Japanese History

Two Famous Murders in My Neighborhood (part 2)

Today I continue with Part 2 of “Two Famous Murders in my Neighborhood.” Last time we talked about the assassination of interpreter, Henry Heusken. Today, we’ll talk about the douchiest 志士 shishi (men of high purpose) of the Bakumatsu, Kiyokawa Hachiro who was killed in Azabu-Juban.

The Murder of Kiyokawa Hachirō

I got so excited talking about these 2 famous murders that I only talked about one last time. Today, I’m gonna try to set things right.

So, last time I told you about the assassination of Henry Heusken.

I really respect Heusken. He loved languages; he apparently loved meeting people and walls ballsy enough to cruise around Bakumatsu Era Edo knowing full well that there were assassination attempts against foreigners all the time. Just like the honey badger, Henry Heusken doesn’t give a shit.

He was cut down in front of 中ノ橋 Naka no Hashi (“the middle bridge), about 50 meters from my house. About 50 meters the other direction, the man who is blamed for his assassination was also cut down at another bridge called 一ノ橋 Ichi no Hashi (“the first bridge”).

Kiyokawa Hachiro looking like a douche in black & white.

Kiyokawa Hachirō was born, conveniently, in Kiyokawa village. He opened a fencing school that taught Confucianism in Edo where he tried to spread his anti-shōgunate propaganda. He had to flee Edo for killing someone (as one did in those days) but his students in Edo continued his anti-shōgunate work. Their activity culminated in the killing of Henry Heusken at Naka no hashi in 1861.

Kiyokawa Hachiro looking like a douche in color.

If you’ve seen the 2004 Taiga Drama, 「新撰組!」Shinsengumi, then you know this guy pretty well. He formed a kind of militia called the 老士組 Rōshigumi (Ronin Corps). The Rōshigumi was a group of masterless samurai who went to Kyōto as an auxiliary police force to keep order while the 14th Tokugawa shōgun, Iemochi visited the emperor, Kōmei.

The home where Kiyokawa Hachiro was born. (Just the sort of place you’d expect a douche to be born).

When the group reached Kyōto, Kiyokawa suddenly announced that he was an anti-foreigner, anti-shōgunate rebel. He also told the ronin that they were now in the service of the Emperor and they must all return to Edo to expel the foreigners. For whatever reason, these dumbasses who just walked for days and days all the way from Edo to Kyōto decided, “Sure! Seems legit!” and turned around and walked all the way back to Edo (for days and days).

History remembers that a little under 20 members remained in Kyōto under the name Rōshigumi and eventually became the Shinsengumi. But that’s another story for another time.

The only good thing that came out of Kiyokawa Hachiro was that the men who refused to go along with his douchebaggery became the Shinsengumi. And they’re fucking cool.

At any rate, Kiyokawa has already proven his character to me. He’s a shifty snake in the grass, a racist, and a fucking liar.

Here’s Kiyokawa’s girlfriend from the 1964 movie, “Assassin.” Never seen the movie, but you have to admit, she’s pretty cute.

Well, as it turns out, the joke was on him. The Imperial Court wasn’t down with his duplicity and didn’t accept his petition to use the Rōshigumi in the name of the Emperor. And by this time, of course, the Bakufu was also on to his douchery. (If that’s even a word…)

Sasaki Tadasaburo. The man who finally put an end to a lifetime of douchery. (Unfortunately, he’d later pull his own douchebag move by killing Sakamoto Ryoma… but that’s a story for another time).

Once the group was back in Edo, the shōgunate decided do a little restructuring of the leadership of the Rōshigumi since… um… that Kiyokawa guy didn’t work out so well. Kiyokawa went on the run and came up with a plan to burn Yokohama (which was infested with foreigners) and he and 500 samurai would cut down as many of them as they could in the mayhem. (Awesome plan, by the way… not.).  But the shōgunate got him. He was hunted down by a group of samurai, including the hatamoto, Sasaki Tadasaburo. He finally met his end at 一ノ橋 Ichi no Hashi in Azabu-Jūban. If you come out of exit 5 of Azabu-Jūban Station, you’ll find the bridge and the Furukawa River right there across from the 商店街 shōtengai shopping street.

I don’t know of any pictures of Ichi no Hashi from the Edo Period. In fact, I can’t find any historical pictures of it at all. So here’s what it looks like today. Not much to look at, actually.

Kiyokawa Hachirō’s head went missing for almost 100 years. If you’re interested in this mystery, read my article here.

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