The Shinsengumi: Protecting The Tokugawa Shogunate

Japan had been a country that was somewhat unified by their leader – and during the Edo period, that would have been someone who belonged to the Tokugawa clan. However, at the same time, it was divided because of the many different feudal warlords that governed their specific territories yet were made to work harmoniously with the reigning ruler of the shogunate. 

During most of the Edo period, which lasted from 1603 until 1868 AD, Japan fell under the military dictatorship of the Tokugawa shogunate, and the majority of these years were peaceful. Because Japan had isolated itself from the world for hundreds of years (thanks to its isolationist foreign policy), the culture that had developed within its premises was concentrated, unique, and not as open – like many of the mindsets and philosophies of those living there.

The Change

Towards the end of the Tokugawa shogunate reign emerged a period called the Bakumatsu (幕末) period. This period began because of the mission he underwent, as he was sent by the then-president of the United States, Millard Filmore, to forcibly convince Japan to trade with the U.S., even if it meant intimidating them with their immense naval powers.

Japan was indeed intimidated. Thus, Commodore Matthew Perry initially arrived on Japanese shores of Edo Bay on the 8th of July 1853, which was directly against Japan’s strict trade protocols at that time, which involved only trading in Nagasaki. The Japanese did not take kindly to this and asked him to leave – which Perry answered by sailing forward, pointing guns at their territory, and showing them a white flag. After this, he sent a message threatening that the American nation would destroy them if they resist opening to trade. Leaders felt that Japan had no choice but to agree, triggering Bakumatsu, an uneasy transitional period that lasted from 1853 until 1867.

The nation was divided between those who supported imperialism and complete, modern unity of Japan, while those under the shogunate forces heavily opposed it. As a means of protection for themselves, the shogunate trained a special police force called the “Shinsengumi” (新選組), which can be translated into English as “New Selected Group”. 

By 百楽兎 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

More About the Shinsengumi

The Japanese military government at that time, which was also called the “Bakufu” organized the Shinsengumi, amid the heated controversy regarding this step into globalization. Shogunate representatives were mainly those whom the Shinsengumi served. Those who served were students who had attended Edo’s sword schools.

The Beginning of Unrest

There was already instability with the politics that had been going on at the time, and the pressure to open for trade when it had been closed so long made things much worse. There were loyalists existing before the upheaval caused by Commodore Perry who believed in the saying “sonno joi”, translating to “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians” – the barbarians, referring to members of the shogunate. 

When those loyalists acted out by starting a rebellion, the Roshigumi (浪士組) or “Ronan Squad” was formed. This occurred on October 19, 1863. The Shinsengumi, at this point, had not been formed yet. The Roshigumi were made up of samurais who did not have masters, which are called “Ronin”, also hailing from sword schools based in Edo. 

There was one main mission that members of the Roshigumi had, and that was to assure the safety of Tokugawa Iemochi. Matsudaira Katamori, who was almost like the shogun’s right-hand samurai (also known as a “hatamoto”) was their nominal commander, while Kyokawa Hachiro lead the entire squad. Tokugawa Iemochi had set out on a dangerous journey to see Emperor Komei to deal with matters regarding a strict law that caused foreigners to be expelled from the country.

Imperial Forces Versus Rebels

However, Kyokawa Hachiro, along with a few of the members of the Roshigumi, felt their allegiance was more with the emperor than the Tokugawa shogunate, and secretly made sure that while they were at Kyoto, any rebels who favored the Tokugawa regime would be policed. His plan was found out when they were in Kyoto, so they were made to head back to Tokyo, also known as Edo, forming “Shinchogumi”. However, among the remaining Roshigumi soldiers, 13 did not go back to Edo – officially forming what is known as Shinsengumi. 

The men who would officially lead the Shinsengumi were Serizawa Kamo, Kondo Isami, and Niimi Nishiki. However, they ended up having many disagreements, which caused them their tempers, and even some of them, their lives. Matsudaira Katamori ordered for Serizawa (who made a Shinsengumi member named Iesato Tsuguo commit seppuku because he had deserted them at one point) to be assassinated due to his troublemaking characteristics. Out of all the disagreements and deaths within the Shinsengumi, the leader of the group ended up being Kondo.

Policing Kyoto

As all regimes have supporters, one of the supporters of the Tokugawa regime was the Aizu clan. The Shinsengumi asked this powerful clan if they could make sure that Kyoto was safe enough for the Shogunate, and they got the green light to do so from the clan. It was around 1865 when the name “Shinsengumi” was coined, and the daimyo of the Aizu clan, who was Matsudaira Katamori, was responsible for coining the name. 

Those who did not like the Tokugawa shogunate constantly rebelled against them, mostly members of the Choshu clan, Shimazu clan, and Mori clan. Things got so heated at times that during one incident that occurred at an inn in Kyoto called Ikedaya, 20 pro-Imperial rebels went against the Shinsengumi, who numbered about 30. The Shinsengumi were able to pacify the situation, which made sure that the rest of the society of Kyoto would be kept safe from the havoc that the opposition was causing.

