Demon Vice-Commander Hijikata

By the end of the Edo period samurai mainly served as administrators rather than warriors. Even so, their privileged status fascinated some non-samurai men. The term bushidō, applied to the loose precepts for behavior found among the warrior class, was not widely used until around 1900. However, the diffuse, non-codified thinking of members of the warrior class proved irresistible to a man named Hijikata Toshizō who lived between 1835 and 1869.

    Image 1. Photo of Hijikata

Hijikata was a wealthy farmer’s son who diligently practiced martial arts and eventually transformed himself into a military enthusiast and samurai wannabe. Hijikata joined the Shinsengumi, a special posse organized by the Bakufu government in order to resist the imperial loyalists. He eventually appointed himself its Vice-Commander and participated in battles of the Boshin civil war (1868-1869), fighting for the Tokugawa dictatorship against the former samurai who had returned political power to the Imperial Court.

Despite his historical reputation as a nasty, mean-spirited, and ruthless narcissist who earned the nickname Demon Vice-Commander (Oni no fukuchō鬼の副長), Hijikata is widely romanticized today. The actor Yamamoto Kōji played Hijikata in the historical fiction television series named Shinsengumi, which aired on NHK from January 11 to December 12, 2004. Hijikata is mistakenly described as a samurai by some American fans of anime and manga. He is often depicted as a dashing, sword-brandishing hero. Recently he became the subject of a new manga series by Akana Shū entitled Zokugun Hijikata Toshizō (Rebel Army Hijikata Toshizō, published by Kōdansha, 2020-2021).




Image 2: Manga by Akana, 2021.

Hijikata is also a subject in the series of short stage performances entitled Hakuōki Musical, an adaptation from the anime and game media with flashy dancing and duels. There have been numerous iterations of the Hakuōki musicals since 2012. The version that was performed at the Shinkobe Oriental Theater in Kobe in 2018 starred Wada Masanari as Hijikata.




Image 3. Wada Masanari as Hijikata