Kawai Tsugunosuke (1827-1868), who fought against the emperor's army during the early days of the Meiji Restoration.

(Posted on July 12, 2022)

It all happened in 1972, when I travelled to Pokhara, Nepal. Pokhara is about 200 km west of Kathmandu, the country’s capital and is the second most populous city as well as a tourist destination for the Annapurna ranges in the Himalayas. While I was strolling around the city after checking in at a small hotel, I lost my way and I found a house with lights on. I was surprised to find a Japanese man inside, who happened to be a medical doctor practicing there. I greeted him and talked with him for a while then he asked me if I was going to New Delhi, India. I said yes, then he asked me to take back a borrowed book entitled “a Mountain pass” to the Japanese Embassy library. 

                  Pokhara and the Annapurna ranges, by PageantUpddatess



So, this was how I came to know of Kawai Tsugunosuke, the subject of the book. Who was he and what did he do? He became a high-ranking samurai for a relatively small feudal lord in a part of today’s Niigata prefecture. Kawai was strongly influenced by Yangmingism, Neo-Confucianism, which advocates a realistic approach to everyday life and profession. The time was when the Tokugawa shogunate was coming to its end. The emperor’s army had prevailed in Japan but there was strong opposition in the north who showed sympathy for the Tokugawa family. So, the emperor’s army marched on to the north and in so doing they sought to hold Niigata, which was an important seaport for the ex-shogunate army. To this, what Kawai tried was to seek a neutral stance between the competing forces. For this purpose, Kawai carried out a sweeping reform at home, resulting in more agricultural output and a powerful army. Kawai managed to make enough funds to acquire the latest weapons such as Armstrong guns, Gatling guns (had two out of the only three that were available in Japan at that time), Enfield rifles and Snider-Enfield rifles and more. 

                                                     Kawai Tsugunosuke


The ukiyoe, a woodblock printing, depicts the battles between

         the emperor’s army and Kawai’s army. 


Unfortunately, his attempt at neutrality through deterrence failed.

Kawai was forced to tactically lead his troops against the oncoming emperor’s army and managed to fight for three months from May to July, 1868. Then he retreated with the remaining soldiers to the last stronghold in Aizu-Wakamatsu. But Kawai died from leg injuries on the way. Aizu-Wakamatsu surrendered in September of the same year. The final battle was fought in Hokkaido, the northernmost island, in May the next year. The emperor’s army prevailed in the end.   






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