You may have
recently noticed the characters 新撰組 (shinsengumi) and 誠(makoto:sincerity)
emblazoned almost everywhere you go in Kyoto. There's a huge "Shinsengumi
Boom" in Japan lately, due to NHK's 43rd annual taiga dorama (historical
drama) based on the lives of these brave fighters, starring pop
star Katori Shingo in the lead role of Kondo Isami. In order to
understand the meaning of Shinsengumi, it's necessary to examine
the events that were occuring during this era of Japanese history.
There was a growing sense of unrest towards the end of the Edo Era
(1603-1867), following the appearance of General Perry's "Black
Ships" in Yokosuka harbor after 250 years of isolation . This event
marked the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate's feudal military government
and the beginning of the Meiji restoration, when Japan was forcedto
modernize in order to avoid exploitation by Western powers.
During this 300 year period, political power had lain in the hands
of the Edo-based Tokugawa Bakufu, while the imperial capital of
Kyoto was in a state of chaos. Following the appearance of Perry's
ships, increasing numbers of anti-shogunate imperial loyalists rallied
under the slogan of "Revere the Emperor, Expel the Foreigners" (Sonno
Joi). A band of 200 ronin (masterless samurai) were recruited by
the Shogun to repress imperial loyalist sentiments in Kyoto. After
discovering many of the recruits were loyalists themselves, the
group was refined down to an brutal, elite police force of 20 or
so men known as the Shinsengumi ("newly selected corps・ sworn to
a strict warrior code of ethics, and dedicated to protecting the
Shogunate through any means necessary. Their symbol was the character
誠 (makoto), loyalty and sincerity.
The Shinsengumi were originally led by Kondo Isami, a fierce swordsman
with a peasant upbringing, and his rival Serizawa Kamo, who was
ultimately slain by Kondo for his roguish behavior. Serizawa was
replaced by Kondo's ally Hijikata Toshizo. The most famous Shinsengumi
battle occurred at the Ikedeya inn in 1864, when the Shinsengumi
launched an attack on an imperial loyalist group staying there.
This incident led to increased fame for the Shinsengumi and inspired
many young men to join their group.
The Shinsengumi were ultimately driven out of Kyoto following the
collapse of the Shogunate in 1867-68, but they continued to fight
bravely until their untimely deaths. The Shinsengumi have continued
to hold appeal in the modern age as a symbol of fearless loyalty.
Even though many of the Shinsengumi members were not samurai, they
marked the end of Japan's warrior age. The spirit of the Shinsengumi
still lives on in Kyoto. You can learn more about the shinsengumi
by exploring the places the Shinsengumi frequented in Kyoto listed
on the next page, visiting the museum exhibit listed below, or by
watching the shinsengumi drama broadcast on NHK every Sunday night
at 8pm. Although the series began in January, it will be broadcast
until December of this year, so it's not too late to start watching
and learn about this important aspect of Kyoto history!
| SHINSENGUMI EXHIBIT AT THE MUSEUM OF KYOTO
Museum of Kyoto will present an exhibition about the Shinsengumi from
June 5th through July 19th, featuring artifacts related to the Shinsengumi
recovered from Kyoto and Tama in Southwest Tokyo, as well as other
relevant materials dating to the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867).
Over 200 items will be on display, including actual letters written
by theShinsengumi, wooden swords, training clothes, picture scrolls
and the original banner of the Shinsengumi.
Open: 5 June (Sat.)-19 July (Mon.) closed on Mon. 10:00-18:00
Admission: \1,100, Stu.\800 (Adv.\880,Stu.\640)
Access: The Museum of Kyoto (4F & 3F) Sanjo-Takakura, 3 minutes walk
from the subway Karasuma-Oike Stn. exit 5
Two of the Shinsengumi's major battles occurred in the Fushimi Area
in Southern Kyoto. Here are some of the places you can visit, accessible
from Keihan Fushimi Momoyama or Chushojima Stations.
