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Kiyokawa Hachirō & the Mystery Graves Nobody Cares About

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on April 23, 2015 at 6:25 pm

Kiyokawa Hachirō
(no meaning, it’s just the dude’s name)

Kiyokawa Hachiro - Nobody's Favorite Samurai™

Kiyokawa Hachiro – Nobody’s Favorite Samurai™

Back in April 2013, I wrote a two part series about 2 murders during the 幕末 Bakumatsu final years of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (you may want to read those 2 very short articles before this long one). The articles attracted a bit of attention (and Lorde knows I wasn’t getting any attention at the time). As a result, I landed me a strange private message. It’s a message I’ll never forget… mostly because I saved it. And if the sender is still reading, I’m sure you know who you are.

The mail was short and sweet:

Hi Sir.

I love your blog but do you know you called Kiyokawa Hachiro douche 5 times?
Can you tone down the Language?


Anyways, I’ve cherished this e-mail because I never counted how many times I’d used the word douche in the original article and even though the words shit and bitch also appeared, our concerned writer didn’t seem to care. Also they said they loved my blog. Everything balances out, right?

Well, the other day, I read a blog that mentioned the grave of Kiyokawa Hachirō. I have to be honest and say that I never thought about where the guy was buried. He was a douche, after all. Who would want to go there?

So today I decided to revisit Kiyokawa Hachirō’s story, even though I think he was a douche par excellence[i]. The story actually gets pretty deep, so I’ve included all relevant links and about 34 footnotes. So have at it.

So first, I’d like to talk about who the hell Kiyokawa Hachirō was and why he was a douche. Then, I’m going to talk about his assassination. After that, things are going to get messy as we explore new information that came to light in the 50 years after his assassination. And finally, I’m going to talk about how none of this matters and how I wasted my time researching and writing it and how you wasted your time reading because… Kiyokawa Hachirō was such a douche that he is actually reaching from the grave trying to be a douche to not just me, but you too. Make no mistake about it, dear reader. He’s totally screwing you over as you read these very words.


Shirai Akira played Kiyokawa Hachiro in the 2004 Taiga Drama

Shirai Akira played Kiyokawa Hachiro in the 2004 Taiga Drama “Shinsengumi!”


Who the Hell is Kiyokawa Hachirō?

In short, he was a racist, a murderer, and a two-faced anti-shōgunate terrorist fuckwit.

He was born in 出羽国庄内藩 Dewa no Kuni Shōnai-han Shōnai Domain, Dewa Province in present day 山形県庄内 Yamagata-ken Shōnai Shōnai, Yamagata Prefecture. His family’s rank was 郷士 gōshi which means something like “hamlet/village warrior” – a kind of high ranking commoner who was allowed rights usually reserved for the samurai class. In case of the Kiyokawa clan, they were allowed to carry 2 swords. They also ran a sake business. The rest of his boring life has little to do with this article until 1863.

The Saito House (1907) in Kiyokawa Village, Yamagata. This is where Hachiro was born.

The Saito House (1907) in Kiyokawa Village, Yamagata. This is where Hachiro was born.

Another view of the birthplace of Hachiro.  The Saito family were relatives.

Another view of the birthplace of Hachiro. The Saito family was a branch family of the Kiyokawa.

In the story that most people love to tell themselves, the Edo Period was a peaceful and magical era of fireworks, candy, and puppy dogs that lasted for about 250 years. That is, until Commodore Perry and his American goon squad rolled into 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay and fucked everything up. Under the watch of 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke the 大老 tairō shōgunal regent, the Tokugawa shōgunate signed treaties with some western powers and began the process of opening up the country. The shōgunate knew they had no choice, but to samurai who weren’t in-the-know and perhaps to the average person on the street, Japan’s sanctity was being violated. The threat of the brutish yet technologically superior, tall and fat barbarians with big noses and stinky clothes plunged the country into chaos. Samurai from every part of Japan were proposing their own “quick fixes” and began building factions that then started fighting with each other[ii].

This is pretty much the Edo Period. I'm totally serious. It was just like this.

This is pretty much the Edo Period. I’m totally serious. It was just like this.

Much of the violence was being committed by 浪士 rōshi rōnin (masterless samurai) united under a philosophy that was abbreviated by the slogan 尊皇攘夷 sonnō-jōi “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians.[iii]” These rōnin turned to terrorism to strike out at the shōgunate, foreigners, and opposition groups in various places around the country. However, much of the violence would be perpetrated in the imperial city of Kyōto. In 1863, 公明天皇 Kōmei Tennō Emperor Kōmei summoned 徳川家茂 Tokugawa Iemochi, the 14th shōgun, to Kyōto. The meeting was part of the overall strategy to unify the imperial court with the shōgunate in hopes of quelling dissent among the rōnin and other dissident groups. The emperor, who was fiercely xenophobic[iv], was to issue a decree to the shōgun to expel the barbarians[v].

This is an actual photograph of the attack on regent Ii Naosuke by sonno-joi radicals from Mito in front of the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle in 1860.

This is an actual photograph of the attack on regent Ii Naosuke by sonno-joi radicals from Mito in front of the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle in 1860. A little known fact is that Naosuke was completely oblivious to the attack because he was in the palanquin using LINE to sext the cute daughter of merchant in Nihonbashi. He never saw it coming.

Sonnō-jōi Terrorists on the Rise

In 1860, Kiyokawa Hachirō and his buddy 山岡鐵太郎 Yamaoka Tetsutarō[vi], formed their own sonnō-jōi terrorist group with 14 other members – mostly students of Hachirō’s dōjō in Edo. They called the group 虎尾之会 Torao no Kai (sometimes rendered as Kobi no Kai). which means “the tiger tail association.” I don’t know much about the group’s terrorist activities except that most fingers point at them for one of the most egregious murders of the Bakumatsu. It’s generally believed that Hachirō and his douchey friends carried out the brazen murder of the innocent translator and man-about-town, Henry Heusken, in 1861. As Heusken was riding his horse home towards the American 公使館 kōshikan embassy[vii] at 善福寺 Zenpuku-ji Zenpuku Temple, Torao no Kai radicals killed him on 中之橋 Naka no Hashi “the middle bridge” in Azabu.

A photo taken at Henry Heusken's wake at Zenpuku-ji. Sadly, I think this is the only photo that exists of him. By most accounts he was a sociable guy who curious about other cultures. But like all foreigners of his day, he wasn't versed in the complex nuances of Japanese culture. No one was.

A photo taken at Henry Heusken’s wake at Zenpuku-ji. Sadly, I think this is the only photo that exists of him. By most accounts he was a sociable guy who curious about other cultures. But like all foreigners of his day, he wasn’t versed in the complex nuances of Japanese culture. No one was.

At any rate, because of the violence in Kyōto, a plan was hatched to fight fire with fire. Send a force of rōnin and low ranking samurai who were loyal to the shōgun to Kyōto before Iemochi’s entourage went. They could subdue any terrorists and hopefully inspire the bad guys to switch sides and support the shōgunate. The rules were simple: the status of the samurai was not important. They only had to be 攘夷派 jōi-ha supporters of expelling the barbarians. Since the emperor and the shōgun were pushing an idea called 公武合体 kōbu-gattai “union of the imperial court and shōgunate[viii],” including sonnō-jōi dissidents wasn’t seen as counterproductive to the overall strategy. After all, if the shōgunate was seen as supporting the imperial court (which it sorta wasn’t) and the court was supporting the shōgunate (which, except for the emperor, it sorta wasn’t), then everybody was playing on the same team… theoretically speaking.

Because of his sonnō-jōi stance, Hachirō commanded a certain respect among anti-foreigner rōnin in Edo.  Presumably because he thought he could recruit the right men quickly, 松平主税之介 Matsudaira Chikaranosuke, head fencing instructor at the 講武所 Kōbusho (the shōgunate’s official military academy in Edo) asked Hachirō to head up the group of rōnin that was to be the shōgun’s vanguard. The group was given the pretty unimaginative name 浪士組 Rōshigumi the rōnin group, or le groupe des ronins in French.

Denzu-in - a Tokugawa mortuary temple in modern Bunkyo Ward.

Denzu-in – a Tokugawa mortuary temple in modern Bunkyo Ward.

The Perfect Venue

Anyhoo, in February of 1863, an event to recruit and vet samurai for the new group was held at 伝通院 Denzū-in[ix] Denzū Temple in 小石川 Koishikawa[x] (near Tōkyō Dome). Since the time of the first shōgun, Denzū-in has been a Tokugawa 菩提寺 bodai-ji funerary temple. The shōguns weren’t buried here[xi], but the mother of the first shōgun, Ieyasu, is interred here. In fact, the temple’s name is the same name she assumed after retiring to the priesthood[xii]. There are other Tokugawa relatives enshrined at this temple. Its proximity to the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of the 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke Mito branch of the Tokugawa surely guaranteed a deep and long lasting patronage[xiii].

Denzu-in is still a major temple with strong connections to the Tokugawa.

Denzu-in is still a major temple with strong connections to the Tokugawa.

It was at this event on sacred Tokugawa land that roughly 250 masterless samurai were chosen to be the 14th shōgun’s vanguard. Since the time of the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu, no shōgun had left Edo to meet the imperial court. Most of the rōnin probably saw this as a once in a life time chance. They just wanted a patron and a decent income and saw this as a chance to improve their lives. Some were just xenophobic. Some were just hungry. Let’s remember “Union of Court and Camp” and “Revere the Emperor and Expel the Barbarians” had a lot of overlapping points. It’s under these conditions that this group of mismatched rōnin set out from the Tokugawa funerary temple Denzū-in to the imperial city of Kyōto.

