Nagakura Shinpachi (永倉新八)
Shinpachi NAGAKURA (May 23, 1839 - January 5, 1915) was the leader of Nibantai (Second Unit) of the Shinsengumi (a group who guarded Kyoto during the end of Tokugawa Shogunate). He was an instructor of swordsmanship. His real name was written as '長倉' (長 means long), not '永倉' (永 means eternity), although both have the same reading. His childhood names were Eikichi and Eiji. His posthumous name is Noriyuki. In 1871, he changed his name to Yoshie SUGIMURA.
Shieikan Training Hall
He was born as the second son of Kanji NAGAKURA, who had a 150 koku stipend as the Edo Jofu Toritsugiyaku (Edo-based liaison) of the Matsumae Domain. He entered 'Gekikenkan,' the Shindo-Munen school of swordsmanship training hall led by Jumatsu OKADA III Toshiaki in 1846 at the age of eight. He went to the training hall from the Kamiyashiki (daimyo's regular residence) of the Matsumae Domain (near the current Kojima 2 chome, Taito Ward, Tokyo). After his master died four years later, he trained under Sukeemon OKADA and received the Kirigami certificate (the lowest rank) at the age of fifteen. He received the Mokuroku certificate (second rank from the bottom) in 1856 at the age of eighteen. He changed his name to Shinpachi upon coming of age.
Later, he left the Matsumae Domain and set out on a journey for training in swordsmanship. During his samurai training, he became a live-in apprentice of Isami KONDO of the Tennenrishin school who had a training hall, Shieikan in Ichigaya in Edo and had disciples in the Tama area in Bushu (Musashi Province).
He participated in Roshigumi with Isami KONDO and others, and became the captain of the second unit when Shinsengumi was formed, playing a central role in Shinsengumi from its early days. NAGAKURA had received a Menkyo-kaiden (full proficiency) certificate in the Shindo-Munen school, as with Kamo SERIZAWA, who he kept on friendly terms with. He fought bravely with Isami KONDO and Soji OKITA during the Ikedaya Incident in 1864. NAGAKURA put on a display of bravery while Soji OKITA fell and Heisuke TODO was injured.
It is said that Isami KONDO, who had suddenly become famous for his bravery during the Ikedaya Incident, acted selfishly for a while. NAGAKURA resented this and together with Sanosuke HARADA, Kai SHIMADA and others, reported Isami KONDO for committing Hiko-go-kajo (five counts of misconduct) to the Lord of the Aizu Domain, Katamori MATSUDAIRA under the risk of leaving Shinsengumi. NAGAKURA expressed his belief in the report that the members considered KONDO as their leader and intended to follow his instructions but they also considered themselves as his comrades, not vassals.
(It is also said that KONDO's temporary insolent behavior was incited by Kanryusai TAKEDA's misleading account that all the members respected him and thought of themselves as his vassals.)
Katamori MATSUDAIRA, who had received the report, guided Isami KONDO into mending his ways and the Shinsengumi recovered its strong unity. Thereafter, NAGAKURA was promoted by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) to the status of Mimawarigumi with a salary of seventy bales and rations for three people.
During the Abura-no-koji Incident, NAGAKURA purged Goryo-eji (guards of Imperial mausoleums) with Sanosuke HARADA and others. Heisuke TODO, who had been NAGAKURA's sword friend since they met at Shieikan, was a member of the Goryo-eji. Although KONDO said, 'I want to save Todo's life.' and NAGAKURA attempted to let Heisuke run away, Heisuke was killed by Tsunesaburo MIURA.
After Soji OKITA fell ill, NAGAKURA also commanded OKITA's Ichibantai (first unit) and completed many important missions. The Boshin War broke out against the army of the new government in 1868. In the Battle of Toba-Fushimi at Kyoto, NAGAKURA showed his courage by leading members of a suicide squad and charging with a sword against the bullet-firing imperial army. After retreating to Edo, he fought in the Koyo Chinbutai (a military unit formed specially for the campaign in the Kai Province), which was the new name for the Shinsengumi. However, the Koyo Chinbutai was defeated and he returned to Edo, which was under the control of the Imperial army. At Edo, he left Kondo and others to form the Seikyotai (or Seiheitai) and continued fighting. He visited the Yonezawa Domain to ask for reinforcement and learned of the surrender of the Aizu Domain during the stay and returned to Edo. He was permitted to return to the Matsumae Domain and was offered protection. He became the son-in-law of Kaian SUGIMURA, who was a Hani (Edo-period doctor working for his domain at a public clinic) in 1871 and moved to Matsumae-cho in Hokkaido.
