Hijikata Toshizo at Utsunomiya Castle

By Armen Bakalian

The Boshin War of 1868-69 thrust many people onto Japan’s military and political scene, all of them competing for prominence in the new system that was about to emerge in the power vacuum left by the fallen Tokugawa shogunate. Hijikata Toshizo was one of these men. Having achieved notoriety in Kyoto as vice-commander of the Shinsengumi, he escaped to Edo following the Tokugawa forces’ disastrous rout at Toba-Fushimi, and in his role as a Tokugawa retainer, took part in the efforts to stall the approach of the Kyoto government’s army. After a long period of uncertainty, the new government’s army entered Edo, and pro-Tokugawa forces were routed at Ueno, as well as under Shinsengumi commander Kondo Isami, at Nagareyama. Following those events, Hijikata Toshizo headed northward.

He joined Otori Keisuke, a commander of the former Shogunate’s infantry, as well as men of the Aizu and Kuwana domains, and led an attack on Utsunomiya Castle. Utsunomiya Castle was strategically located—it was on the northward roads leading to locations like Aizu and Sendai, which were becoming prime rallying locations for forces opposed to the new government.

A question that had been on my mind for some time was the following-- a castle in Edo-era Japan is never without an occupant. A ruling family of Utsunomiya was never mentioned in anything I'd read on Hijikata's attack, and this led me to believe that perhaps it was one of the Tokugawa family's castles. Checking the list of castles in direct posession of the Tokugawa, I quickly found that this was not the case.

Who ruled Utsunomiya Castle, then? Where was its lord, and why was his castle attacked by Hijikata and Otori?

The logical step was to look for "Utsunomiya-han" ("Utsunomiya domain") in a reference book-- in this case, volume one of Ogawa Kyoichi's "Edo Bakuhan Daimyo-ke Jiten" ("A Dictionary of Edo-era Lordly Families"), and Abe Akira's article on Utsunomiya-han in volume two of the the extensive domain encyclopedia "Hanshi Daijiten". Sure enough, I found it: Utsunomiya-han was a domain ruled by the Toda family. As of Keio 3 (1867), it was a moderately-sized domain of 70,850 koku, or roughly a quarter of the size of the Aizu domain in the same year (280,000 koku). The lord of Utsunomiya was Toda Tadatomo, who in 1868 was a young 20 years old.

The next question that arose in mind that arose was this, now that I knew the name of the lord-- did he have any history of a disconnect with the Tokugawa family, or a tendency toward inaction when it came to Shogunal politics? The answer was a resounding no-- Tadatomo held high positions in the Tokugawa administration, both as a Master of Ceremonies (soshaban) and a Magistrate of Temples and Shrines (Jisha-bugyo). He was appointed to these posts as of the 25th day of the 7th month of Keio 3 (1867), so that doesn't leave much room for him to do anything antagonistic to deserve an attack by the former Shogunate's infantry.

Looking at a timeline of the actions of the lords of Utsunomiya throughout history, I found the following: Toda Tadatomo was, on the 15th of the 3rd month of Meiji 1 (1868), in Otsu, on his way to Kyoto, to transmit Tokugawa Yoshinobu's apologies to the Imperial Court, when he was arrested and detained. Utsunomiya was thus left lordless, until the 6th of the 4th month, when his predecessor, Toda Tadayuki, returned to Utsunomiya from Edo, and officially submitted to the new government.

This answered my question of why exactly Hijikata and Otori attacked him. But I read further-- about a week after Tadayuki returned, a peasant riot (a "yonaoshi-ikki", as it's known in Japanese) broke out, and hard on the heels of the riots, only a handful of days later, Hijikata and Otori arrived and took the castle on the 19th of the 4th month. However, the new government attacked Utsunomiya Castle a handful of days later, on the 23rd. Years later, Otori wrote an account of the events, which was published in the magazine "Kyu Bakufu" in Meiji 30 (1898), in which he said that Hijikata was among the injured leaders of the force operating at Utsunomiya. Hijikata was subsequently taken to the Higashiyama hotsprings within the Aizu domain for treatment.

On a rather interesting note, the gojintai (divine image) from Toshogu Shrine was removed three days after the Kyoto government’s forces took Utsunomiya Castle, which was uncomfortably close for the forces in the north. Another effort was made by the opposition forces to take a strategic target; namely, Shirakawa Castle, but this too also ended in failure by the 5th month of Meiji 1.

Just a little example of the level of detail that I am beginning to discover in my research on the Bakumatsu.





Abe Akira. “Utsunomiya-han,” in Hanshi Daijiten, Volume 2, edited Kimura Motoi. Tokyo: Yuzankaku, 1990.

Gekidosuru Aizu Boshin Hen. Vol. 5 of Aizuwakamatsu Shi. Tokyo: Kokusho-kankokai, 1981.

Ogawa Kyouichi. Edo Bakuhan Daimyo-ke Jiten, Volume 1. Tokyo: Hara Shobo, 1992.

Otori Keisuke. “Nanka Kiko,” in Kyu Bakufu 1 (1898): 20-58.

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