The grave of Ieyasu's mother.

The grave of Ieyasu’s mother (circa 2010)

SIRI Says It Only Takes 4 Days to Walk From Tōkyō to Kyōto

It took the rowdy band of rōnin about 15 days to make the trek from the shōgun’s capital. I just asked SIRI how long it would take to walk from Denzū-in to 壬生村 Mibu Mura Mibu Village (their final destination) and she said 3-4 days depending on the route. Granted, 4 days of straight walking with no sleep would have been pretty hard core in a world that didn’t have Jordans™, so let’s have an understanding that 4 days would become 8 days if we account for sleeping. Crossing rivers by ferry may have taken a day for 235 or so men and their equipment. If the group got too rowdy, a few days of drinking and whoring here and there would have added another day or two to the march. And finally, they were walking on highways made of individual stones – not smooth pavement. Even if an 8 day high speed walk from Tōkyō to Kyōto  sounds like fun to you (and it might actually be a lot of fun), you would be making a trek that is so much better than what these men undertook. In short, this was a hard trip to take.

The Tokaido Highway was the fastest.

The Tokaido Highway was the fastest.

The Nakasendo Highway was the longest route, but there were sub-highways that linked these routes. I don't know the Roshigumi's exact route and it's not really important for our story.

The Nakasendo Highway was the longest route, but there were sub-highways that linked these routes. I don’t know the Roshigumi’s exact route and it’s not really important for our story.

Surprise, Muthafucka!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After 15 days of walking, the Rōshigumi finally arrived at Mibu Village. The men were allowed to rest for the night. The next morning, Kiyokawa Hachirō made an announcement to all of the men who had coming all this way to support the shōgun. He gathered them all in a hall and announced that he had actually lied to them about their mission[xiv]. Hachirō announced that he wasn’t just a jōi supporter; he wanted to take down the shōgunate and replace it with the imperial court. To make things worse, he told the rōnin that he had submitted a petition with all of their names on it to the emperor pledging loyalty to the imperial court. Theoretically, this meant that any rōnin who didn’t follow Hachirō could be branded an imperial traitor. But as it turned out, Emperor Kōmei wasn’t having any of this and rejected the petition outright[xv]. Hachirō and his band of rōnin found themselves in an awkward position. He openly declared his opposition to the shōgunate and loyalty to the emperor, but the emperor was like, “go fuck yourself, son.” Hachirō marched back to Edo looking like a duplicitous snake and began planning his next brilliant move: to burn down the entire city of 横浜 Yokohama because… foreigners[xvi].

wait what

Most of the rōnin were desperate dumbasses who bought into the whole sonnō-jōi fad, so Hachirō returned to Edo with most of his retinue (all of this on the shōgunate’s dime). But 19 members of the group refused to return to Edo. This tiny faction would become the infamous 新撰組 Shinsengumi[xvii]. They had just enough “expel the barbarians” in their hearts, but their interpretation of “reverence” leaned towards the shōgunate and not towards “all out reverence for the emperor[xviii].” And as I said before, at this time the shōgunate and Emperor Kōmei were trying to unify the Kyōto imperial court and the Edo shōgunate court in order to quell internal violence – and ultimately avoid a civil war.

The offspring of the Roshigumi was the almost larger than life Shinsengumi. Since the meteoric rise of Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the end of the Sengoku Period, social mobility was severely curtailed. The Shinsengumi are awesome to follow because their 13 minutes of fame were epic. The leaders came from humble beginnings and eventually earned incomes that made them financial equals with lesser daimyō. Their final 2 minutes of fame were also epic. They went down in a blaze of glory that burned so hot, their reputation barely recovered until the last 10-20 years or so when they became the poster child of the imaginary last war cry of the samurai.

The offspring of the Roshigumi was the almost larger than life Shinsengumi. Since the meteoric rise of Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the end of the Sengoku Period, social mobility was severely curtailed. The Shinsengumi are awesome to follow because their 13 minutes of fame were epic. The leaders came from humble beginnings and eventually earned incomes that made them financial equals with lesser daimyō. Their final 2 minutes of fame were also epic. They went down in a blaze of glory that burned so hot, their reputation barely recovered until the last 10-20 years or so when they became the poster child of the imaginary last war cry of the samurai.

Karma’s a Muthafucka, Yo.

Kiyokawa Hachirō’s duplicity cost him his life. In the spring of 1864, as he was crossing a bridge called 一之橋 Ichi no Hashi “the first bridge” in the 麻布十番 Azabu-Jūban area, Hachirō was intercepted by a group of 6 pro-shōgunate samurai. The leader of these samurai was a certain 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the Tokugawa named 佐々木只三郎 Sasaki Tadasaburō[xix]. They descended upon Hachirō and cut him down at a firebreak on next to the bridge. The exact spot had been commemorated at 一の橋親水公園 Ichi no Hashi Shinsui Kōen Ichinohashi Water Park until 2010. Sadly the park is a construction site until 2016 so you can’t visit today. That said, Sailor Moon fans (who probably don’t even read my blog), may recognize this park from said anime.

The old firebreak become a park next to a dirty river and a noisy elevated highway.

The old firebreak became a park next to a dirty river and a noisy elevated highway. But yes, this is where Sasaki Tadasburo finally ended the scourge upon intelligence that was named Kiyokawa Hachiro.

What really cracks me up is that, where Hachiro died is the place where young girls have big dreams of

What really cracks me up is that, where Hachiro died is the place where young girls have big dreams of “kawaii.”
As a privileged, self-absorbed samurai of his own day, I’m sure Hachiro would hate this spot.
No worries, mate. It’s been under construction for 4 years and looks like shit. And more people know who Sailor Moon is than you because you were a douche.

Despite his demonization by the later Meiji Regime, Tadasaburō was well within his rights to kill Hachirō – arguably he was duty-bound to do so. The oddest quirk of the story seems to be that Kiyokawa Hachirō was killed at Ichi no Hashi – literally a 3 minute walk from 中之橋 Naka no Hashi, the spot where Hachirō and his sonnō-jōi Torao group had murdered Henry Heusken in 1861. How is that for justice?

Pretty fucking poetic if you ask me.

Henry Heusken is a guy who explored the world and learned languages in a time when there was no radio, tv, or internet. He was a civilian who was murdered by that.  Kiyokawa Hachiro might have changed his life around had he lived longer. But he played the douche card from the beginning and it's a surprise he lived as long as he did.

Henry Heusken is a guy who explored the world and learned languages in a time when there was no radio, tv, or internet. He took a risk coming to Japan but was apparently fascinated by the Japanese people. He strikes me as a guy who would ask an attacker to enjoy a few drinks in the Yoshiwara and talk about their grievances before fighting. He was a civilian who was interested in people and communication and he was murdered for that.
Kiyokawa Hachiro might have changed his life around had he lived longer. But he played the douche card from the beginning and it’s a surprise he lived as long as he did.

Heusken Became a Martyr, Hachirō Remains a Douche

So, the details of the Henry Heusken’s assassination in 1861 are fairly well recorded. He apparently lay slowly dying in the street for an hour while passersby were like “whoa, look at this dying white guy” and did nothing to help him. Heusken’s assassination attracted international attention. The Americans, the Dutch, the Germans, and indeed, a few Japanese were completely outraged by his slaughter. Kiyokawa Hachirō, on the other hand, had become a kind of persona non grata among both sides. Both the shōgunate and the sitting emperor[xx] saw him as a treacherous douchebag. As such, he pretty much slipped into obscurity[xxi].

Why don't we have more pictures of Hachiro? Because no one respects him. Even Sailor Moon couldn't save his reputation for being an  asshole.

Why don’t we have more pictures of Hachiro?
Because no one respects him.
Even Sailor Moon couldn’t save his reputation for being an asshole.

So Where Is Kiyokawa Hachirō’s Grave?

This has been a mystery since the Meiji Period and 4 temples make the dubious claim that they have his grave[xxii]: 正念寺 Shōnen-ji in Azabu, 長玄寺 Chōgen-ji in Azabu, 吸江寺 Kyūkō-ji in Shibuya (but near Azabu), and 伝通院 Denzū-in in Koishikawa.

But let’s look at the assassination account. In April of 1864, Kiyokawa Hachirō was walking across the 古川 Furukawa Furukawa River in Azabu-Jūban. He crossed Ichi no Hashi “the first bridge” walking towards Naka no Hashi “the middle bridge” and 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi “the red wing bridge.[xxiii]” He was killed at the firebreak on the left side of the bridge. Allegedly, one of his supporters came back for the head and left the lifeless decapitated body in the street.

The assassination happened across the street from the palatial estate of 柳沢家 Yanagisawa-ke Yanagisawa family[xxiv]. Daimyō residing in Edo were required to clean up and bury the bodies of people who did 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide, murder victims, and homeless who died near their estates. As a result, the responsibility of cleaning up the mess fell upon the servants of the Yanagisawa[xxv]. According to tradition, the Yanagisawa took the headless corpse to their nearby family temple, Shōnen-ji, where it was buried in a 無縁塚 muen-zuka a grave for people who have no relatives to attend and maintain their graves. Most likely, the Yanagisawa were upholding their legal responsibility while trying to obscure the fact there was an anti-shōgunate traitor buried in their family cemetery. Essentially, they dumped him in an unmarked grave and kept their mouths shut about it.

This is a typical muen-zuka. I took this picture at Zendō-ji in Gunma. You've probably seen similar sights at really old temples with a lot of land.  BTW, if you click this picture, it will take you to my Flickr page. If you're interested in my photography, please check it out.

This is a typical muen-zuka. I took this picture at Zendō-ji in Gunma. You’ve probably seen similar sights at really old temples with a lot of land.
BTW, if you click this picture, it will take you to my Flickr page. If you’re interested in my photography, please check it out.

