kinmon Incident.


He was a feudal retainer of Fukuoka Domain. He was born the second son of 平野吉郎右衛門, an ashigaru (common foot soldier) of Fukuoka Domain. His father, 吉郎右衛門, was a master of Shinto Muso-ryu Jo-jutsu (Shinto Muso school of martial art with a short staff) and had one thousand disciples, but was promoted to samurai class, since he through hard work and dedication to his duties. Kuniomi was adopted by Hikoroku KOGANEMARU, head of the ashigaru artillery.

In 1845, he was ordered to carry out Edo Kinban (a duty in Edo). After returning to Fukuoka, he got married to Okiku, the daughter of Koganemaru, and had a son called Roppeita. In Fukuoka, he learned Sinology from 亀井暘春, studied Japanese classical literature under Zensai TOMINAGA, and was devoted to Shoko Shugi (ideology in harmony with Japan's traditional values). He also became good friends with a close adviser of Nariakira SHIMAZU, Umon HOJO (Nakanojo KIMURA) who fled from Satsuma Domain to Chikuzen because of a family feud over Nariakira SHIMAZU's heir. He was called for Edo Kinban again in 1853, at the time of the arrival of the Black Ships, and passionately devoted himself to swordplay and study in Edo. At this time, Kuniomi was seriously absorbed in Shoko Shugi, and on his returning home in 1854, he left Edo wearing old hakama (loose-legged pleated trousers for formal wear) and an antique sword. This attire was strange for people at the time and whilst the people who sent him off exchanged looks, Kuniomi himself was full of pride.

In 1855, he was posted to Nagasaki, and became a disciple of Moroto SAKATA, the head of Yusoku-kojitsu (knowledge of court rules, ceremony, decorum and records of the past), thus causing him to intensify his Shoko shugi, and after returning to Fukuoka, he went out with his friends in strange attire, wearing eboshi (formal headwear for court nobles) and hitatare (a kind of ancient court dress).
(This would be equivalent to going out in samurai attire nowadays.)
Kuniomi's behaviour was troublesome for his adoptive family and they came to rebuke him for it, so in the end he severed his links with them and returned to the Hirano family. At this time, he retired and stop serving any posts. At this time, he met Unpin UMEDA and acquired knowledge concerning affairs of State.

Kuniomi's interest in Shoko-shugi never stopped, and in 1857, he made a direct appeal to the lord of the domain about the revival of inuoumono (a dog-hunting event), leading him to be confined due to his rude manners. At this time he started wearing his hair in a topknot, leaving the hair on his forehead uncut instead of having it in sakayaki style (where part of the forehead is shaved). Kuniomi believed that sakayaki was not a traditional hairstyle, and although the topknot later became popular, mainly among roshi (masterless samurai), it is strange that Kuniomi, a samurai, did not have sakayaki at the time. Kuniomi won popularity because of his excellent academic ability and his peculiar speech and behaviour.

The time of patriots

In July, 1858, Kuniomi received the word from Umon HOJO that Nariakira SHIMAZU planned to raise an army and proceed to Kyoto, therefore, he went up to Kyoto himself under the pretext of a request by Taketoki KIKUCHI's to write an inscription on a stone monument. However, Nariakira SHIMAZU died suddenly in July, and his plot to take an army to Kyoto faded away. Kuniomi became acquainted with Takamori SAIGO, a close adviser to Nariakira, through Umon HOJO, and the two discussed relief measures, Kuniomi set to be in charge of the movement against kuge (court nobles). This heralded the beginning of Kuniomi's activities as a patriot. After that, Kuniomi returned to Fukuoka to plead with the lord of the domain.

Eventually, Saigo and other members' efforts failed and Kuniomi tried to release the Imperial loyalist priest Gessho,who had been given an arrest order, to Satsuma, however the situation in the domain completely changed and things became difficult. Kuniomi joined Gessho and others in Chikuzen Province and went to Satsuma as his servant. Kuniomi and Gessho disguised themselves as yamabushi (mountain priests) and broke through border stations, finally arriving in Kagoshima City in November. The domain's government ordered Saigo to bring Gessho to Higashime (Hyuga-no-kuni) in order to hand him over to shogunate officials. This order indirectly called for him to be killed by the blade. Saigo set sail with Gessho and Kuniomi, and cast himself into the sea with Gessho who also despaired for his future. Gessho drowned to death, however Saigo was saved by Kuniomi. Kuniomi was sent into exile and returned to Chikuzen.

