Hi, otaku readers of MANGA.TOKYO! Do you like the Shinsengumi?
There are so many manga on the Shinsengumi out there, and if you are an anime fan, you’ve probably heard this name before. (You know about the Shinsengumi parody in Gintama, right? Lol) In the Fall 2016 anime season, Vice Commander of the Shinsengumi, Toshizo Hijikata appears in Drifters. In Touken Ranbu -Hanamaru-, you can see beloved swords that belonged to Shinsengumi members Soji Okita, Toshizo Hijikata, and Isami Kondo. One of the main characters, Yasusada has dreams of the Shinsengumi, and he also appears in the Shinsengumi uniform.
Many historical records show that the Shinsengumi was active mainly in Kyoto, and there are famous sites there that you can easily visit. This article will take you to the area called Mibu where the Shinsengumi had their Tonsho- their base for training and accommodation.
What was the Shinsengumi?
The Shinsengumi was a police force created to control the anti-Bakufu movement (calling for the expulsion of foreigners) formed at the end of the Edo period. Commander Isami Kondo, Vice Commander Toshizo Hijikata, and General Commander Keisuke Yamanami were the major figures in the Shinsengumi.
The all-males members were mostly in their 20s and 30s. Many of them, such as Soji Okita, had extreme sword skills. Even today, the Shinsengumi name and their activities are well known in Japan through manga, anime, and TV dramas. Kyoto and the Shinsengumi are inseparable, and you often see characters/mascots in the Shinsengumi uniform.
Major manga/anime related to the Shinsengumi
PEACEMAKER Kurogane: Currently, this is irregularly published online and it’s about the Shinsengumi and Ryoma Sakamoto. This manga has been adapted into an anime in the past. The flow of the story is mostly chronological.
Kaze Hikaru: As of 2016, this is serialized in Monthly Flowers. Its plot revolves around the fantasy of ‘what happens if a girl joined the Shinsengumi!?’. Soji Okita is the male protagonist.
Drifters: Broadcast in the Fall 2016 anime season. The protagonist here is Shimazu, and Toshizo Hijikata belongs to an opponent camp.
Rurouni Kenshin: The masterpiece of Weekly Shonen Jump. Captain of the Third Squad, Hajime Saito, appears in this title.
Golden Kamui: This is currently (2016) being serialized in Weekly Young Jump. In this, Toshizo Hijikata unruly lives until the Meiji period.
Hakuoki-Shinsengumi Kitan-: Originally a romance simulation game, it has been adapted into an anime, a manga, and a stage play. It’s been gaining unshakable popularity.
Chiruran Shinsengumi Requiem: This is currently appearing in serial form in Monthly Comic Zenon. It is going to get an anime adaptation in January, 2017!
Main access to Mibu
From Kyoto Station
Kyoto City Bus No.26/28 – get off at Mibu-dera Michi
Kyoto Bus No. 71/72/73/75 – get off at Mibu-dera Michi
From the Shijo Area
Shijo Kawaramachi: Hankyu Kyoto Line – get off at Omiya
Shijo Kawaramachi: Kyoto City Bus No. 3/11 – get off at Mibu-dera Michi
Keihan Sanjo: Kyoto City Bus No. 11 – get off at Mibu-dera Michi
* It only takes about 10 mins on foot from Shijo-Omiya Station on Hankyu Railway or Randen Line!
There is a cellphone retailer next to the station off the Randen, so you just need to head over there and keep going straight. If you are unsure, catching the bus might be an easier option.
Quiet area that avoids the bustle of the city
This place is accessible from Shijo and Kyoto Station. However, once you step into an alley, you’ll realize that you’re in a very quiet town of Mibu. Basically, this is a residential area.
There is a row of traditional townhouses, and it certainly still retains an old Kyoto atmosphere. Walking into the alley, you can see the flag of Shinsengumi, known for its dandara pattern (the zigzag part of their uniform).
The former Maekawa Residence
The house is a private residence and not open to the public. Visitors are welcome to step inside the gate, but not the house, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during weekends and public holidays. This was regularly used as a back entrance, and now you can purchase souvenirs and memorabilia.