So What Happened to the Head?

The standard narrative says that a certain 石坂周造 Ishizaka Shūzō cut off Hachirō’s head and took it to the residence of 山岡鐵太郎[xxvi] Yamaoka Tetsutarō, a friend of Hachirō’s. They preserved the head in sugar. Then Tetsutarō put the head in a sack and ran with it to 伝通院 Denzū-in in 小石川 Koishikawa for emergency burial.

Wait? Did you just say Denzū-in?

If you thinking I’m repeating myself, you’re not crazy.

Is this the temple named after the first shōgun’s mother? Was this some kind of irony? Was it some twisted insult on the part of anti-shōgunate terrorists? Was this a kind of Edo Period “your mom” joke?


Yamaoka Tetsutarō the Pickle Delivery Guy.

Yamaoka Tetsutarō the Pickle Delivery Guy.

There Was a Deeper Treachery Afoot

Why was Hachirō’s head brought to a Tokugawa funerary temple? Well, it appears the chief priest of an affiliated temple called 処静院 Shojō-in, a certain 琳瑞 Rinzui, was the reason. He idolized 徳川斉昭 Tokugawa Nariaki the batshit crazy[xxvii] lord of 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain.  He was also a supporter of 尊皇憂国 sonnō yūkoku “imperial reverence and patriotism” and 尊皇攘夷 sonnō jōi “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians” – 2 decidedly anti-shōgunate philosophies. He allowed Hachirō to use Denzū-in as the meeting place to begin the Rōshigumi’s long march to Kyōto. Despite having close connections with the Tokugawa, he allowed and encouraged 水戸学 Mito Gaku Mito Learning to spread – the idea that the shōgun was subordinate to the emperor. Rinzui flew under the radar for a pretty long time.

But eventually Rinzui paid for his double dealings with his life. Once the connection between the monk and other sonnō jōi terrorists was understood, pro-shōgunate samurai assassinated him in 1867. The shōgunate then abolished his temple, Shojō-in, forever.

A couple signs a stone monument here and there is all that remains of Shojo-in.

A couple signs a stone monument here and there is all that remains of Shojō-in.

The End of Shōnen-ji

(Not to be confused with the aforementioned Shojō-in)

The Yanagizawa funerary temple, Shōnen-ji, had existed since 1752. But after the Meiji Coup, most daimyō families left Edo (now called Tōkyō) and returned to their old fiefs. Naturally, many of them lost connections with their funerary temples in the city. Many temples formerly associated with the daimyō clans became derelict. Shōnen-ji met its end in 1894 (Meiji 27) when it was overtaken by nearby 長玄寺 Chōgen-ji. The temple grounds were to be sold off, the buildings razed, and the graves and temple records would have to be moved. The temple grounds were purchased by the Police Department of Tōkyō City to build a police station. The police department paid for the demolition and moving costs. Nothing was said in city council records about specific graves or the muen-zuka. It’s at this point that the grave of Hachirō’s headless body faded into oblivion.

Incidentally, the remains of Shōnen-ji and the subsequent police station, are now the now the 元麻布三丁目緑地 Moto-Azabu 3-chōme Ryokuchi The Old Azabu 3-chōme Green Space, sometimes called the ビオトープ biotōpu biotope, a small natural habitat for plant and animal life.

I don't even know if this space still exists. If it does, it's not much to look judging by this picture.  But this is the remaining

I don’t even know if this space still exists. If it does, it’s not much to look judging by this picture.
But this is the remaining “green area.”

Anyhoo, 1912 (Meiji 45[xxviii]) was the 50th anniversary year of Kiyokawa Hachirō’s death and for some bizarre reason some people got it in their minds that the duplicitous d-bag deserved to honored. At 伝法院 Denbō-in Denbō Temple in 浅草 Asakusa, they posthumously[xxix] conferred upon Hachirō the imperial court rank of 正四位 shōshi’i (senior 4th rank)[xxx]. In attendance was an old man named 柴田吉五郎 Shibata Kichigorō who claimed to have witnessed Hachirō’s execution when he was 11 years old. If his story is true, he was the sole witness of the assassination – or at the least the longest living person with any firsthand knowledge of the incident.

Kichigorō said that as Hachirō crossed Ichi no Hashi, 6 samurai appeared as if they had been waiting for him. They greeted him in a friendly manner with 「清河先生! 」 “Kiyokawa Sensei!” But as soon as he acknowledged them, the 6 samurai descended upon him and violently cut him down. The assassins then fled the scene disappearing as quickly as they had appeared. At the time, the boy didn’t know who the victim was. It was only a month or two later that he heard that the victim was somewhat well-known guy and learned his full name.

Sure, this sounds like any Edo Period assassination, but what Kichigōrō said next blew the lid off of the whole story of Hachirō’s death. He said that Hachirō hadn’t been decapitated and that the body was completely intact when servants of the Yanagisawa clan cleaned up the mess on the street. The whole body was then interred by the Yanagisawa at Shōnen-ji.

Believe it or not. This is an actual photograph of the attack.

Believe it or not.
This is an actual photograph of the attack.

An Old Man’s Memories of a Childhood Event

Is this information even worthwhile? After all, it’s well known that the witnesses of a crime may have wildly varying stories in court. Human memory is an imperfect thing. If you asked me what grade I was in or what I liked at age 11, I wouldn’t be able to tell you without Googling some things first. So, yeah, we have to take Kichigōrō’s statements with a grain of salt. But that said, he lived his whole life in 宮村町 Miyamura-chō Miyamura Town in the Azabu area. As a townsman of Miyamura, he was active in the local community. In particular, he was active at Chōgen-ji.

Chogen-ji today is pretty much just a cemetery. But I plan to follow up on this story on my Flicker account.

Chogen-ji today is pretty much just a cemetery.

So Get This.

Back in 1893 (Meiji 26), Chōgen-ji’s take takeover of Shōnen-ji began. The person put in charge of transfer of the temple archives and graves was Shibata Kichigorō[xxxi]. He was involved in many aspects of the merger. His biggest task was processing the remains of about 30,000 ashen and skeletal remains with no families to care for them. Chōgen-ji didn’t have space for all the unclaimed graves, so Kichigorō also was charged with transporting them to Kyūkō-ji in modern Shibuya Ward to a new muen-zuka. Among the remains, Kichigorō’s team discovered a 甕 kame earthenware funerary urn with the name Kiyokawa Hachirō written on it. The remains had been cremated, so it’s not known if they had found headless or “headful” remains.

The same year, a relative of Hachirō’s named 斉藤治兵衛 Saitō Jihei[xxxii], heard about the discovery and went to Kyūkō-j. Since his family had been maintaining the grave of Hachirō’s head at Denzū-in, he asked them to exhume Hachirō’s urn and remove it from the unmarked grave at Kyūkō-ji so he could bury it under the grave stone marking the supposed burial spot of his head at Denzū-in.

The burn remains were most likely interred in a jar not unlike this.

The burn remains were most likely interred in a jar not unlike this.

So What Really Happened to Kiyokawa Hachirō’s Head and Trunk?

Well, we don’t know. As I said, the Yanagisawa clan cremated the body and put it in a mass burial. They probably wanted nothing to do with him but were just fulfilling their obligation in the eyes of the law. They probably also didn’t want anti-shōgunate rōnin coming to their family temple to honor a guy who was clearly a dick. Silently burying him where only the monks attended the grave was probably a good move. Whether they buried a corpse with or without a head can’t be said, but it doesn’t really matter because the “alleged head grave” at Denzū-in was marked and was considered the “official grave.”

The grave of the headless body was soon lost to the sands of time until Shibata Kichigōrō told his side of the story. And when the cremated remains where interred at the “official” marked grave at Denzū-in, it seems like nobody bothered to check for a pickled head – or if they did, no one wrote it down for us.

The only picture I can find of Saitō Jihei - the only relative to take responsibility for Hachirō's grave and body.

The only picture I can find of Saitō Jihei – the only relative to take responsibility for Hachirō’s grave and body.

To be honest, Kiyokawa Hachirō has never been at the top of anyone’s “cool samurai” list. I’ve met a lot of Bakumatsu fans and it’s usually the same names that come up. But if anyone says, “I love Hachirō,” then I’ll be a monkey’s uncle[xxxiii]. By that I mean, pretty much nobody gave a shit where his grave was except for a few relatives. If Shibata Kichigōrō hadn’t said anything to the right people or had died before 1912, this wouldn’t even be worth writing about.

But there is one closing thought I’d like to share with you before signing off. The Japanese enshrine their dead. The short explanation of this is simple: you don’t even need a body for a grave in the Japanese tradition. This is also why there are multiple graves for hundreds[xxxiv] of individuals throughout the centuries.

This is Yasukuni Shrine. It is a product of the Meiji Coup. It's a product of Mito Learning. It's a product of Japan's coming to terms with an international world as it dragged itself kicking and screaming into a new world.  It's also creepy as all hell.

This is Yasukuni Shrine. It is a product of the Meiji Coup. It’s a product of Mito Learning. It’s a product of Japan’s coming to terms with an international world as it dragged itself kicking and screaming into a new world.

What does that mean to you?,

Well, you just wasted your time reading about the location of the missing grave of some douchebag samurai that nobody cares about only to find out that in the eyes of the Japanese; the exact location of the body is a complete non-issue. But don’t feel too bad. I’m the asshole who actually researched all this pointless crap.

Thanks Kiyokawa Hachirō. You truly are the douche who keeps on giving.

Even from beyond the grave.

Follow Up:
I visited Denzū-in and shot some video!



