Edo Dragnet
By OnnaMusha

2nd Place - 2009 Samurai Fiction Contest

Genre: Crossover (Dragnet) / Pulp Fiction



From the Reminiscences of Furudai Keijô (Jô), Edo Yoriki, 1850-1868, later retired with rank of Junsabucho (Police Sergeant) in the Imperial Tokyo Police in 1879.

The story you are about to read is true—in part. Some of the names have been changed or fabricated wholesale to protect the illusion of reality.

This is the city: Edo, province of Kanto, island of Honshu-- the largest city in all the Japanese islands. Close to a million samurai, nobles, and commoners inhabit this city in an ever-changing pattern of constant movement. As I speak, it is easily the largest city in the world. But it is a city in flux. On November 9, 1867, the 15th Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, resigned his post and authority to the emperor, agreeing to be the instrument for carrying out imperial orders. The Tokugawa Shogunate had officially ended.

While the Shogun was no more, his retainers and subretainers, commoner officials, all those people who keep this metropolis running smoothly, were still required to carry out the mandates with which they had been charged. In this city of nearly one million, there are only about 300 police officers to keep them in line. I’m one of ‘em.  I work here. I’m a yoriki.

It was December 23, 1867; it was seasonably cold in Edo. We were working the night watch out of the southern machi bugyô’s office at Hatchobori. The boss is Abe Kintaro; my partner is Gannin Biru. My name’s Furudai. A series of random vandalism incidents had been happening all over Edo; markets trashed, buildings being burned, men failing to pay the Yoshiwara courtesans. All in all, it might be typical for a big city, except for rumors that had floated around our offices for weeks—that we could expect worse doings from Satsuma domain, who was already causing a lot of trouble for the Shogunate, or what was left of it.

“I tell you, Jô. A nice manju and hot tea really hit the spot on a cold night on duty. You want one?” Biru was always pushing food or eating it. “Cute girl named O-tsu selling ‘em at a soba stand just a couple blocks from here…I can get you one if you want it. See, it’s shaped like a mushroom.”

“Biru, aren’t you on a diet?”

“Well...you don’t see me eating more than one, do you?”

“If I were you, Biru, I’d worry more about your hair than your food.”

“Whaddya mean, Jôō?”

“Your topknot is slipping.” Biru dropped the half-eaten sweet almost directly into his teacup, his hands flying to catch his slowly falling topknot.

“How long you had that glue you’re using?”

“Only a couple years,” Biru was concentrating on centering the well-waxed but not-so-well glued hairpiece on his head with his left hand while fishing out the soggy manju  from his teacup with the right. “You know, sometimes I wish I could be carefree like the ronin who let their topknots swing loose in the wind.”

“Your problem, Biru, is that you don’t have a proper topknot, so you have to glue on a fake one. “


“The wind’d take it clean off.”

“But Jô, tradition says I have the right to wear the topknot as a member of the samurai class. Somewhere along the line, the “right” became an “obligation.” So I have to glue one on as a matter of decorum. They don’t tell you in school what to do when you go bald and can’t grow the topknot you’re entitled to as part of your lineal heritage. Only then does your old mother bring out the ancestral hair glue and tell you about your father’s collection of topknot hairpieces, blow the dust off and bequeath them to the ‘lucky’ son. Surely someone in your family has gone through this before.”

“I guess I’m just lucky, Biru. All I inherited was my father’s collection of racy ukiyo prints and a tendency not to be able to hold my sake. Here, let me help you, while things are slow.”

I carefully positioned the false topknot at the back of Biru’s head and slathered on the glue so thick it glistened in the light of the chochin lantern. I was still holding it there ten minutes later when the trouble started.

Hour of the Dog: A doshin runner approached us with information that shots had been fired into the residence of Shonai domain. His partner and several others were in pursuit of the culprits, while he had rushed to report the incident to us.

The doshin leaned his jitte against the inner doorframe and bowed quickly. He remained standing, although he was obviously winded and bent over somewhat.

“Officers, there was a small group of five or six men who looked like ronin. They fired guns into the residence of Shonai. Stirred up a hornet’s nest if you ask me. There must have been fifteen men ran out of the place after them. My partner has followed them; they ran south. Furudai-dono, isn’t it?” the breathless doshin gasped while trying to maintain a position of decorum.

“Have a seat, and tell us the story. Your name, doshin?”

