Takeda Kanryuusai

Captain of the Fifth Unit

Born – Unknown. From the Izumo province, in western Honshu.

Died – Uncertain. Either September 28, 1866 or June 22, 1867 in Kyoto.

            [Either November 5, 1866 or July 23, 1867.]

Names –

Imina – Tokuhiro

No information is currently available on his original family name. He was adopted by the Takeda family while he was studying in Edo [Tokyo].

Personality Quirks and Traits –

Takeda is said to have got along well with Kondo, but was generally disliked by the rest of the group. Rumor has it that he had a tendency to ingratiate himself with those in power while abusing his authority over others. A famous example of this is the story that he harassed a “cute” member of the group named Magoshi Saburo. This incident is also supposed to show that he was known for “danshoku” (male homosexuality) as well. However there seems to be no real proof of either accusation.

In his defense, it can be said that Takeda was an intelligent person. He also attempted to help Kondo by trying to smooth things over during the incident where Nagakura and others filed a petition against the Commander. Against him, it can be said that he attempted to abandon the Shinsengumi when he realized that they were going to be on the losing side.

Before the Shinsengumi –

At one point early on, Takeda may have studied medicine.

He was known to have studied the doctrines of Wang Yang-ming, called Oyomei thought. This led to him having some rather outspoken views against the shogunate. It got him arrested, but Takeda broke out of prison and fled from the Izumo province to Edo. He continued his studies there for a while.

Martial Skills –

Takeda does not appear to have been known for his skill with a sword. He was however a master of the Naganuma Ryu of military strategy.

Shinsengumi Years –

Takeda joined the group in October of 1863 and was originally the group’s military advisor. Eventually he was pushed out of this position by Ito Kashitaro, who knew western military arts. At this time he became Captain of the Fifth Unit and was a Teacher of Literature and Culture. He remained in this position until his death.

Takeda seems to have wanted to join with Ito’s group, but was turned away. Later he made the decision to leave the Shinsengumi alone and join the Satsuma clan. He tried to cover himself by getting permission to “go home”. Unfortunately for him, Kondo and Hijikata were already aware of his true intentions. On the surface they agreed with his request and threw him a farewell party. In truth they were setting him up to be assassinated.

At this point it becomes unclear who actually carried out the order and when. There are two dates given for this event. One is September 28, 1866 [November 5, 1866] and the other is June 22, 1867 [July 23, 1867]. If it was carried out by the usual suspect, Saito Hajime, then the September 28th date makes far more sense. At that time Saito had not departed the Shinsengumi with Ito and his followers and Kondo would have been able to freely give him such orders.

The issue becomes more confusing if the June 22nd date is correct. At this time Saito had left the Shinsengumi, possibly to spy on Ito for Kondo and Hijikata. The two groups were pretending to maintain friendly relations with each other and so members from either side were able to attend the social functions of the other. It is thought that at some point during the party Saito was given the secret order to kill Takeda.

The main problem with this later date is that Saito is suspected because Shinohara Tainoshin supposedly witnessed the murder. It seems unlikely that Ito would have trusted Saito after that unless the killing took place before they ever left the Shinsengumi. If it indeed happened afterwards and Saito is the culprit, then there are only a few reasonable explanations as to why Ito did not put himself on guard after this incident. One may be the fact that he himself was in contact with the Satsuma clan. If he feared that Takeda’s dealings with them might somehow jeopardize his own, then perhaps he might have been the one to tip off the Shinsengumi and so was in on the assassination. Another is that perhaps Saito was able to convince Shinohara that the murder was something personal between him and Takeda. Or perhaps his reasons for killing the other captain really were personal and not anything connected with the Shinsengumi.

Another theory is that the later date is correct, but that Saito was in fact not involved with the murder at all. In this scenario other members of the group carried out the assassination.

Takeda’s murder occurred at the Zenitori bridge on the Taketa highway. Most versions of the story have it that Saito and Shinohara were “seeing him off” and walked with him to this location after the party was over. Takeda was probably drunk at that point. Saito came up behind him and struck him down, then scoffed at the other man’s “high sounding words”.

Of course that depends on whether or not Saito was indeed the killer. Most likely Takeda’s death will always remain something of a mystery.

The Doctrines of Wang Yang-ming –

Takeda’s outspoken views were supposed to be based on these doctrines. So what exactly was Wang Yang-ming’s teachings?

Wang Yang-ming was a Ming dynasty philosopher who studied Confucianism. According to him, one had to have unity of knowledge and action. While scholarship had its uses, he felt that everyone had the innate understanding of good and evil in them and that virtue was shown only when a person acted on that knowledge. In other words it was not good enough to simply know that the government should be reformed. To mean anything, one actually had to act on that knowledge by attempting to make changes.

In Japan the “revolutionary” tones of his work were feared by the shogunate and a ban was placed on these teachings. In 1837 an Osaka constable named Oshio Heihachiro proved their fears correct when he instigated an abortive coup that was in large part based on the doctrines of Wang Yang-ming. Although it only became a large riot and so failed in the end, it terrified the ruling elite and inspired other small insurrections. Worse still, his actions inspired many of those who fought against the shogunate during the Bakumatsu years later. Saigo Takamori himself studied Wang Yang-ming.

Traditionally Takeda has been viewed as a “coward” who tried to abandon the Shinsengumi when he knew that they were not going to win. But perhaps his knowledge of Wang Yang-ming offers a different viewpoint. Perhaps in his own way Takeda was merely trying to show virtue by acting on his personal beliefs.