Saito Hajime

Captain of the Third Unit

Born – 1844 in Edo [Tokyo]

Died – September 28, 1915 in Hongo, Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

Names –

Imina – unknown

Childhood Name – Yamaguchi Hajime

Other Names – Yamaguchi Jiro

                         Ichinohe Denpachi

                         Fujita Goro

Kaimyo – none

Saito’s real family name was “Yamaguchi”. He took the name “Saito” when he fled Edo for killing a man, but the reason for his choice is not known. It is also unknown why he retained his childhood name of “Hajime”. Tradition has it that he was given that name because he was either born of the first or second day of the New Year or else during the first month of the New Year in 1844. His “imina” or “hidden name” is unknown.

When he returned to the Shinsengumi after having briefly left them to join Ito Kashitaro’s group (some say as a spy), the terms that Kondo and Ito had made in regards to their proposed split should have made it impossible for him to regain entry. Saito got around this problem by changing his name to “Yamaguchi Jiro” and gaining entry as a “new member”, but with his old rank of captain. He retained this name up until the time Aizu surrendered in September of 1868.

Upon surrendering to the imperial army, Saito gave yet another name to obscure his identity. Kondo’s execution had made it painfully clear that the life of anyone who had been very high up in the ranks of the Shinsengumi was in real danger if caught. Saito called himself “Ichinohe Denpachi” and continued to go by it until the clan’s move to the Shimokita peninsula area..

Aizu became the Tonami clan and moved to their new “home” in 1870. Saito was allowed to go with them as he had become a member of the clan. At this time Matsudaira Katamori gifted him with a new name, “Fujita Goro”. For this reason Saito always took great care with his new name and would not allow for it to become associated with any sort of scandal. He used it for the rest of his life.

Before his death, Saito’s family consulted him about what he should be called for his kaimyo. His reply was, “I have had many names until now. Therefore other names are not desired anymore.” And so he was buried without one, something which rarely happens in a Buddhist temple.

Physical Description –

Saito is said to have had a red or “ruddy” face from heavy drinking. He gave the impression of being taller than his real height, which was already quite impressive. Estimates put him at about 173cm (5’8″). He had long, tufted eyebrows and very sharp eyes.

When it comes to his weight, there seem to be two opposing opinions. Some witness statements say that he was a “thin” man. Others claimed that he “grew heavy” in his later life and that he was “hefty” as a youth. Probably the discrepancies are caused by the circumstances in his life at the particular time each witness was commenting about. As a youth he probably was “hefty”, but the war and then years of hardship might would have caused him to lose a considerable amount of weight, making him appear “thin”. Later on in his life of course he began to regain weight and so “grew heavy”.

The characteristic most Shinsengumi fans are familiar with is the fact that Saito was supposed to be left-handed. However the sole source of this information is Shimozawa Kan and his work has recently fallen under the suspicion that much of it was fabricated.

Personality Quirks and Traits –

Saito was known to be a hard drinker. It is claimed that the gastric ulcer which finally killed him was caused by his fondness for liquor.

For the most part, he was a taciturn sort of person. Only when discussing the Boshin War with Takagi Morinosuke or Yamakawa Hiroshi later in his life did this ever change. At those times he would speak of the past sadly, angrily, or excitedly.

He was also noted to be very dignified, especially in his later years. He would not bare a shoulder or place a towel about his neck even in very hot weather as some men did. He always made sure that his obi was tied properly and when he walked he was careful not to drag his feet. At rest he always sat in the formal position, called “seiza”, and he would remain very alert so that he could react instantly to any situations that might occur.

After the war, he picked up the rather amusing habit of changing and washing his fundoshi (loincloth) every day. It is said he took great care to slap all of the wrinkles out of it before he would hang it out to dry.

