Today I was to meet my last guide in Kyoto. I felt like I had seen quite a bit of Kyoto, but there was one story which I had yet to learn. Kyoto is the place where the Shinsengumi were founded. The Shinsengumi were a samurai militia which founded near the end of the Edo period. During the reign of the fourteenth Tokugawa Shogun, Iemochi, the Shogunate had begun to grow weak. Due to a growing belief in sonno joi, several influential daimyo had openly declared their allegence towards the Emperor, and the Shogunate had lost control of these fiefs. In Kyoto, the Imperial headquarters, high ranking officials began to commit violent crimes to protest against the Shogunate. To quell some of this violence and regain control, Iemochi embarked on a journey from Edo to Kyoto. In order to protect the Shogunate, 234 ronin were called upon to take up arms in protection of the Shogun, under the command of Kiyokawa Hachiro, thus forming the group called the Roshigumi. However, as soon as the group got to Kyoto, Kiyokawa revealed that he was actually loyal to the Emperor and his true plan was to recruit these ronin to aide the supporters of Imperial rule. After this revelation, thirteen members left and began the pro-Shogunate force called the Shinsengumi.
The Aizu clan which was well known for its vast numbers and skill in the martial arts had a hand in security operations all across the country. The head of the clan, Matsudaira Katamori, played an important role in the protection of Kyoto and had forces there to police the city. The Shinsengumi, which means newly chosen group, requested that they be allowed to police the city of Kyoto in place of the Aizu clan forces. Matsudaira agreed, and thus the group found itself in the very important position of the police force of Kyoto. The Shinsengumi members drafted five very important rules:
- Always follow the code of Bushido (laws of the samurai).
- No one is permitted to leave the Shinsengumi.
- No one can earn their own private income or borrow from money lenders.
- No one can can take part in legal litigation.
- No fighting amongst Shinsengumi members.
The penalty for breaking any of these rules was seppuku. The Shinsengumi had several headquarters in Kyoto during their existance, but the first and most important was the Mibu Temple.
In the beginning of the Shinsengumi, there were three groups. However, the third group was quickly assasinated, leaving only two. Soon however, the higher ranking group began breaking the laws of the Shinsengumi and quickly developed a bad reputation amongst the citizens of Kyoto. Instead of becoming the protectorate, they were highly feared. Matsudaira did not like this and authorized the second group to kill the first group. From this, the leader of the second group, Kondo Isami, became the overall leader of the Shinsengumi. Under the leadership of Kondo, the Shinsengumi thwarted a secret meeting of those loyal to the Emperor and assasinated them. This is called the Ikedaya incedent. Because of this, Kondo brought a positive image to the group and its membership flourished. However, once Tokugawa Yoshinobu surrendered his power to the Emperor in Nijo Castle, the Shinsengumi left the city of Kyoto peacefully and disbanded.
After we left Mibu and the house that the first group of the Shinsengumi was assasinated, we went to Ginkakuji. Ginkakuji is the Silver Pavilion. The grandson of the Ashikaga Shogun who built Kinkakuji built Ginkakuji. While Kinkakuji is coated in gold, Ginkakuji is not coated in silver. It is very simple and appeals to the Japanese sense of beauty with a magnificent gardens which are just in front of monsterous pine trees which climb up into the mountains. Like its partner on the opposite side of Kyoto, Ginkakuji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After walking through the gardens, we headed off to Heian Shrine. The Heian Shrine is a large well-known shrine in Tokyo’s center. The Heian Shrine is a popular location to host many cultural celebrations such as weddings.
The shrine complex is very large with its own gardens which scale back in behind the main shrine. However after a long day of traveling on the bus and other admission fees, the toll on my wallet was becoming too great and I decided to skip the shrine gardens. I arrived back at my hotel satisfied that I had seen most of Kyoto and ready to move on to Koya-san. Tomorrow I leave and stay in a Buddhist temple at the top of the mountain. See you soon!