Man at the Crossroads
January 1, 2005 · 11:44pm EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
Fujiyama Dojo
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Much controversy surrounds Tanomo Saigo's attitude during the years leading up to the Boshin war. The divided opinions could be summed up in one question: Was he a traitor or a visionary? Much has been said in support of one statement or the other.

Author Shiba Ryotaro said that a writer, "cannot appoint himself a judge of history. All he can do is relate the facts aided by his imagination, and let the reader decide how he sees them. All he can safely hope to evoke, if he is lucky, is something a little less than enlightenment, but a little more than indifference."

Taking that into consideration and making no claims to any literary skill whatsoever, we will relate some of the facts, as they have been related to us, and hope to evoke, "a little more than indifference".

As the rumors of unrest against the Tokugawa Shogunate reached Aizu, Tanomo Saigo, one of the clan's chief retainers, seemed to heed them as warnings of an impending rebellion.

Pro-Emperor sentiments, along with intense xenophobia, were being fueled by other factors, creating what Tanomo felt was a potentially dangerous atmosphere. In the Chief Retainer's opinion, measures should be taken early, and in so doing prevent any further disturbances. However, his comments were quickly dismissed since, as the Shogun's head adviser pointed out, "There has always been unrest in Kyoto". Saigo's admonitions came much too early to be heard.

In a letter sent to a friend in exile, Tanomo expressed his concern about the situation, but his friend, not sharing his alarm, dismissed his fears as unwarranted and declined Tanomo's request that he travel to Kyoto to gather information. By the time Saigo's friend realized how well founded that fear was and made the trip from Echizen to Kyoto to gather intelligence, it was already too late.

One of his companions, also a friend of Tanomo's, was killed during a riot caused by the rebels. Tanomo's friend then traveled to Edo, where he became convinced that what was to come meant, indeed, the beginning of a civil war. He attempted to send a message to Tanomo, but the lengthy letter was never sent. It included a formal apology.

To deal with the disturbances caused by the rebels (which ranged from assassinations and attacks against the homes of Shogunal officials, to arson and looting of commerces), the Shogunate reinstated the post of Protector of Kyoto, and Matsudaira Katamori, Lord of Aizu, was selected for the position. His first task was to suppress the Tobakuha, which was the faction which opposed the Shogunate and advocated the supreme power of the Emperor.

Katamori might have had the advantage of commanding a large, well-trained army, but it must be remembered that the Aizu clan was far from Kyoto. Trying to protect the Emperor's capital while at the same time defending his own domain was a logistic and strategic impossibility.

When he was summoned to Edo Castle by Matsudaira Yoshinaga and Hitotsubayashi Keiki (the political director and the regent for the Shogun), the young Lord tried to refuse the post, but was firmly rebuked. He was reminded of the fifteen precepts written by Lord Hoshina Masayuki, the founder of the Aizu clan, which commanded of the clan total devotion and loyalty to the Tokugawa Shogunate, which Katamori could not waive without losing face. He simply had to obey.

(It must be noted at this point that Lord Hoshina Masayuki was the illegitimate son of the second Tokugawa Shogun, Hidetada, and therefore a grandchild of Ieyasu. He was adopted by Lord Hoshina Masamitsu at the age of seven, and almost immediately began to be instructed in the family martial arts and most of the scholarly disciplines which were later taught at the Kakunai Kojo (and later at its future and much larger version, the Nisshinkan). Masayuki was appointed first Lord of the Aizu domain in 1643 (he adopted the name Matsudaira in 1665). His set of fifteen precepts included a formal promise of loyalty to the Shogunate by the Aizu clan, but also established the basis for the martial values embodied by the Aizu clan. Those precepts were read aloud for all clan members, regardless of class distinction, by a Confucian scholar, or a priest, every 11th of January and 1st of August. Lord Hoshina Masayuki was an honorable man, a learned man, and a man skilled in the martial arts who instilled his clan with his own virtues. One element about which no historian disagrees is that the indomitable spirit of the Aizu samurai owes much to Lord Hoshina Masayuki.)

Upon hearing of Lord Matsudaira Katamori's appointment from a messenger, Tanomo Saigo could no longer suppress his concerns. He decided to bring them to Tanaka Tosa, the second of the Aizu's chief retainers. He did so, adding the fact that Katamori ran the risk of assassination if he was singled out by the anti-Shogunate faction. He insisted upon the need to persuade the young Lord to resign the post. Tanaka agreed and a trip was arranged.

Both men rode to Edo, leaving at daybreak and galloping most of the way. Not far from Edo's gates, they were joined by a few of Tanomo's friends from Ettchu and Echizen, who had been summoned by Tanomo, and were meant to act as a special covert escort for Katamori, should he decide to return to Aizu. Tanomo was certain (and rightly so) that anti-Shogunate faction sympathizers were already operating within Edo.