Family History –

Saito’s father was Yamaguchi Yusuke, who was born an ashigaru (foot soldier) of the Akashi clan in the Banshuu, Harima [Hyogo]. The year of his birth and death are both unknown. The senior Yamaguchi was said to have a very strong will. At the age of 21 he handed over all of the family’s affairs to his younger sister and left for Edo. He served there as a lower samurai for someone named “Suzuki” (possibly Suzuki Shigesuki) in Kanda, Ogawa, Edo. After saving some money he was able to buy “Gokenin-kabu”. It appears that he may have settled in the Hongo area and that he was involved in work similar to what Saito would later do for the Shinsengumi. (“Gokenin” was a rank of shogun’s direct vassal. Occasionally poor or childless samurai would sell their rank to those of a lower class.)

All that is known about Saito’s mother is that her name was Masu and that she was the daughter of a farmer from Kawagoe.

His oldest sibling was his sister, Yamaguchi Katsu, who was born in 1842. She later married a man named Soma Toshiaki, who had been the chief doctor of the Mito clan. Around 1862 however he opened his own hospital in Edo [Iida, Tokyo]. Katsu must have wed him around this time because their eldest daughter, Teru, was born on October 7, 1863. The couple’s oldest son, Toshikazu, was born October 4, 1866 and he later graduated from the Chiba Teacher’s School. Katsu had two more children, one boy and one girl. At some point after this she changed her name to “Hisa”. She died on June1, 1875 and was buried at a temple in Chiba prefecture, which is where her husband was from. He returned there to work in his home village of Tega as a doctor one year before his own death in 1879.

Saito’s older brother, Yamaguchi Hiroaki, was born June 1, 1843. He was very good at mathematics and later worked for the Department of the Interior in 1874. He then worked for the Taxation Bureau of the Ministry of Finance, retiring as a junior official. Next he was a law clerk in the court at Fukushima, finally retiring completely in 1898. He lived in Kanda, Tokyo and his family was under the protection of one Suzuki Shigesuke, who was probably the man his father had worked for. Hiroaki may have been known by the name “Kimata” during the years he worked for the government. His daughter, Yukiko, was born in 1869. She became an elementary school teacher, but died of illness when she was only 25, making the Yamaguchi family line extinct.

Saito (who was then going by the name Fujita Goro) married a woman named Shinoda Yaso on August 25, 1871 while living in Gonohe with the Tonami clan. (The new name of the Aizu clan, which had been exiled to what is now the northeastern area of Aomori prefecture.) The marriage did not last long, ending in June of 1874 when he moved back to Tokyo without her. The reason for their split is unclear.

His next wife was Takagi Tokio, who he married sometime just after arriving in Tokyo in June of 1874. The marriage may have even been planned before he ever left Gonohe. The former daimyo of Aizu, Matsudaira Katamori, served as the higher go-between, with Sagawa Kanbei and Yamakawa Okura (later Hiroshi) served as the lower go-betweens. Saito was 31 [30] when he married Tokio, who was two years younger than him.

Fujita (Takagi) Tokio was born on April 15, 1846. Her original name had been Takagi Sada, but when she taught writing to the Aizu princess, Teru, her nickname had been “Tokio”. Later on she adopted this as her real name. During the war she helped to defend the castle in Aizu, mostly giving medical treatment to those who were injured. After the war, when the clan was forced to move, she became the adopted daughter of Kurasawa Heiemon. After returning to Tokyo and marrying Saito (Fujita Goro) she worked as a housemaster for the Women’s Higher Normal School (or Joushi Takashi), which was a school for future teachers. As a housemaster Tokio allowed with the school’s permission for young women to stay in the Fujita home as they attended classes there. In her later years Tokio participated in many efforts to honor those who had died in the Aizu war. For this reason the family was awarded the plot at the Amida-ji Temple in Aizu where they were buried. Tokio passed away at age 75.

The couple’s eldest son, Fujita Tsutomu, was born on February 15, 1876. He went on to graduate from Military school and became a soldier himself. Soon after he finished school he fought in Manchuria and seems to have been in Okinawa when the war ended. Around 1917 he was part of the “Wakamatsu” regiment and was on the warship “Mikawa” during the War of the Japan Sea. Through his mother’s efforts he was married to Nashino Midori. The couple had seven children: Motoko, Minoru, Ritsu, Kyoko, Susumu, Kazuko, and Toru. Tsutomu was building a new home in 1923 when the Great Kanto Earthquake struck and demolished everything. After this he began to store extra supplies for future emergencies. World War II saw his home devastated again. Toward the end of his life he lived with his daughter, Kazuko, who was married to a doctor. Tsutomu passed away in 1956.

