Tenchu-gumi Incident (天誅組の変)

Tenchu-gumi Incident ("Tenchu-gumi no hen" in Japanese) was an incident that occurred at the end of the Edo period; it was carried out by a group of people called Tenchu-gumi (Heavenly Avenging Force) consisting of a bunch of ronin (masterless samurai) who were Sonno Joi ha (supporters of the doctrine of restoring the emperor and expelling the barbarians) including Torataro YOSHIMURA; this group rose to action in Yamato Province having a court noble Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA as the commander-in-chief on September 29, 1863 and was subsequently put down and destroyed by the army of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by the shogun). It is considered to be the first military uprising by Sonno Joi ha. The uprising is also called Yamato Gikyo, Yamato no Ran and so forth.

Imperial Trip to the Yamato Province
Emperor Komei gave an Imperial letter concerning the exclusion of foreigners to seii taishogun (literally "great general who subdues the barbarians") Iemochi TOKUGAWA in January, 1863. To this Imperial letter, Iemochi responded that he would carry out exclusion of foreigners in April of 1863. People of Joi ha (supporters of expulsion of the foreigners) group in various provinces who wanted the bakufu to expel foreigners were delighted at this response.

In April, 1863, Shogun Iemochi visited Kyoto. Emperor Komei visited Kamo-jinja Shrine and Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine to pray for the exclusion of foreigners. However, the bakufu would not take action for expelling foreigners. Joi ha group including Choshu Domain got indignant. The Imperial Court pressed the bakufu so insistently for a decisive action to exclude foreigners that the bakufu was obliged to answer that it would carry it out on June 25.

On June 25, the bakufu never carried out any action; however, Choshu Domain believed in the words of bakufu and they themselves started expelling foreigners by firing on the ships of the United States that were passing the Straits of Shimonoseki (the Shimonoseki War). Chamberlain Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA was one of the members who participated in this gunfire on the foreign ships; he was a radical court noble who firmly believed in expulsion of foreigners and was invited by Choshu Domain to this gunfire. Torataro YOSHIMURA, who had belonged to Tosa Domain before he left the domain and became ronin, took part in Tadamistu's flight to Choshu from Kyoto.

Bombarding a French ship as well as a Dutch ship, Choshu Domain greatly raised morale of Joi ha and the Imperial Court gave Choshu Domain words of praise for the decisive action the Domain took. However, in July squadrons from the United States and France took reprisals and Choshu Domain was defeated. In August, Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA returned to Kyoto; however, he was ordered to be confined to his own house and also the position of chamberlain was forfeited.

On September 25, Emperor Komei visited the Imperial mausoleum of Emperor Jinmu to pray and issued Imperial Rescript for the punitive expedition of the Emperor (Imperial Trip to the Yamato Province). Those who drove the idea of Imperial Trip to the Yamato Province forward included Sanetomi SANJO and others, the court nobles who belonged to Joi ha group and who had an understanding with Choshu Domain. Torataro YOSHIMURA talked with Joi ha group of masterless samurai such as Keido MATSUMOTO, Tesseki FUJIMOTO, Kurata IKE and resolved to go to the Yamato Province to lead the vanguard of Imperial Trip to the Yamato Province. YOSHIMURA and his comrades visited NAKAYAMA's residence on September 26 and invited out Tadamitsu to Hoko-ji Temple. The 38 comrades with the general Tadamitsu (among them were 18 samurai who had left Tosa Domain and 8 samurai who had left Kurume Domain) left Hoko-ji Temple and headed to the Yamato Province. The party started a ship from Osaka City in the disguise of Imperial envoy going down to Shimonoseki City of the Nagato Province and went to Sakai City. In the ship Tadamitsu and all who went with him cut hair and showed their determination. When Tenchu-gumi raised an army, Ryozaemon KOTO, a large landowner and an imperialist from Awaji got rid of all his property and contributed the money to Tenchu-gumi as war funds.

Raising an army

On September 27, the party arrived at Sakai (along the Doi-gawa River the monument, 'The Landing Place of Tenchu-gumi' stands side by side with the monument of Sakai Incident; the place is present-day 1-cho, Sakaebashi-cho, Sakai Ward, Sakai City) (hereafter the party of comrades is to be written as Tenchu-gumi); on the dawn of the following day (September 28) Tenchu-gumi passed through Koya-kaido Road and entered Sayama City of Osaka aiming at Kawachi Province. Tenchu-gumi sent Torataro YOSHIMURA and others to the regional government office of Sayama Domain as a herald and requested a meeting with the lord of the Sayama Domain Ujiyoshi HOJO. Ujiyoshi declined the meeting under pretense of a sudden illness and the chief retainer Nuidono ASAHINA met instead. Tadamitsu commanded ASAHINA that Sayama Domain also go to the forefront and join the act of justice. Sayama Domain which had difficulty in dealing with the request donated firearms such as Gewehr to Tenchu-gumi as a temporary expedient and answered that it would join the cause when the Emperor conducts his expedition. Tenchu-gumi sent an envoy to the Shiraki-Jinya regional government office which was an enclave of Shimodate Domain and had the office donate firearms to Tenchu-gumi. Tenchu-gumi made a flag with the Imperial chrysanthemum emblem in it and with the words 'Shichisho Zoku Metten Goshoran' (Heaven will see us to be born seven times to destroy traitors) written clearly with big characters, raising the group's morale.

