Takasugi Shinsaku (高杉晋作)

Shinsaku TAKASUGI (September 27, 1839 - May 17, 1867) was a Japanese samurai of the Choshu clan. He was an anti-shogunate royalist who lived at the end of the Edo period. He formed various military corps including the Kiheitai (irregular militia) and led the Choshu clan to campaign against the shogunate. His imina (personal name generally used posthumously or by one's parents or lord) was Harukaze. His common names were Shinsaku, Toichi and Wasuke. His courtesy name was Chofu. His pseudonym was Togyo.

He used various aliases including Senzo TANI, Umenosuke TANI, Sukeichiro BINGOYA, Wasuke MITANI, Taro HORI, Gyoma SHISHIDO and Matsusuke NISHIURA. He later officially changed his name to Senzo TANI. He was posthumously awarded the court rank of Shoshii (Senior Fourth Rank).


He was born on Kikuya Yokocho Street in Hagi-jo Castle Town, Nagato Province (now Hagi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture) as the first son of Kochuta TAKASUGI (an upper-class samurai with a stipend of 200 koku) and Michi.

He suffered from smallpox at the age of 10. After studying at a private school of Chinese classics, he entered a hanko (public school for the children of samurai), Meirinkan, in 1852 and learned swordplay as well. In 1857, he entered Shoka Sonjuku, a private school headed by Shoin YOSHIDA, and in 1858 was sent by the clan to study in Edo. He studied at Shoheizaka Gakumonjo (a shogunate school) and other places. When his teacher Shoin was arrested during the Ansei Purge in 1859, Takasugi visited him in jail. Shoin was executed in October. Takasugi returned home in December 1860 and married the second daughter of Yamaguchi town magistrate Heiemon INOUE, Masa, who was said to be the most beautiful lady in Suo and Nagato Provinces.

In April 1861, he undertook naval training on the clan's warship Heishinmaru, and travelled to Edo. In September he went to the Tohoku region to study, and there associated with Shozan SAKUMA and Shonan YOKOI.. In May 1862, by order of the clan, he departed Nagasaki for Shanghai City, China, with Tomoatsu GODAI and others, accompanying the shogunate envoys. There he learned about the state of the Qing dynasty's colonization by the West and of the Taiping Rebellion, a popular uprising that had continued since 1854. He then returned home in July, having been greatly influenced by the journey, according to his diary "Yu-shin Goroku" (Five Accounts of a Voyage to China).

In the Choshu clan, during the absence of Takasugi, Uta NAGAI and others of the old guard faction were ousted and the Sonno Joi faction (those who advocated reverence for the Emperor and expulsion of foreigners) became dominant. Takasugi also joined the Sonno Joi movement with Kogoro KATSURA (Takayoshi KIDO) and Yoshisuke KUSAKA (Genzui KUSAKA) and launched a campaign in Kyoto espousing loyalty to the Emperor, nullification of treaties and the expelling of foreigners, in cooperation with royalists from other clans.

In 1862, Takasugi argued, 'The Satsuma clan has already seen results in expelling foreigners by killing them in Namamugi, and yet our clan is still advocating for reconciliation between the imperial court and the shogunate. We must find some way to get results in expelling foreigners. If the clan government cannot take a decisive action to do it...'
Just at that time, Takasugi and his comrades (Genzui KUSAKA, Yahachiro YAMATO, Kurata NAGAMINE, Monta SHIJI, Gozo MATSUSHIMA, Chuzaburo TERAJIMA, Kumajiro ARIYOSHI, Mikinojo AKANE, Yozo YAMAO and Yajiro SHINAGAWA) conspired to kill the foreign ministers who often holidayed in Kanazawa in Musashi Province (Kanazawa Hakkei). However, Kusaka told the plan to Hanpeita TAKECHI of the Tosa clan, who made it known to the head of the Tosa clan Yodo YAMAUCHI, and from him the news reached the head of the Choshu clan Sadahiro MORI, who stopped them from carrying it out recklessly, and ordered them to confine themselves at home. The comrades, during their confinement, signed a covenant to form the Mitategumi group and sealed it with their blood.

