In the unsettled period after to ending of the national isolation policy, the political situation in Japan became increasingly chaotic. Anti-government and anti-foreign rōnin congregated on the old imperial capital of Kyoto, and many of the daimyō from the western feudal domains also established residences in Kyoto in an attempt to exert influence on the Imperial Court to pressure the shogunate towards the sonnō jōi movement ("Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians") against the foreign powers.
In 1864, the Kyoto Shugoshoku Matsudaira Katamori authorized the establishment of a militia of approximately 200 samurai formed into two companies under the command of Maita Hirotaka and Matsudaira Yasutada to restore public order to Kyoto. The two companies took their names from the courtesy titles of their commanders: the Sagami-no-kami-gumi and the Izumo-no-kami-gumi. The headquarters for the force was Nijo Castle in Kyoto.
The purpose of the Mimawarigumi was very similar to that of much more famous Shinsengumi.
The Mimawarigumi was composed entirely of higher-ranking samurai and sons of hatamoto-class retainers, all of whom were direct retainers to the Tokugawa Shogunate, as opposed to the rōnin-based Shinsengumi. Indicative of this difference in status, the Mimawarigumi was assigned primarily to protect the Kyoto Imperial Palace and area around Nijo Castle, whereas the Shinsengumi was assigned to the Gion entertainment district and areas of the commoners and shopkeepers.
The Mimawarigumi was officially disbanded with the abdication of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu on November 9, 1867 although the group continued to function as an unofficial combat unit into the Boshin War of the Meiji Restoration.
In 1870 Imai Noburō, a former member of the Mimawarigumi confessed to a Military Judiciary Panel that he and other Mimawarigumi members, including Sasaki Tadasaburo had assassinated Sakamoto Ryōma in 1867, although the veracity of his confession remains a matter of historical debate.
- Hillsborough, Romulus. Shinsengumi: The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps, Tuttle Publishing (2005) ISBN 0-8048-3627-2
- Jansen, Marius B. (1961). Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Restoration. Princeton: Princeton University Press. OCLC 413111
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