“Yamaguchi Toramitsu, honorable Yoriki-san. My partner’s Mori Akinosuke. I told him to meet me here with prisoners if he caught them or information if he didn’t. He took about ten men with him, some doshin, some local residents who were nearby.”

The man, who was well into his forties, was sweating despite the coolness of the evening breeze and the lack of any sort of heating beyond a small brazier in the office. Biru made hot tea over the low glow of the brazier, and Yamaguchi began his story.

“We were on our rounds near the palace, around Hitotsubashi, a short distance from the Shonai house, when a frightened merchant approached us, obviously shaken up by something that scared him for his life. He said that someone had shot at him as he was peddling his wares in front of the Shonai residence. He fell to the ground and waited for more shots and took off as soon as he realized they were aiming at the house and not at him. He told us he saw three men with rifles; they had unkempt hair in topknots. There were also several others who carried two swords. Unfortunately there was nothing in his story to tell us if they were ronin or in the employ of a domain, but they were most likely of samurai class from their description.”

“My partner ran in the direction of the Shonai residence and I don’t know if he managed to catch the culprits, but they had a big head start on him. I expect problems, though, as there were likely some of those rough Shinchogumi fellows along with the regular Shonai men. Like ronin gangs. We’ve got ‘em; the shishi have got ‘em. Edo is turning into a gangland turf.”

Shinchogumi. Oh goody. I had enough trouble with them back in ’63; I guess they had to go somewhere. I don’t imagine they’ve gotten any easier to deal with now than they were back then. And they were supposed to be on our side. Yamaguchi continued.

“Oh yes, I told the merchant to report here to make a statement to you fellows, but he insisted he couldn’t leave his cart at the scene for that long. It was kind of a large cart, so he said he’d bring himself, the cart and all to your office as soon as he could. I’d expect him in maybe 10-15 minutes; he’s very old and kind of slow.”

A few moments later, a harried doshin appeared at the door and entered without ceremony.

“I could not catch them, but I saw where they most likely went. They are from Satsuma; or at least, they disappeared into the Mita Satsuma residence. I chased ‘em down through Shiba and saw the Shonai men gathered at the Mita yashiki; they dispersed quickly enough when we got there, but there could be trouble later. Of course,  I could not follow the culprits inside. They’re starting. The Shonai men complied with our requests to disperse, so I thought it best we withdraw and report. But they were fuming, and they may come back. I personally wouldn’t blame them.”

 “They’re starting.” Mori was referring to the pervasive rumors floating around Edo. Satsuma was going to attack the Shogunate. They were going to burn Edo Castle to the ground. They would wreak havoc in the city in order to force Yoshinobu to make a move that would weaken his position and give Satsuma a reason to move in with its new Imperial troops to utterly depose the Tokugawa by force. The city had been in turmoil ever since Yoshinobu had announced his retirement in early November, but we had all been assured the Tokugawa would hold together and retain influence in the new government. We did our best to keep the streets clear and peaceful as we had always done. But something would have to give. Shonai, as a known staunch Shogunal ally and designated sponsor of the high-profile Shinchogumi, who had wrought their own form of chaos in the city, was a natural target. Plus, their yashiki bordered on Edo Castle. The threat implied was obvious.

Biru and I dismissed Mori and Yamaguchi after obtaining their reports, but told them to take up their rounds again at Hitotsubashi and keep Edo Castle under close surveillance for safety. Biru and I took up the questioning of the merchant, who told us his name was Saburo. He looked like he had been young back in Ieyasu’s time. No wonder Yamaguchi said he’d be slow. He must have been at least 80 and had absolutely no hair anywhere on his head, except for a small, assymetrical beard that barely covered his craggy chin. He didn’t have eyebrows but did have maybe three teeth. It was kind of creepy, really, when I remember it.

He said he had been paid to go to the Shonai house and sell his wares; he was instructed to sing his loudest pitch-song, so that as many Shonai retainers as possible would come out to investigate. He was calmer after a cup of tea, and he told us the story from the beginning.

“You see, there was this fellow, looks like a monkey. Called himself Saru. Ain’t that appropriate? He approaches me on my rounds just outside the Masukaya (that’s in the Shiba district) and flashes a gold ryo in my face. It got my attention, of course. I figured he wanted to buy something. Turns out he was buying me. He told me where to go and when, then went back into the Masukaya; I didn’t think much about why he hired me until I saw him at the Shonai house with a gun.”

