The Last Daimyo: The Life of Hayashi Tadataka

The Last Daimyo: The Life of Hayashi Tadataka

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Hayashi Tadataka, the Last Daimyo, in front of his crest, as well as scenes from the Boshin War and WWII
Amidst the backdrop of World War II's start, one last survivor of the old Edo period order died. Who was Hayashi Tadataka, the last daimyo?

On February 5, 1941, an understated announcement ran in Kanpō, the official gazette of the Japanese government, making public notice of a noble’s death.

Peerage deaths: Baron Hayashi Tadakazu’s grandfather, Hayashi Tadataka, holder of junior fifth court rank, died on the 22nd of last month.

For as long as the modern peerage system lasted, this was standard for Kanpō. But Hayashi Tadataka was no ordinary noble, and his death was no ordinary event. Before he was simply holder of the junior fifth court rank, Hayashi Tadataka was a daimyo – the feudal samurai lord of the Jōzai domain. Although Jōzai was a minor domain, Tadataka’s military exploits during the Boshin War set him apart, and he went on to outlive all of his daimyo peers.

Hayashi Tadataka, the last daimyo, as he appeared in 1868, dressed for war. (source)
Hayashi Tadataka as he appeared in 1868, dressed for war. (source)

So, who was Hayashi Tadataka, the Last Daimyo?

Rabbits, Drinks, and Traditions

A modern stele in Kisarazu, Chiba, commemorating the Hayashi family’s presentation of rabbits to the shogun. Zoom in to see the rabbits carved at the bottom. (source)

In order to understand Hayashi Tadataka’s story, we need to take a moment to consider his 15th-century ancestors. This was during the Eikyo Disturbance, when the Tokugawa family’s ancestor Serata Arichika sided with the forces of rebellious Ashikaga Mochiuji. Escaping in defeat, Arichika sheltered with Ogasawara Mitsumasa, the Hayashi family’s ancestor.

But Arichika had arrived in the dead of winter, and Mitsumasa didn’t have anything to give his guest. Going out into the snow, he trapped rabbits and was able to provide for Arichika. When Arichika’s heir Chikauji set up in Mikawa Province, present-day eastern Aichi Prefecture, Mitsumasa’s heirs became their vassals. They were there at the beginning and would remain Tokugawa vassals to the end.

In recognition of their ancestor’s long-ago act of service, the Hayashi family held hereditary precedence at the Tokugawa new year’s observance. The Hayashi lord would present his Tokugawa overlord with rabbit meat, and the Tokugawa overlord would offer the Hayashi lord the first cup of new year’s sake, ahead of everyone else in the vassal band regardless of status. This continued through the end of the Edo period.

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The Hayashi family was fiercely proud of this heritage and honor, and even wore it in their crest! While the crest’s primary element is the ubiquitous interlocking-comma-shaped mitsudomoe, beneath it sits the number one in kanji.

The Hayashi family crest. (illustration by the author)
The Hayashi family crest. (illustration by the author)

Loyalty, At Least in Theory

These origins in Mikawa at the Tokugawa family’s inception made the Hayashi a fudai family, the group of hereditary Tokugawa vassals that were either hatamoto (direct vassals with right of audience) or daimyo. While the fudai have a historic reputation of undying loyalty to the Tokugawa clan, the reality was that like any vassal anywhere in Japan, they had a significant measure of self-interest — especially if they were wealthy.

By the late Edo period, the loyalty of fudai daimyo, in particular, was largely theoretical rather than practical. Over time, their priorities had shifted such that they were daimyo first and Tokugawa vassals second. As historian Harold Bolitho observes, especially toward the Edo period’s close, they were often resistant to change imposed by the Shogunate, and when the Boshin War happened, almost all of them fell in with the nascent imperial government. This was less out of disloyalty to the Shogun or loyalty to the Emperor, and more out of a simple desire to protect their domains and vassal bands from getting caught up in and destroyed by the war.

The one notable exception to this rule was Hayashi Tadataka.

Exception to the Rule

Tadataka’s domain of Jōzai– modern Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture– was a modest 10,000 koku in size, barely over the baseline for him to qualify as a daimyo. His family had become daimyo only relatively recently, in 1825. Unlike larger domains which boasted castles and large vassal bands, Jōzai only had only a few dozen vassals and an armed estate (jinya, 陣屋) in its home territory. As Tadataka himself said, many years later, “I only had a few…quite a few of them were very young or very old.”

The Boshin War’s opening months moved quickly and eventfully. But by the time the imperial forces took the surrender of Edo Castle on May 3, 1868, Shogunate Army elements were already moving into the Kanto Plain, continuing the fight.

They were dissatisfied with the imperial army’s continued escalationism and the lack of a clear settlement for the ex-shogun, now in domiciliary confinement and awaiting word of his fate. It was then that a commando unit called Yūgekitai came to Jōzai for refuge and to ask for help and reinforcement.