After the Meiji Restoration
In 1873 (or 1875), he succeeded as the family head and changed his name to Harunobu SUGIMURA (later to Yoshie SUGIMURA). Later, he moved to Otaru City in Hokkaido. In 1882, he was invited by Kiyoshi TSUKIGATA, who was known as the demon prison head because of his strictness, to become an instructor of swordsmanship at the Kabato Shujikan, or 'outland prison' (the predecessor of modern prisons). He served there as an instructor until 1886. After he retired, NAGAKURA returned to Tokyo again and founded a swordsmanship training hall at Ushigome. The Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1891. NAGAKURA volunteered for Battotai (drawn sword squad) at the age of 57. However, his offer was turned down with the reply 'We appreciate the offer, but...'.
It is said that NAGAKURA just laughed and said, 'I guess those from Satsuma cannot accept the help of a former Shinsengumi fighter for fear of losing face.'
After the Meiji Restoration, as one of a few surviving senior members of Shinsengumi, he set up the graves of Isami KONDO and Toshizo HIJIKATA in Itabashi, Tokyo.
He moved backed to Otaru again in 1899 because his wife and child had opened a pharmacy in Otaru Ironai, Hokkaido. He lived in the vicinity of Otaru Midori 1-chome (near the former Otaru Shonen Kagakukan (Otaru Juvenile Science Museum)) from 1905. He lived in Hanazono-cho from July 1909. (His house was at the site of the building named "Otaru Rengo Eisei Kumiai Jimusho" (office of Otaru Union Health Association) in those days, which was to the left when facing the main front door of the former Otaru Shonen Kagakukan).
He loved movies and often went took his grandchildren to the movie theaters.
It is said that he said, 'Kondo and Hijikata died young, but I can experience such wonderful products of civilization because I survived.'
There is an episode about him that he was accosted by the local yakuza at the entrance of a movie theater, but sent them running with his sharp glare and loud yell.
(There are also some who said that he fought the yakuza away with a Japanese cotton towel or he had a cane in his hand.)
He met the daughter of Isami KONDO, Otowa YAMADA on May 22, 1913.
He died in Otaru City, Hokkaido at the age of seventy-six on January 5, 1915 due to blood poisoning from periostitis caused by a tooth cavity.
His ashes were buried in separate places:
Jutoku-ji Temple in Takinogawa, Kita Ward in Tokyo, Satozuka cemetery (1-ki, 3-go, No.762) in Kiyota Ward, Sapporo City, Hokkaido and the central graveyard in Otaru City, Hokkaido, and other places.
Shinpachi NAGAKURA was one of the most skillful swordsmen among the captains of the Shinsengumi. Juro ABE later ranked NAGAKURA first, OKITA second, and SAITO third in order of swordsmanship. He was good at a technique called 'Ryuhiken,' where you hold the sword low, push the opponent's sword up, and then strike the opponent by bringing the sword down. He married Kotsune, who had been a geiko at Shimabara Kameya in Kyoto but Kotsune died after giving birth to their daughter, Isoko. Isoko was left in the care of Kotsune's elder sister when NAGAKURA left Kyoto. In 1900, Isoko became an actress called Kogame ONOE in the Kansai Region and was later reunited with her father.
NAGAKURA wrote "Roshi (masterless samurai) Bunkyu era patriotism articles", an important source on the Shinsengumi. He cooperated with a newspaper reporter from Otaru Shinbun to produce "Shinsengumi Tenmatsuki" (Detailed Report on Shinsengumi). NAGAKURA's series of works broke the stereotyped idea of considering Shinsengumi as 'a group of wicked murderers or evil envoy' and triggered a reconsideration of the Shinsengumi that is still ongoing to this day.