Hitokiri (“Man-Cutter”) Izō

Okada Izō was one of the three most notorious assassins of the Bakumatsu era. The novelist Shiba Ryōtarō writes of the “overly intense physical strength and stamina” with which Izō was naturally endowed. By age fifteen, Izō had already started training on his own—not with a bamboo practice sword commonly used in the training hall but with a heavier and lethal oaken sword he had carved himself, “wielding it. . . from morning to night,” with such ferocity that his “body would be wasted,” thus developing extraordinarily powerful arms and the ability to handle a sword with great speed. The original purpose of a sword was to kill people. But “in the Tokugawa era it became a philosophy. Izō [however] . . . taught himself fencing as a means of killing.” He was “intrepid by nature and fond of the martial arts,” wrote one local historian in 1928. His sword “attack came swift, like a falcon, as was apparent in his nature—which was why [his sword master Takéchi Hanpeita] was so fond of him,” according to another source.

The above is from my recently published Samurai Assassins.


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Katsu Kaishū Portrait by Kawamura Kiyo’o

The title “returning from the surrender of Edo Castle” is misleading because Katsu Kaishū did not attend the official (formal) surrender ceremony. But he did negotiate the peaceful surrender of the castle with Saigō, which of course resulted in the actual surrender. For that he was considered a traitor by many in the Tokugawa camp. As stated in the museum’s description of the painting (below), behind Kaishū is supposed to be a stonewall of the castle, to the left side of which is a fellow Bakufu samurai, sword drawn, as if ready to attack him.

This portrait is based on a photograph at the British Legation in Yokohama taken by Ernest Satow, secretary to Sir Harry Parkes, the British minister to Japan, around the time the castle was surrendered. “I was so very sleepy at the time,” Kaishū recalled years later. “But they dragged me over there. Satow took it, because, as he said, ‘You’re going to be killed.’”

Kawamura Kiyo’o’s grandfather, Kawamura Tajima-no-Kami, was a high official in the Bakufu, who had served in magisterial posts in Niigata, Sakai, Ōsaka, and Nagasaki. Kiyo’o, who grew up in Nagasaki, developed a keen interest in oil painting, a Western art form. He was sent to study in the United States in Meiji 4 (1871), after which he traveled to Europe to study oil painting in France and Italy. Kaishū built a studio for Kawamura within the compound of his estate at Hikawa in Tokyo. (from Samurai Revolution)

[This reproduction of the original painting is at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. I took these photos about two years ago. There was no avoiding the glare from the flash.]


Katsu Kaishū of course is “the shogun’s last samurai” of my Samurai Revolution.

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