“Did he fire the gun at the house?” Biru asked.

“Well, I think he did, but if he did, he’s a rotten shot. Because the shots mostly hit the stone base beside the gate. The guys with him seemed better with their guns; I think they were all ronin. They had that look, anyway.”

“Did they hit anyone at the complex?”

“I don’t think so,” Saburo shook his head. “ But them Shonai men sure came piling out after ‘em. I didn’t see Saru after that, but the rest of ‘em took off down towards the Shiba area or in that general direction. South or southeast. I wasn’t sure what to do, but rather than stay in the line of fire, so to speak, I ran to find the nearest doshin, which thankfully didn’t take me that long. Two or three doshin and a bunch of townsmen ran off in the direction I pointed. One of the doshin mentioned Satsuma; I been hearin’ that Satsuma was gonna cause chaos. I just didn’t think I would be in the middle of it. I told the one fat doshin about it, since he didn’t look like he was gonna be runnin’ after ‘em in his shape. He said to come here. Sorry it took me so long. You see, I got precious wares I don’t want to leave in the street. I even got Somaware, see? Double-walled, keeps your tea hot longer than those cups you got there. And lovely Soma horse on the side, see?”

I didn’t want to take the time to tell him we had already busted the fake Somaware dealer in the city last week and his so-called “Somaware” was no more than two teacups cemented together and that it wouldn’t hold up to boiled water. We let Saburo push his cart up against the office front for safety. Katsu Shichiroma, a junior doshin just reporting for duty, said he’d keep an eye on it while we went to investigate Saburo’s information. Saburo, of course, had to go along, so the pace was slow.

“Where we going, honorable yoriki-san?” Saburo was kind of wheezing. “You know I’m old and can’t keep up with you young men.”

“We’re going to the Masukaya, see if your pal Saru keeps regular hours. You’re gonna point him out to us.” I was not relishing the long walk in the middle of Edo nightlife. The Shiba-Ura fishermen were generally temperate types, but, as Shiba was a bustling port district, the taverns were many and altercations a regular occurrence.  People were generally deferential to Tokugawa officials, but they always acted furtive when they saw the triple hollyhock. It took me years to figure out what was mere skittishness and fear of authority and what I should peg as actual wrongdoing. Edo folk, especially in the bar districts and port areas, weren’t trusting types. Occasionally, we’d stumble onto a drunken belligerent who would take the Tokugawa crest for a convenient target. Every time we went out like this, we had to keep our eyes wide open. It was a habit by now after 18 years service as yoriki.

Biru and I followed the merchant’s directions until we came to a small alley behind a row of shops that were closing up. These shops were a short distance southward from Daimyo Avenue at Shibaguchi and would be frequented not only by the samurai on Edo duty but by townsmen, ronin, and traveling merchants, such as our ancient guide. This is about the demographic we expected to see inside the Masukaya. I pulled aside the noren; it was darkly lit inside by maybe three oil lamps inside large paper-lined frames. The name “Masukaya” appeared on all of them and on the hanging paper lantern outside the shop, but it was executed in a delicate style of brushwork and all in kana. That was oddity number one. It took me no time at all to figure out which one was Masuka. She was dressed in a sparkling headdress, almost like a maiko, only she was obviously way too old to be a geisha in training. Perhaps this explained the delicate script…The cocked hip and easy grip on a long pipe, along with the fact that she was the only lady in there not serving guests –I walked up to her. She was taller than me.

“You Masuka? This your place?”

She nodded slowly, a sly smile spreading over her face.

“You’re cops, aren’t you? I can tell that stiff walk from a mile away.” Masuka’s voice was almost a falsetto, an unsteady mix of high and low, intermixed with a large dose of gravel from years of smoking. “I’m Masuka Mikayo; I serve everyone, as you can see. Welcome, honorable Doshin-san.”

“Yoriki, ma’am,”

“Oooh!” Masuka swanned a bit, swiveling her non-existent hips in the tightly wrapped and gaudy kimono. “So sorry, Yoriki-san!” She made an exaggerated bow that stopped when her upper rib cage hit the wall of her thick, bright orange obi. She stood back up gracefully.