Yūgekitai had splintered over the preceding weeks, and its troop strength was down to 36. Its commanders, Iba Hachirō (1844-1869) and Hitomi Katsutarō (1843-1922) pleaded with Tadataka to assist, invoking his obligations to the Shogun as a fudai daimyo. Tadataka, then 19, had barely been a daimyo for a few months following his inheritance of family headship.

Fudai daimyo formed the majority of Kanto regional daimyo. As mentioned, none of them were willing to openly commit their resources and forces to a fight that risked them and their domains. But Hayashi Tadataka, ever the exception to the rule, said yes.

At around 6 AM on 24 May 1868, he led his retainers to war as part of Yūgekitai, having bolstered its numbers to around 107.

How to Build an Army on the Fly

Iba Hachirō as depicted in Yoshitoshi's Keisei Suikoden. Note the fallen hat below Iba, which bears the distinctive Hayashi crest.
Iba Hachirō as depicted in Yoshitoshi’s Keisei Suikoden. Note the fallen hat below Iba, which bears the distinctive Hayashi crest. (source)

Even reinforced by Jōzai troops, Yūgekitai and the rest of the Shogunate forces were outnumbered. The unit was still on the Bōsō Peninsula, and there were enemy forces in Edo with more arriving by ship. But the preponderance of daimyo in the area were still of the fudai distinction, and where they didn’t listen to Hitomi and Iba, they might listen to a daimyo peer. And despite earlier opposition, the fact of the matter was, the war was far from decided at that point– the balance could easily have shifted again. Tadataka argued his case to one neighboring daimyo after another.

What happened was something along the following lines.

Yūgekitai would arrive; Hayashi would ask to see the local daimyo, who would send a clan elder. The clan elder would explain that if the domain publicly sided with Yūgekitai, the imperial army would surely destroy it in response. Hayashi would then press the issue, invoking the daimyo’s obligation to the ex-shogun. The clan elder would then say that there were some of the clan’s retainers who would quietly join Yūgekitai, or that there was a warehouse of weapons or equipment to which the Yūgekitai men could help themselves. In this way, Hayashi helped build and equip an army on the fly, all while maneuvering swiftly around Bōsō. Eventually, with the help of ships of Admiral Enomoto Takeaki‘s fugitive Shogunate Navy fleet, Yūgekitai crossed Edo Bay in sight of the Satsuma navy, continuing its campaign.

By the time word reached the imperial command in Edo, Hayashi and Yūgekitai were in the Fuji foothills, armed to the teeth, their ranks swelled to over 300.

Honor, Satisfied

In campaigns from the Fuji foothills north to the Tohoku region, Yūgekitai cultivated a fearsome reputation in combat. Eventually, the unit fought alongside the forces of the Northern Alliance. Tadataka’s leadership in particular attracted attention from northern leaders, and he was praised by Matsudaira Katamori of Aizu, Date Yoshikuni of Sendai, and even Prince Rinnoji-no-miya, the northern claimant to the throne.

Amidst the early autumn battles that surrounded the Alliance’s slow-motion collapse, Tadataka heard that the imperial government granted the Tokugawa shogun’s family a massive 700,000 koku fief at Sunpu, modern Shizuoka, the family’s historic heartland. The order creating that domain had been issued all the way back in July. The exigencies of war meant that he didn’t receive word until then. When his force arrived in Sendai, he decided to surrender, and not a moment too soon. Surviving Shogunate Army elements were racing to rendezvous with Enomoto Takeaki’s fleet amidst the Date clan’s own surrender preparations.

Tadataka’s comrades were enraged at his surrender and went on to fight in Hokkaido under Enomoto Takeaki’s command. On November 8, in Sendai, Hayashi issued a general order to his surviving troops explaining that their mission was accomplished, and the Tokugawa family’s honor and future were saved. Surrendering to the imperial representatives, he took up residence in Sendai’s Rinko-in temple and awaited word about his future.

For Jōzai’s fighting daimyo, the war was over.

A Difficult but Lively Retirement

Hayashi Tadataka as depicted in Yoshitoshi's Keisei Suikoden. Despite Yoshitoshi's sleight of hand in labeling him "Amakusa Shirō," the distinctive Hayashi crest appears here as a helmet crest
Hayashi Tadataka as depicted in Yoshitoshi’s Keisei Suikoden. Despite Yoshitoshi’s sleight of hand in labeling him “Amakusa Shirō,” the distinctive Hayashi crest appears here as a helmet crest (maedate 前建て). (source)

Hayashi Tadataka paid a high price for having gone to war. Even those who’d fought and lost in 1868 were pensioned off comfortably, but he remained in dire financial straits. He farmed in his old fief, later made a go at clerking in a dry-goods store in Hakodate, was briefly a lower government official in Tokyo and a clerk in Osaka. It wasn’t until the 1890s, thanks to lobbying by his former retainers, that Tadataka’s nephew and adopted heir Tadahiro was ennobled as baron. Tadataka himself received junior fifth court rank. In time, he even served as a Shinto priest at the famed Tōshō-gū, in Nikko.

