Ms. Answerman: Special Edition

by Rebecca Bundy, Jun 12th 2003
Yesterday, Zac's computer felt like committing suicide after three years of (mostly) reliable services. His operating system failed on Monday, forcing him to rely on the archaic Windows 98 that I use (you really think a four-year-old computer will hold up XP? I'm not pressing my luck). We received a copy of XP, but his computer refused the life support and finally gave up, nearly taking with it three years of photos, articles, and other things that Zac had gathered over the years. He has a new computer and it's working now, but he lost all of his saved email. We're asking that anyone who sent in a question over the past week please send these questions again. For now I'll be doing a filler Answerman that will focus on a few terms and facts from the Rurouni Kenshin series now that Cartoon Network has started the (butchered) Kyoto Arc.

Tokugawa Era: All you really need to know about this period in general is that the Tokugawa family ruled as advisors to the emperor, but in reality were running the country all on their own. Towards the end of the Tokugawa era, westerners started to point their guns and cannons at Japan before politely asking them to agree to whatever terms they set. Having been isolated from the entire world, Japan did not have an army capable of fighting against the foreigners, so the Bakufu (group of advisors to the Emperor) gave into all of the demands. A lot of the Japanese (most notably those who lived within the Chōshū and Satsuma regions) didn't like this. Needless to say, the two sides started to fight and in the end those who fought for the Bakufu lost. Kenshin and Shishio fought for the Ishin Shishi rebels against the Tokugawa government, while Saitou and the Shinsengumi fought for the Bakufu.

Meiji Restoration: In the end, the rebels who wanted to ‘expel the barbarians’ (a common phrase during the end of the Tokugawa Era) ended up welcoming the foreigners with open arms. They ‘restored’ power to the emperor, and abolished the samurai class. This is why Kenshin is given trouble for carrying a sword, since only policemen with special permission (as in Saitou's case) were allowed to carry blades. Wearing a blade in the open was a way of saying that you were against the new government and the emperor, though this is obviously not why Kenshin still carries his reverse-blade around. It was during the restoration that the wealthy started to wear western clothes, thus explaining why a few of the minor characters wear suits.

Shinsengumi: They are by far one of the coolest parts of the end of the Tokugawa Era. The Shinsengumi were ordered to keep the peace in Kyoto's streets during the chaos of the late Tokugawa years. Their nickname, ‘Wolves of Mibu’, described their pack mentality, roving and killing in large groups the same way that wolves hunt. They were divided into ten squadrons, each led by the top swordsmen within the Shinsengumi. Sadly though, very few of the leaders survived past the first few years of the restoration. Here are a few noteworthy members.

Saitou Hajime: Saitou was based heavily on the real Saitou Hajime. Leader of the third squadron and one of the three strongest fighters within the Shinsengumi, Saitou changed his name to Fujita Gorou and worked for the police as a spy. He was famous for his ‘left-hand single thrust’ attack, similar to the attack he uses in the show. In real life, he died at the ripe old age of 82.

Okita Souji: He has a brief appearance in the series and was the real-life model for Seta Soujiro. Okita was the leader of the first squadron and was equal (some argue better) in skill to Saitou. In real life, Okita died from Tuberculosis about a year after the Shinsengumi were disbanded.

Harada Sanosuke (Captian of 10th squadron) and Hijikata Toshizo (Vice-captain): These two are important for the series because they are the character models for Sagara Sanosuke and Shinomori Aoshi.
I could go on about the Shinsengumi for a long time, but if anyone is interested in learning more, then I'd suggest going to this Shinsengumi page, which is probably the best site out there for historical information on the Shinsengumi and many of their leaders.

Congratulations on making it to the end of this history lesson! I promise next week Answerman will be up and running again as usual.

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