A collection of motley types sat in various lazy seiza poses at low tables, tucked legs shoved into small spaces. Ronin drank with merchants; samurai with commoners. We didn’t see any hinin, but then again, we didn’t expect to.

“You on duty, or can I serve you officers?” Masuka never stopped moving her arms; she seemed to have a complex series of coded hand gestures that her several serving women were quick to interpret. With a graceful turn of her left wrist, she brought her heavily made up (and somewhat smudged) eyes to rest on mine. I couldn’t figure it, but there seemed to be something slightly wrong about Masuka. Strange face, voice didn’t match it, not to mention I didn’t recall anyone named Masuka being licensed to run a hostess joint in this area. But none of this would get me the answers I needed.  I made a gesture of my own, and the old merchant Saburo, his head lowered, entered, ducking the noren.

“You remember this fellow, Masuka? He was right outside of here yesterday, he said, talking to a ronin he called ‘Saru’ who went into this establishment. You know this Saru?”

Masuka’s eyes rolled a little. Her sweat-smudged bedroom eyes swept the room as her perfectly coiffed head tilted upwards to reveal a rather too-strong chin and a hint of stubble around the Adam’s apple. That’s it…I filed away for later—Masuka must have been either a retired onnagata or just someone who liked to dress in women’s clothes.

“Yeah, honorable Yoriki-san. I know him,” Masuka darted a glance sideways, into the hidden far inside corner of the room, barely visible in the inadequate oil-lamplight. I couldn’t tell if she was confirming to us that he was there or sending him a subtle signal. I made a mental note and shifted to block a possible exit attempt by the shadowy figure that sat in the very back of the nearly invisible depths of the room.

“He’s my ex. Ex-almost-husband. We had a disagreement and we never actually made it to being man and wife, you see.”

“I wonder why,” I quipped.  I could guess, actually. Saru probably had expected a woman and had gotten a large and unpleasant surprise. I filed it away and turned to the corner, where the man had gotten up and was straightening his kimono, slightly shifting his swords into a comfortable (was it aggressive?) position. I nodded to Biru. We were ready. Although our swords remained firmly sheathed in this cramped environment, we had both had plenty of training in iai and were ready to draw if Saru made even a slightly forward move.

 At that moment, the onnagata-wannabe Masuka tossed his/her head smartly and piped up in that unnatural falsetto, “Oh Saru, honey, come over here a minute…” It looked like “she” was willing to work with us. Let’s hope he is.

Saru stood motionless in the corner; Biru and I were between him and the only exit. He froze like a grotesque tokonoma painting and stared. I figured it was time to go to him. I had to hand it to him; at least he didn’t try to run, and he didn’t move his hands near his swords. He knew he was at a disadvantage and simply accepted his fate. He stood up and bowed to us. It was clear why he was called “Saru.” His rather large but too close-set eyes surveyed our official kimono; he decided to play it straight.

“How can I be of service to you officers?” I noticed his sharp slightly angry glance at Masuka; clearly there was a story there. But we had one of our own to unravel.

“We need some information; I understand you hired this merchant to sell his wares in front of the Shonai house tonight.” I had to wave old Saburo to come closer, as he clearly wanted no part of the proceedings. But he also knew he had to cooperate with the authorities if he wanted to continue to peddle his wares legally in the city of Edo.

“You hired this man to draw out the men at the Shonai house under the pretense of a merchant trying to sell goods. Then, when possible customers emerged from the compound, you fired shots. Not just you but several men. I want their names and clan affiliations. If I don’t find out from you, we have more officers who are tracking them, and we will find out just the same. Then you’ll be lumped in as one of ‘em, unless you help us now.”

Saru’s face reflected the low golden sepia-tinted lamplight with shining beads of sweat. His monkey eyes darted from Biru’s face to mine, back to Biru’s, up to the top of Biru’s  head. I noticed Biru’s topknot was starting to slip. Oh well, this was no time to bring it to his attention.

Saru was dressed medium well for a ronin (or at least he looked like a ronin). He had the fashionably disarranged coif, brushed well enough to make a high ponytail that fell loosely at his back for lack of hair wax. As is inevitable, a halo of wispy stragglers framed his simian face. His jaw seemed thrust slightly forward, thus increasing the monkey-like countenance. He was biting his lower lip. His left arm seemed stiffly held to his side as he stood, unmoving.

“We’ll have to question you and get a statement, mister. I know they call you ‘Saru,’ but we’ll need a real name for the report. You’ll have to come to the Hatchobori office with us.”