On September 29, Tenchu-gumi entered Kawachi Hinozan Kanshin-ji Temple. Tenchu-gumi departed after it was joined by Tesseki FUJIMOTO who had been raising war funds, and after passing Chihaya Pass, the border, the group entered Yamato Province. After arriving at Gojo City, the bakufu's demesne, Tenchu-gumi decided to attack the local magistrate's office. Having besieged the office, Tenchu-gumi called for surrender to the magistrate Gennai SUZUKI. Kurata IKE, who led the Gewehr gun corps, threatened by firing blanks, while the spear corps led by Torataro YOSHIMURA entered from the rear gate. The number of people in the magistrate's office was about 30; they were unable to resist Tenchu-gumi whose members were in high spirits; accordingly the magistrate's office was defeated and Gennai SUZUKI was decapitated. Tenchu-gumi set the office on fire and made Sakura-ji Temple to be the headquarters.

On September 30, Tenchu-gumi displayed the severed head of Gennai SUZUKI and declared that as the Imperial demesne the land tax of Gojo City for that year would be reduced to half of what had been taxed until previous year.
Tenchu-gumi put the office organization in order with Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA the commander-in-chief and Torataro YOSHIMURA, Keido MATSUMOTO, and Tesseki FUJIMOTO president; the members called themselves 'the government' or 'presidency.'
They sent Shingo NASU to the neighboring Takatori Domain to advise allegiance, to which the domain agreed. On the other hand, Sanetomi SANJO of Kyoto, who had been informed of Tenchu-gumi's radical uprising, sent Kuniomi HIRANO as a messenger to persuade to be prudent.

Attack on the Takatori-jo Castle
While Tenchu-gumi was in high spirits in Yamato Province, the political situation changed completely in Kyoto. Imperial Prince Kuninomiya Asahiko who had communicated with Aizu Domain and Satsuma Domain tried to recover from a setback, went to the Imperial Palace, and had the Emperor Komei postpone the Imperial Trip to the Yamato Province, prohibit Joi ha court nobles such as Sanetomi SANJO to come to the Imperial Palace, and dismiss the Choshu Domain from the position of palace gate guards. The startled Choshu Domain soldiers rushed to the palace gate and confronted soldiers of Aizu Domain and Satsuma Domain; the situation became extremely critical. In the end Choshu Domain avoided collision by force of arms and withdrew; the Joi ha group court nobles left Kyoto and lost their position. The supporters of the bakufu came to have real power in the Imperial Court.
(The Political Change of August 18 [old lunar calendar])

On October 1, Kuniomi HIRANO entered Sakura-ji Temple where the headquarters of Tenchu-gumi was located; Hirano forgot his original purpose and came to agree with the thoughts held by Tenchu-gumi. Immediately after that, however, the news of political change in Kyoto was conveyed to HIRANO; he was shocked to know that the just cause for raising an army was lost, now Tenchu-gumi was labeled as a mob, and the order to hunt down and kill the group was issued. It was certain that the hunt force of the bakufu would be sent; leaders including Tadamitsu had a conference, after which they decided to move the headquarters to Ten no Tsuji where the fort was stronger. On October 2, Tenchu-gumi entered Ten no Tsuji and established the headquarters. Torataro YOSHIMURA asked samurai in Totsukawa Village to recruit solders; people in Totsukawa were well known for their strong advocacy for the Imperial rule; as a result, 960 people were recruited. Tenchu-gumi collected weapons and food from neighborhood in the name of 'the government' and made more than 10 canons with pine wood; however, the equipment was poor. Since the samurai in Totsukawa Village had been conscripted by half-threat, there existed quite a few who questioned the coercive instructions made by Tenchu-gumi. Including Tamenoshin TAMAKI, several people from Totsukawa Village protested the strategy employed by Tenchu-gumi and were beheaded.

