History Rant: Shinsengumi/Bakumatsu
Okay, it’s been a while since I asked about what you guys wanna know about Japanese history, and I haven’t forgotten you. I guess I’ve got a few thoughts bouncing around in my head so I’m just going to rant about the shinsengumi and the surrounding time period for a bit cause I feel like it. Uhh if you need sources and want to read more, I could probably find some for you, but this is all from my brain lmao. I repeat: this is definitely not even remotely everything I could say on the subject nor is it researched or sourced okay please read this post lightly and not as a scholarly article!!! That being said, DO feel free to use the information below as a springboard for your own interest and research.
This is my absolute favorite time period in Japanese history. When I was about 14 (in the ancient year 2000), I discovered the shinsengumi via Rurouni Kenshin. Sure they were the enemies, but I wanted to know who these people were and at the time there was little to no information on them. Then I just started learning a lot about Japanese history and taking Japanese classes, lol it was a gateway drug. Contrary to what everyone might think, I could not chose anyone in the Shinsengumi as my favorite historical figure, but I love them like something out of a really cool story. I think history is supremely interesting; often more interesting than novels. I hope you’ll enjoy learning a bit about them too.
First of all, a brief history. You have to know that the Shinsengumi (which just means the new group/squad/whatever) came around in a time of civil war. After ~200 years of isolation, the Tokugawa shogunate and its system of keeping the warlords under its control had turned the balance in economy and social structure upside down so that the people on top (the samurai) were the poorest. The shogunate itself also became weak and ineffective, and by the 1850s when Perry showed up to force Western trade on Japan there was legit NOTHING to be done except accept his offer or face utter defeat in the face of a West that had advanced while Japan hid in its own borders with minimal outside contact.
Two major factions came out of this: one for opening to the west, and one for expelling the foreigners (most notably headed by the Choshu, Satsuma, and Tosa clans, who were not among those in favor of the shogunate). The second one later came to support getting rid of the shogunate and reestablishing the emperor and became known as “sonno joi” which is easier to type than all of that.
So where do the shinsengumi come into this? They were formed from a bunch of ronin to protect the xenophobic wimpy emperor in Kyoto (aka hold him captive) and uphold the laws of the also wimpy shogunate. Originally they were stationed outside of Kyoto, but were eventually given permission to police the city.
And they were AWFUL. Straight-up, the worst. They were given a lot of nicknames, most famous of which is the Wolves of Mibu. They hunted down and slaughtered the emperor’s supporters.
They had very strict rules, which on the surface seem almost honorable - following bushido (which is just a bunch of bs made up by the ailing upper class btw), no personal fights, no personal income, can’t leave the shinsengumi - but they resulted in a lot of members having to commit suicide or having to die in battle. And they did mercilessly enforce their code. An example that comes to mind is Yamanami Keisuke, who was a vice commander of the shinsengumi like HIjikata, and had to commit seppuku when he tried to leave.
The Ikedaya incident aka map 6 is what really got them famous and made people want to join them. They crushed a group of sonno joi supporters and probably?? prevented them from setting fire to Kyoto.
The shinsengumi are really famous and romanticised today, as you well know. Like most of Japanese history, the bad parts are glossed over! But I do love them, so I can’t say anything.
Returning to the general view of historical events, what I think is really interesting about this time period is how things ended up. Sonno Joi did win in the end. The shogunate gave up power, and they reestablished the emperor, but—! The emperor’s supporters moved the imperial hq and set him up as a puppet ruler, making themselves the actual ruling council (aka just like the shogunate) and then began a very seriously intense westernizing of Japan! Expel the foreigners indeed, haha.
UM, I want to post something more in-depth about the swords and their characters and stuff but I’m still thinking about it >__> so you get this shitty nonsense instead. About 50% history, 50% my thoughts and JUST Hijikata and Okita for right now bc they are kind of like the BIG 4 popular sword group (sorry Nagasone) and also (my) faves. Although I feel like I wanna add Kondo he’s just kinda boring and then I also wanna write about Sakamoto Ryoma (who Kondo was executed for killing lol IF HE DID???) but I haven’t even mentioned him thus far and tbh he deserves his own post.
