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Boshin Civil War 1868-1869 (Japan)

Last modified: 2023-06-03 by zachary harden
Keywords: japan | boshin civil war | shogunate |
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The last Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu offered to resign in late 1867 to return political authority to the Emperor to make way for coalition government. However anti-Tokugawa movement was gathering momentum. The two large domains of Satsuma and Choshu were drawn into alliance by young activists samurai and allied with key figures at the Imperial Court.
In January 1868 this group captured the Emperor and declared in his name a restoration of Imperial rule. Tokugawa shogunate made an attempt to resist this turn of events and fought the Boshin Civil War for two years against Meiji new government forces and finally defeated. Boshin Civil War is composed of the following main battles:

  • Battle of Toba-Fushimi Jan 1868
  • Battle of Tohoku Apr-Sep 1868
  • Battle of Hakodate Oct 1868-May 1869

At the end of Edo period there were 540 domains 藩 which is the Japanese historical term for the estate of a warrior to a daimyo in the Edo period. The victory of Meiji new government means an abolition of feudalism of Japan. In 1871 the government abolished domain system and introduced 308 prefecture system. And then gradually reduced number of prefecture down to present 47 in 1889. Lots of samurai lost their lords and job.
Each domain has its lordís family crest and flag and ensign in some cases. Now I will introduce main domains army flags and ensigns used during Boshin Civil War beginning with former Shogunate Forces.
Sources for this subject:
- 'Naval Ensigns of Japanese Domains' by Nagasaki Magistrate's Office 1866
- 'Naval Ensigns of Domains participating Hakodate Battle' 1868-1869 by Hokkaido Univ
- 'History of Satsuma Domain's Navy' by Duke Shimazu Editorial Office 1868
- 'History of Japanese Fleets' by Goro Yamataka 1942
- 'Flags of Ancient Japanese Coastal Daimyos' by Hugo Strohl published year unknown.

Remark: All images of naval ensigns were drawn with right hoist based upon the source.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 23 March 2014

And when you say "right", that means "sinister", doesn't it? That is, the naval ensigns were draw sinister hoist and if these were Western flags we'd be looking at the reverse.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 25 March 2014

Japanese ensigns are not originally horizontal, but after opening country we started using Western style horizontal ensigns. Yes, the naval ensigns are drawn sinister hoist which is old Japanese style although the flag proportion (horizontal) follows Western style.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 25 March 2014

If a domain has more than one flag, e.g. the flag, the army flag and the ensign(s), are the designs usually related? Does one type of flag normally develop from the other? Or did a lord simply pick a completely new design when an extra flag is needed.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 25 March 2014

It is up to lord's idea however basically they tend to use lord family crest first to put on other color background and then in case of extra flag need a lord picks up completely new design which contains stripes , diagonally divided, and other Western flag designs to my opinion. What is Japanese traditional flag design ? That is bicolor flag. We pick up background color and then put other color emblem in the center like national flag and most Japanese prefectural flags. Old days the family crest was used in stead of local government emblem in the flag. Japanese family crest is always black and white so flag can be bicolor.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 25 March 2014

Well, a crest (mon?) is a mono-colour. Is there a reason to say it's always black and white?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 30 April 2014

紋(mon )= crest
家紋(kamon)= family crest
We have a tradition to put kamon widely in Japanese kimono. The mono-color family crest can be used flexibly in any color of kimono.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 01 May 2014

So it comes down to: A Japanese family crest, a kamon, is always a mono-colour and so the flag can be a bi-colour.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 01 May 2014

The Former Shogunate Forces

New Government Forces

The new government Forces were led by Choshu Domain, Satsuma Domain, Tosa Domain and Saga Domain. They played important roles in Japanese Politics and Imperial Military after the War.