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Sokaku Takeda Biography (3)

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by Tokimune Takeda

Aiki News #76 (December 1987)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Brian Workman of the USA.

Besieged Soldiers of Aizu Castle

The Aizu army, entrenched in Aizu Castle, organized shock troops to slip out and conduct night attacks on the Western army, whose artillery lost half its effectiveness in the darkness so that it experienced a difficult struggle.

Under the command of chief retainer Kampei Sagawa, these shock troops were especially effective. It is said that the spear art of the Aizu clan was without equal in all of Japan. Inside the castle, spear experts such as Sokichi Irie and Kotaro Shiga killed scores of the enemy in the fighting, while women and children fought fires under the command of a fire brigade from Edo (later Tokyo), under a hail of shrapnel from enemy volleys fired from Mt. Oda.

A priest named Nikkai of Daihoji climbed the tower and, praying to Amida Buddha, rang the bell every hour, day and night, throughout the battle. The soldiers outside the castle, hearing the bell, knew that those inside were still holding on and continued to fight hard.

Martyrdom of the Saigo Family

A famous story in connection with the Aizu war is that of the tragic death of 21 members of the family of Tanomo Saigo, the chief retainer in charge of the castle.

Tanomo Saigo hailed from the Hoshina family of the Aizu clan, a prominent family that had taken part in the conduct of clan affairs for generations. When the leader of the clan, Katamori Matsudaira, undertook the task of guarding the city of Kyoto in 1862, Tanomo went to Edo to dissuade him, but Katamori failed to heed his advice. Before the outbreak of the Boshin battle, Tanomo recommended that they take an oath of allegiance to the new government, but he was rebuffed. Tanomo fought in the Boshin battle against the Western army while he was Governor-General of Aizu Shirakawaguchi.

As the Western army approached Wakamatsu, Tanomo’s wife Chieko prepared for the death of her husband, and both she and Tanomo’s mother swore to kill themselves. She saw her husband off to the castle, called her family together and urged them to do their duty, then stabbed her daughters to death and cut her own throat. Tanomo’s whole family, consisting of 21 members, took their lives in this way. Nobuyuki Nakajima, a member of the Western army who later became the first Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Tosa clan, broke into the Saigo mansion with several others and witnessed the grisly scene. Overwhelmed by horror, they saw a beautiful girl about 16-yrs-old, who had been blinded but had not yet managed to die, raise her head. She asked Nakajima whether he was on the Aizu side or an enemy. Nakajima could not bear to look at her and replied that he was on her side. The girl then handed him a dagger, and Nakajima, holding back his tears, cut her throat and left. Many other families of the Aizu clan, including the Izumo, Numazawa and Shiba families, died a tragic death for their country. In later years, Nakajima would recall this incident, and today there is a monument to the memory of the 21 martyrs of the Saigo family in the Saigo Mansion at the castle site.

Aizu Women’s Army

A 20-member strong female corps sonsisting of the wife of Heinai Nakano, his two daughters Takeko and Yuko, Masako Yoda, Samako Okamura and Kikuko Mizushima, requested permission to enter the Aizu camp in Bange. They joined the forward party and participated in a battle near Yanagibayashi. Takeko Nakano, a 22-year-old beauty, had trained in naginata under Dengoro Kurokochi, other martial arts and calligraphy under Taisuke Akazeki, and practiced swinging the sword one thousand times every morning. During the battle she charged into the midst of the enemy harassing them with her naginata but finally caught an enemy bullet in the chest and fell. She ordered her sister Yuko to behead her, and her sister, determined not to let Takeko’s head be carried off by the Western army, removed it and carried it home.

A monument to Takeko Nakano can be found in Hokai Temple in Kitaura, Bangemachi. In addition, a tower erected in memory of the 236 Aizu women martyred during the Aizu war still stands in Zenryu Temple in Seinan, Odayama.

The Heroism of the Byakkotai

The Aizu clan organized several corps consisting of 16 and 17-year-old boys. These parties, called the Byakkotai, included the Shichu, Yoriai and Ashigaru. They were ordered to go to the Tonoguchi area on August 22 to follow Lord Katamori. At one o’clock that afternoon the party of young men headed for the front in heavy rain. Katamori ordered forty members of the second party, the Shichu Byakkotai, to take the field. They encountered the enemy near Tonoguchi village and concentrated their fire upon them, but the counterattack of the Western army was tremendous and they were forced to retreat. They passed through a tunnel at Tonoguchi barrage and succeeded in escaping to Mt. Iimori from whence they saw a sea of flames in the castle town of Aizu. They could even see flames leaping out of the castle. Starved and exhausted from the battle, they mistakenly thought the castle had fallen, believed that the end had come, and confirmed their determination to die for their lord. The twenty youths stabbed each other or committed harakiri. Young Sadakichi Iinuma, although seriously injured, was the sole survivor. A tombstone dedicated to the memory of the nineteen who took their own lives can be seen on Mt. Iimori.

Fearlessness of Young Sokaku

The Western army which invaded the Aizu domain had already achieved control over the whole country. The huge army, consisting of soldiers from clans throughout Japan, crowded into the Aizu basin, but the Aizu army had stored, hidden or burned all their provisions before they shut themselves up in the castle. As a consequence the invading army suffered from a serious shortage of provisions and tried to requisition food from all parts of the Aizu territory. However, in every house they found only the elderly and children while the rest of the family members had left for the countryside. Fear spread throughout Aizu as the Western army decreed that anyone who refused a requisition would be immediately shot to death.

Sokaku Takeda was nine years old at the time, and since all of the women and servants had fled to the countryside and his father and brother were inside the castle, he was at home alone. The Western army showed up at his house in search of food but could not find any since his family had hidden it away. They seized a duck that Sokaku was caring for and the child, incensed, shouted repeatedly while scurrying about, “The government forces are thieves.”

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