Hijikata Toshizo, Vice Commander, devil creature?, hot guy
Here he is, wow look at this handsome fella. Yes that’s right this is my icon. I have read that Kane’s personality is based on him (in the same way that Yam emulates Okita) but I don’t think so at all. Mostly because Kane is a stupid muffin and actual Hijikata was known to be a serious samurai guy. Just a farmer guy (and kind of .. pharmacist?) being the best he can be. He was mostly in charge of keeping things in order in the shinsengumi, and also did a lot of interrogation… and may have done some very, very gruesome things. But also, he wrote shitty haiku, which is p charming. Apparently he was incredibly handsome and people fell in love with him like all the time and I know that’s true bc I’m also in love with him.
After everything, he kept on being the best and led what was left of the shinsengumi after Kondo was executed, trying to fight the new government. But he was gunned down in the battle of Hakodate (lmfao the Kane/Hori scene in map 1-1 which tells you the order of these…. is none).
I’m pretty sure that Kane’s design and personality are LARGELY influenced by the more romanticised versions of Hijikata in things such as Hakuouki (which I haaaate, no offense). But I like to think that a lot of it comes from him being a sword from a proper name, just without an real antiquity or heritage. Like Hijikata is a farmer-born ronin following bushido and upholding the samurai lifestyle, Kane is kind of a weird excited kid who is a fancy sword…? Well, maybe it’s a stretch. Just aiming really high and being super hot.
Horikawa is kind of a mystery though. I think his outfit at least stems from the more modernized Hijikata you can see above, but I can’t really get the rest. Like I said I didn’t like.. do research for this post, so I’d be interested in hearing other opinions or ideas!
Okita Souji, 1st squad leader, child prodigy, eventual cat-hater
OTHER THAN artists’ renders?? this is the best photo I’ve ever been able to find and I’m not sure if they ever confirmed that it’s Okita.
What does he look like, who knows. Regardless… he was not beautiful like Hijikata, but we can keep pretending. This bitch was so good at swords when he was a kid he had mastered like all the things by the time he was 18 and became an instructor himself. He was the leader of the 1st uh, troop of the Shinsengumi and famous for being really fucking good at stabbing dudes in the fucking neck and also being a generally funny happy guy. I’ve read he liked to play with kids too, which is p cute (or creepy). He’s like always paired with Hijikata (in EVERYTHING) but idek if they were friends. He had tuberculosis as everyone knows, and it’s said to have been discovered when he collapsed during the Ikedaya incident, but the cause of his collapse is debatable. Still, as a result he had a very very short life, and so died outside of the fighting in a hospital at about about 25ish? He tried to murder a cat he kept seeing in the garden and he couldn’t, and that really pissed him off.
What can I say about okitagumi?? It’s already well-known that Kashuu looks fancy because the sword broke and couldn’t be repaired. I don’t need to address that or really anything about him. Except that I love him. Both he and Yams look p young because Okita was very young himself, so I like to imagine they both reflect his age despite their own age/origins/etc bc they have such a deep connection with him. I also hope that every time they’re pictured with cats, it’s bc of the above reason.
But YAMS??? Now I have at least one thought about his design. Of course he was made to reflect Okita bc he looks up to him so much. But…????
The aforementioned (prettier movie/ova version of) Rurouni Kension version Okita Souji is always the one I imagine bc just….!?? Whenever I look at Yams this is legit all I see. If you have not seen this movie, then please watch him in action here in this clip of the Ikedaya incident, just the first minute or so. I’m right, right? You know I’m right. Except for the clear gap in design details, Yams looks like he’s copying him 100%. Also his bubbly/kind personality that gets a little bit creepy/idgaf in battle is soo the stereotypical Okita personality, it’s so good.
Anyway, PLEASE feel free to send me your thoughts/theories or requests or anything like that. I’d love to hear what you think!
So if you’ve made it this far, congratulations on reading this… masterpiece. I wouldn’t consider it a really good reference or anything (PLEASE), and I honestly just wrote it bc I felt like it. Future history info will be more informative with actual research and references/sources, and I’ll probably do another, more educational post on the Shinsengumi and the time period in the future. HOWEVER for now, if you are very interested in the Shinsengumi and want some actual intellectual and organized information, I URGE you to please read this book:
It is THE English book on the Shinsengumi. I recently bought it again for my kindle (I left my hardback copy in america lol) and it is just as great as I remember. Seriously worth the read.