Born – 1830 in Serizawa village, Hitachi, Mito clan.
Died – September 16, 1863 or September 18, 1863 in Mibu, Kyoto at age 34.
[October 28, 1863 or October 30, 1863 at age 33.]
Imina – Mitsumoto
Childhood Name – Tatsutoshi
Alternate Names – Kimura Tsuguji (Shitamura Tsuguji)
Serizawa used the name Kimura Tsuguji (Shitamura Tsuguji) while he was with the Tengu-to.
No one knows why he chose the name “Kamo” when he joined the Roshitai. It may be tied to a shrine in his hometown. Nagakura noted that most people referred to him as “sensei”.
Physical Description –
Serizawa was a tall, stout person with a pale complexion and narrow eyes. He was considered to be an impressive character who had a “distinguished air” about him. However it is also said that most days he reeked of liquor.
Personality Quirks and Traits –
On one hand Serizawa was a well educated person who had studied ancient Japanese history and culture. He was good at poetry and considered a “clever” man. On the other, he was generally an arrogant individual prone to drunkenness and violence. He was vain of his family’s social standing and tended to look down on the other members of the group. He liked to refer to himself as “Captain Boss” or “Head Chief”. He also exhorted money from the merchants he was supposed to be protecting from loyalists who had been doing exactly the same thing. He tended to be easily “insulted” and many of the incidents he was involved in were the result of some perceived slight to his person.
Recently it has been suggested that Serizawa could have suffered from syphilis, an STD that is known to attack the brain and cause the victim to behave irrationally. However this is only a theory and there is no real proof of his having such an illness.
Serizawa is probably best known for the tessen (iron fan) he always carried with him. This was a heavy item of about 300 monme (2.48 lbs.). It had an inscription on it which read, “Jinchuu Houkoku no Shi, Serizawa Kamo.” (The Knight of Loyalty and Patriotism, Serizawa Kamo.) Tessen were a popular item with samurai because they were the one item for self-defense that they could carry with them anywhere, even into the presence of a daimyo.
Family History –
Serizawa was the third son of Serizawa Sadamoto. He had two older brothers, Okimoto and Shigemoto. At least one of these brothers appears to have worked as a Mito clan official in Kyoto around the time the Shinsengumi formed and may have helped them gain the aid of the Aizu clan. It is speculated that the two Mito clan officials who attended his funeral may have in fact been his brothers. Serizawa also had an older sister named Take.
Unlike the rest of the Shinsengumi, Serizawa came from a powerful family in Mito. There appears to be a rumor that they were somehow related to the famous Heike clan. There was also supposed to be a “secret medicine” in the family with a purpose and legend behind it similar to the Ishida Sanyaku medicine of the Hijikata family. Some of the earlier Serizawa family had apparently been famous as doctors.
Before the Shinsengumi –
There is some debate over exactly what year Serizawa was born, but it is usually given as 1830.
Before joining the Roshitai, Serizawa is thought to have been a member of the Tengu-to and was in charge of about 300 men. This came about because he was supposed to have taught swordsmanship to Takeda Kouunsai, the group’s leader.
Even back then he had a terrible temper. He is said to have beheaded three of his men after they quarreled in their Itako headquarters. Then he went to Kashima Shrine where he complained a shrine drum was too big and ripped it with his fan. The shogunate officials took this opportunity to arrest him and brought him to Edo, where he was interrogated at Ryuunokuchi. He was able to explain away his actions at the shrine, but was given a death sentence for the three murders. There is another opinion that Serizawa was jailed in the Mito Akanuma prison for forcibly raising money or causing “confusion” to a town official.
Fortunately for him, Kiyokawa Hachiro was forming the Roshitai about this time. Word was sent out that those willing to join would be pardoned of their crimes and naturally Serizawa jumped at the opportunity. He was released from jail in December of 1862 by this amnesty.
In the Roshitai he served as the leader of the sixth unit and was one of the 23 directors of the group.
Martial Skills –
Ryu – Shintou Munen Ryu
Rank – Menkyo Kaiden
Teacher – Togazaki Kumataro
Serizawa was considered to be a formidable opponent and had been a kenjutsu instructor himself before joining the Shinsengumi.
Shinsengumi Years –
Serizawa was one of the founding members of the Mibu Roshi and one of the group’s commanders. He assumed the position of “big boss” of the group and continued to behave as such until his assassination. The group only officially became the “Shinsengumi” after his death, so he was never a part of it during it’s greatest period of fame.
It was primarily Serizawa’s activities that gained the Shinsengumi the nickname “Miburo” or “Wolves of Mibu”. It was a shortened version of “Mibu Roshi”, but the “ro” could also mean “wolf”.
After numerous incidents, Aizu finally grew tired of his stunts and Serizawa was assassinated by members of Kondo’s faction on either September 16, 1863 or September 18, 1863 [October 28, 1863 or October 30, 1863] at the Yagi estate in Mibu, Kyoto. He is buried at Mibudera.
Despite being his bitter enemies, Kondo’s people built a grave for him at the temple in October of 1864. Although he had caused the Shinsengumi many headaches, they realized that the group could never have existed at all without the efforts of Serizawa Kamo.