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[i] French joke much?
[ii] You can read more about the Bakumatsu here. Even though this link looks like a weak Wiki, it’s not. Follow up on the links they recommend.
[iii] In Japan, the term sonnō-jōi originally referred to revering the Tokugawa and expelling the Christians.
[iv] And was most likely being manipulated by anti-shōgunate courtiers.
[v] The title shōgun is actually short for 征夷大将軍 sei’i tai-shōgun “great general who subdues the barbarians.” The title is one of those little ironies of history that fucked over the shōgunate in the end. The original name was created in a different world and there was no realistic way Japan could expel these “barbarians.”
[vi] Tetsutarō seems to have been his nickname; most sources refer to him by the name 鉄舟 Tesshū. While Kiyokawa and Yamaoka may have shared the jōi (expel the barbarians) component of sonnō-jōi, Yamaoka apparently leaned more towards the shōgunate. He was on good terms with 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū and actually supported the last shōgun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu, in a military capacity. Yamaoka lived through these turbulent years only to die of cancer in 1888 (Meiji 21).
[vii] This term is regularly translated as “legation” in most English publications because that term gives some nuance to how tenuous the positions of the embassies actually were at the time. But in light of the ambassadorial continuum that has existed in Japan since that time, I’m comfortable translating this word as embassy. The usual modern Japanese word is 大使館 taishikan.
[viii] It’s often translated as “union of court and camp” because 幕府 bakufu shōgunate literally means “the shōgun’s battlefield encampment.
[ix] Ironically, the temple is where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mother is buried. The temple’s name is actually her Buddhist name.
[x] This is very near the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain. Long time readers will recognize Mito as one of the undisputed sources of the sonnō (imperial reverence) component of the sonnō-jōi movement.
[xi] The shōguns were buried here.
[xii] Before that she was known by her court title of 於大の方 Odai-no-kata. After their husbands died, it was common for women to “retire” to the priesthood – something that became a codified fact of life for women in the 大奥 Ōoku women’s quarters of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle under the Tokugawa.
[xiii] I hope warning lights are flashing in your mind.
[xiv] Suck on that, bushidō. Here’s the first episode of a 2 or 3 part series on how bushidō is bullshitto from the Samurai Archives Podcast.
[xv] Emperor Kōmei supported the shōgunate and the concept of “union of court and camp.”
[xvi] The largest foreigner settlement in Eastern Japan was in Yokohama at the time.
[xvii] The 19 members were made of 2 factions, the 芹沢派 Serizawa-ha Serizawa faction and the 近藤派 Kondō-ha Kondō faction. Read more about the Shinsengumi here.
[xviii] Revering the shōgun could be interpreted as revering the emperor because one mode of thought stated that the shōgun was granted his authority by the emperor.
[xix] Long time readers of JapanThis! should know this name well by now. Later in the decade he would have close ties with the Shinsengumi. Although it has never been proven, he is the most likely suspect in the assassination of 坂本龍馬 Sakamoto Ryōma. Furthermore, if he was the assassin of Sakamoto Ryōma, he might have been a bigger douche than Kiyokawa Hachirō. That would mean that – and most likely does mean – that Tadasaburō sold the Shinsengumi down the river. To make the indictment worse, it meant that Kondō Isami was dishonorably executed for the assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma. All of this is somewhat questionable, but basically, he was a shady dude.
[xx] Please note I said “sitting emperor” and not “imperial court.” To be sure, there were members of the court who would have loved to see Hachirō
[xxi] And to be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for the meteoric rise of the Shinsengumi, he would be one of the more obscure agents of the Bakumatsu; simply the murderer of Henry Heusken.
[xxii] A major distinction between Christianity and Buddhism and Shintō is that the Abrahamic religions require for a grave. Buddhism and Shintō don’t require a body. Enshrinement will suffice every time. So if a places claims to have a grave of someone, if it was formally enshrined, they have a legitimate claim to a grave. Today, I just want to talk about the body.
[xxiii] Read the real story of Akabanebashi here.
[xxiv] Long time readers will recognize this as the estate of 松平時之助 Matsudaira Tokinosuke, the jerk who built 六義園 Rikugien (an amazing garden) and ruined the 喜多見氏 Kitami clan (originally the Edo clan). You can read his story at the end of this article.
[xxv] This was an actual law; if a person died or was killed in front of a samurai’s residence, they had to clean up the mess and make sure that proper funerary rites were carried out.
[xxvi] Also known as 山岡鉄舟 Yamaoka Tesshū. Tesshū is a bit of a complicated guy. He was asked to lead the Rōshigumi with Hachirō. Tesshū was a progressive guy, but he clearly knew about Hachirō’s intention to change the mission of the Rōshigumi. However, it seems that by the time he was told or figured it out, it was too late for him to stop the madness. He later served the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, and accompanied him to Shizuoka when he retired.
[xxvii] He’s a good article on Nariaki by Rekishi no Tabi.
[xxviii] This event happened in the last year of Meiji. From July 1812, the year was known as Taishō 1.
[xxix] Well, duh. Obviously it was posthumous.
[xxx] Don’t ask me about court rank. I don’t know much about it at all because it’s boring.
[xxxi] I don’t know whether this was a coincidence or whether he asked for the appointed, perhaps feeling some personal connection to Hachirō as a result of witnessing his death.
[xxxii] I don’t know the connection.
[xxxiii] A very clean shaven monkey’s uncle, but a monkey’s uncle nonetheless.
[xxxiv] Thousands? Could be, I’m not actually counting. That’s just a stupid number I threw out there to illustrate a point.

Book Review – Samurai Revolution

In Japan Book Reviews, Japanese History on November 4, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Samurai Revolution
Romulus Hillsborough




Before we go back to some place names, I’ve been asked to review a book. The book is called Samurai Revolution[i] and is written by Romulus Hillsborough. I’ve read most of Romulus’ books in the past[ii], which are all of an easily digestible size. Except for his book on Sakamoto Ryōma, you could read most of them before bed over the course of 2-3 nights. So when I got my copy of Samurai Revolution, I was shocked. I actually had no idea that this book is – to date – his magnum opus clocking in at 593 pages, but if you count the appendix, glossary, index, bibliography and other resources it actually has nearly 610 pages of text. Needless to say, it’s taken me a long time to read the book, so apologies for the being late with this article.



My New Way to Review Books

In the past, I’ve recommended Japanese history books. Those books haven’t been anywhere near 600 pages.  I tossed them out there as books accessible to a broad range of readers. Except for one book[iii], to date I don’t think I’ve recommended any scholarly or overly demanding books.  But over the years, JapanThis! has evolved and changed and so… here were are. I’m going to try a new type of article where I review (not recommend) a book about Japan or Japanese History. So bear with me as I figure this out how I want to do this. The 593 page load was really time-consuming, so this first in-depth review might be a mess. If that’s the case, I apologize in advance, and that is no fault of the book of itself.

That said, I’ve created this new system for reviewing books as opposed to recommending. I’ve laid out my system here. The link will always be at the top of the page in web view (as opposed to mobile view).


Quick Review

  What I expected What I got
Overall Impression A breezy stroll through Katsu Kaishū’s version of the Bakumatsu[iv] supported by accounts of the major players of the Meiji Coup. In English, this is the best diachronic breakdown of the Bakumatsu I’ve read[v]. It’s accessible. There is unprecedented access to quotes and translations of Japanese source material that has never been available (or easily accessible) in English.
Type of Book A collection of anecdotes from Katsu Kaishū’s memoirs, most likely in chronological order. A comprehensive narrative of the Bakumatsu with citations. While Katsu Kaishū’s memoirs, interviews, and biographies take center stage, they are by no means the whole of the book.
Readability I expected a good narrative. Say what you will about him, but Hillsborough is a good storyteller. Quite readable, actually! Hillsborough can tell a story. Even in such a confusing time, the man has an eye for detail and has come into his own as a writer, in my opinion.
Bias I expected the Tokugawa to be the bad guys, Katsu Kaishū and Sakamoto Ryōma to be the only people who understand anything, and Satsuma, Chōshū, and Tosa to be the superstars of the greatest thing in the world, the Meiji Coup. The book is fairly free of bias. From time to time there is some pro-Meiji rhetoric and a venture or two into historical fictionland, but in the grand scheme of things, it ain’t bad at all. (that’s OK, my stupid blog is all about pro-shōgunate rhetoric, lol).
Audience Fans of the Bakumatsu looking for Katsu Kaishū’s point of view (generally not available in English), Sakamoto Ryōma lovers, and Saigō Takamori lovers. Hard to say. The book presents a lot of general information as if the reader has no idea about these events and concepts, yet plows forward in a style which is nearly academic. I’m not sure who this book was written for… perhaps for people who have dissed his books in the past.




Overall Review

In short, I’m pleased with this book. I would recommend this to every reader of JapanThis! who is interested in the Bakumatsu. I never get tired of going over the events of this period, but this book presents a lot of information that hasn’t been available in English (or hasn’t been easily accessible in English). As such, Hillsborough has put together something special. He can tell a story. He went to great primary and secondary sources. I’m assuming this book is aimed at intermediate lovers of the Bakumatsu, but the language is often confused between beginners and advanced[vii].
As the main focal point of this book, Romulus has chosen Katsu Kaishū. Fans of Japanese history are lucky to have Kaishū as source. Not only was he a major player during the transition from the so-called Pre-Modern Era to the Modern Era, he survived a social, economic, political, and cultural revolution and was on intimate terms with key players on both sides. Many involved were killed along the way.

