Flag of Shinsengumi
ActiveAugust 18, 1863 (August 18, 1863)
DisbandedJune 23, 1869 (June 23, 1869)
CountryKyoto, Japan
AllegianceTokugawa bakufu
TypeMilitary unit
RoleTo protect the Tokugawa bakufu representatives and Kyoto
Colorslight blue, white

The Shinsengumi (新選組, "Newly Selected Corps") was a small, elite group of swordsmen that was organized by commoners and low rank samurai, commissioned by the bakufu (military government) during Japan's Bakumatsu period (late Tokugawa shogunate) in 1863. It was active until 1869.[1][2] It was founded to protect the shogunate representatives in Kyoto at a time when a controversial imperial edict to exclude foreign trade from Japan had been made and the Chōshū clan had been forced from the imperial court. They gained considerable fame in the Ikedaya incident and the August 18 coup events, among others.[2] The men were drawn from the sword schools of Edo.



Main article: Rōshigumi

Japan's forced opening to the west in 1854, which required it to open its shores for trade or face military conflict, exacerbated internal political instability. One long-standing line of political opinion was sonnō jōi (meaning, "revere the emperor, expel the barbarians").[3] Loyalists (particularly in Chōshū Domain) in Kyoto began to rebel. In response, the Tokugawa shogunate formed the Rōshigumi (浪士組, "the rōnin squad") on October 19, 1862. The Rōshigumi was a squad of 234 rōnin (samurai without masters) drawn from the sword schools of Edo.[4]: 168 

The squad's nominal commander was the hatamoto Matsudaira Katamori, and their leader was Kiyokawa Hachirō, a rōnin from Shōnai Domain. The Rōshigumi's mission was to protect Tokugawa Iemochi, the 14th shōgun, during an important trip to Kyoto to meet with the Emperor Kōmei.[5]: 65  There had not been such a meeting since the third shōgun of the Tokugawa bakufu, Tokugawa Iemitsu, had visited Kyoto in the 17th century. Tokugawa Iemochi, the head of the military government, the bakufu, had been invited to discuss how Japan should enact the recent imperial edict calling for the expulsion of foreigners.[6]: 186 

Although the Rōshigumi was funded by the Tokugawa bakufu, the leader Kiyokawa Hachirō and others had strong loyalties to the emperor and planned to gather other rōnin in Kyoto to police the city from insurgents. On March 26 (lunar calendar February 8), 1863, Kiyokawa led the Rōshigumi out of Edo as the vanguard of shōgun Iemochi's procession to Kyoto, which they arrived on April 10 (lunar calendar February 23), 1863.

Mibu Rōshigumi

When Kiyokawa's scheme was revealed in Kyoto, he immediately commanded the Rōshigumi to return to Edo. The members were disbanded and then returned to Edo where they would later form the Shinchōgumi (新徴組) under the patronage of Shōnai Domain. However, nineteen Rōshigumi members, mainly from the Mito clan, remained and formed the Mibu Rōshigumi (壬生浪士組).[7]

Founding members

Serizawa's faction:

Kondō's faction:

Tonouchi's faction:

Initially, the Mibu Rōshigumi were called Miburō (壬生浪), meaning "rōnin of Mibu". At the time, Mibu was a village south west of Kyoto, and was the place where they were stationed. Mibu Rōshigumi was initially formed in three factions under Serizawa (the Mito group), Kondō (the Shieikan group) and Tonouchi. Abiru Eisaburō later died of illness, a month after arriving in Kyoto.

Internal strife soon developed within the group, Tonouchi was assassinated by Kondō on Yojō bridge, Serizawa had ordered a member, Iesato Tsuguo, to commit seppuku for deserting, Negishi Yūzan also deserted and returned to Edo, where he joined the Shinchōgumi.


Flag of the Shinsengumi, with the kanji character (makoto), meaning 'sincerity' or 'fidelity', and a serrated border at the lower edge to match the distinctive 'white mountain stripes' of their outfits.

Matsudaira Katamori, after the careful evaluation of the political scene in Kyoto, felt it was needed to change the scope of the Mibu Rōshigumi's mission from protecting the shogunate to patrolling the streets of Kyoto and restoring order in the name of the Tokugawa bakufu. On August 18, 1863, the Mibu Rōshigumi was renamed the Shinsengumi.[8]

The new name Shinsengumi may have been coined by Matsudaira Katamori (the daimyō of the Aizu clan) around this time.[9][a] The opposition forces included the Mori clan of the Chōshū and the Shimazu clan of Satsuma.