The Takatori Domain who had promised their allegiance to Tenchu-gumi earlier changed their attitude and declined to supply food to Tenchu-gumi. Tenchu-gumi, that flew into a rage with this change of attitude, decided to attack Takatori-jo Castle. On October 7, Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA led the main force and headed for Takatori-cho, while Torataro YOSHIMURA led a detached force and went into the Imperial Palace area to prepare for the fight with Koriyama Domain. The Takatori Domain, that sensed departure of Tenchu-gumi, strengthened the defense. Takatori Domain was a small domain where the crop yields were 25,000 koku; against Tenchu-gumi with more than 1,000 soldiers, the military power was around 200 people; however, Takatori Domain knew the geography well. At the dawn of October 8, the soldiers of Takatori Domain shot cannons and guns intensely to Tenchu-gumi which came forward marching on a small path. Tenchu-gumi fell into a great confusion as soon as it was attacked by cannons and guns as they were simply disorderly crowds; Tadamitsu, who was a court noble, had no ability to restore the order lost among his soldiers. Tenchu-gumi stampeded and retreated to Gojo. After he knew of the retreat of Tenchu-gumi, YOSHIMURA organized a death squad and tried a night attack. In the night of October 8, the death squad came across a scout of Takatori Domain and tried to cut this scout by sword; however YOSHIMURA was shot by accident by a member of his squad and seriously injured. The death squad retreated as it knew no way to recover and the attack on Takatori-jo Castle failed. Tenchu-gumi returned to the headquarters in Ten no Tsuji; Tadamitsu suggested that they go to Shingu in Kii Province and from there go to Shikoku and Kyushu to recruit soldiers, which however YOSHIMURA and others did not follow; Tadamitsu broke away from YOSHIMURA and others and went on separate ways. At this point, which was the early part of this incident, there were some members who escaped from the group, such as Mitsuya ITO from Kariya Domain of Mikawa.
(Later ITO justified himself by saying that he delivered a secret letter from Keido MATSUMOTO to Tomomi IWAKURA; however, when one considers the relationship between Tomomi IWAKURA and Keido MATSUMOTO, the above is an unlikely circumstance; Senzo MORI, a great scholar who shares his hometown with Mitsuya ITO declares, 'It is no more than an excuse made by an escapee Mitsuya.')
This escape of Mitsuya ITO is often quoted as an example to show weakness of Tenchu-gumi.

Destruction of Tenchu-gumi

The bakufu commanded Kishu Domain, Tsu Domain, Hikone Domain, Koriyama Domain and so on to suppress Tenchu-gumi. On October 13, the Imperial Court also issued an order to encourage to hunt down and kill Tenchu-gumi. On October 17, Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA joined Torataro YOSHIMURA and others again, and came back to headquarters of Ten no Tsuji. The soldiers of various domains began to move; on October 18, the soldiers of Kishu Domain arrived at Fuki Village, upon which Tenchu-gumi set a private house on fire to disturb. On October 19, the vanguard of Tenchu-gumi was at war with the soldiers of Tsu Domain in Obikawa and it succeeded in making the soldiers of Tsu Domain retreat to Gojo. Tenchu-gumi opened a council of war and contrived to escape to Osaka area.

On October 20, the bakufu army decided to do an all-out attack on October 22 and ordered various domains in charge of besieging Tenchu-gumi to that effect. The soldiers of various domains, reaching as many as 14,000 in total, marched on from every direct; Tenchu-gumi fought well, however, because the orders of the commander-in-chief Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA were confusing and incoherent, soldiers became panic-stricken and Tadamitsu completely lost popularity. Those who withdrew from Tenchu-gumi began to appear, and the morale of Tenchu-gumi went down. On October 26, soldiers of Kishu Domain and Tsu Domain attacked Ten no Tsuji that was defended by Torataro YOSHIMURA, leading him to abandon Ten no Tsuji. Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA was going to fight a decisive battle relying on a mountain fortress, but the Imperial Court gave an Imperial address to Totsukawa Village declaring Tadamitsu as an insurgent; samurai in Totsukawa Village changed their mind, and called for withdrawal to Tadamitsu. Finally Tadamitsu, who was at a loss, commanded the dissolution of Tenchu-gumi on October 31.

Remnants of Tenchu-gumi walked a rough road in the mountain and tried to escape, but Torataro YOSHIMURA, who bore a serious wound, dropped out of the party. On November 5, at Washiyaguchi (Higashiyoshino Village, Nara Prefecture) which is located next to Washio Mountain Pass, the party met the soldiers from Kishu Domain and Hikone Domain. Shingo NASU organized a death squad in order to make Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA flee, entered into an enemy camp and died in battle; Tesseki FUJIMOTO was also killed in battle; Keido MATSUMOTO who had lost eye sight from an injury committed suicide. Torataro YOSHIMURA who was behind the party was shot to death at Washiyadani on November 8 by a soldier of Tsu Domain. Tenchu-gumi was destroyed.

Tadamitsu NAKAYAMA had a narrow escape from enemy's heavy siege and arrived at Osaka on November 8; soon after he was sheltered in a residence of Choshu Domain. He escaped to Choshu and was hiding himself in Shimonoseki City, but he was strangled in November of 1864 by the deference faction (Zokuron-to) which came to have the actual power within the domain after the Kinmon Incident.

After the incident, Kuniomi HIRANO attacked the magistrate's office in Ikuno-cho in Tajima Province in November 1863 and raised an army. His army was hunted down by the bakufu army and was defeated.
(Ikuno Incident)

Tenchu-gumi's uprising failed, but the fact that this incident became a fuse of the Meiji Restoration has been highly evaluated.