He was born into a poor hatamoto[viii] family whose reputation was besmirched by his own father, Katsu Kokichi. Katsu Kaishū’s first exposure to the reality of his liege lords was when he was allowed to play in the inner sanctum of Edo Castle during the reign of the 11th shōgun, Tokugawa Ienari[ix]. He had a good head on his shoulders and when his inept, but hilarious father retired from family headship, Kaishū continued to apply himself diligently to get a post in the shōgunate. He applied himself much more than the previous 2 heads of the family but obviously learned how to be a bit of a rebel from them. But he eventually found himself at the center of the greatest cultural shift Japan had ever seen up to that point. He built up Japan’s first modern navy. He negotiated the surrender of Edo Castle (sparing the country’s most populous and beautiful city unnecessary destruction). He lived well into the Meiji Period with a wife, some children, and a culturally appropriate network of side pussy suitable to a man of his rank[x].



Want to read more of this review?
I have an extensive review here.
This review is almost 15 pages long…
So I’ve made a FREE download on Patreon.





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[i] Subtitle: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen through the Eyes of Shōgun’s Last Samurai. I presume this title is intentionally vague. Most Japanese nouns don’t differentiate between singular and plural. Many foreign loanwords in English retain the source language’s grammar. As such we could be talking about one samurai (in this case, Katsu Kaishū) or many samurai (all the other samurai who crop up in the book). At any rate, this is a savvy subtitle and it’s part of what piqued my curiosity in the book in the first place.
[ii] Possibly all of them, I just don’t have a list in front of me.
[iii] Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo, and the Culture of Early Modern Japan by Dr. Constantine Vaporis, which even as an academic text is accessible and enjoyable by anyone interested in the police of alternate attendance. Most people don’t want to go that deep, but if you really want to understand the evolution of Edo-Tōkyō and you really want to understand how this policy helped unify and boosted local economies while creating a truly national economy – all of which is alive and well today to a certain degree – this book is something you need. Clearly not for everyone, but I’m a big fan.
[iv] By the way, I’m a big fan of Katsu Kaishū, he was my gateway to the Bakumatsu. The dynamism of some people of this era, and the stubbornness of others, all united by the patriotism, often tainted by selfishness, is probably typical of every regime change we’ve seen. Except that Japan was literally dragged kicking and screaming into a so-called Modern Era that they didn’t choose. From the get go, few people recognized this as quickly as Katsu Kaishū.
[v] To be honest, in book form, this may be the only diachronic account of the Bakumatsu that I’ve read. I know there are other “definitive” books on the subject but I don’t think I’ve ever read them, to be honest.
[vi] About my “star system,” 4/5 is probably as good as it will get. I’m reserving 5/5 for something really mind-blowing. I dunno…, a picture book of Hijikata Toshizō’s girlfriends or something. Every book, every movie, every song has some room for criticism. Also, I have no half-stars because they don’t display correctly across platforms.
[vii] I’m guessing this is a by-product of the writing process. A lot of research has been put into this; different eras seem to have been written about at different times.
[viii] Hatamoto were direct retainers of the shōgun family in Edo. This doesn’t mean hatamoto were particularly rich because the status was inherited, but it did mean they had social rank. In theory, they might even be permitted to attend an audience with the shōgun.
[ix] #TeamIenari
[x] This is a holdover from the Edo Period. Many social changes occurred, but c’mon, it’s hard to give up your fuck buddies. Would you give up yours? And no, “side pussy” isn’t the official term. The official term is 側室 sokushitsu literally, “side room.” Until very recently, marriage in Japan was not a monogamous affair. While the concept of a bastard child existed in Europe and America, in Japan the need to sustain the direct male line demanded that you get as many sons as necessary to ensure smooth succession of the family leadership. It wasn’t cheating; it was a way to avoid familial extinction.

What does Ushigome-Yanagicho mean?

In Japan, Japanese History on September 27, 2013 at 6:28 am

Ushigome-Yanagichō (Crowd of Cows Willow Tree Town)

Some of Yanagicho's shitamachi vibe (low town)  still exists.

Some of Yanagicho’s shitamachi vibe (low town) still exists.

Will someone please stop the Ushigome insanity??? I wanna get off. I’m starting to feel dizzy.

牛込 ushigome a crowd of cows
柳町 yanagi-chō willow tree town

Every explanation seems to be “there used to be a bunch of willow trees here.”

Well… duh… yeah… that’s what the name means. Willow Tree Town all night long, baby.

Willow trees. Yanagi.

Willow trees.
Perhaps Yanagicho once looked like this in the greener, more river-y Edo Period.
(btw – this is not Yanagicho)

So, there are places called 柳町 yanagi machi or yanagi-chō all over Japan[i] because there are lots of willow trees in Japan. But generally, we can associate willow trees with riversides and low water-rich environs. This area fits that profile. So at one time, there may have been an abundance of willow trees.

This particular place name is a merging of a few elements.

Before the reshuffling of special wards in Tōkyō, the name of the town was 市谷柳町 Ichigaya Yanagichō[ii]. After the reshuffling[iii], parts of Ushigome Ward and Ichigaya Ward were merged into the newly created Shinjuku Ward. When a station was built here the station name became Ushigome Yanagi-chō.

Ushigome-yanagicho is just another train station. You might not even notice it.

Ushigome-yanagicho is just another train station. You might not even notice it.

A Little Bit About the Area

After the 明暦大火 Meireki Taika the Great Meireki Fire, many victims were relocated to this area. This area is located in the 下町 shitamachi the low town. In the Edo Period it was an area for commoners and merchants. It was also famous for candle shops. Woo-hoo.

While we have said that Ushigome is a traditionally 山手 yamanote high city area, there was a 下町 shitamachi low city element too. Yanagichō was that element.

Because it was shitamachi, the main intersection is located in a deep depression. By the 1970’s people started noticing that exhaust fumes from cars was supposedly getting trapped here. Residents were turning up with symptoms of lead poisoning and there was a brief media scare about a lead poisoning problem. The government banned trucks over a certain size and took a few other measures to reduce traffic in order to remedy the problem. Supposedly the area is cleaned up now. (I hope TEPCO wasn’t involved in this project or it’s probably worse…)

Yanagicho intersection in the 1970's.

Yanagicho intersection in the 1970’s.

Yanagicho intersection these days.

Yanagicho intersection these days.

The Shinsengumi Connection

A train geek stamp for the Oedo Line's Ushigome-Yanagichou Station.Note Kondo Isami on the left and the Shieikan marker in the middle.

A train geek stamp for the Oedo Line’s Ushigome-Yanagichou Station.
Note Kondo Isami on the left and the Shieikan marker in the middle.

But the area’s real claim to fame, in terms of Edo-Tōkyō History, is that Yanagichō is where 試衛館 the Shieikan was located. Bakumatsu and seppuku lovers alike will recognize this name as the dōjō of 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, leader of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi[iv] – some of the biggest bad asses of the final days of the Tokugawa shōgunate.

Today the dōjō is gone; it disappeared from the historical record[v] in 1867. This is no doubt due to the shame the Meiji Government tried to cast on the samurai who supported the shōgunate – in particular, the Shinsengumi – and especially Kondō Isami, who was essentially rounded up and tried in a kangaroo court of imperial loyalists to be disgraced and put down like a sick dog.


Recently some have suggested that the location where the historical marker is today may not be in the correct location.

Marker of the place where the Shieikan once stood.

Marker of the place where the Shieikan once stood.

If you go past the marker and down the hill, there is a small shrine.

If you go past the marker and down the hill, there is a small shrine.

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[i] If you don’t believe me, here’s a small list.
[ii] Let it be noted, I haven’t covered Ichigaya yet.
[iii] In short, old Ushigome Ward + old Ichigaya Yanagi Town → Ushigome-Yanagi Town.
[iv] The Shinsengumi were an elite force of swordsmen who were in charge of taking down any anti-shōgunate terrorists in Kyōto. They had an extraordinary will to power and an unsurpassed propensity to kill according to a certain book on the topic that just repeats those phrases until the reader wants to slit their own belly just to make it stop.
[v] At least the records that I have access to.

What does Yoyogi mean?

In Japanese History on June 26, 2013 at 1:57 am

Yoyogi (Generations Old Tree or Trees)

Yoyogi Station.

Yoyogi Station.
Don’t hold me to this, but I think the present Yoyogi Station wasn’t actually part of Yoyogi Village.


Once again, I want to throw out a million thanks to my readers. If none of you followed, commented, messaged or just generally showed up, I wouldn’t be able to continue. Y’all make this so much fun.

I was asked by a reader the other today to talk about Yoyogi. So I bumped it up in the pecking order. Hope this is a good one.

Hatsune Miku.

And for no particular reason, here’s Hatsune Miku.


The name 代々木村 Yoyogi Mura Yoyogi Village is attested in the writings of the Sengoku Period. But it’s not clear where that name came from. There’s a good chance the name is much older than the Edo Period. But without other records, we can’t say.

In the Edo Period, the area called Yoyogi was what is now more or less the Meiji Jingū and Harajuku Station area.


Let’s Look at the Kanji:


alternate: yoyo
an adverb meaning “for generations, for ages”
alternate: gi 



The simplest explanation seems to be the most believable to me. There were a lot of trees in the area for a long time – generations, if you will.

There are a few slight variations of this theory. The reason I put off doing this place name for so long[i] was because sorting thru all the details of etymologies that varied little except for a slightly different angle or a curious anecdote was too time consuming. Given the amount of time and effort I’ve put into JapanThis since that time, this topic seems much less daunting now[ii]. And in reality, it wasn’t difficult to research this one.

One theory states that 皀莢 saikachi honey locust trees were cultivated here[iii]. I like this theory best because it’s simple and plausible. It doesn’t try to hard.