In this process, Takasugi formed the idea of Choshu nationalism, thinking that only the royalists from the Choshu clan were trustworthy. The Choshu clan's cooperation and negotiation with the imperial court and other clans came to be handled by Katsura and Kusaka exclusively. On January 31, 1863, Takasugi and his comrades attacked and burned the British legation building under construction in Gotenyama, Shinagawa, in order to protest the shogunate's acting against the intentions of the Emperor. Takasugi also transferred the remains of Shoin, who had been executed as a rebel against the shogunate, from Odawara to Setagaya in broad daylight, and held a funeral service. Being afraid that such radical actions might irritate the shogunate, the clan recalled Takasugi from Edo.

On June 25, 1863, after the deadline for the expulsion of foreigners that had been set by the shogunate upon the demand of the imperial court, the Choshu clan fired cannons at foreign ships in the Kanmon-Kaikyo Strait, but was overwhelmingly defeated by the American and French counter-attack. Takasugi was in put charge of the defense of Shimonoseki. In July, at the residence of Shoichiro SHIRAISHI who was a wholesaler in the port, Takasugi formed the Kiheitai militia, consisting of voluntary soldiers of any social rank, with its headquarters at Amida-ji Temple (next to Akama-jingu Shrine). However, he was dismissed from the post of commandant in October, for being responsible for the Incident at Kyoho-ji Temple.

In Kyoto, the Choshu clan was ousted in the Coup of August 18, by a coalition of the Satsuma and Aizu clans in the imperial court. In February 1864, Takasugi tried to dissuade the radical Matabei KIJIMA from his plan to fight the Satsuma and Aizu in Kyoto, but failed and then left the domain to hide in Kyoto himself. He returned home in February, having been persuaded to do so by Kogoro KATSURA, and then was put into Noyamagoku jail for the charge of leaving the domain. He was released from jail in July and ordered to confine himself at home. In August, the Choshu clan lost a battle in the Kinmon Incident and became an enemy of the Emperor. Kijima died in the battle and Genzui KUSAKA killed himself. In September, a combined fleet of warships from four nations — England, France, the United States of America and the Netherlands — attacked Shimonoseki and occupied the gun battery there. Shinsaku was then forgiven and put in charge of peace negotiations.

In the peace conference, the coalition countries demanded "lease of Hiko-shima Island" as well as various other terms. Takasugi accepted almost all terms proposed, but persistently refused this "lease of territory" and finally succeeded in eliminating it. Takasugi, having seen the situation of the Qing dynasty, understood that the "fixed-term lease of territory" was a method of colonization. Later generations have concluded that if this demand had been accepted, Japanese history would have turned out very differently. Shinsaku TAKASUGI was then 24 years old.

As the shogunate planned the first conquest of Choshu, a moderate faction advocating reconciliation with the shogunate became dominant in the Choshu clan and Takasugi escaped to Fukuoka in October. He was sheltered in the Hirao Sanso Mountain Villa, but returned to Shimonoseki on hearing that the moderate faction had executed a chief retainer of the reformist faction. On the night of January 12, at Kozan-ji Temple, Takasugi raised an army made up of various corps of the Choshu clan, including the Rikishitai led by Hirobumi ITO and the Yugekitai led by Kojiro ISHIKAWA. Other corps later joined as well, including Kiheitai, and in March 1865 they ousted the leader of the moderate faction, Tota MUKUNASHI, and seized power in the clan. In the same year, Takasugi contacted an English merchant named Glover in Nagasaki, in an attempt to go abroad, but Glover rejected the proposal. Takasugi then pressed for the opening of Shimonoseki Port to foreigners, which led both the reformist and moderate factions to try to kill him, and in April he escaped to the Shikoku region with his mistress Ono (later called Baishoni), relying on the support of Enseki KUSANAGI there. In July, Kogoro KATSURA arranged for him to return home.

On February 6, 1865, Shinsaku was disinherited by the Takasugi family and treated as 'Hagukumi' (peasant who became a samurai through a system unique to the Choshu clan). On November 17 of the same year, he changed his name to Senzo TANI on the order of the clan. On May 3, 1867, he was awarded a stipend of 100 koku and became the first head of the Tani family.