Jonangu （城南宮）served as the imperial
army's base during the battle of Toba and Fushimi.
Koedabashi （小枝橋) is a bridge where the
Shogunate warriors fought the imperial army.
Tobarikyuato Park（鳥羽離宮跡公園) is an important
battleground that is now a historical park.
Outside of Fushimi :
Mibudera Temple（壬生寺） : The Shinsengumi
were said to have practiced their fighting here every morning. There
is a bronze statue of Kondou Isami and memorial momument for Serizawa
Kamo（芹沢鴨） and other Shinsengumi members on the temple grounds.
Accessible from Hankyu Omiya Station.
Gosho Imperial Palace (御所) : Gosho used
to be a historical battle ground for the Shinsengumi and Imperial
Forces, now it's a peaceful place to take a walk. Accessible from
Subway Marutamachi Station.
Nijojo Castle（二条城） : This beautiful
castle founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu（徳川家康） played an important role
in the Meiji Restoration. Accessible from Subway Nijojo Mae Station.
Shimabara （島原） : This was the entertainment
district west of the Shinsengumi base at Nishihonganji Temple, where
the warriors would go to relax.
Why not take a walk and explore these Shinsengumi places?
BRITISH COUNCIL KYOTO
British Council offers information about Britain to the general
public, including the latest English newspapers and magazines and
books about the United Kingdom as well as free internet access from
four computers. They offer a wide variety of basic and specialized
English courses, including a Cambridge English Test prep course,
Business English, "Young Learners" children's course (ages 6 and
up), private instruction, etc. They also provide information and
advice about studying abroad in England.
Hours: The British Council Kyoto Center is open from 10 am to 8pm
Monday through Friday, and until 5pm on Saturdays (Closed Sundays).
Access: The British Council is located on the 8th floor of the Karasuma
Chuo Building, above the Hokuriku Ginko bank, a few minutes walk
from Subway Karasuma Shijo Station.
INSTITUT FRANCO-JAPONAIS DU KANSAI (KANSAI
Media Library: Free and open to the public. The library features
books, picture books, music CDs, DVDs, videos and so forth related
to France. You can watch videos in the library and use the computer
free of charge. Material lending privileges are restricted to registered
Cine-Club: Every Thursday evening, a French film with Japanese subtitles
will be screened at 19:00, followed by a discussion in Japanese.
Entrance is \1000 to the public, and free for members.
Membership: A one-year membership costs \6500 (Students \5000).
Hours: The Media Library is open Monday through Saturday from 12:00
Access: Kyoto University Seimon Mae Bus Stop
CENTRO CULTURALE ITALO-GIAPPONESE DI KYOTO
(KYOTO ITALIAN-JAPANESE CULTURAL CENTER)
Reference Library: Free and open to the public. The library contains
books, videos and CDs related to Italy. Lending is restricted to
Membership: Membership costs \4,000.
Hours: The library is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 to 19:00
and Saturdays from 11:00 to 18:00.
Access: Kyoto University Seimon Mae Bus Stop
GOETHE INSTITUT KYOTO (KYOTO GERMAN CULTURE
The Goethe Instutit is a public organization sponsored by the government
of the Federal Republic of Germany, with 77 branch offices all over
the world. The Goethe Institut promotes German culture through language
classes and other opportunities for international cultural exchange.
German language classes taught by native instructors are offered
year-round, ranging from beginning to advanced levels. You can learn
more about German culture at the center's library by reading German
magazines and newspapers, or checking out German tapes, CDs, and
books. You can use the library for free, however you must be a member
in order to check out music and books. There are also various Germany-related
cultural events offered throughout the year, including film screenings,
art exhibits, concerts and so forth.
Membership: \3,000 per year
Access:100 meters north of the Kojin Bridge on Kawabata Dori
Open: The office is open Mon.- Fri. 9:00-12:30/13:30-17:00 (until
18:00 on Tues.) The library is open Tues.-Fri.14:00-18:30 Sat. 12:30-17:00