This is a close up a honey locust tree.  You can see its bean pods. Legumes FTW... or something

This is a close up a honey locust tree.
You can see its bean pods.
Legumes FTW… or something


Another theory states specifically that on the Ii family’s lower residence, which made up part of Meiji Jingū and some of the hill at the high point of Harajuku, was covered in  樅 momi Japanese fir trees. This story has some cool anecdotes attached to it, but reeks of folk etymology.

a Japanese fir tree, It looks very firry. Good for it.

a Japanese fir tree,
It looks very firry.
Good for it.


It should be noted that today both types of trees exist in the area around Meiji Jingū, although after WWII, local trees from all over Japan were donated here during the rebuilding effort.
Also, the area that is now Meiji Jingū Gaien was the original site of the Ii clan’s palatial lower residence’s tea garden. To my knowledge, nothing remains of the site.




If you go to Meiji Jingū, near the garden’s east gate, there is a tree with a sign that says 代々木の大樅 Yoyogi no Ōmomi The Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi. The tree is no bigger or smaller than any of the other trees near it. But the story goes that once upon a time, there was a super tall Japanese fir tree that had stood here for generations. The current unimpressive tree is a replacement that stands on the site of the original Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi Village.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.
Note: it’s not a fir tree….


It was said that this 大樅 ōmomi great fir tree on the Ii family’s lower residence was so great, that mapmakers from the shōgunate would climb to the top of it to survey the city. Another anecdote states that the Ii family’s watchmen would keep an eye on the family’s upper residence which was located near the 桜田門 Sakuradamon Sakurada Gate[iv]. In fact, it was said that you could see all the way to Shiba and Edo Bay. Utagawa Hiroshige even painted a picture of the tree titled 代々木村ノ世々木 Yoyogi Mura no Yoyogi The Generations Old Tree of Yoyogi[v].

There was an imperial residence built on the site of the Ii family’s lower residence[vi]. The tree was preserved… or at least the location of the alleged tree. Eventually the land was incorporated into Meiji Jingū and, as I said, the old tree doesn’t exist anymore, but the new tree does and it has its own sign. So, good for it.




[i] When I started looking into place names, it was one of the first I wanted to write about.

[iii] 代々木 daidai ki, (alternatively, yoyo ki) “generations of trees” was basically shorthand for 代々皀莢ヲ生産  daidai/yoyo saikachi no ki wo seisa “cultivating honey locust trees for generations.”

[iv] I’m sure I’ve alluded to the Sakuradamon Incident (which sounds like a euphemism, it should be called “the Assassination of Ii Naosuke at Sakuradamon”). Many people consider this the opening of the Bakumatsu.

[v] The Yoyogi of Yoyogi. See what he did there? In the second “yoyogi” he used a variant for 代々 daidai/yoyo generations 世々 yoyo. I can’t find this picture on the internet, so if someone can help me find it, I’d really appreciate that!

[vi] Remember, the lower residences were much more palace like and rustic than their urban upper residences near the castle. When the Meiji Era urban sprawl began in earnest, the Harajuku area became a prime target for rich people and the elite imperial family who wanted to build their own estates in the area.


In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 17, 2013 at 5:05 am

 (Divine Prince of Shining Wisdom)
14th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Iemochi


I’ve been making jokes about all of the shōguns just because I like to have a good time with history. It’s hilarious to look back in time with a certain smarminess and condescension only granted by hindsight and the ridiculous technological supremacy of our age[i].

However, no one in Japan, least of not the shōgunate, thought these were hilarious times. There was not just the crisis of these “foreign menaces” demanding that Japan open up. There were insidious forces within Japan herself sensing blood and ready to go in for the kill to establish a new shōgunate. Most unexpectedly, the imperial court in Kyōto was starting to flex its muscles and trying to reassert its ancient power. Hell, those people didn’t even do anything. They just wrote poetry and blew smoke up each other’s overly cultured Kyōtoite asses. Blackened teeth, son. Where’d you think that fashion came from? Think about it.

Anyhoo, in the midst of this crisis, the 13th shōgun – inept, incapable, and quite possibly mentally retarded[ii] – Tokugawa Iesada died. I don’t blame the guy for dying, but the people who allowed someone that Ieyasu himself would have drowned in a river sealed the shōgunate’s fate.  As you can imagine, Iesada died without an heir… and every student of history knows that succession crises rarely end peacefully.

Did someone say "failed asian state?"

Did someone say “failed Asian state?”


Of course, the obvious choice for the next shōgun in this time of great crisis was a 12 year old boy named Yoshitomo.

A 12 fucking year old boy.

They married him to the emperor’s daughter in an attempt to unify the shōgunate and the imperial court because marrying a young boy from the shōgun’s family to one of the emperor’s daughters[iii] was the best way to quell the civil unrest of the time. The idea being that the imperial court and the shōgunate could rise up against the foreign menace under the banner of a 12 year old general.

Yeah… that’s the ticket!

So little Yoshitomo became shōgun at age 12 and donned the name Iemochi.

He died less than 10 years later. In his term as shōgun, a lot happened. The teenage Iemochi led a ridiculous military offensive against Chōshū domain at the request of the imperial court which resulted in a few executions and nothing more. The shōgunate and the bakuhan[iv] system had become so dysfunctional that 4 years into his reign the sankin-kōtai system was suspended (a de facto abolishment). The suspension of this system didn’t stop daimyō from coming to and from Edo to meet with shōgunate officials, but with our “smarmy hindsight” we can look back at this and say – without a doubt – shit was broken beyond repair.

But Wait!
Isn’t This Series About the Graves of the Shōguns?

Sorry for wasting 700 words on what shits Iesada and Iemochi were. Their utter inappropriateness on the government stage is just so frustrating to me. After the 8th shōgun, Yoshimune, we just got clowns and puppets[v]. Also, this is my favorite era of Japanese history so I tend to get long winded. Forgive me, please, because I don’t want to commit seppuku.

hara kiri

mea culpa. mea maxima culpa.


Primogeniture - not the best way to select a leader in a crisis.

Primogeniture – not the best way to select a leader in a crisis.

The other frustrating thing is that there was a perfectly qualified adult candidate for shōgun[vi].


Oh, I’m glad you asked. None other than the absolutely capable, exceptionally well-educated, creative yet patient, brought up in conditions that noble Spartans might appreciate – a veritable second Ieyasu; the one and only, Tokugawa Yoshinobu.

They made a 12 year old kid shōgun and they made him marry the kid daughter of the emperor[vii]. He died from eating too much white rice[viii]. And that’s history, folks.

They buried him in a 2-story pagoda style urn at Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji.

Oh, but get this. His stupid wife from the imperial family, Princess Kazunomiya, died of the same rich people disease[ix].

If you want to see either of their worthless graves, the Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery still seems to be open at Zōjō-ji.

Princess Kazunomiya.

Princess Kazunomiya.

A Final Note

Princess Kazunomiya died in the 10th year of the Meiji Era. The Shōgunate had fallen, but the Tokugawa Funerary Temples were still closely tied to the Tokugawa family. The family hadn’t been bankrupted yet[x]. The story goes that Kazunomiya wanted to be buried at Zōjō-ji with her husband. Take this request with a grain of salt. A woman of her day was chattel. She was a chess piece in a failed political game. As such, her choices were probably (1) get a shit grave back in Kyōto, or (2) get a grave fitting of the wife of a shōgun in Edo (now called Tōkyō). I don’t blame her. If you come to Japan to look at graves, you probably can’t see any of the emperors during the Edo Period. You probably wouldn’t want to either. The shōgunate had the monopoly on bad ass graves. Kazunomiya chose well[xi]. Her grave is still preserved at Zōjō-ji today.

Princess Kazunomiya and Shogun Iesada's 2-story pagoda style urns as they are today at Zojo-ji.

Princess Kazunomiya and Shogun Iesada’s 2-story pagoda style urns as they are today at Zojo-ji.

Princess Kazunomiya's Urn  at Zojo-ji.

Princess Kazunomiya’s Urn at Zojo-ji.

I feel like I’ve babbled a lot and run way off course on these last few entries about the Tokugawa Funerary Temples, but that’s OK. It was a time where everything was running off in all sorts of directions.

Tomorrow, the shōgunate will end. And the last shōgun’s grave will be something to really talk about.



[i] Don’t worry, I’m humble. I know that in a mere 50-100 years my generation (the last to grow up before the internet) is going to look like a bunch of australopithecines using sharpened bones and antlers digging holes to dump stillborn babies in – not so much out of respect as a need to keep predators from smelling the cadaver and hunting our asses down for dinner.

[ii] No matter what his actual condition, at least he looks competent in his portrait. Take another look at Iemochi. WTF, right?

[iii] Who, quite frankly, sounds like a complete bitch.

[iv] Westerners tend to describe Japanese system as “feudal,” but I prefer the term “bakuhan.” It describes the relationship between the shōgunate bakufu and the domains han).

[v] And not to hate on a kid, but maybe we could say that Yoshimune’s predecessor, the 6 fucking year old Ietsugu, was the beginning of the end. Once you start installing kids as heads of state, you know things are probably going to go downhill.

[vi] Actually, there were two.

[vii] Who, did I mention, sounds like a complete bitch.

[viii] 18th century Asian nobility problems

[ix] 18th century Asian nobility problems

[x] And the major branches never were to be completely bankrupted. Most were offered new aristocratic ranks in the Meiji government.

[xi] Also there’s good reason to believe that in her widowhood, she was banging Katsu Kaishū, a hatamoto of the Tokugawa. I don’t slut shame her for this. I love Katsu Kaishū and whatever makes a person happy is good enough for me. But the imperial court of the time definitely would have looked down on her for anything she did after marrying into the shōgunal family. So whether she was a bitch or not, I feel kinda sad for her. But not too much… fuck aristocrats.


