Okada Izo (岡田以蔵)

Izo OKADA (1838 - June 3, 1865) was one of the Bakumatsu Shidai Hitokiri (Four famous assassins of Bakumatsu, end of the Edo Period) who joined the Tosa kinnoto (loyalist clique of Tosa) in his hometown, Tosa Province. He was referred to as 'Hitokiri Izo' (Izo the killer). His imina (real name) was Yoshifuru.


He was born in Iwamura, Kami County as the eldest son of Yoshihira OKADA, who was a country samurai that earned 20 koku 6 to 4 sho 5 go in rice. He had a younger brother named Keikichi OKADA who also joined the Kinnoto. In 1848, his father Yoshihira was enlisted as the domain's ashigaru (common foot soldier) to guard the seaside against ships from overseas that appeared off the coast of Tosa; he continued to live in Shichiken machi inside the castle town, and Izo himself succeeded the status as ashigaru.

He became a pupil of Zuizan (Hanpeita) TAKECHI and studied under Onohaittoryu school. Before becoming a pupil of TAKECHI, he was self-taught in swordplay, but was quite skilled. Following TAKECHI, he went to Edo and studied Kyoshin Meichi ryu at Shigakukan, which was the training hall of Shunzo MOMONOI.

In 1860, he followed TAKECHI and practiced martial arts in the Chugoku district and the Kyushu region. On their way, he stopped at the Oka Domain in Bungo Province, and studied the swordplay of 直指 ryu. Afterwards, he joined Tosa kinnoto which was organized by TAKECHI. For some reason however, he was later crossed off from the name list. It is not known whether if it was TAKECHI's idea or not, but Izo voluntarily went forward to the scene of the assassination following the instruction of TAKECHI. It is also said that TAKECHI used uneducated Izo merely as an instrument in the assassinations.

Starting with Saichiro INOUE, who was the shita metsuke (low class inspector of foot soldiers) of the Tosa Domain, Izo assassinated, in the name of heaven's punishment, Seiichiro HONMA who was his comrade, Daigaku IKEUCHI, Magoroku MORI, Juzo OGAWARA, Kinzan WATANABE, and Jonosuke UEDA, who were government officials and yoriki (police sergeants) that belonged to the Kyoto City Magistrate, Tatewaki TADA who was the son of Kazue MURAYAMA (she was tied to a bridge and made a public display alive), a mistress of Shuzen NAGANO (who commanded Ansei no Taigoku [suppression of extremists by the Shogunate]). With Shinbei TANAKA of Satsuma Province, he was referred to as 'Hitokiri Izo' and was feared.

After the Coup of August 18, the Kinnoto lost its momentum. When TAKECHI returned to Tosa, Izo changed his name to Tetsuzo DOI, and concealed himself alone in Kyoto. However, around June of 1864, he was captured by a shogunate official, and on being tattooed, he was banished from the capital Kyoto; at the same time, an official of the Tosa Domain captured him, and deported him to his hometown. In the Tosa Domain, all his comrades of the Tosa kinnoto were arrested for the assassination of Toyo YOSHIDA and the series of assassinations that took place in the capital Kyoto, and with the exception of Zuizan TAKECHI, who was a Joshi (superior warrior) rank, they underwent severe torture. Izo endured severe torture, but he finally made a full confession and was beheaded on May 11 1865, and his head was put on public display.
His death haiku read 'My mind that served for you came to nothing, and will only clear up after you've gone.'

His grave is the family grave in the mountains near Azo Station at Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture. He was buried in his secular name, Yoshifuru OKADA.

Personal Profile

Documents from the same period or letters written by Izo himself that tell the achievements of OKADA are scarce, but several documents tell about his personality and disposition.

According to "Tosa Ijinden" (Lives of Great People of Tosa) (Masamichi TERAISHI), he was 'courageous, fond of martial arts, and a giant with an extremely robust body.'
It must be added that there was a bit of a sense of glorification, for this book was written in 1921, a time when loyal supporters of the Emperor at the end of the Edo Period were extolled owing to the historical view that Japan was peerless as a country under the eternal reign of a ceaseless line of "living-god" emperors.

According to recent studies, he was in fact rough, and loved sake and women; especially in his later years, he was treated coldly even by his comrades of the Tosa kinnoto. Hanpeita TAKECHI, who learned of Izo's arrest, wrote in a letter to his home, 'it is better for such a fool to die soon, and how his parents would lament over him for returning unashamedly to his hometown,' which indicates his ill feeling towards Izo.
Letters which were considered to be written by Keikichi TAUCHI (TAKECHI's real younger brother) and so on tell that since his house stood in Shichiken machi, Izo was also disdainfully referred to as '七以.'