Tanomo met with Katamori. He begged the young Lord to reconsider, and forewarned him that should he go along with the Shogunate's request, it would mean the end of the Aizu domain. But Katamori would not hear of it. He admitted that Tanomo was right, but explained that he could not refuse to obey Lord Hoshina Masayuki's oath to serve the Shogun.

Tanomo left the meeting in low spirits. "Aizu is doomed," he said to Tanaka, who refused to accept it. Still, Tanomo promised Tanaka that he would approach Katamori again. Tanomo and Tanaka returned to Aizu. Tanomo's friends remained in Edo, protecting Lord Katamori without being noticed. They would later follow Katamori into Kyoto.

Lord Matsudaira Katamori entered Kyoto at the head of one thousand troops in December of 1862. It was recommended that he use Kinkaikomyo-ji (a temple) as his headquarters, and he did so.

To Katamori's credit, it must be noted that his system of policing the city began to bring order into the city quite rapidly, considering the volatile situation. His troops patrolled the streets regularly, and he used well the information brought to him by his agents. For this, he won the confidence of the Emperor Komei. Eventually, Katamori, with the help of the members of the Satsuma clan, began to work a plan to reconcile the Emperor with the Shogunate. His participation in the thwarting of a conspiracy of seven Kyoto nobles and the Choshu clan earned the young Lord an even greater reputation in the court.

However, Tanomo Saigo was not convinced that everything was returning to normal. His own agents continued informing him that the Tobakuha was by no means dormant, and the conflict was not defused. Quite the opposite was true. Several assassination attempts against Katamori had been carried out, although they had been effectively stopped. And Tanomo himself began to earn the antipathy of several pro-Shogunate groups, which would later cause assassination attempts against him.

In September, 1863, Tanomo Saigo traveled to Kyoto, claiming that his sole purpose was to consider the situation for himself. His real reason, however, was to meet with Lord Matsudaira Katamori once again. While at Kinkaikomyo-ji, he became aware that the Aizu retainers accompanying Katamori had become over-confident. They optimistically related how the Emperor had visited the Aizu troops to observe their training, and how amicable he was towards Katamori. They were convinced that the presence of Lord Matsudaira in Kyoto was necessary to keep the peace. Tanomo tried to explain that, whether or not that was true, the future of Aizu depended upon his return. His words were not well received.

While waiting to meet with Katamori, it was suggested to Tanomo Saigo that this was a good time to take a trip around the city to appreciate its condition for himself. Tanomo agreed, but as he entered a narrow road, flanked by a tall wall, his way was cut off by a group of samurai brandishing their swords. As they rushed to attack, Saigo drew his own sword and cut one down, but as the Chief Retainer defended himself against the rest of the attackers, he saw another group of samurai, wearing white hachimaki, approaching from the opposite direction. Still with sword in hand, Tanomo ran to safety, as the opportune intervention of some of Tanomo's friends entrusted with the protection of Katamori prevented the samurai from following him.

These samurai wearing the white hachimaki were members of the Shinsengumi, an aggressively militant band of pro-Shogunate samurai organized to stop any pro-Emperor groups from causing any disturbances. They were commanded by the impetuous Kondo Isami, and their idealism was matched by their extreme zeal, both of which have earned it an ambiguous reputation in historical texts, but they deserve a separate study.

The meeting between Katamori and Tanomo proved to be not only futile, but detrimental. He could not convince Katamori to resign his post.

"Be silent!" shouted the young Lord as the Chief Retainer pleaded with him.

"How dare you insist on that topic! Are you suggesting that I would become a traitor?"

Tanomo bowed deeply as he tried to apologize, but Lord Matsudaira Katamori, infuriated as he was by what he perceived to be a disrespectful attitude, allowed himself to be carried away by an impulse, and relieved Saigo of his post as Chief Retainer.

Tanomo Saigo would meet with his friends once more before departing Kyoto, but this time they declined to continue protecting Katamori. Saigo tried to persuade them to remain, but to no avail. Their minds were made up that Lord Matsudaira Katamori "had tossed Aizu into the fire", and so there was nothing left to defend. They were also deeply distrustful of the Satsuma clan's loyalties. Deep down, Tanomo agreed, and he made it known in the letters he would later send to Echizen and Ettchu, but at that moment he eluded the topic. He also understood Katamori's dilemma, and that made the situation all the more difficult. As they took their separate ways, none of them was looking forward to the future, a sentiment they would later express in their respective writings. By the time that these men would meet again, the world they knew would be no more, and Tanomo Saigo's predictions would have been proven true many times over.

Tanomo Saigo returned to Aizu Wakamatsu quietly. He retired to his hometown of Nagaharamura, where he would dedicate much time to praying, writing, and meditating. The worst part of his predictions was yet to come.


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