On March 7, 1866 (March 8 according to another theory), an alliance between the Satsuma and Choshu clans, which Shinsaku had been promoting with Kogoro KATSURA, Kaoru INOUE and Shunsuke ITO, was concluded at the residence of the Satsuma clan in Kyoto, with Ryoma SAKAMOTO, Shintaro NAKAOKA and Hisamoto HIJIKATA from the Tosa clan acting as intermediaries.

In June, he was ordered to go to Satsuma with Shunsuke ITO, and in Nagasaki independently purchased a warship called the Otentosamamaru.

In July, at the time of the second conquest of Choshu by the shogunate (the Shikyo War), he boarded the Otentosamamaru as chief commander of the Navy. He attacked at night and defeated a shogunate fleet moored in the sea near Suo-oshima Island, and recaptured the island in cooperation with other corps, such as the second Kiheitai unit led by Hanshichi HAYASHI. In the area of Kokura City, he began the attack by commanding his warships to fire cannons at the coast of Moji and Tanoura. With this support, he landed Kiheitai and Hokokutai troops and destroyed the gun battery and magazine of the shogunate, whose army then took flight. He then tried to attack further, but meeting a furious counter-attack by the Higo clan in front of Kokura-jo Castle, he temporarily ceased the assault.

However, various clans supporting the shogunate withdrew from time to time, being furious about the timidity and indecisiveness of the shogunate chief commander Nagamichi OGASAWARA. In August, Ogasawara was informed that the Shogun Iemochi TOKUGAWA had died, and taking this opportunity, he withdrew from the battle. The defeat of the shogunate was decided. This defeat eroded the authority of the shogunate in a dramatic fashion and marked a turning point towards the restoration of Imperial rule in November 1867. However, Shinsaku himself, suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, was forced to recuperate in Sakurayama. He died at the age of 27, on May 17, 1867, assured that the Edo shogunate would end, but without witnessing the restoration of Imperial rule. A story says that his father, mother, wife and son came to see him, and Motoni NOMURA, Aritomo YAMAGATA and Kensuke TANAKA also witnessed his death, although its details are unclear, as Tanaka's diary says that he was in Kyoto on that day. Takasugi's tomb is in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

He was also enshrined and honored at Tokyo Shokonsha Shrine, which is currently Yasukuni-jinja Shrine, by Takayoshi KIDO and Matsujiro OMURA, together with Shoin YOSHIDA, Genzui KUSAKA, Ryoma SAKAMOTO and Shintaro NAKAOKA.

Personal Profile

His death poem reads 'Living an exciting life in the not-exciting world.'

The last part of the poem, 'It depends on what the heart sees' is said to have added by Motoni NOMURA. However, another theory claims that this is not true, since there is a record indicating that the poem was created one year previously.

A dodoitsu song (Japanese popular love song in the 7-7-7-5 syllable pattern), 'I want to kill the crow of the Three Thousand Worlds, and sleep with you in the morning' is widely considered to have been penned by Shinsaku (or Takayoshi KIDO according to another theory).
This dodoitsu song is still sung today as the lyrics of folk songs in Hagi City, such as 'Otoko nara' and 'Yoishokosho bushi.'

His monument of honor says, 'Moving like the lightning, speaking like the storm, all are astonished and none dare face him. This is our Togyo Takasugi.'
This is a comment by Hirobumi ITO on Shinsaku TAKASUGI.

Family Lineage

The Takasugi clan

There are various theories about the origin of the Takasugi clan. Novelist Ryotaro SHIBA has pointed out that Shinsaku had his origin in 'Takasugi-jo Castle' in present Takasugi, Miyoshi City, Hiroshima Prefecture. This Takasugi-jo Castle is said to be the castle ruins of hafurishi, people involved in Shinto rituals under the control of the Eda clan. Another theory asserts that the castle was 'Takasugi-yama-jo Castle' in Akitakata City, Hiroshima Prefecture. At this former castle site, descendants of Shinsaku established a monument in 1935, indicating that Shinsaku was the thirteenth descendant of the Takasugi clan. Both castles of Takasugi seem to be associated with Shinsaku, but it is not clear which theory is correct. There is also a theory presuming that the Takasugi clan was a vassal of the Takeda clan, military governors of Aki Province, and involved in some Shinto rituals. The family crest is a diamond divided into four parts inside a circle.