There was a great selection of items, such as Haikyu Japanese hand towels with a Kyoto limited design and Hakuoki character goods. I saw postcards and Youkan Japanese sweets, as well! People generally think of the Shinsengumi when they hear the word Kyoto. Surely, it’s easy to spot Shinsengumi-related items that are collaboration with various anime.
They also sell replicas of Katana and wooden swords. (Please note that many of them could be out of stock due to their popularity.)
I noticed that there were some autographs displayed, which were signed by actors who played the roles of Shinsengumi members. Just knowing that the actual Shinsengumi members were coming in and out from this entrance makes you feel the history aura that permeates this place. When the sign of the Shinsengumi quarters was put out there, Soji Okita happily repeated, ‘This is good, so good…’ with a cheerful smile as he stared at the sign every day.
The former Maekawa Residence is also known as the place where the General Commander committed Seppuku. For that reason, every year the house invites a limited number of people to hold a memorial service just for a day in early March. To get invited to this, you need to apply in writing to enter the draw.
The Yagi Residence
This was also used as the Shinsengumi quarters. The room opened to the public is where the original Lead Commander Kamo Serizawa was assassinated.
The admission fee is ¥1000, including tea and small Japanese sweets.
Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photos beyond this point, but a guide kindly told us the origin of the Shinsengumi and the details of his assassination. At that time, Serizawa and his group were too out-of-hand because of their fierce personality and reckless drinking habits. Kondo came up with an assassination plan when he was commanded to keep them under control. Hijikata got them drunk before coming back to this house. Serizawa and his group were killed after fighting desperately for their lives. They stumbled over the desk, leaving sword cuts here and there.
It is such a special experience actually being in the spot where you remember a character from a TV show or anime getting killed. I was able to see some of the damage possibly caused by Okita’s sword and a brazier that they were using back then. (You are not allowed to touch either of them!) The tour was only in Japanese, but I would strongly recommend it if you are a fan of the Shinsengumi. It is nice to take a look into the past thinking of how they lived in the house. The garden is very well looked after, too.
After the guided tour, you get served a tea and sweets at the wagashi sweets shop next door.
The matcha green tea wasn’t too bitter. I enjoyed it!
This is a sticky rice cake with red bean paste inside, called Tonsho Mochi. It contains a leafy vegetable from Mibu called Mibuna, and the occasional crunchy texture and the wonderful aroma are unique to it. This is quite sweet, but apparently that makes it a perfect match with the Matcha green tea.
Tonsho Mochi is available for purchase in the shop. This would make a good souvenir for your friends who love the Shinsengumi! It expires about 4 days after purchase.
They also sell various Kyoto sweets, the Shinsengumi happi coats, Japanese hand towels, and other items.
Last but not least, here is Mibu-dera Temple. This is where the Shinsengumi had their training. The section used to be bigger, and so they apparently practiced horsemanship there, too. I wonder if the members were swinging their wooden swords here…
Please remember not to make noise, and show your gratitude when visiting the temple.
The grave of Kamo Serizawa, who was assassinated at the Yagi Residence, resides in Mibu-dera Temple.
You can try your luck by doing ‘O-mikuji’ (fortune-telling lottery) or purchase ‘O-mamori’ (Japanese good luck amulets) and Japanese votive tablets called ’ema’.
Personally, I believe that the O-mikuji in Mibu-dera Temple is quite genuine. On top of that, my wish often come true after praying there. I was aware that this temple is not where the god of study enshrined, but I still visited to pray for success in the university entrance exam. (After the visit, I finally managed to pass the exam! Such a miracle!)
There are many more places in Kyoto related to the Shinsengumi!
No matter what brought you into the Shinsengumi world, Mibu is the place you must visit as it’s ‘the origin of the Shinsengumi’. It is no exaggeration to say that everything began from this area. There are many more places related to the Shinsengumi. To feel the history, it may be entertaining to follow their path starting with Mibu.
In the next article, I’ll focus on the famous Ikedaya Incident, the place where Ryoma Sakamoto was assassinated and a museum that tells the details of what really happened.
Stay tuned in MANGA.TOKYO! See you soon!