Hijikata’s last battleIn 1869, Hijikata headed for his last battle.
On April 13, Ezo troops commanded by Hijikata confronted new government forces that had landed in Ezo at Futamataguchi. The battle is said to have lasted 16 hours and involved the firing of 35,000 bullets. According to eyewitness accounts, soldiers’ faces were black with gunpowder.
On May 11, the new government forces began an all-out offensive against Hakodate.
They attacked the area from the sea and land, and the Shinsengumi countered in the city. The fighting resulted in the deaths of several key Shinsengumi members, including Kango Aridoshi, who had acted in concert with Hijikata in the Ikedaya Affair, and Juro Kasuya, a shogun retainer. Kai Shimada and many other Shinsengumi members defended gun batteries and the Benten Daiba fortress, but became isolated when most of the city was taken by the new government forces.
Hijikata, who was in the Goryokaku fortress, headed for the Ippongi Kanmon checkpoint on his way to the Benten Daiba fortress.
Upon his arrival at Ippongi Kanmon, he is said to have raised an unsheathed sword on horseback and aroused his troops by saying, “I will slay anybody who tries to retreat right here at this fence.”
It was then that a single fatal bullet ripped into Hijikata’s lower back, taking his life at the age of 35.
Enomoto gave up fighting back, surrendering Goryokaku on May 18 and bringing the Battle of Hakodate to an end.
Today a cenotaph known as the Hekketsuhi Monument (Hekketsu meaning green blood) stands halfway up Mt. Hakodate.
The monument’s name came from a legend in Zhuangzi (a renowned work of classical Chinese literature) that says the blood of a man who dies for loyalty will turn into jasper in three years. The cenotaph was built five years after the end of the Battle of Hakodate.
The city was littered with the bodies of Enomoto’s troops immediately after the battle because their burial was prohibited. While locals were reluctant to act independently in the presence of the new government troops, Kumakichi Yanagawa (a self-appointed magistrate of Hakodate) took in the bodies of the fallen soldiers and buried them together at Jitsugyoji Temple. In 1871, around 800 bodies were exhumed and reburied at the spot where the Hekketsuhi Monument stands today. The cenotaph continues to watch over the souls of the samurai warriors who perished in this northern land.
Visit spots featured in this article!
View spots featured in The Last Samurai Leading the Way toward the Northern Island in a larger map
... Goryokaku Fortress
... Hakodate Magistrate’s Office
... Shomyoji Temple
... Toshizo Hijikata Memorial Monument
... Hekketsuhi Monument