Fujita Midori, the wife of Fujita Tsutomu, was born on March 29, 1876. She was the second daughter of a wealthy merchant family from Sakata. They owned rice and shipping companies. At the Women’s Higher Normal School Midori studied science while boarding with the Fujita family. Tokio liked her at once and made repeated requests to the girl’s family for her to marry Tsutomu. The two were eventually married after her graduation. Midori was the one who tended to Saito when he was dying.

Fujita Tsuyoshi was Saito’s second son and born on October 14, 1879. He spent many years living abroad. In 1914 he married Asaba Yukiko (Yuki), who was the granddaughter of former Aizu “karo” (clan elder) Tanaka Tosa and his mistress. Yuki was born in 1879. Her family ran a delivery service in Yokusuka. The couple had two sons and two daughters. Their eldest son was Hidaki. The younger son and daughter were adopted by the Asaba family.

Saito’s youngest son was born on July 1, 1886. Even before his birth Tokio’s cousin, Numazawa Kohachiro, had already asked to adopt the child. He was named Numazawa Tatsuo and for many years the truth that he was actually the son of the Fujita family was hidden from him. However he eventually became suspicious and when he was in college he asked a relative about his birth. Naturally he was very upset when he found out the truth, but he seems to have maintained contact with his real parents afterwards. He later married a woman named Tazu and had a daughter, Eiko.

Takagi Family –

Takagi Tokio’s father was Takagi Kojuro. He was a metsuke of Aizu with a fief of 300 koku. Her mother, Katsuko, was originally from the Kimoto family. Tokio had a younger sister named Tami, who was born in June of 1847. However she died at the age of two.

Tokio also had a younger brother, Takagi Morinosuke. He was born September 15, 1854 and his childhood name was “Goro”. He worked in the public prosecutors’ offices of such places as Shizuoka, Hokkaido, and Fukushima as a Chief Public Prosecutor. One of his daughters, Hatako, later married Sagawa Kanbei’s son, Naoaki. Saito appears to have taught kendo to Morinosuke’s sons.

Takamine Hideo was a cousin of Tokio’s and the person responsible for helping them get their jobs with the schools. He was something of a scholar and became principal of the Higher Normal School in 1879. He became principal of the Women’s Higher Normal School in 1897 at age 44.

Numazawa Kachiro was another cousin and he was married to a woman named Kuni. His mother, Michiko, was the older sister of Tokio’s mother. The Numazawa was an important Aizu family as they had been “karo” (clan elders) there before the war. Since Kachiro’s wife could not have children, the family was in danger of extinction. For this reason the Fujita family allowed them to adopt their youngest son, Tatsuo.

Before the Shinsengumi –

At 19 Saito is thought to have killed a “Hatamoto” (a direct retainer of the shogun) at Koishikawa Sekiguchi in Edo. For this reason he was forced to flee to Kyoto and change his name to “Saito Hajime”. Before he left, his father gave him a letter addressed to an old friend of his named Yoshida, who owned a dojo. It appears that Yamaguchi Yusuke may have done this person some sort of favor in the past and so Yoshida was willing to take Saito in to repay him. While there Saito served as an assistant instructor. (It is not known for certain, but this man may have been one Yoshida Katsumi, who taught Shotoku Taishi Ryu.) This possibly took place around December of 1862, only a couple of months before the rest of the Shieikan members were to travel to Kyoto with the Roshitai. At any rate it seems the matter was quickly forgotten and Saito later had no trouble visiting Edo.

Martial Skills –

Ryu – Either Mugai Ryu or Itto Ryu

Rank – Saito is referred to as a “master”.

