Tani Sanjuro

Captain of the Seventh Unit

Born – Unknown. From Bitchutakahashi, Bicchu Matsuyama clan.

Died – April 1, 1866 at the bottom of the stairs to the Gion Shrine in Kyoto.

           [May 15, 1866.]

Names –

Imina – Tomokuni

Family History –

He was the eldest son of a Bicchu Matsuyama clansman. His father was an instructor of Tyokushin Ryu, a sword style.

Tani had two younger brothers, Mantaro and Masatake, who later became Kondo Shuhei when he was adopted by Kondo Isami.

Before the Shinsengumi –

Tani was an attendant in his clan in 1856, but he made some mistake for which he was forced to leave. He then went to Osaka. His brother, Mantaro, went with him and they opened a dojo where Tani was an instructor. He is supposed to have taught Taneda Houzouin Ryu, a spear-fighting style, to Harada Sanosuke at some point during this time period.

Martial Skills –

Sword Ryu – Tyokushin Ryu

Spear Ryu – Taneda Houzouin Ryu

Spear Ryu Rank – Menkyo Kaiden

Although it was not listed for certain, his rank in Tyokushin Ryu was probably also Menkyo Kaiden since he was supposed to be an instructor like his father. At any rate, he was said to be a very good swordsman as well as good with a spear.

Shinsengumi Years –

Tani joined the Shinsengumi in 1863, along with his two brothers. His former association with Harada Sanosuke may have been what helped him become a captain so quickly. He remained a captain of the group until his death in April of 1866. At the height of the Shinsengumi he was the Captain of the Seventh Unit and Teacher of Spear.

On January 8, 1865, he somehow suffered a slight wound to his foot.

How Tani died is one of the mysteries of the Shinsengumi. It happened suddenly while he was at the bottom of the Gion Ishidanshita, the stone stairway leading up to the Gion Shrine (also called Yasaka jinja) in Kyoto. The official cause of his death is listed as a stroke.

Of course there are stories which say this was a cover-up and that he was really murdered. One such version has it that Tani acted “shamefully” when acting as a second during the seppuku of Tauchi Tomo.

Tauchi had been wounded by the lover of his woman. For this reason he was accused of “non-preparation as a samurai” and ordered to kill himself on March 2, 1865. As his second, Tani was supposed to behead him as soon as he had cut himself in order to prevent prolonged suffering. Unfortunately Tani somehow failed to finish Tauchi with his first swing, an unforgivable error. Embarrassed by his mistake, Tani ended up failing several more times. Finally Saito was no longer able to bear it and so stepped in to finish the job himself.

Due to this event, Tani lost his reputation within the Shinsengumi. Kondo is thought to have ordered Saito to execute him one month later.

However there is a major problem with the story. Official records prove that the actual date of Tauchi Tomo’s seppuku was January 10, 1867 [February 14, 1867], a full nine months after Tani’s death. It has also been pointed out that Tani was in fact expert enough with a sword that it seems highly unlikely he could have messed up so badly. (Versions of the story which say he failed as Tauchi’s second generally try to make it that he was incompetent with a sword.) Furthermore at least one of his brothers stayed with the group for more than a year after his death.

Another tale has it that Tani and Saito went out drinking together on the night of his death. They became intoxicated and Tani made the mistake of claiming he was better with a sword than Saito. Outraged, the third captain killed him. Of course, one then has to wonder why Kondo and Hijikata would simply allow Saito to run around randomly knocking off other captains. At the very least there should have been some evidence of behind-the-scenes punishment, but this is apparently not the case.

In the end it appears most likely that Tani really did die of natural causes.

(Note – See Saito’s profile for details about the supposed investigation of Tani’s “murder”.)