According to one theory, on learning of Izo's arrest, TAKECHI became afraid that Izo's confession may put his comrades on line, and he even tried to poison Izo through a jail keeping government official who was devoted to TAKECHI. There is an episode widely known through novels and so on that is interpreted in many ways; according to versions of this episode, TAKECHI was anxious that a weak natured Izo may easily give into torture; or that Izo may go under a far more severe torture than his other comrades due to his frivolousness; or that Izo received the poison and drank it (not knowing that it was poison), but did not die and confessed for not being able to withstand the torture; or he confessed in anger in finding out that it was poison.

These show why, through the eyes of TAKECHI, Izo was considered 'merely as an instrument for assassination.'
According to some books, the reason why TAKECHI treated Izo coldly in his later years was, for example, from the discriminative feeling for Izo who had low social standing and no education compared with the other comrades, a sense of danger that exposure of many of the assassinations that Izo took part in may have unfavorable effects to his fellow comrades, and resentment and anxiety toward Izo for not taking his own life although those exposures could be prevented if he had committed suicide; furthermore, even if he had been a member of the Tosa kinnoto that aimed for "Sonno Joi (19th century slogan advocating reverence for the Emperor and the expulsion of foreigners) and overthrowing the Shogunate", he became a bodyguard to Kaishu KATSU (to be explained later) who was "a member of the open country wing and a vassal of the shogun"; Izo was disdained, for "although skillful in swordplay, he was a man with no resolute ideas and beliefs."

Later, a pistol which was thought to have belonged to Izo OKADA was found, and from July 1, 2006 to August 31, it was put on display during the event 'The end of the Edo period for Ryoma, Hanpeita, and Izo' at the Kochi Prefectural Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum. According to the explanation by this museum, the pistol was made in France, and was a gift from Kaishu KATSU. A 'pistol' by the way, was a name applied for the public display, and in the strict sense, it was actually a handgun. Further, this pistol was put on public display by borrowing a personal belonging.

Apart from this, it was also transmitted that when Manjiro NAKANOHAMA tried to give his pistol to Izo, Izo had refused. However, there is no record that Izo had used these pistols and the details are not known.

Tenchu Incidents, in which Izo OKADA was thought to be involved

Assassination of Saichiro INOUE (August 26, 1862)

Saichiro INOUE was a shita yokome who was investigating the case of the assassination of Toyo YOSHIDA that took place on May 6th of the same year. The Kinnoto, which regarded him dangerous, summoned INOUE at first to a fancy Japanese-style restaurant called 'Daiyo (otherwise written as 大與) and intoxicated him; then on the Shinsai-bashi Bridge, the four men Izo, Kiyoma HISAMATSU, Hachinosuke OKAMOTO, and Kinzaburo MORITA, restrained and strangulated INOUE, and threw his corpse over the bridge into the Dotonbori-gawa River. Yataro IWASAKI, a colleague accompanying Saichiro INOUE on this occasion who had escaped this ordeal, later became the founder of the Mitsubishi Zaibatsu. It was said that there was an interrogation when Izo and the others were finally arrested, and only Kinzaburo MORITA, who remained silent, survived, and took part in the Boshin War. Later, MORITA told this story to Takayuki IGARASHI, who left behind a record called "An incident of the assassination of Saichiro INOUE."

Assassination of Seiichiro HOMMA (October 13, 1862)

Seiichiro HONMA was one of the supporters of the pro-Imperial from Echigo Province, but since he was a disputant who did not belong to a particular domain, patriots from each of the domains, who thought his attitude frivolous, began to hate him. Meanwhile, there was a dispute between Imperial Prince Kuninomiya Asahiko and Yodo YAMAUCHI over the imperial envoy to demand expulsion of foreigners, and when there was a confrontation between HONMA, who went forward with Imperial Prince Kuninomiya Asahiko, and the Kinnoto, who supported YAMAUCHI, HONMA cast doubt that he was communicating secretly with the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). According to "Documents of the Ito family, "HONMA was surrounded by a couple of men when he came out drunk from a fancy Japanese-style restaurant, and although both of his arms were pinned down and his long and short swords were taken away, he furiously fought against them and made some of them shrink back; however, in an unguarded moment, he was stabbed in the ribs, and was beheaded when he was on the verge of dying. There was however, a different opinion, for there was a testimony by a person inside the house who heard a sound 'like throwing coals' when HONMA and the assassins were fighting with swords. HONMA was also thrown into the Takase-gawa River (Kyoto Prefecture) after being killed. The criminals included Izo, as well as Shujiro HIRAI, Ekichi SHIMAMURA, Shinzo MATSUYAMA, Magozaburo OBATA, Kenta HIROSE, Gojiro TANABE and Shinbei TANAKA, who was known as the Hitokiri of Satsuma.