According to the Fujita family, Saito learned Itto Ryu (probably Mitzoguchi Itto Ryu) at the Aizu clan mansion in Edo. This kindness was extended toward him because of a service that his father was supposed to have preformed. If true, then it shows that he had strong links with the clan long before the Shinsengumi came under its service.

However it is claimed that there are police records which show his sword style was actually Mugai Ryu. The truth of the matter is currently uncertain. In additon, Saito seems to have had some acquaintance at least with a form of Taishi Ryu (possibly Shotoku Taishi Ryu), since he worked as an assistant instructor of a Taishi dojo for a man named Yoshida after fleeing to Kyoto.

Even Nagakura seems to have either been unable or unwilling to shed any light on the subject. During the Meiji era, he visited the Shieikan dojo and briefly helped Kondo’s nephew teach. One of the students asked him about Saito’s sword style and his reply was, “Since I and Saito-kun seldom talked, I do not know it.” What truly makes this statement bizarre is that Nagakura apparently knew Saito for some time even before they formed the Shinsengumi. While one could possibly believe that they were too busy in Kyoto and perhaps too weary of fighting to discuss swordsmanship, it is hard to think that he would not have at least noticed Saito’s style while at the Shieikan.

According to both Kojima Shikanosuke and Nagakura, Saito spent at least some time at Kondo’s Shieikan dojo before they went to Kyoto. Saito also confirmed this when he told the story of how he bought Kondo a sword which resembled a Kotetsu from a second-hand shop called the Yotsuya. It was to thank Kondo for lessons he had received at the Shieikan.

Rumor has it that Saito was good with a left-handed thrust. However this is based on the assumption that he was actually left-handed, a theory now under question.

As for other skills, it is suggested that Saito’s jujutsu style was Sekiguchi Ryu.

His Sword –

Long Sword – Sesshu sumi Ikeda Kijinmaru Kunishige – 2’3″1

The “Kijinmaru” element of the sword’s name means “demon”. Kunishige was the swordsmith and the blade was forged sometime in the Tenwa era, which lasted from 1681-1683 or there abouts.

Shinsengumi Years –

Saito appears to have joined the Mibu Roshi around March 5, 1863. Because of the connection he supposedly had to the Shieikan, he was made a captain in the group right away and continued in this position at least until Kofu. For a short time after that he actually led the Shinsengumi in the Shirakawa castle area while Hijikata recovered from an injury he received in a previous battle. Saito’s part in the group came to an end when he and others chose to remain in Aizu rather than go with Hijikata to Sendai. At the height of the Shinsengumi he was Captain of the Third Unit and a teacher of kenjutsu.

While the group was in Mibu, he seems to have most often stayed at the house of one Nanbu Kamejiro. (The group was fairly spread out around the village at the time.) However he was at the Yagi house often enough for the youngest son to recall him quite well.

Saito was one of the strongest swordsmen in the group, along with Okita and Nagakura. In fact it is rumored that even Okita feared his skill and that Saito was rarely ever wounded despite all of the dangerous jobs he performed.

He is primarily remembered for his role in dealing with “difficult members” of the group and yet there is much debate over whether or not many of those stories have any truth to them. For instance, he is said to have killed both Takeda Kanryuusai and Tani Sanjuro. However the dates and circumstances of Takeda’s death seem odd, while Tani was officially said to have died of a stroke and his supposed murder ties into the tale about Saito being left-handed. And Abe Juro never believed that Saito joined Ito’s group as a spy for Kondo and Hijikata. For all these reasons, it is difficult to determine exactly how big a role he actually did play in such affairs.

Saito remained with the Shinsengumi all the way to Aizu. But when Hijikata decided to go to Sendai, he was unwilling to abandon Aizu and so they parted ways. From there he became part of the clan and shared in their exile to the Shimokita peninsula area in what is now Aomori prefecture.

Later Life –

Saito left Gonohe in Aomori prefecture on June 10, 1874 and went to Tokyo, where he would live for the rest of his life. Shortly after his arrival he married Takagi Tokio and the two of them settled down in the Hongo area, now a part of the Bunkyo Ward.