The Shinsengumi were led by Serizawa Kamo (born 1830, Mino Province), Niimi Nishiki, and Kondō Isami (born 1834, Musashi Province – he came from a small dojo in Edo called Shieikan). The Shinsengumi submitted a letter to the Aizu clan, another powerful group who supported the Tokugawa regime, requesting permission to police Kyoto. The request was granted.

Saeki Matasaburō, having killed Araya Shingorō, was believed to be killed by a Chōshū samurai Kusaka Genzui on September 22, 1863.

On September 30, 1863 (lunar calendar August 18), the Chōshū (anti-Tokugawa) clan were forced from the imperial court by the Tokugawa, Aizu and Satsuma clans. The Shinsengumi were sent to aid the Aizu and guard the gates of the imperial court. The opposition forces included the Mori clan of the Chōshū and the Shimazu clan of Satsuma.

Serizawa's erratic and disruptive behavior in Kyoto eventually led to Matsudaira Katamori of Aizu giving the Shinsengumi an order to assassinate Serizawa and his group. On October 19, 1863, Niimi Nishiki, a member of the Serizawa faction was forced by Yamanami Keisuke and Hijikata Toshizō to commit seppuku for breaking regulations. On October 30 (or October 28), a few selected Shinsengumi members led by Hijikata went into the Yagi Gennojō's house and assassinated Serizawa, his woman Oume, and Hirayama Goro, with Hirama Jūsuke being the only survivor who fled that night. All this infighting left Kondō as leader. Three months later, Noguchi Kenji was ordered to commit seppuku for an unknown reason.

On July 8, 1864, in an incident at the Ikedaya Inn in Kyoto, thirty Shinsengumi suppressed a cell of twenty Chōshū revolutionaries, possibly preventing the burning of Kyoto. The incident made the squad more famous and led to soldiers enlisting in the squad.

Squad hierarchy after Ikedaya

Troop Captains (組長, Kumichō):

Members of the group

Ancient Kondō Isami's quarters at Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture, Japan. One of the former Shinsengumi headquarters

At its peak, the Shinsengumi had about 300 members. They were the first samurai group of the Tokugawa era to allow those from non-samurai classes (farmers and merchants, for example) to join. Many joined the group out of a desire to become samurai and be involved in political affairs. However, it is a misconception that most of the Shinsengumi members were from non-samurai classes. Out of 106 Shinsengumi members (among a total of 302 members at the time), there were 87 samurai, eight farmers, three merchants, three medical doctors, three priests, and two craftsmen. Several of the leaders, such as Sannan, Okita, Saitō, Nagakura, and Harada, were born samurai.

Shinsengumi regulations

The code of the Shinsengumi, famously created by Hijikata Toshizō, included five articles, prohibiting deviation from the samurai code (bushido), leaving the Shinsengumi, raising money privately, taking part in others' litigation, and engaging in private fights. The penalty for breaking any rule was seppuku. In addition, if the leader of a unit was mortally wounded in a fight, all the members of the unit must fight and die on the spot and, even in a fight where the death toll was high, the unit was not allowed to retrieve the bodies of the dead, except the corpse of the leader of the unit.


Mannequins dressed in Shinsengumi uniform
Coat of mail and helmet of Kondō Isami

The members of the Shinsengumi were highly visible in battle due to their distinctive uniforms. Following the orders of the Shinsengumi commander Serizawa Kamo, the standard uniform consisted of the haori and hakama over a kimono, with a white cord called a tasuki crossed over the chest and tied in the back. The function of the tasuki was to prevent the sleeves of the kimono from interfering with movement of the arms. The Shinsengumi wore a light chainmail suit beneath their robes and a light helmet made of iron.

The uniform was best defined by the haori, which was colored asagi-iro (浅葱色, light blue). In the old days of Japan, during the ritual, the samurai committing seppuku would wear an asagi-iro kamishimo. Thus the colour, in the samurai's eyes, characterized an honourable death.[8] The haori sleeves were trimmed with "white mountain stripes", resulting in a very distinctive uniform.[10]

Boshin War

In 1867, when Tokugawa Yoshinobu withdrew from Kyoto, the Shinsengumi left peacefully under the supervision of the wakadoshiyori, Nagai Naoyuki.[5]: 172–174  The new emperor had been named the head of a new government (meaning the end centuries of military rule by the shōgun). This marked the beginning of the Boshin civil war.[4]

Following their departure from Kyoto, the Shinsengumi were one of the shogunate forces fought in the Battle of Toba–Fushimi against the Imperial forces consisting of allied forces of Chōshū, Satsuma and Tosa in January 1868 where Kondō would suffer a gunshot wound at Fushimi during the battle.