Ugo Genba no Kami (Director of the Bureau of Buddhism and Aliens) (October 15, 1862)

Shigekuni UGO (Ugo Genba no kami) was a shodaibu (fourth and fifth rank official) to the former chancellor Hisatada KUJO, and he suppressed the patriots with Sakon SHIMADA during Ansei no Taigoku, and because he was also involved in the set up of Kazunomiya koka (the marriage of Imperial princess Kazunomiya to an ordinary person), he was hated by the patriots of Joi (principle of excluding foreigners) group. Since the assassination of Sakon SHIMADA (August 16 of the same year), UGO, who sensed danger, was moving from place to place, but he was found hiding in the Kawaramachi Palace of the Kujo family, and while sleeping, he was suddenly attacked by Izo OKADA, Hachinosuke OKAMOTO, Chuzaburo MURATA, and Matsuzaemon TSUTSUMI from Higo Province. He was slain by Izo when he tried to escape by jumping out of bed, and his son was also killed by TSUTSUMI. UGO's head was thrust into a spear, and with a document explaining why he was killed, it was put on public display on the riverbank of the Kamo-gawa River. What is described above were recorded in "Kanbu Tsuki" (Records on civilian and military men), but there were different opinions regarding the criminals, and Izo's involvement was being questioned.

Murder of Mashira no Bunkichi (October 23, 1862)

Mashira no Bunkichi
[Also known as 'Bunkichi, the Meakashi (hired thief-taker)] was an okappiki (a hired thief-taker) who, as an agent of Sakon SHIMADA, disclosed many patriots during Ansei no Taigoku. Naturally, many royalists hated him deeply.
Three men, Izo OKADA, Harunosuke KIYOOKA, and Tashima ABE, took Bunkichi to Sanjo-gawara Riverside, and strangulated him with a cord, since 'cutting him would leave a stain on the sword.'
Bunkichi also helped with SHIMADA's money lending, and since the people also hated him, he was stripped of his clothes and tied to a stake at the riverside; a bamboo stick had been pierced through his body from the anus to the head, and there were those that threw rocks at his corpse which was made a public display. Furthermore, because 'inu' (dog) was written on the notice board on this occasion, it is theorized that the expression 'one's dog' was created as a derogatory term for 'one's tesaki' (one's agent).

Assassination of the four yoriki (November 14, 1862)

All of the four men, Kinzaburo WATANABE, Magoroku MORI, Juzo OGAWARA, and Sukenojo UEDA, were yoriki of the Kyoto City Magistrate, and they had also exposed patriots with Shuzen NAGANO and Sakon SHIMADA during Ansei no Taigoku; after the heaven's punishment against Ugo and Bunkichi, they were transferred from Kyoto to Edo in order to avoid being targeted. On the evening of their arrival to Ishibe-juku (the 51st post station of the Tokaido Road), more than thirty members of roshi made an attack on the posting station, and in the uproar, these four men were murdered. It had said in a note that described their crimes, that this was heaven's punishment for arresting many patriots and making them a felon. It was considered that many of the patriots from Tosa, Choshu, the Satsuma Domain, and the Kurume Domain took part in this raid. In "A diary while staying in Kyoto" written by Hanpeita TAKECHI, the names of the twelve of those from Tosa who took part were listed, but Izo was not included. However, it was generally viewed that Izo took part in this raid.

Living public displays of Saburo HIRANOYA and Hanbei SENBEIYA (November 30, 1862)

Although merchants, Jusaburo HIRANOYA (?) and Hanbei SENBEIYA ?) were raised to a samurai class when Shigetomi OHARA left Kyoto for Edo as an Imperial Envoy in May of the same year (old calendar), and they had attended to him, they had a bad reputation for accepting bribery and embezzlement. Since such men were appointed to accompany the Imperial envoy that month, patriots from Choshu and Tosa Domains that became anxious for the loss of prestige in the Imperial Court stood together and decided to provoke heaven's punishment. Izo OKADA, Toranosuke SENYA, and Kinosuke IGARASHI from Tosa, and Chuzaburo TERAJIMA joined from Choshu, and they split up to take both of the men in and kill them, but they did not kill because of the pleas of their family to spare their lives, and because of their class as townsmen; the two men were put on public display alive, by being tied naked on to a stake which was used for exposing cotton on the riverside of Kamo-gawa River.