It is unclear exactly when and how Saito became part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. There is some evidence that he may have in fact been connected with the police as early as 1871 or 1872. Another possibility is that he entered the department with help from Sagawa Kanbei in 1874. In 1873, Saigo Takamori pulled out of the Meiji government with many of his supporters. Left with a severe shortage in manpower, the police department contacted Sagawa and managed to convince him to bring men from the Aizu clan to help. As bitter as they were over their defeat in the war, poverty made many willing to work for the Meiji government and he was able to round up 300 volunteers. Perhaps Saito was one of them or else when he decided to go to Tokyo, he contacted Sagawa about a job.

The first clear record of Saito’s being with the police was when he was made an inspector on February 20, 1877 at age 34 [33] and given permission to carry a sword. That same year the Southwestern Rebellion broke out, so on May 18, 1877 he left for the front. There he served in the Bongo Police Troop under Chief Inspector Hagiwara Sadamoto. Saito himself had 107 men under his command in the second small group of this police troop.

On July 12, 1877 in the Miyazaki prefecture, Saito’s men, who had split up from the other half of the group, followed a main road over the Fukuhara pass and met the enemy at Yakio. They began to push the foe toward Mt. Takayuka, where the other group was already fighting with the rebels. It was here that Saito was shot. Unfortunately there are no details on how badly, but it forced his men to withdraw to Yakio for a bit. However they soon rejoined the fight and drove off the enemy, capturing two cannon in the process.

Saito returned home on October 28, 1877. It took an entire year, but he was eventually award 100 yen and a medal, “The Order of the Blue Paulownia”, for his service. He continued to serve with the police in various ranks and eventually became a Chief Inspector on November 1, 1888, at the age of 45 [44]. He retired from the police force in April of 1891 at the age of 48 [47].

At this time Tokio’s cousin, Takamine Hideo, helped him to get a job as a guard for the Tokyo Educational Museum, which was associated with the Higher Normal School, which taught students who wanted to become teachers. During this time he taught kenjutsu to the school’s clubs. It is said that his students could not even graze his fingers.

Takamine was principal of the school while Saito was there and he had a shed where valuable swords and works of art were kept. It was always kept locked and the only person he allowed to have free access to the building was Saito. Apparently the former Shinsengumi captain had a good eye for swords and was able to repair them, so his opinion was often sought.

Saito retired from this job in April of 1899 and then became a secretary or clerk at the Women’s Higher Normal School. (It would become the Tokyo Women’s Higher Normal School in 1908, one year before he retired.) He handled the schools finances and general affairs. On rainy days he would direct the jinrikisha (rickshaw) traffic which would become very heavy at such times. He retired from this job in 1909.

As one might guess, Saito made sure his own sons knew how to use a sword. One of them later recalled a year they found “unbearable” because Saito kept popping out at them unexpectedly to try to beat them with a shinai. He would always get angry with them because they were invariably caught off-guard and shout “Shidou fukakugo!” (Unprepared for the way of a man!)

Saito did not have an easy time of it in the Meiji era. He reportedly told a grandson that many people had sought his life after the restoration, putting him in much danger.

It is known that Saito kept contact with the other former members of the Shinsengumi. He contributed to the monument that Nagakura had built at Itabashi. He also kept in touch with some of the people in the Tama area. The family of Sato Hikogoro for instance left records of things that Saito had told them about the Shinsengumi during the Meiji era.

He eventually developed a gastric ulcer which led to his death. While he was ill, his daughter-in-law, Midori, was the one who cared for him. Toward the end she had to remove phlegm from his throat with carefully wrapped chopsticks so he could breath. When the medicine no longer worked he realized that his time was near and refused to stay in bed. He had his family help him to get up and change into white clothing, then was assisted to the main room where he sat seiza before the tokonoma. (He sat in the formal sitting position before the alcove, which is considered to be a place of honor.) At 1:00 am he is said to have suddenly glared and died. Saito passed away on September 28, 1915 at the age of 72 [71] and was buried at the Amida-ji Temple in Aizu, which was now called Fukushima.

