‘Shinsengumi’, the Last Samurais

This book dissects the corps of warriors that represented the shogunate's most feared force when Japan was exiting the feudal system.


WordsClémence Leleu

© Tuttle Publishing

Romulus Hillsborough, an American writer who lived in Tokyo for 16 years, immersed himself keenly in the story of a highly unusual samurai corps, the shinsengumi, literally ‘new select brigade’, assembled in 1863 when Japan was about to enter a pivotal period in its history.

After having consulted numerous Japanese-language sources, letters, memoirs and newspaper cuttings as well as interviews, stories from eyewitnesses and biographies from the era, he put together a comprehensive work on the subject, and the first to be written in English: Shinsengumi, The Shogun’s Last Samurai Corps.


The end of an era

The reader is immersed in this brief history of the final years of the bakufu (military government), which collapsed in 1867 with the restoration of the imperial regime. This marked the end of two and a half centuries (1603-1868) of feudalism. As the country was in the midst of a revolution known as the Meiji restoration, resulting from the opening up of the country to the west in 1854, the samurai, realising that this could spell the end of their supremacy, organised their response. Thus, the shinsengumi was formed, gathering together an elite group of swordsmen whose aim was to stop or kill the enemies of the Tokugawa shogun.

Structured around two key figures, Isami Kondo and Toshizo Hijikata, the shinsengumi made a mark on its era even if it did not manage to vainquish the tidal wave of the opening of Japan to other countries. Its influence was such that it is now the subject of various fictional works like the televised historical drama series Shinsengumi! produced by NHK in 2004 and the manga Rurouni Kenshin published in Shonen Gump in the mid-90s.


Shinsengumi, The Shogun’s Last Samurai Corps (2005), a book by Romulus Hillsborough published by Tuttle Publishing.