In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 14, 2013 at 4:49 am

 (Divine Prince of Warm Respect)
13th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Iesada

Tokugawa Iesada. He was the wrong guy for the job at the most critical time.

Tokugawa Iesada. He was the wrong guy for the job at the most critical time. These days, his wife is more famous than he was.

I have a little confession to make. I’ve been treating the 院号 ingō “-in names” as translatable words, but in fact, they aren’t. Just like if your name is Peter, it would be impossible to translate the meaning into another language. There might be a history of the name in your family or you might be named after another person or someone might know the Biblical allusion of the word. Someone might even know that the root of the word is the Greek word for “stone.”

Names are complicated things. Posthumous names are basically foreign names to the Japanese. They look like magical words and religious words. They have a recognizable form (ie; the kanji are familiar). If you understand the kanji, you can get a feeling from the ideography, but that’s about it.

In each installment of this series, I’ve been translating these in the headings of each article. Some translate well. Some don’t. But remember, no Japanese ever looked at those names as a sentence or phrase. But there may be a meaning. Your grandfather was John, so you’re a John, too. Your mom loves tacos, so you’re Jesus. Your parents thought Death Note was the coolest story ever, so now you’re forever known as Light.

The difference is here: Your parents chose a name before you were born. When they chose the name, they didn’t know shit about the you that’s reading this blog. But the imperial courtiers or Buddhist monks who chose the posthumous names of shōguns usually chose these names based on the characteristics of their rule[i].

Then we get to Iesada. Like many of the final shōguns, he fell into the historically unenviable position of being an out of touch, spoiled aristocrat in the midst of a cultural revolution he couldn’t possibly recognize. And so we get this bizarre funerary name. One can’t help wonder if it was a joke or an honest to Buddha posthumous name. I get the feeling, the imperial court who granted the name were taking the piss. Iesada welcomed the foreigners into the country as if he/Japan were a hot bath.

Or who knows? Maybe they were being sincere and thought Iesada welcomed Buddist enlightenment into his heart warmly…

Commodore Perry asked a lot of the Japan.

Commodore Perry asked a lot of the Japan.
But from the foreign point of view it wasn’t so much.
A decent port for trade helps everyone, right?

Either way, the imperial court in Kyoto was now headed by the Emperor Kōmei, who was rabidly xenophobic and was basically begging the shōgun to expel the foreigners from Japan. After all, that’s the job of the shōgun – at least etymologically speaking[ii].

Doesn’t matter anyways… Iesada was only shōgun for 5 years. He died at the age of 34 without an heir. His shōgunate had been overseen by the fully capable and somewhat forward thinking Ii Naosuke who understood well that Japan had fallen behind other countries technologically and couldn’t exist in a vacuum. Naosuke was a brilliant man who oversaw Iesada’s reign until he was famously attacked and murdered in front of Edo Castle in 1860[iii].

Wait a minute!

You just said Iesada was 34 when he died.

Why was there a regent when we have a shōgun in his early 30’s?

check out the confidence of this guy. He's all like, bitch, i AM the shogun! -- my man, Ii Naosuke

Check out the confidence of this guy. He’s all like, bitch, i AM the shogun!
— my man, Ii Naosuke

There are loads of book you can read about the succession disputes of the late shōgunate, but in Iesada’s case it all comes down to the fact that despite being the worst candidate for shōgun, he was made shōgun[iv].  He was most likely mentally retarded or so incapable of doing the job[v] that another daimyō[vi] had to step in steer the ship in the right direction.

His last wife was an arranged marriage to Princess Atsu.

Apparently she was his mental superior many times over and she lived well into the Meiji Era raising the 16th head of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family. There’s an NHK Taiga Drama about her, called Atsu-hime.


Iesada's Grave at Kan'ei-ji. Hist wife, Atsu-hime's grave is more popular! (But you'll probably never see either....

Iesada’s Grave at Kan’ei-ji. Hist wife, Atsu-hime’s grave is more popular! (But you’ll probably never see either….)

a worthless picture of a worthless shogun...

a worthless picture of a worthless shogun…

Years apart, they were both interred 合祀 gōshistyle at 常憲院  Eikyūin, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s funerary complex. Iesada died in 1858. Atsu-hime dies in 1883. Iesada didn’t have a clue what the fuck was going on. Atsu-hime witnessed, the fall of the shōgunate, the Boshin War, the surrender of Edo Castle to the Emperor, Edo changing to Tōkyō, and that weird e-mail your mom drunk texted last night.

If you want to read about Eikyūin, please read here.







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[i] In an autocratic society, take that with a grain few spoonfuls of salt.

[ii] 将軍 shōgun shōgun is short for 征夷大将軍 sei-i tai-shōgun, lead general against the foreign barbarians. It was a title that was hard to take seriously when the invading forces were technologically superior, more international and in many ways considered the shōgunate mediaeval and, quite frankly “barbaric.” Up until now, it had been good to be the shōgun. Now it sucked to be the shōgun.

[iii] The other day, I said the beginning of the Bakumatsu was the arrival of the Black Ships in 1853. Other historians say it began with the assassination of Ii Naosuke. The assumption is that had Naosuke not been murdered and had Tokugawa Yoshinobu been selected as the next shōgun, Japan would have been strong enough to deal with the foreign issue on Edo’s terms with the support of the domains.

[iv] Cadet branches of the Tokugawa were vying for power….

[v] Imagine if a Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann or a George Bush had been elected office… oh, wait a minute….

[vi] ie; Ii Naosuke.


In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 13, 2013 at 4:59 am

Shintokuin  (Divine Prince of Humility & Virtue)
12th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Ieyoshi

Tokugaa Ieyoshi

He looks like a clown in this picture,
but archaeological research in the 1950’s
confirmed that the dude had a massive forehead.

The 12th shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyoshi, was another one of those boring late Edo Period shōguns. Dude had the pedigree. Dude had the name. Dude had 15 concubines. He would have gone down in history as a dude born at the right time and right place, though totally unworthy of holding the reins of government. He was shōgun from 1837 to 1853. From 1837 to July, 1853 his reign can be described as business as usual. But by the end of that fateful month, he would be dead.

Through no doing of his own, an event happened that threatened to plunge Japan into chaos for centuries or perhaps result in Japan’s subjugation by the same foreign influences that turned “Asia’s Rome[i]” upside down and brought her to her knees.

On July 8th, 1853 an American naval fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry rolled in to Uraga Bay and demanded that Japan “open up” to trade.

How the Japanese media perceived the "Black Ship Threat"

How the Japanese media perceived the “Black Ship Threat”

Ieyoshi was 60 at the time, ie; he was a fucking living fossil[ii]. And summer in Kantō is hot and ridiculously humid. It’s said that he collapsed from the heat and died.

The Americans returned in spring of the next year (1854) to sign a “treaty” and set up a delegation on foreign soil (predecessor to the American Embassy). But Townsend Harris, first American Ambassador to Japan (1856-1861) who witnessed first-hand the unprecedented xenophobia and violence that marked the beginning of the bakumatsu had supposedly heard rumors that the geriatric shōgun had been cut to death or poisoned by factions within Edo Castle that felt he was unprepared to deal with the “problem of the foreigners.”

Both stories are plausible, the first being a cover up of the latter. The latter being a possible conspiracy theory that sounded all too real during Harris’ stay in Edo. Nobody knows which one is true. My gut instinct goes with the heat stroke theory because old people die all the time in Japan when it gets too hot – but I could totally be wrong.

What the Black Ships really were....

What the Black Ships really were….

Anyways, the summer of the last year of Ieyoshi’s reign marks the beginning of the bakumatsu. To me it’s the most interesting era of Japanese history. Although no one knew it at the time, it marked the beginning of the end of the Tokugawa shōgunate. If the bakufu had wanted to build new mortuary temples again or not, we don’t know. If they didn’t have money in the coffers at this point, there’d never have enough later. And in 10 years, it wouldn’t matter[iii].

When he died he enshrined gōshi style at 文昭院 Bunshōin in Zōjō-ji. Hopefully you remember that Bunshōin was Tokugawa Ienobu’s mausoleum. Except for the metal gate leading to Ienobu’s funerary urn, nothing is left of the site after WWII.

2-story pagoda shaped urn of Tokugawa Ieyoshi

2-story pagoda shaped urn of Tokugawa Ieyoshi




[i] I’m refering to China, btw. See what I did there? That’s called Eurocentrism.

[ii] For the time, I mean. lol

[iii] Hindsight? Yes.

4 More Bad Ass Books on Japanese History

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on May 8, 2013 at 12:44 am

I decided to update my list of Bad Ass Japanese History Books. If you wanna see my last list, it is here.

Three of these books have been sitting on my shelf. But one I just got a month or so ago.
2 are out of print (but used copies seem available on Amazon). All 4 are in Japanese only, but the second book is a photo book, so anyone can enjoy it.


Edo-Tōkyō Sanpo
Edo-Tōkyō Walks

江戸東京散歩 - Walk Around Edo Tokyo

Notice my gold Tokugawa bookmark?

Similar to 江戸散歩東京散歩 which I mentioned last time, this book features historical maps of Edo on the page and modern maps of Tōkyō on the right. The old maps have more detail and there is much more of Tōkyō covered than in the other book. It doesn’t include restaurant or shop information, so it’s really designed for history enthusiasts rather than casual sightseeing.  There is a general map of the whole city of Edo and also a page dedicated to 大名小路 daimyō kōji daimyō alley (modern Marunouchi).  There’s also a dedicated map of Edo Castle (always a handy thing to have). There’s a brief write up about the major bridges and hills of Edo. Each modern map has a history walk path laid out, but in the back there are 12 “select” routes. The maps and indexes have become indispensable for doing my place name series. Because it has more maps, I’ve been using it a little more than 江戸散歩東京散歩 – which is still a very fine book.


