Eto Shinpei (江藤新平)

Shinpei ETO (March 18, 1934 - April 13, 1874) was a Japanese samurai (Saga Domain) and politician. His childhood names were Kotaro and Matazo. His imina (personal name) was Taneo, and his go (pen name) was Nanpaku. His formal name as an Ason (second highest of the eight hereditary titles) was TAIRA no Taneo.


Shinpei ETO was born in Yae Village, Saga District, Hizen Province (present-day Nabeshima-cho, Saga City, Saga Prefecture) as the eldest son of Tanemitsu ETO and Asako. The Eto family purported to be the descendants of Tsunetane CHIBA, jito (manager and lord of manor) of Harukeho, Ogi District, Hizen Province.
His father is thought to have been a low-ranking samurai known as a 'Teakiyari.'
In 1848, he entered the Kodokan hanko (domain school of the Saga Domain) and achieved excellent results during his elementary and secondary levels so his school fees were partially paid by the government. However, his father was punished for negligence of duty by being removed from the position of superintendent officer of the district and placed under house arrest which forced the family into poverty and meant that Shinpei could proceed to tertiary education, so instead he studied at the private school of Shinyo EDAYOSHI, a scholar of Confucianism and ancient Japanese literature and culture, where he was influenced by Shinto and the principle of reverence for the Emperor.
It was around this time that steeled himself against a life of poverty and it is reputed that he would often say that 'Knowledge comes from hunger.'

Shinpei was influenced by an age in which foreign ships frequently appeared off the coast of Japan when the naval fleets of the US's Matthew Perry and Russia's Yevfimy Putyatin arrived seeking trade, and in 1856 he wrote down his opinions in "Zukaisaku" (Countermeasures Against the Threat from Overseas Countries). He formed the Gisaidomei union with Shigenobu OKUMA, Taneomi SOEJIMA, Takato OKI and others. He was married in 1857. He held a position responsible for the domain's Western style firearms and trade relations.

Patriotic Activities

Shinpei left the domain and became active in Kyoto where he came into contact with individuals including Choshu Domain samurai Takayoshi KIDO (Kogoro KATSURA) and kuge (court noble) Kintomo ANEGAKOJI. He returned home after two months and although it was a capital offence to leave one's domain, the domain lord Naomasa NABESHIMA highly regarded Shinpei's views and reduced his punishment to indefinite house arrest via his own direct judgement. After his house arrest, he worked as a temple elementary school teacher among other occupations and continued his political activities such as secret contact with his comrades and offering his opinion to domain lord Naomasa on the issue of dispatching troops on the shogunate's Choshu Conquest (Baku-cho War (war between the bakufu and Choshu)).

In December of the year of 1867 in which 15th Shogun Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA restored Imperial Rule and dissolved the shogunate, Shinpei was released from house arrest and reinstated as superintendent officer of the district. The Satsuma and Choshu Domains allied with Tomomi IWAKURA to initiate the Decree for the Restoration of Imperial Rule in 1868, and when the new government was formed, the Saga Domain was also involved and Shinpei was dispatched to Kyoto with Taneomi SOEJIMA.

During the Boshin War, Shinpei was appointed as an officer of the army organized to defeat the Tokugawa shogunate and conducted a reconnaissance mission to Edo with Tosa Domain samurai Tadahachi OGASAWARA. The bloodless surrender of Edo-jo Castle was achieved by talks between Takamori SAIGO of the Satsuma clan and shogun's retainer Kaishu KATSU, and Shinpei requisitioned the castle documents. He also returned to Kyoto where he and Takato OKI jointly proposed to Tomomi IWAKURA that Edo be renamed Tokyo (the transfer of the capital to Tokyo). With regard to the issue of the activities of the Shogitai (group of former Tokugawa retainers opposed to the Meiji government who fought in the Battle of Ueno) which focused on the former shogun's retainers, Senpei and Masujiro OMURA advocated the subjugation of the group and he fought as a Assistant Deputy General at the Battle of Ueno drive the Shogitai forces to the area surrounding Kanei-ji Temple in Ueno, before forcing the Shogitai to break up by using tactics such as long range gunfire from Armstrong Guns. In 1969, he was granted a 100-koku shotenroku (premium) for meritorious service during the Meiji Restoration.

As a Government Official of the New Meiji Government

Shinpei was appointed one of the six accounting office judges under the Kami (director) of Edodhindai (the civil court in Edo) which was established by the new government after the dust of the Boshin War had settled, and he was responsible for government policy, accounting, finances and urban issues. In July, his proposal was accepted, Emperor Meiji made an imperial visit and Edo was renamed Tokyo. In July of 1870, he returned to Saga where he assumed the post of chakuza (deputy of the chief retainer) and conducted reforms of the domain administration but he was later recalled by the central government and appointed Chuben (Middle Controller) of the Daijokan (Grand Council of State) in November of the same year. In December, he was attacked and injured in Toranomon by sotsuzoku (low-ranking samurai) from the Saga Domain. In February of 1871, Shinpei worked on the maintenance of state apparatus as a system investigation official and submitted 30 reports to Dainagon (Major Counselor) Iwakura. He advocated a modern centralized country and equality for all people, and engaged in the compilation of civil codes by organizing the National Law Assembly and Civil Law Assembly.

