Hijikata Toshizo - Everyday Samurai

Hijikata Toshizo

Hijikata Toshizo, Vice Commander of the infamous Shinsengumi, was born in Hino city, on the western outskirts of modern day Tokyo on May 31, 1835.

Hijikata Toshizo in Western clothes

Hijikata Toshizo was raised by his older brother and sister-in-law, as Hijikata’s father, a wealthy farmer, died just before his 10th child’s birth, and his mother only a few years after. He would later become a traveling salesman for his family's medicines and potions.

Self-taught in swordsmanship, he later trained training at the Tennen Rishin Ryu's dojo in Hino and, through this, came into contact with Kondo Isami, the fourth soke of Tennen Rishin Ryu and, later, the commander of the Shinsengumi, a special militia company formed to quell disturbances in the capital and protect the shogun against anti-bakufu movements.

The Shinsengumi originated with Kondo Isami, Serizawa Kamo, Niimi Nishiki, and Hijikata as a deputy leader. The Shinsengumi’s reputation became that of a renegade band of thugs when Serizawa and Niimi began extorting money from the merchants of Kyoto, drinking, gambling, and fighting at whim. It was Hijikata who ordered Niimi’s seppuku for his crimes, while Serizawa was assassinated.

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This left Kondo Isami as commander of the Shinsengumi, and Hijikata Toshizo and Yamanami Keisuke as vice-commanders. The force increased to 140 followers. Hijikata, it appears, acted as a police force within the police force, ensuring Shinsengumi regulations were strictly enforced, that traitors and deserters were forced to commit seppuku, and any violators were severely punished. His fervor earned him the nickname, Oni-no-Fukucho, or Devil Vice Commander.

Hijikata took over leadership of the Shinsengumi in May 1868 when Kondo Isami surrendered to the Imperial forces and was executed. Despite believing the Tokugawa had little chance of ever returning to power, he still fought for their cause, leading his men against the new Imperial government forces. He led them to Aizu, and later Sendai before becoming the Vice Minister for Military Affairs of the newly formed Ezo Republic, occupying the star-shaped fortress, the Goryokaku in Hakodate, Hokkaido in October 1868.

He died aged 34 fighting the Battle of Hakodate against the national Meiji government. The mounted Hijikata was shot in the lower spine and was killed on June 20, 1869, a week before the Goryokaku fell to the Imperial Army, and the Ezo Republic surrendered to the Meiji Government. It is not known where his body was buried.

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