In December, Kuniomi went up to Kyoto again to return classified documents to the Konoe family. Due to the Ansei no Taigoku (suppression of extremists by the Shogunate) sweeping over Kyoto, he hid out in Tsurajima, Bicchu Province. In December in the same year, he moved to the residence of Shoichiro SHIRAISHI, a wealthy merchant in Shimonoseki City. There he discussed an assassination plot against the Tairo, Naosuke II with feudal retainers of Mito and Satsuma Domain. In April 1859, Kuniomi, thinking it high time for Naosuke II's assassination, returned to Fukuoka with Jiro HORI and submitted a petition asking for the upgrading of armaments for exclusion of foreigners and for the support of Satsuma Domain, because if the assassination of Tairo went ahead it would cause a major disturbance. In March 24, the Sakuradamongai Incident occurred and Naosuke II was assassinated by feudal retainers of the Mito and Satsuma Domain.

Kuniomi heard about this whilst at the residence of the Shiraishi family in Shimonoseki, and drank a toast with his friends. On the other hand, the Government of the Fukuoka Domain was greatly shocked at this incident and ordered arrest of Kuniomi, who had known about the assassination plot. Kuniomi ran away to escape arrest. He tried to enter Satsuma province, however was unable to.
(It is said that he composed a Japanese poem, 'Compared to my flaming thoughts, smoke of Mt. Sakurajima is but a wisp' on this occasion.)
In September, he was protected by the Matsumura family in Takase, Higo Province, and discussed affairs of State with a royalist political reformer, Izumi MAKI. They hit it off and the following year, Kunitomi became emotionally involved with MAKI's daughter, Osao.

He succeeded in entering Satsuma under Shinpachi MURATA's guidance, however, since the domain leader Hisamitsu SHIMAZU disliked ronin and Ichizo OKUBO, a member of Seichugumi Organization, also had a policy against ronin, Kuniomi was eventually forced to leave.
Kuniomi was dispirited and composed a Japanese poem, 'Compared to my flaming thoughts, smoke of Mt. Sakurajima is but a wisp.'

Sonjoeidanroku (Record of the Decision to Revere the Emperor)
After kuniomi returned to the Matsumura family in Higo, he mixed with Gensai KAWAKAMI, who had the nickname 'Hitokiri Gensai' (Gensai the killer). Kuniomi, anticipating investigation by Fukuoka Domain moved to Amakusa under the guidance of KAWAKAMI and wrote the "Sonjoeidanroku" (Record of the Decision to Revere the Emperor). In his radical book, Kuniomi said that Kobu-gattai (reconciliation between the imperial court and the shogunate) was no longer able to manage the current situation, therefore large domains such as Satsuma should take up arms to attack the shogunate in obedience to Emperor. Izumi MAKI was deeply moved by this book, and Hachiro KIYOKAWA who came to see Kuniomi urged him to present it to Hisamitsu SHMAZU.

Kuniomi smuggled himself into Kagoshima. He presented "Sonjoeidanroku" to OKUBO. OKUBO gave him 10 ryos traveling expenses, and made him return. While he was staying in Satsuma, he held talks with kyushinha (the radicals) such as Shipachi MURATA and Sanpei MITAMA, and he felt confident of the success of dispatching troops.
After he returned to Higo, the rumour spread that 'Hisamitsu SHIMAZU would raise an army.'

In March, 1862, Hisamitsu led 1000 soldiers and set out for Kyoto. Ronin of who supported the Emperor and believed the rumour gathered together in Kyoto and Osaka, creating a disturbance. Kuniomi and kyushinha (the radicals) of Seichugumi Organization such as Shinshichi ARIMA also intended to raise an army at this time. However, Hisamitsu had no intention of attacking the shogunate, and his going to Kyoto was due to the kobu-gattai (movement for reconciliation between the imperial court and the shogunate). In April, Hisamitsu, was surprised to find out about the radicals movement and ordered them to be killed if they did not settle down or obey Hisamitsu.