Kōyō Chinbutai

The Shinsengumi returned to Edo, where it was later reformed into a unit known as the Kōyō Chinbutai (甲陽鎮撫隊, "Pacification Corps") and departed from Edo for Kōfu Castle on March 24 on orders to suppress uprisings there. However, upon receiving news on March 28 that the Kōfu Castle was taken by the Imperial forces led by Itagaki Taisuke, they settled at a town of Katsunuma 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Kōfu.

On March 29, 1868, the Kōyō Chinbutai resisted an attack by the Imperial forces at the Battle of Kōshū-Katsunuma for about two hours but lost, with eight dead and more than thirty wounded, while the Imperial forces had only one dead and twelve wounded. The surviving members were scattered and retreated to Edo.

Right after the Battle of Kōshū-Katsunuma, Nagakura Shinpachi, Harada Sanosuke and some of the members left the Kōyō Chinbutai after disagreements with long-time comrades Kondo and Hijikata and later formed a new unit Seiheitai with a former Tokugawa retainer Haga Gidou as its commander.

On April 11, 1868, the Kōyō Chinbutai departed Edo again and set up a temporary headquarters at the Kaneko family estate, northeast of Edo. They would later move to a new headquarters in Nagareyama on April 25, 1868.

However, on the same day, the Imperial forces' Staff Officer Kagawa Keizō of Mito Domain received news that an armed unit had set up camp at Nagareyama and dispatched the forces there.

Death of Kondō Isami

During their training at Nagareyama on April 26, 1868, the Kōyō Chinbutai members were caught by surprise by the 200-strong Imperial forces, the Imperial forces' vice-chief of staff Arima Tota of Satsuma Domain ordered Kondō to go with them to their camp at Koshigaya. Kondō was later brought to Itabashi on April 27 for questioning. Kondō was declared guilty of participation in the assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma on April 30, 1868 and was beheaded three weeks later at the Itabashi execution grounds on May 17, 1868.[4]

Battle of Aizu

Due to Hijikata being incapacitated as a result of the injuries sustained at the Battle of Utsunomiya Castle in May 1868, the Kōyō Chinbutai fought in defense of Aizu territory under Saitō Hajime in the Battle of Shirakawa in June 1868. After the Battle of Bonari Pass in October 1868, when Hijikata decided to retreat from Aizu, Saitō and a small group of Shinsengumi parted with Hijikata and continued to fight alongside the Aizu Domain against the Imperial forces until the very end of the Battle of Aizu, where he and a handful of surviving members were apprehended and became the prisoners-of-war.

Joining with the Republic of Ezo

In December 1868, Hijikata and the rest of the surviving Shinsengumi joined the forces of the Republic of Ezo in the north.[5]: 217–230 

The Shinsengumi numbers decreased to around one hundred in this period and they fought on despite the fall of Edo and clear defeat of Tokugawa.[4] In the Battle of Miyako Bay on 6 May 1869, Hijikata led a daring but doomed raid to steal the imperial warship Kōtetsu, in the early morning, from the Kaiten warship, a number of oppositionists, including Nomura Risaburō, managed to board the ship, but were soon mowed down by its Gatling gun. Many others including the captain of Kaiten were also killed by gunfire from the Imperial ships. The battle lasted only thirty minutes and the survivors and Kaiten retreated to Hakodate.

On the fourth week of May 1869, Hijikata led 230 Republic of Ezo forces and the surviving Shinsengumi against the 600 strong Imperial forces during the Battle of Futamata for sixteen hours and were forced to retreat. The Imperial forces attacked again on the next day, only to retreat. On the following night, Hijikata led a successful raid on the Imperial forces' camp, forcing them to flee. Hijikata and his forces would later retreat to Hakodate on June 10.

End of the Shinsengumi

Hijikata was killed from a gunshot wound on June 20 (lunar calendar May 11), 1869, during the Battle of Hakodate in Hokkaido. Before his death, he wrote of his loyalty to the Tokugawa on the death poem sent by his page Ichimura Tetsunosuke to the house of his brother-in-law:

Though my body may decay on the Island of Ezo,
My spirit guards my lords in the East.