After Mombu-taifu (post of Ministry of Education), Sain Fukugicho (Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Left) and Shihosho (Ministry of Justice) were established, Shinpei was successively appointed to various posts in 1872 including Shihokyo (Administrator of the Ministry of Justice) and Sangi (Councillor).
It was during this time that he implemented modernization policies including laying the foundations of the education system, advocating equality for all, and organizing the police system
He was particularly noted for his success in organizing the judicial system. Shinpei was a radical government liberal, and he is known for the Ministry of Justice law no. 22 (prostitute liberation law) which was also called the livestock liberation law, as well as the Ministry of Justice law no. 46 which recognized administrative litigation for the people. He was also strict on corruption among government officials and actively rigorously investigated the Yamashiroya incident thought to involve domain clique member Aritomo YAMAGATA who held a great deal of power within the new government as well as the well as the scandal of Osarizawa copper mine thought to involve Kaoru INOUE, pushing for the temporary resignation of these two individuals in relation to a confrontation surrounding budgets.

However, Shinpei's introduction of western style separation of power (administration, legislation, and judicature) was harshly criticized by conservative elements within the government who held the Meiji values of executive and judicial power. There was also a deficit in the financial burden for the sudden organization of the network of law courts which led to a feud with the Okura-sho (Ministry of the Treasury).

From Shimotsuke Province to the Saga Rebellion

In 1873 during the Meiji roku-nen no Seihen (Coup of 1873) that developed from the Seikanron (debate on subjugation of Korea) issue surrounding Japan's Invasion of Korea, Eto went to Shimonotsuke Province with Saigo, Taisuke ITAGAKI, Shojiro GOTO and SOEJIMA on October 24, he formed the Aikokukoto Party on January 10, 1874, and signed the political statement for democratic representatives on January 12.

Despite Soejima, Goto and others attempting to persuade Eto not to return home, he left the capital on January 13. He did not go directly to Saga but arrived in Nagasaki on January 2 to observe the situation. He headed for Saga on February 10, held talks with Yoshitake SHIMA of the Yukoku Party and on February 11, and was backed as head of the Seikan Party of Saga on February 12. After the Seikan Party and Yuikoku Party which both held radically different political ideologies joined forces, they plotted a rebellion.

On the night of February 16, the Yuikoku Party initiated an armed uprising and triggered the samurai class rebellion known as the Saga Rebellion. The Saga attacked the Kumamoto Chindai Army which was stationed in Saga-jo Castle, which served as the prefectural office, and was commanded by Takatoshi IWAMURA, injuring approximately half of their forces and causing them to flee.

However, eventually the armies of Tokyo and Osaka under the command of Okubo continued their advance and arrived in Kyushu. The Saga army advanced to the border with Fukuoka Prefecture where they were met by these freshly reinforced government armies. The government army unit led by Major General Shizuo NOZU advanced in the direction of Mt. Asahi while Major General Akiyoshi YAMADA's unit proceeded to the vicinity of the Mitsuse mountain pass. The government forces broke through at Mt. Asahi after fierce fighting but the Saga Army maintained supremacy at the Mitsuse mountain pass. The government forces that broke through at Mt. Asahi once again met with fierce opposition by the Saga army from the eastern part of Saga Prefecture to the vicinity of Nakahara where they were driven to the brink of annihilation. However, the government army commander Shizuo NOZU himself led the advance and encouraged his troops to a narrow victory. Fierce fighting subsequently expanded to Tade and Sakaibaru but the Saga army fled in the face of the strong firepower of the government forces.

Shinpei fled the battlefield in secret and met Saigo while bathing in the Unagi Onsen Hot Spring in Kagoshima Prefecture where he requested that the Satsuma Domain raise an army but he was refused before he subsequently visited and Hayashi Yuuzou and Kenkichi KATAOKA of Kochi Prefecture who he also attempted to persuade to launch an armed rebellion but neither accepted his proposal. It is for this reason that he planned to put his opinion directly to Iwakura and traveled to Tokyo to attempt to do so. However, he was apprehended in the vicinity of modern-day Kannoura, Toyo-cho, Aki-gun, Kochi Prefecture and sent back to Saga. The circulation of wanted photographs aided his swift arrest but this photograph distribution system was established by Shinpei himself in 1872, meaning that the system's founder was its first subject. On April 8, Shinpei was tried at the hastily established Saga Court by Togama KONO who was his subordinate during his time at the Ministry of Justice and was sentenced to be beheaded on April 13. He died at the age of 41. This was a form of punishment that would have been prohibited by Shinpei. Following this, all of his followers were pursued by the Ministry of Justice.

Shinpei's last words were 'I hope only that the Emperor can understand my devotion.'
In 1889, he was pardoned by an amnesty that accompanied the proclamation of the Meiji Constitution
His grave is located at Hongyo-ji Temple, Saga City, Saga Prefecture. A bronze statue of him stands in Kono-koen Park in Saga City.


Shinpei's eldest son died at a young age but his second son Shinsaku was a member of parliament for Saga Prefecture, worked actively as a close associate of Tsuyoshi INUKAI and participated in the pan-Asianist Toa-kai group and its successor the Toa Dobun kai (East Asian Common Culture Society) as well as organizing and compiling Shinpei's writings and publishing them as "Nanpaku Iko."

[Original Japanese]