Members and Names of the Shinsengumi

Because of the incident at the inn, many men were inspired by the heroic acts of the Shinsengumi and decided to join the squad, increasing the size of this special task force. You didn’t necessarily have to be a samurai to join. At the peak of its popularity, there were around 300 members, many of which came from different social backgrounds. Some of them were born samurai (they would end up taking leadership roles) while others were doctors, farmers, craftsmen, priests, and merchants.

The Shinsengumi initially started off with 13 people, but increased in size over the years, and developed factions. Within the faction of Serizawa (also called the Mito group) – including himself – were other members such as Araya Shingoro, Niimi Nishiki, Hirayama Goro, Saeki Matsaburo, Hirama Jusuke, and Noguchi Kenji. In Kondo’s faction (otherwise known as the Shieikan group) were Kondo himself, Okita Soji, Hijikata Toshizo, Inoue Genzaburo, Saito Hajime, Nagakura Shinpachi, Todo Heisuke, Sannan Keisuke, and Harada Sanosuke. The smallest faction was Tonouchi’s, which comprised of Tonouchi Yoshio himself, Iesato Tsuguo, Abiru Aisaburo, and Negishi Yuzan.

By 田本研造 (Kenzou Tamoto) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Who Was Hijikata Toshizo?

Born May 31, 1835, and died on June 20, 1869, Hijikata Toshizo was a “fukucho” (副長) or vice commander of the Shinsengumi unit. He was a swordsman of excellent skill and was dedicated to preventing the Meiji restoration. He fought in 7 battles during the Boshin War; Toba-Fushimi, Koshu-Katsunuma, Utsunomiya Castle, Bonari Pass, Aizu, Miyako Bay, and lastly, at Hakodate, where he died. 

Hijikata Toshizo went into the battle fully aware that they would not win, but the honor of sticking to his duty and word was more important to him, so he stuck to fighting it out. He was shot by a bullet while riding a horse. Only a week after this battle, the Meiji restoration officially took place, as the Ezo Republic gave up.  

By Jakub Hałun (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Haori and Hakama; Part of the Shinsengumi Uniform

The uniforms that members of the Shinsengumi wore were one of a kind. A standard uniform consisted of a kimono, and then on top of that, a hakama (stiff, short trousers) and a light blue or “asagi-iro” colored haori (a long jacket). On the skeeves of the haori were white stripes. On top of all of that was a tasuki, which is a white cord, knotted at the back and crossing the body diagonally. Under all of that was a chainmail suit, and on their heads, iron helmets. 

Shinsengumi; A Restaurant that Serves Ramen, Yakitori, and More

The name “Shinsengumi” may have had a very serious idea attached to it; a special unit of officers who made sure that the reigning regime lived on and was protected. Now, however, it stands for restaurants all over the world that serve delicious Japanese food. Literally called “Shin-Sen-Gumi”, it’s a Japanese restaurant many people love in the city of Los Angeles. It serves a whole array of Japanese food, from tempura to yakitori, and most especially, ramen.

They decided to name the restaurant Shin-Sen-Gumi because of the troop who so sincerely stuck to their commitment of defending the shogunate with their service, that they see it as inspiration to their own service as well – however, this time, it is of the culinary sense. 

By Ocdp (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

From Little Tokyo to Irvine, to Japan Itself

Shin-Sen-Gumi has seen such widespread success that they have spread all throughout California (CA), and even have a restaurant in Tokyo itself. In California, they have multiple outlets – location examples being Gardena, two in Fountain Valley, one in Irvine, Rosemead, Little Tokyo, Monterey Park and West L.A.

Each of their restaurants possesses different reviews on Yelp. Some of them garner a rating of 3.5, while others hit 2. With an average meal costing around $11 to $30, the affordability and deliciousness of their food have rounded up thousands of yelper photo reviews.  

If you’re in want for a great Japanese restaurant to share dinner with a friend and order shabu-shabu (hotpot) or a noodle dish on the side. Whether you’re craving pork, chicken, egg, your search for a great menu is over. Stop over at Shin-sen-gumi and order your favorite Japanese dish. 

Gintama: An Anime Portraying Shinsengumi

Gintama (also spelled as Gin Tama, in English, “Silver Soul”) is a Japanese light novel, manga, original animation DVD, and anime, whose anime branch has both a film series and a television series. It was written by Hideaki Sorachi, published by Shueisha, and published in English by Viz Media. Its demographic is “shonen” (the male teenage demographic). The Manga was first to run on December 8, 2003, and still runs today. The anime film series ran from September 24, 2005, until November 3, 2015, with 4 films. The Anime television series started on April 4, 2006, and still runs at present day. Chizuru Miyawaki directed the last episodes. 

In Gintama, you’ll follow the adventures of a samurai named Gintoki Sakata, living in the Edo period, except for one major difference – Edo has been taken over by aliens which are called “Amanto”. Writers take accurate historical notes about the Edo period, and even add the famed Shinsengumi within the series, as they police the district. They appear on episodes 1 and 5 in Volume 1, Lesson 5.