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First English-language Account of Dreaded Police Force

Saturday, September 17, 2005 Posted: 09:31 AM JST

The first account in English of Japan's famed Shinsengumi has been published by Tuttle Publishing. SHINSENGUMI: The Shogun’s Last Samurai Corps was written by Romulus Hillsborough, author of other books about samurai on the eve of Japan's modernization drive.

The Shinsengumi was the most dreaded police force in Japanese history. It was formed by the shogun’s government, the Tokugawa Shogunate, to combat revolutionaries who wreaked terror on the streets of the Imperial Capital. The corps existed for 5 years (1863-1868). It disintegrated with the collapse of the shogunate.

The Shinsengumi is widely depicted in Japan. SHINSENGUMI: The Shogun’s Last Samurai Corps is the first book about the corps in English. While focusing on the Shinsengumi, Hillsborough has written a history-in-brief of the Meiji Restoration, Japan’s greatest revolution. The revolution centered around the overthrow of the shogunate in 1868 and the restoration of power to the emperor. Just as the Meiji Restoration is considered “the dawn of modern Japan,” knowledge of this history is essential to understanding how and why Japan has evolved into the nation that it is today.

In this nonfiction historical narrative of the Shinsengumi, Hillsborough spotlights the personalities of the corps’ leaders. “This book is about bloodshed and death and atrocity,” begins the Preface. “It is also about courage and honor and fidelity. It explores some of the darkest regions of the human soul, and some of its most noble parts. The underlying themes...are the extraordinary will to power and sense of self-importance of the leaders of this most lethal samurai corps, and the unsurpassed propensity to kill instilled by them into the rank and file.”

The narrative is embellished by numerous vivid anecdotal episodes, including sword fights, assassinations and personal stories to illustrate the nature and spirit of the Shinsengumi. Also included are numerous quotes from letters, memoirs and interviews by corpsmen, eyewitnesses of events and other people directly involved with the Shinsengumi and their history.

Romulus Hillsborough is an expert in Meiji Restoration history. His other books include RYOMA: Life of a Renaissance Samurai (Ridgeback Press, 1999) and Samurai Sketches: From the Bloody Final Years of the Shogun (Ridgeback Press, 2001).

He has appeared on TV specials focusing on this history, including broadcasts of the History Channel, and NHK (Japan’s national public broadcaster). Hillsborough lived in Japan for sixteen years. Fluent in Japanese, he has worked as a staff writer for a Japanese magazine in Tokyo, and as a US correspondent for the Japanese press.

Keywords: book_news

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