On May 21, nine members of the group sent to pacify the radicals, including Shigeru NARAHARA and Tsunayoshi OYAMA, engaged in a sword fight with the radicals at Teradaya, and six members including Arima were killed whilst the rest were arrested and sent back to Satsuma.
(The Teradaya Incident)

On Msy10, before this incident, Kuniomi attended the Daimyo-gyoretsu (feudal lord's costumed procession) in order to submit a petition to Narihiro KURODA (a lord of Fukuoka Domain who passed by Osaka-jo Castle on the way to his compulsory residence in Edo) complaining about the disturbances and asking for cooperation in raising an army. Government officials of the Fukuoka Domain were surprised by this and took lulled Kuniomi into security by taking him to a Japanese-style hotel and treating him well, however before long a Hori (officer) of Satsuma Domain broke in and arrested him. That was an order by Hisamitsu who disliked ronin.

Kuniomi was handed over to Fukuoka Domain and sent back there. Kuniomi, highly renowned among supporters of the movement to restore the emperor and expel the barbarians, was treated well at the beginning, however, as soon as the radicals were rounded up in the Teradaya Incident, their treatment drastically changed and he was brusquely thrown into jail.

Ikuno Incident and execution

In April 1863, when favourable conditions for Imperial loyalists returned, Kuniomi was released. At this time, the Choshu Domain dealt with nobles loyal to the emperor in Kyoto in order to control the Imperial Court, while as assassination cases, known as Tenchu (heaven's punishment) occurred frequently. Furthermore the order for Yamato gyoko (Imperial Visit to the Yamato Province), planned by theorist Izumi MAKI, was given. This was a plan to carry out expulsion of foreigners. On September 28, Kuniomi who was in Kyoto, was order to serve at the Gakushuin school. At this time, the Gakushuin was the a prestigious place for the decision-making of court nobles loyal to the Emperor, headed by Sanetomi SANJO, therefore this was an exceptional promotion for Kuniomi, who had come from humble beginnings as an ashigaru.

On 29th, Kuniomi was ordered to stop the activity of the Tenchu-gumi (group who carried out punishments) including Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA and Torataro YOSHIMURA. The Tenchu-gumi had already taken up arms and attacked the magistrate's office in the Tenryo (shogunal domain) of Gojo City, Yamato Province. On October 1, Kuniomi arrived in Gojo City, however the political situation changed completely the day before, September 30. The Aizu and Satsuma Clan collaborated to stage a coup and forced the Choshu Clan out, while they expelled court nobles loyal to the emperor including SANJO (Coup of August 18).

He returned to Kyoto immediately, however, the group for restoring the Emperor in Kyoto was already devastated. Kuniomi made a plan to act in agreement with the Tench-gumi which was still fighting in Yamato. He cooperated with Kunimichi KITAGAMI, a patriot from Tajima Province, and made a plan to raise an army in Ikuno Silver Mine. He went to Mitajiri, Nagato Province and welcomed the loyalist court noble Nobuyoshi SAWA, who had been protected by Choshu Domain as a captain, and then entered Ikuno along with more than 30 roshi and Yaichi KAWAKAMI, a former general of the Kiheitai Army. At this point, the Tenchu-gumi had already been destroyed and Kuniomi insisted on scrapping the plan to raise an army, however he was overpowered by hard-liners who insisted on avenging the Tenchu-gumi and embarked on building an army. On November 22, the Ikuno magistrate office surrendered unconditionally. 2000 peasants gathered to appeal to raise a small army and built up a group spirit.

However, Bakufu's response was quick and nearby domains rapidly dispatched soldiers on the following day. The roshi became restless and as they had already discussed breaking up, the captain SAWA ran away on the night of the 23th.
The peasants got angry, complaining that they had been deceived, and attacked them, criticizing Kuniomi as a 'bogus roshi.'
Kuniomi broke up the army and tried to escape to Tottori Domain, however, he was arrested by the Toyooka Domain army, forcefully taken to Rokkaku prison and confined there.

In August, 1864, a fire which had started at the time of the Kinmon incident (known as don-don-yake) rapidly spread all around Kyoto. Vassals of the Kyoto deputy, afraid the prison would be fire damaged allowing prisoners to escape and disturb the peace, decided to execute them all. Although Kuniomi's punishment had not been decided yet, he was beheaded together with more than 30 prisoners. He died at the age of 37. In 1891, he was awarded the court rank of Shoshii (Senior Fourth Rank) after his death.

A bronze statue of him was erected in Nishi Koen (Fukuoka City) in Chuo Ward, Fukuoka City, while his grave is located in Chikurin-ji Temple, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City. Also, his gravestone and a stone monument were erected in Kyoto Ryozen Gokoku-jinja Shrine.

[Original Japanese]