— [11]

A remaining group of survivors, under the last commander Sōma Kazue, who had been under Nagai Naoyuki's supervision at Benten Daiba, surrendered three days later on June 23, (lunar calendar May 14), 1869, marked the end of the Shinsengumi.[5]: 246  The forces of the Republic of Ezo would later surrender on June 27, (lunar calendar May 18), 1869, which marked the end of the Boshin War.

A few core members, such as Nagakura Shinpachi, Saitō Hajime, and Shimada Kai survived the war. Some members, such as Takagi Teisaku [ja], went on to become prominent figures.[12]


In 1875, Nagakura Shinpachi, with the help of the physician Matsumoto Ryōjun and several surviving former Shinsengumi comrades including Saitō Hajime among others, erected the monument for Kondō Isami, Hijikata Toshizō, and the fallen comrades of the Shinsengumi at Jutoku-ji temple boundary known as Graves of Shinsengumi in Itabashi, Tokyo and held requiems for their past comrades' souls.

In popular culture

During the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods, the Shinsengumi were generally unpopular. At that time, the Japanese considered the Meiji Restoration a great achievement and regarded the current system centered around Satsuma and Choshu as just. Therefore, the Shinsengumi were perceived as a foolish group resisting the Meiji Restoration. This prevailing notion began to change with Kan Shimozawa's novel "Shinsengumi Shimatsuki" (1928). Furthermore, after World War II, there was a reevaluation of history among the Japanese. Ryōtarō Shiba's novel "Moeyo Ken" (1964) gained popularity, spreading empathy towards the way of life of the Shinsengumi. Today, the Shinsengumi is depicted and beloved by people through various media such as novels, movies, dramas, anime, and more.[13][10]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ An argument for Matsudaira Katamori bestowing the name can be made by comparing the similarity of the name Shinsengumi to one of Aizu's later frontline combat units, the Bessengumi (別選組, the "Separately Selected Corps").


  1. ^ Watsuki, N. "Glossary of the Restoration." Rurouni Kenshin Volume 3. Viz Media p190.
  2. ^ a b Stephane Lun (2021) "A Guide on Shinsengumi: the background and management." [Kindle paperwhite version] Retrieved from
  3. ^ Wakabayashi B. T. Anti-foreignism and Western learning in early-modern Japan: the new theses of 1825. Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1986.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Dougill J. "Kyoto: a cultural history". Oxford University Press, 2006 p171. ISBN 0195301374, 9780195301373.
  5. ^ a b c d e Oishi M. Shinsengumi: Saigo no Bushi no Jitsuzō. Shin Jinbutsu Oraisha, Tokyo, 2004.
  6. ^ Turnbull S. "The Samurai swordsman – master of war." Tuttle Publishing, 2013. ISBN 978-1462908349.
  7. ^ Stephane Lun (2021) "A Guide on Shinsengumi: the background and management"
  8. ^ a b Stephane Lun (2021) "A Guide on Shinsengumi: the background and management."
  9. ^ "Bessengumi"
  10. ^ a b Zwier L. and Cunnungham M. "The End of the Shoguns and the birth of modern Japan (Pivotal moments in history series)." Twenty-First Century Books, revised edition, 2013 p. 63 ISBN 978-1467703772.
  11. ^ Clements J. "A brief history of the samurai" Constable & Robinson, 2013 ISBN 1472107721, 9781472107725.
  12. ^ "Takagi became a professor of economics at Hitotsubashi University". Archived 2007-03-18 at the Wayback Machine Kuwana city website.
  13. ^ "明治・大正期までは、維新を成し遂げた薩摩や長州は「正義」、かたや江戸幕府方の新選組は血塗られた殺りく集団で「悪役」とみなされていました。". Yumenavi. Retrieved 27 March 2024.
  14. ^ 新選組! NHK website.
  15. ^ "Shinsengumi: Assassins of Honour IMDB website.
  16. ^ "When the last sword is drawn." IMDB website
  17. ^ Kapell M. and Elliot A. (ed.)"Playing with the past: digital games and the simulation of history." A&C Black, 2013 p140 ISBN 1623563879, 9781623563875.
  18. ^ Gantayat, Anoop (January 27, 2004). "Fu-un Shinsengumi Playtest". IGN. Retrieved August 15, 2019.