Yomigaeru Bakumatsu
The Bakumatsu Brought Back to Life

甦る幕末 Bakumatsu Photos

This book is one of my prized possessions. It was published in 1986 and I believe it is out of print. It is collection of 800 photographs of Japan during the final years of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (the photos are from the University of Leiden’s collection). There really isn’t much text, just one line descriptions of the pictures, so even if you can’t read Japanese you’ll still be mesmerized by the scenes and the people. Many of the pictures represent sites of important events of the bakumatsu, as well as casual shots of temples and shrines. The last section is of photos of people active during the bakumatsu, everyone from the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, to lowly samurai body guards and servants of foreigners living and working in Japan at that time. I never get tired of this book. I can’t recommend it enough if you’re a bakumatsu person!!


Bakumatsu Boshin Seinan Sensō – Ketteiban

Bakumatsu: the Boshin War and the Satsuma Rebellion – Definitive Edition

幕末だぜ! It's the muthafuckin' bakumatsu, baby!

I love these illustrated Japanese history books. They’re always full of maps and detailed descriptions of events and have lots of photographs and explanations of how things went down. This book is awesome! For example, there’s an illustration and description of a Shinsengumi procession – basically a super flashy version of a daimyō procession. There are detailed descriptions of the western firearms and uniforms used in the Boshin War and the Satsuma Rebellion (the Seinan War). The boats also get serious treatment – which is fascinating. The battlefields and strategies also get decent coverage – even though that’s way over my head, I know many samurai enthusiasts love that shit. The assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma and the Ikedaya Incident also get multiple pages with loads of diagrams and illustrations. Basically everything about the final death throes of the bakufu and the last resistance of samurai who refused to go out like little bitches is in here. Fun book!!


日本100名城 公式ガイドブック
Nihon 100 Meijō Kōshiki Gaidobukku
Official Guide to the 100 Famous Castles of Japan


OK, I love a Japanese castle as much as the next guy, but there are some SERIOUS castle otaku out there. There are loads of books and websites (in Japanese and English) about Japanese castles. I’m not a castle geek, but I do think Japanese castles are totally fucking bad ass. When I bought this book in 2007, I’d only been in Japan 2 years (maybe less) and just bought it for the pictures (my Japanese sucked). The book is a Guide to the “100 Fine Castles of Japan,” a list designed by the Japan Castle Foundation to promote tourism and education about castles. I didn’t know it at the time but the list had just been compiled the year before and this book was literally a portable guide to walk you through the ABC’s of Japanese castles. It’s got loads of pictures and a スタンプ帳 stanpu-chō stamp book so you can collect a stamp from each castle to prove that you’ve been there (but if you tell me you have, I’ll believe you. I don’t need to see a stamp. I like to trust people).  Although there are a lot of pictures and illustrations in this book, there’s a lot of text in Japanese. Seems like somebody should translate this book into English if they really wanted to boost tourism and education related to Japanese castles. (Update! I just checked and this book has been updated and is still in print. It’s even for sale directly from the Japan Castle Foundation website.)

If you want to see my past list, you can find it here.

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Two Famous Murders in My Neighborhood (part 1)

In Japanese History on April 2, 2013 at 1:00 am

I’ve stayed/lived/whatevered in 3 places in Tokyo. When I first came here I lived in Uguisudani for about 3 months. It’s a pretty historical place and taking walks around Taitō-ku sparked my interested in Japan History. Then I lived in Nakano for about 6 years. It’s not a very historical place, but it has its own charms and I really liked it there. Now I live in Mita, which is an area steeped in history, some of it going back as far as the Taika Era (or so we are told).

Anyhoo, I’m really happy in Mita for the time being because the area was important in the Edo Period and was also the scene of a lot of action during my favorite period in Japanese History, the Bakumatsu.

Anyways, right behind my house there is a river called the 古川 Furukawa “the Old River.” In fact, as I look out the window right now, I can see it flowing all the way down a hill where it disappears under 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi. If there weren’t tall buildings blocking the way, I could probably watch it go past Shiba and the Tokugawa funerary temple of Zōjōji.

I live between two bridges. One is called 一ノ橋 Ichi no Hashi (“the first bridge”) and the next is called 中ノ橋 Naka no Hashi (“the middle bridge”). Both bridges were sites of murders of two well-known names of the Bakumatsu: 清川八郎 Kiyokawa Hachirō and ヒュースケン Hendrick Conrad Joannes Heusken (better known as Henry Heusken in the anglosphere).

Henry Heusken

A Japanese depiction of Heusken. He loved riding on horseback, an act reserved for high ranking samurai — this pissed off low ranking, racist samurai.

Going in chronological date of their murders, we’ll start with Henry Heusken

First of all, if you’ve seen the 2004 NHK Taiga Drama 「新撰組!」 (Shinsengumi), you will know this scene well. If you haven’t watched that drama… well, you should watch it. It’s awesome! If you remember the scene when a young Kondō Isami and Hijikata Toshizō hear about a group of anti-foreigner samurai planning to assassinate a foreign translator and Isami sits down and talks with the guy about how much he loves Japan and Japanese women, that would be the event we’re talking about now. Except that scene was fiction and Kondō Isami probably never met Henry Heusken. (I actually doubt Kondō Isami ever met a foreigner ever).

But I digress… (who me??)


From “Shinsengumi!” – Heusken meets Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo and Nakakura Shinpachi. (This never happened in real life).

Back to Henry Heusken. Who was he?

Henry Heusken was born in Holland. His family immigrated to the US in the 1850’s (maybe he was in his 20’s then?). Because he could speak both English and Dutch he got the gig of a lifetime in 1856: He went to Japan as personal secretary and interpreter to Townsend Harris on America’s first embassy to Japan in (公使館 kōshikan “legation” as compared to 大使館 taishikan “embassy”). Apparently he could speak French and German well enough for those days and he picked up Japanese quickly.

Zenpukuji - Home of the American Legation.

Zenpukuji – Home of the American Legation.

He was apparently a pretty ballsy guy and felt confident in his ability to speak Japanese or other languages to get by in most situations.  He was bangin’ a few Japanese bitches around town like Charisma Man and actually knocked on one up.  It also seems like he was a fairly high profile foreigner in Edo (at a time when there weren’t many foreigners at all — and most foreigners stayed in their secure diplomatic enclaves). Townsend Harris had apparently told him not to come back after dark because anti-foreign attacks were becoming increasingly common at the time.

A view from Akabanebashi. If you look closely at the middle right side you can see a wooden bridge. That's Nakanohashi. Heusken was killed on the right side of the river... I'm not sure why Beato took this picture from here, but whatevs...

A view from Akabanebashi. If you look closely at the middle right side you can see a wooden bridge. That’s Nakanohashi. Heusken was killed on the right side of the river… I’m not sure why Beato took this picture from here, but whatevs…

Anyways, the American legation was staying at 善福寺 Zenpukuji (“Zenpuku Temple”) in Azabu-Jūban. As Heusken came home late one night, he approached the guardhouse near Naka no Hashi (the bridge). A bunch of dirty rōnin jumped out from an alley on the side of the guard house and attacked him. Accounts vary but he may have lain in the street for close to an hour before he was carried back to Zenpukuji. The attackers aimed for his heart but most of his wounds were in his belly. Apparently he was spilling guts everywhere and it was really gross.

At Zenpukuji he was visited by a doctor and some high ranking Japanese officials. A photographer was there, too, who snapped a picture of him right after he died. Ironically, this may be the only photo of the dude (at least I’ve never seen another photo of him).

Heusken's corpse.

Heusken’s corpse.

Heusken's common law wife (in Japan she was considered his common law wife, out of Japan she was just his bitch...)

Heusken’s common law wife (but notice she’s wearing 振袖)

Heusken's wife, o-Tsuyu, with their child.

Heusken’s wife, o-Tsuyu, with their child.

He is buried in 光林寺 Kōrinji in 南麻布 Minami Azabu (South Azabu), a 20-30 walk from Azabu-Jūban Station.

His assassins were never captured, but a certain Kiyokawa Hachirō was implicated in the attack at the time. Even today most people point the finger at him.

(continued in part 2)

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Why is Azabu Juban called Azabu Juban?

In Japanese History on February 17, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Azabu-Juban (Hemp Cloth #10)

This is a weird one.

The kanji can also be read as Mafu or Asanuno. The first kanji means “hemp, cannabis sativa.” One would guess the area was famous for hemp production, but to the best of my knowledge the area was famous for its horse market in the Edo Period. The area was home to the largest horse market in Japan. The Azabu area is divided into Moto-Azabu (Old Azabu), Nishi-Azabu (West Azabu), Higashi-Azabu (East) and Azabu Juban (Azabu #10), etc.

azabu juban japanese history tourism travel tokyo

tokyo tower from azabu juban

The legend goes that the 10th construction team of a number of teams working on bridges and sewage were stationed there. The name of their banner 十番 (#10) stuck.

In the Edo Period the Sendai domain had a residence that stretched from the present Korean Embassy to Ni no Hashi. The Jūban Onari Shrine has been here since the 700’s.

The first American Embassy was located at Zenpukuji.
Kiyokawa Hachiro was killed at Ichi-no-hashi.
Henry Heusken was killed at Naka-no-hashi.
Stay away from those “hashi” (bridges).

henry heusken japanese history bakumatsu edo tokyo tourism travel

pissing on henry heusken’s grave… there was no public restroom around…. i swear!

Learn about Mita, which is right next to Azabu-Juban.

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