Yamakawa Hiroshi

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Yamakawa Hiroshi
Hiroshi Yamakawa.jpg
General Yamakawa Hiroshi
Native name 山川 浩
Born (1845-12-04)December 4, 1845
Fukushima prefecture, Japan
Died March 6, 1898(1898-03-06) (aged 52)
Tokyo, Japan
Allegiance Empire of Japan
Service/branch War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg Imperial Japanese Army
Rank Major General

Baron Yamakawa Hiroshi (山川 浩, 4 December 1845 – 6 March 1898) was a samurai of late Edo period Japan who went on to become a noted general in the early Meiji period Imperial Japanese Army. An Aizu retainer famous for his ingenious strategies against the early Meiji government during the Boshin War to overthrow the Tokugawa bakufu, he was of the first people from Aizu to write a history of the years leading up to the war, together with his brother Yamakawa Kenjirō.

Early life[edit]

Yamakawa Hiroshi, or, as he was first known, Yōshichirō (与七郎), was born in Aizu-Wakamatsu (present day Fukushima Prefecture), in 1845. His father, Yamakawa Shigekata (山川重固), was a karō (senior retainer) of the Aizu clan, and his mother, Tōi (唐衣), was the daughter of another karō family, the Saigō. At age 15, Yōshichirō's father died, so he succeeded to the family headship.

The Kyōto Shugoshoku Years[edit]

In 1862, Yōshichirō, now known as Shigeyoshi (重栄) or more commonly, Ōkura (大蔵), followed the Aizu daimyō Matsudaira Katamori to Kyōto when the latter was appointed to the post of Kyoto Shugoshoku . After serving with distinction through the heat of the conflicts of 1863-65, in 1866 Yamakawa was allowed to accompany the Shogunate's Foreign Affairs Magistrate Koide Hidezane to Russia, where he assisted in negotiations concerning the drawing of international borders in Karafuto.[1] Returning to Japan, he was present as a commander of the domain forces at the Battle of Toba–Fushimi in the Boshin War, which he survived, and escaped to Edo.

Early Stages of the Boshin War[edit]

In the early months of 1868, Yamakawa was involved in the Aizu domain's restructuring of its military. He was made commander of the reorganized artillery corps (the Hōheitai 砲兵隊),[1] replacing the veteran Hayashi Gonsuke, who had died from wounds sustained at Battle of Toba–Fushimi.[2] Upon his return to the domain, he was appointed a wakadoshiyori (junior councilor) in charge of military finances. In order to shore up the domain's financial situation (which had been in dire straits for over a decade), he brought the skilled engravers Katō Munechika and Akichika, as well as others, to Aizu, and built a smelter inside Tsuruga Castle, casting the three denominations of 1 bun, 2 bun, and 1 ryō coins. Joining with the shogunate infantry under Infantry Magistrate Ōtori Keisuke, Yamakawa fought the Tosa forces under Itagaki Taisuke with great effectiveness, and his renown was even to reach the ears of Tani Tateki.

Lion Dance[edit]

On the 24th, Yamakawa was called back to Wakamatsu from his position at Nikkōguchi-Tajima, but he realized that even if he were to rush back at top speed, by the time he got there the siege would be so tight he would not be able to get through. Therefore, he devised a plan to move his soldiers through the enemy lines. Putting together a “lion dance troupe” from the nearby Komatsu village, he set up a “tōri-hayashi” (Japanese “marching band”), and got every single one of his soldiers into the castle safely, passing right in front of the besieging army. The commanders in the castle were awestruck at the miraculous entrance, and it greatly improved morale. Matsudaira Katamori himself was moved to tears and greatly praised Yamakawa's ability. Thus Yamakawa was put in command of defense after he entered the castle. While the defenders were reinforced for a slightly longer period of time, it was to be for naught, and the castle fell in the fall of 1868.


After the fall of Aizu, Yamakawa was taken to a prisoner-of-war camp in Tokyo with other Aizu men. He was placed in charge of the domain's first postwar liaison office in Tokyo, and when the government issued a pardon, he supervised the move to the new landholding at Tonami (now part of Aomori Prefecture), and assisted as vice-governor of Tonami, undertaking the hard work of management. After the abolishment of the domains he served in Aomori Prefecture for a time, but in 1871 he resigned and at the recommendation of army Major General Tani Tateki, he received a job in the Military Court.

Army career[edit]

In 1873, Yamakawa was commissioned a major in the Army and served at Kumamoto. In 1874, he fought for the Imperial forces during the Saga Rebellion and was wounded. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, he served in the Satsuma Rebellion as a staff officer of the 2nd Independent Brigade, and was trapped in Kumamoto Castle by the Satsuma forces, where he saved the life of Tani Tateki. For his actions there he was promoted to colonel in 1880, and soon after, to major general.

Later life[edit]

After his time in the army, Yamakawa went into education, becoming school president of the Tokyo Women's Normal School, replacing fellow Aizu native Takamine Hideo. He was also made a member of the House of Peers. In his later years he devoted himself to writing, and put together the text Kyoto Shugoshoku Shimatsu, which was one of the first texts that gave a view of the Aizu domain's actions that was not part of the Meiji oligarchs' triumphalist narrative.

Yamakawa was elevated to the peerage with the title of danshaku under the kazoku system. He died in Tokyo in 1898, and was buried there.


  1. ^ a b Gekidosuru Aizu Boshin Hen. Vol. 5 of Aizuwakamatsu Shi. Tokyo: Kokusho-kankokai, 1981, pp. 131
  2. ^ Yamakawa Kenjirō, Hōshu Aizu Byakkotai Jukyushi-den. Tōkyō: n.p., 1925, p. 88.


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