Despite his financial woes, Tadataka’s Boshin War activities endured in the popular imagination. Noted woodblock artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi included Tadataka in the 1874 series Keisei Suikoden. This series depicted many figures of the vanquished Shogunate Army. Of course, this was still the early Meiji era, and the subject was contemporary and politically sensitive. Thus each character was subtly renamed, either entirely or by subtly changing the kanji. For example, Shogunate Army Chief of Staff Ōtori Keisuke was “Ōtori Teinosuke.” Tadataka appears in the same series, too. Yet curiously, his name is changed entirely to Amakusa Shirō, the 17th-century Christian leader of the Shimabara Uprising. The name may be misleading without further context. But if we look closely, we can see the helmet crest is indeed the Hayashi family crest.

Tadataka was interviewed by the Shidankai. This association’s mission was to interview people who survived the Meiji Restoration, including the Boshin War.

“The Color of a True Heart”

Hayashi Tadataka’s life spanned the length and breadth of modern Japan’s beginnings and rise. He’d entered the world as the heir to an old warrior clan, become a daimyo, and fought and lost in the Boshin War, all before he was 20. After a life marked by strained economic circumstances, he found some measure of comfort. By the end of his life, he lived with his daughter Mitsu in the apartment building she rented out. The world around him was again one at war; the Second World War had already begun. It was also a world with radio, movies, and even early jet engines. As I write this in 2022, there still remain many people alive today who were alive then.

It was not that long ago at all. I can’t help but feel for him. How mindblowing the changes in the world must have seemed!

On his deathbed, his family asked him for a death poem (jisei no ku 辞世の句). Tadataka, then 92, reportedly remarked “I had one in Meiji 1. Not now.”

The poem to which he referred, written upon his surrender in Sendai, reads as follows

真心の

あるかなきかはほ

ふり出す

腹の血しほの

色にこそ知れ

Know in the color/

of the crimson tide from my belly/

if this heart of mine/

has been loyal or disloyal

It seems a fitting epitaph for a fighting daimyo who was the last of his peers.

Sources

  • “Access.” Sendai Reien. Accessed 3 February 2022.
  • Harold Bolitho. Treasures among Men: The Fudai Daimyo in Tokugawa Japan. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), pp. 251-255.
  • Hayashi Tadataka. “Hayashi Tadataka-kun (Hayashi Masanosuke) Jishin wo hiite Hakone ni Itari Kangun ni kōsen seshi jitsukreki fu nanawa” 林忠崇君 (林昌之助) 自臣を率ひて函嶺に至り官軍に抗戦せし実歴附七話, in Shidan Sokkiroku 史談速記録 No. 127, March 1903. Reprinted in Henshu Shidankai: Shidankai Sokkiroku Gappon 19 編集史談会・史談会速記録合本19. (Tokyo: Hara Shobō 原書房, 1973), pp. 516-517, 522. Archived at Hathitrust. Accessed 3 February 2022.
  • Higuchi Takehiko 樋口雄彦. Kyū Bakushin no Meiji-ishin 旧幕臣の明治維新. (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kōbunkan 吉川弘文館, 2005), p. 10.
  • Hoya Tōru 保谷徹. Boshin Sensō 戊辰戦争. (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kōbunkan 吉川弘文館,, 2007), p. 305.
  • Kanpō 官報, February 5, 1941 1941年02月05日 Number 4223 第4223号. (Tokyo: Okura-sho Insatsukyoku 大蔵省印刷局, 1941), p. 159. Archived at National Diet Library. Accessed 3 February 2022.
  • Nakamura Akihiko 中村彰彦. Dappan Daimyō no Boshinsensō: Kazusa-Jōzai hanshu Hayashi Tadataka no Shōgai 脱藩大名の戊辰戦争 上総請西藩主・林忠崇の生涯. (Tokyo: Chūōkōron-shinsha, 2000), pp. 4, 33-39, 130-133.
  • Ōishi Manabu 大石学. Shinsengumi: “Saigo no Bushi” no Jitsuzō 新選組 : 「最後の武士」の実像. (Tokyo: Chūōkōron-shinsha 中央公論新社, 2002), p. 223.
  • Sasaki Suguru 佐々木克. Boshin sensō: haisha no Meiji-ishin 戊辰戦争 : 敗者の明治維新 . (Tokyo: Chūōkōron-shinsha 中央公論新社, 2002), p. 230.
  • Toshio G. Tsukahira. Feudal Control in Tokugawa Japan. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966), p. 52.
  • Yamakawa Kenjirō 山川健次郎. Aizu Boshin Senshi 會津戊辰戦史 (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 1933), pp. 352, 358.

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Nyri Bakkalian

Dr. Nyri A. Bakkalian is an author, recovering academic, raconteur, and Your Favorite History Lesbian. Her PhD thesis focused on the Boshin War in the Tohoku region. She is the author of "Grey Dawn: A Tale of Abolition and Union" (Balance of Seven Press, 2020). She hosts Friday Night History on anchor.fm/fridaynighthistory and the secret to her success is Arabic coffee. She misses Sendai daily.

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