Nagakura Shinpachi

Captain of the Second Unit

Born – April 11, 1839 in the kami-yashiki (upper mansion) of the Matsumae clan in Edo [Tokyo].

Died – January 5, 1915 in Otaru, Hokkaido at age 77 [76].

Names –

Imina – Noriyuki

Childhood Name – Nagakura Eikichi or Nagakura Eiji

Alternate Name – Sugimura Yoshie

Nagakura’s father spelt their family name with the kanji for “naga” which meant “long”, but the second captain preferred to spell it with the kanji for “naga” which meant “eternity”.

He assumed the name Sugimura Yoshie in March of 1870 when he traveled to Hokkaido and was adopted by marriage into the Sugimura family.

Physical Description –

There is nothing specific said about what Nagakura looked like, perhaps because there is a picture that is supposed to be him. There was one small mention that he once received a wound below the eye from a sword technique gone bad, but whether or not this left a noticeable scar was not noted.

Personality Quirks and Traits –

There is nothing specific said about Nagakura, but some general observations can be made based on various incidents in which he was involved. He obviously was something of a hothead, like most of the young men in the Shinsengumi. He could be extremely intimidating. He cared a great deal about swordsmanship and was proud of his own skills. He also seemed to feel that the Shinsengumi were comrades-in-arms and resented it when he felt that Kondo was treating the rest of them like “vassals” instead.

Family History –

Nagakura’s father was Nagakura Kanji, a middle samurai of the Matsumae clan with a 150 koku stipend. Like his son, he had always lived in Edo and had never seen his home domain. There is some mention that Nagakura possibly had an older brother, but this is by no means certain. If he did, then this goes a long way toward explaining why he did not care about inheriting his father’s position – as the second son he could not. About his mother nothing is mentioned.

Martial Skills –

Ryu – Shintou Munen Ryu

Rank – Menkyo Kaiden

Teacher – Okada Juumatsu

Nagakura joined Okada’s dojo in Honjo, Kamezawa, Edo [Kanda, Sarugaku, Tokyo] at the age of eight and reached Mokuroku by the time he was 18. From very early on he hated losing and would boast about his skill with the sword.

At age 19 he decided to leave his clan and travel around to improve his swordsmanship. He studied for a while at the Shintou Munen Ryu dojo of Yurimoto Shozo, finally receiving his Menkyo Kaiden at age 22.

He next spent time at the dojo of Tsubouchi Shume, where he first met Shimada Kai. The two became good friends and this would carry over into the Shinsengumi later on. At some point after this, Nagakura began to take meals at the Shieikan dojo. He would eventually study there for a time before the group left for Kyoto.

Like Kondo, Nagakura favored the “Rhubi no Ken” technique.

Shinsengumi Years –

Nagakura started out as a captain in the Mibu Roshi and maintained this position up until after the battle at Kofu. At the Shinsengumi’s height, he was the Captain of the Second Unit and a teacher of kenjutsu.

He is most famous for having several run-ins with Kondo. Shortly after the Ikeda-ya affair, he led in filing a petition against the Commander. They were reconciled by the efforts of Matsudaira Katamori. Following defeat at Kofu, he had a final falling out with Kondo and left the group with Harada.

After that he went to see an old friend who was forming a new group called the Seiheitai, which planned to go to Aizu. Nagakura ended up joining him, but they never made it to Aizu. The imperial army had already closed in and they were cut off from the domain. They found that every other place they tried to go was in a similar situation, so Nagakura eventually had to give up and return to Edo where he hid with the Matsumae clan.

Unfortunately he bumped into Suzuki Mikisaburo, Ito Kashitaro’s younger brother and a former captain in the Shinsengumi, in the Ryougokubashi area of Edo. They merely greeted each other and went their separate ways at that point because Suzuki knew that he would lose if they fought. However Nagakura began to repeatedly encounter danger after this and strongly suspected that Suzuki was trying to kill him. For this reason he eventually went to the Matsumae clan domain in Hokkaido.

Later Years –

In Matsumae Nagakura became the adopted son of the Sugimura family through marriage in 1870. His father-in-law was the clan doctor. Now Sugimura Yoshie, he succeeded to the head of the family in May of 1875.

When the Meiji government finally forgave its enemies, Nagakura had a monument constructed for Kondo and Hijikata at Itabashi in May of 1876. Not only did he get older members of the Shinsengumi such as Saito to assist him, but he was also able to enlist members who had only been a part of the group in Hakodate as well. Matsumoto Ryojun was another who participated in the construction.

At some point he visited Kyoto and Osaka, visiting places associated with the Shinsengumi. He went back to the Yagi residence in Mibu, then visited with Shimada Kai who was then working as a night watchman at Nishihonganji Temple, the group’s second headquarters. It was also during this time that he was reunited with a daughter that he had been forced by the war to leave behind.

In 1882 he accepted a job teaching kendo to prison guards of the Sakhalin jail for life-sentenced prisoners in Kabato, Hokkaido. He resigned this job in 1886.

Afterwards, Nagakura lived out his remaining years on Otaru, Hokkaido. He may have even taught Tennen Rishin Ryu there. Even when he became an old man with a bent back and walking stick, he was still no one to mess around with.

Once when he went for a walk with his grandson some yakuza thugs bumped into him. The little boy hollered at the men and this of course made them angry. They attempted to get at the child, who hid behind his grandfather. When the yakuza warned him to get out of their way, Nagakura suddenly tossed his stick away and straightened himself up. He glared at the thugs in such a way that they all became terrified and ran away. He then simply picked up his stick and returned to his walk as if nothing had happened.

One of his quirks as an old man was that he like to go see movies. It is said that he like foreign films very much. He once commented that, “Since I have been alive for a long time, I was able to see such marvelous civilization. It is a very strange feeling. If Kondo and Hijikata had lived for a long time and saw a movie, by what kind of face would they have seen it?”

Nagakura seems to have thought about his former comrades quite a bit during his final years. From June 11 to March 17 of 1913 he published articles about the Shinsengumi serially in an Otaru newspaper. These articles were later collected together in a book. (In more recent times, a journal that he made has been found. It is considered more accurate than the articles because he wrote it a short time after the events occurred and so details were fresher in his mind.)

On January 5, 1915 in Otaru, Hokkaido, at age 77 [76], Nagakura passed away of blood poisoning caused by an infected tooth.

Love Life –

Nagakura was involved with a woman called Kotsune, a geiko (Kyoto term for geisha) of the Kameya in Shimabara. She became pregnant, but when it was time for the child to be born, the Shinsengumi were in the midst of the declining political situation that would lead to Toba-Fushimi and Nagakura was unable to be with her. Kotsune gave birth to a daughter, Oiso, but it took its toll on her and she passed away shortly afterwards on December 11, 1867.

When word of this came to Nagakura, he was very discouraged by the event. However the situation the group was in had him very busy and it seems he could not even attend Kotsune’s burial. He was able to go get his child and take her to Kotsune’s sister, who lived in the village of Fudoson. When he left his daughter there, he thought that it would be the last time he would ever be able to see her, so he gave the family 50 ryo for the expense of raising her and said his good-byes.

Late in the Meiji era, Nagakura was finally able to meet with his daughter again. By then she was a popular actress in Kyoto and Osaka named Ogami Kogame.