The manner in which he met his end shows that while the Meiji government could regulate “the old ways” out of sight, but they could not regulate them out of people’s hearts.

Love Life –

Saito is connected with at least two women before he married Takagi Tokio.

The first was while he was with the Shinsengumi in Kyoto. She was known as Aioi Tayu and she was from the Kikyo-ya in Shimabara. She later became a “geisya” in Gion and he was supposed to have visited her often. Abe Juro would recall this years later and said that Saito was “untidy” with women. He never believed that Saito spied on Ito and his followers for Kondo and insisted that Saito had stolen money from Ito in order to visit this woman, which was the reason for his sudden departure from the group. Others say this was a clever ruse to keep Ito from suspecting what he had really been up to.

The other affair was a bit more serious, because he actually married the woman. In 1870 the Aizu clan moved north to the Shimokita peninsula area [Aomori prefecture] and became the Tonami clan with permission from the government. Saito, now Fujita Goro, moved with them and was settled in Gonohe. He lived in the house of Kuraswa Heiemon, who was one of the last advisors of the Aizu clan and was serving as a vice-counselor of the Tonami clan. Saito apparently worked as a clan clerk or secretary at that point.

At that time there was a woman named Shinoda Yaso living in the house of Uedo Shichiro. She was the daughter of an Aizu retainer named Shinoda Naizo and was born in either 1842 or 1840. Her family appear to have had a rough time of it even before the move. Her older brother had been killed during the Kinmon no Hen incident and her father later passed away of illness. After that she lived with her other brothers.

At some point she moved from Uedo’s house to the Kurasawa house where Saito was living. Things begin to get a bit tricky at this point, because Kurasawa had adopted Takagi Tokio when the clan moved to Tonami! Obviously she was not Fujita-san’s first choice and he married Yaso through Kurasawa’s help on August 25, 1871.

For unknown reasons Saito and Yaso moved back to the house of Uedo Shichiro on February 10, 1873. Then on June 10, 1874 he suddenly went back to Tokyo alone. Yaso is said to have “seen him off”. Shortly after he reached Tokyo he was married to Takagi Tokio, so it would appear that he divorced Yaso for some reason. (There were any number of things that might have been behind this decision. Yaso might have been sick or unable to have children. Or it could have been outside interference from members of the Aizu clan.)

The last record of Yaso is that she moved back to the house of Kurasawa on July 20, 1876. It is speculated that she might have died that year.

The Left-handed Killer –

The story of Saito being left-handed seems to come from Shimozawa Kan and is tied in with the episode of Shinsengumi captain Tani Sanjuro’s sudden death. The supposed story goes that Tani failed to make a clean cut when he served as a second to a member who had to commit seppuku. (This story appears to be false, because Tani died before the person named committed seppuku.) One month later, on April 1, 1866, he was found dead at Gion-ishidanshita, the stone stairway that leads up to the famous Gion Shrine (also called Yasaka shrine).

An urgent report came into the Shinsengumi headquarters from patrol soldiers about the incident.. At the time it happened to be raining. Saito and Shinohara Tainoshin had just returned from someplace and were already wet, so they were sent out to investigate. As the story goes, Tani had received a thrust to his chest that went all the way to his back and had died clinging to the wall of a small restaurant in a half-sitting position. His sword had never been unsheathed.

Shinohara laughed and said that the thrust had come from the left side, so the suspect “had to be as left-handed” as Saito. In his turn, Saito asked Shinohara not to please not say that as if it were him who had done the deed. Both of them laughed and they put the body into a palanquin and took it back to headquarters.

Unfortunately, this is the only description of Saito saying that he was left-handed. Shimozawa says the source of the story is some sort of journal that Saito kept called the “Muroku”, but no one else has ever claimed to see such a document and its existence is now a matter of debate. And until its is proven one way or another, whether or not Saito was truly a left-handed swordsman will also continue to be a mystery.