Assassination of Tatewaki TADA (January 4, 1863)

Tatewaki TADA was a son of Kazue MURAYAMA (otherwise written as '可寿江'. Some documents describe her as Taka MURAYAMA), who was a mistress of Shuzen NAGANO, and he was a terazamurai (samurai who performed administrative functions at temples) at Rokuon-ji Temple (Kinkaku-ji Temple), but was made a target since he also took part in the suppression of patriots during Ansei no Taigoku. On the night of the 14th, roshi (masterless samurai) conducted a raid on Kazue's house near Shimahara yukaku, and pulled her out of bed and made her a public display alive at the foot of Sanjo-ohashi Bridge; on the next evening, they brought TADA, who was taken in by a threatened owner to the Keage scaffold, and murdered him. His head was on public display at Kuritaguchi. It was said that Kazue was on public display alive for three days and three nights. A total of twenty men took part in this raid, and it is believed that Izo participated with Yasozuchi NARASAKI of Choshu, Magozaburo OBATA, Masuya KONO, Uzumaro YORIOKA, and Toranosuke CHIYA from Satsuma. Among them, YORIOKA lived until the Taisho era, and told of this incident.

Daigaku IKEUCHI (March 11, 1863)

Daigaku IKEUCHI was formerly a Confucian scholar who belonged to the townsmen class, and was one of the Sonno Joi ha (supporters of the doctrine of restoring the emperor and expelling the barbarians). Since he devised stratagems for the problems on imperial sanction on treaties and the Shogun's successor, he was severely interrogated from the bakufu during Ansei no Taigoku, but because he surrendered voluntarily, the charges against him were relatively light. Because this had appeared as a 'betrayal against the Bakufu' to the eyes of the patriots that belonged to the Sonno Joi ha, he was made a target. Daigaku changed his name and hid himself in Osaka, but just at that moment, he was invited to a banquet of Yodo YAMAUCHI, and was attacked on his way home. His head was put on public display at Naniwa-bashi Bridge, and on the 24th of the same month, his ears were thrown inside the house of Sanearu Ogimachi-SANJO and Tadayasu NAKAYAMA with a ransom note, resulting in resignation of both of the court nobles. Only the name of Izo was mentioned for this incident, and the exact number and the organization of the others who were considered present at the scene were not transmitted.

Assassination of Hajime KAGAWA (March 18, 1863)

Hajime KAGAWA was a vassal of a Court noble Arifumi CHIGUSA, and was made a target because he had cooperated with Sakon SHIMADA and others, and joined the suppression of the patriots during Ansei no Taigoku. When the roshi made a raid and stepped into his house, KAGAWA went upstairs and hid himself; but on seeing his young children who unfortunately came home and were cruelly questioned by the roshi that had captivated them, he went downstairs on his own will, and was beheaded. This incident was generally thought as the crime of Shinbei TANAKA from Satsuma, but it was conjectured that Izo also joined him. On the other hand, there was a different opinion that it was the crime of Toraroku HAGIWARA from the Himeji Domain.

Izo OKADA is thought to have been involved in the nine incidents described above.
However, there is a theory among the researchers that consider him as 'not necessarily involved in all of the incidents.'
On the other hand, there is also a viewpoint that states 'between 1862 to 1864 when assassinations were rampant, there were many assassinations for which even today criminals are not identified (only that they were Sonno joi ha is known from notes describing their crime).'

Izo OKADA as bodyguards for leading figures

Kaishu KATSU (1863)

According to 'Hikawa seiwa' (Quiet talks at the Hikwa mansion), which is an autobiography of Kaishu KATSU, Izo OKADA became Kaishu KATSU's bodyguard owing to the mediation of Ryoma SAKAMOTO. Three assassins attacked Kaishu, but when Izo cut one of them down and gave a roar, the remaining two assassins ran away. On that occasion, KATSU said "You should not be fond of killing people. Such actions taken a few days ago are better to be mended" and tried to persuade him, but Izo said in return "But Mr. Katsu, if it weren't for me, your head must already have been slain." As might be expected, KATSU seemed to have had no words to say in return, for he said 'I had no a single word to this."

John Manjiro

According to the family tradition of the Nakahama family [("Manjiro NAKANOHAMA - A Japanese that told about 'America' for the first time" (Hiroshi NAKAHAMA, 2005)], Izo OKADA was also a bodyguard of John Manjiro. Kaishu KATSU, who was confident in OKADA's skill as his own bodyguard, made him become a bodyguard of Manjiro. When they went to a western style grave that Manjiro had built, four assassins tried to attack Manjiro, but Izo had sensed the two ambushes that were hiding, and told Manjiro not to escape impulsively but to stay put with his back against the gravestone, and slew the two attackers down. The remaining two attackers made an escape.

[Original Japanese]