“Certainly, Yoriki-san; first I need to settle my bill with Miss Masuka. I’ll just be a moment.”

I noticed he simultaneously reached in his kimono and bent as close to Masuka’s ear as “her” elaborate wig would allow. He brushed up to her with his full body; I noticed his left arm move out of sight. We moved.

“Hold it, Saru. Miss Masuka,” Biru moved to flank her from behind, as I grabbed Saru’s left arm. Pulling it back from his body revealed a long rifle hidden at full length under his kimono and disguised by the fall of his swords. As well-armed as he was, there was no room. With Masuka in front, me beside him on the left and the counter up against his right side, he was trapped. Masuka was at least graceful in letting the side down.

“Oh, Saru, honey. You shouldn’t be carryin’ things like that in a place like this. For shame!” She even made a childish hand gesture to go with her disingenuous reaction. “You know I wouldn’t be so dumb as to try to hide a big old gun from our protectors, the Edo police. They’d shut me down. So don’t try that again.”

I suspected Saru had worked this deal with Masuka before, but he/she was a wily and opportunistic kind and knew how to weasel out of a complicity charge. I made a mental note to order an inspection of the place later, but, for now, Saru had to be dealt with.

According to the law, the yoriki would investigate a report and question the suspect. If there was enough cause to warrant an arrest, the matter would come to court. Edo had no holding facilities, so, in cases of arrest, the machi bugyô was called directly to the court, where he would pronounce sentence after hearing the facts and reading our reports. The suspect would be free to go after that, unless the machi bugyô explicitly pronounced the words, “I do hereby order your conviction.” If he didn’t say those words, we couldn’t hold the suspect. This sort of thing was happening with such frequency that the machi bugyô wasn’t getting much sleep these days. So, Biru and I would have to make the judgment carefully as to whether it warranted arrest and further prosecution.

It was likely this man was not the ringleader but probably a go-to man unaffiliated with the Satsuma men who had also fled the scene. Those men had fled to the safety of the Satsuma residence, which afforded them at least temporary immunity from answering to our forces, which only had jurisdiction outside the daimyo houses. We’d surely see this come up in the machi bugyô’s complaint box in one form or another. Then we’d have to investigate anyway. So we divested Saru of his rifle and his two swords and escorted him back to our offices, where a statement was taken. Saburo followed, in his own good time, arriving a full 10 minutes after we did. He then wheeled his cart from its parking place next to the guardhouse, replete with fake Somaware and other cheap trinkets, into the depths of the moonlit evening; Junior Doshin Katsu Shichiroma saw him off (after apprising him of the inauthentic nature of his “Somaware”) and shortly returned to his desk duties in the next office.

Saru made himself comfortable in our office as only a very drunken man can manage, i.e., he flopped on the wooden planks with a loud *clomp,* banging his knees on the way down, swearing loudly and rubbing the injured area. It was clear he wasn’t going to run away. I set his swords and rifle down out of arm’s reach, and the interrogation began.

“State your full name for the record.”

“Nakaya Yasujiro, resident of Edo.”

“You’re a commoner?”


“You’re dressed like a ronin.”

“Well, I’m also a ronin, ain’t I?”

“Do you have the right to wear two swords?”

“Yes, I do, honorable Yoriki-san.” He looked a little put out at the question.

I struggled to put the name into a slot I could recognize.

“Biru, I could use more of that tea if you don’t mind. Saru, we’ll pause a moment here. Have some tea; it’s late and it’ll make this whole thing more pleasant. Besides, Biru needs the practice.”

I sipped the hot tea in small, comforting swallows, half-watching the low, overreaching shadows of the waving skeletons of the trees that stood across from the office entrance and looked out toward the Northern machi bugyô’s compound only a short walk away. It was a waning half moon, which brought out shadows from every corner and bend. An artist might find it soothing and inspiring. I found it a bit distracting. I had been trained to spot movements and identify them; the cold wind and illuminating moonlight made everything seem to be in constant motion. Saru was in the corner of my eye behind me; the trees in front, Biru’s close, large shadow bending over the brazier to my right. All Edo seemed to be moving, and I had to keep an eye on all of it. It was tiring.

I knew that name from somewhere, but it was eluding me. Biru had been uncommonly quick with the tea. A couple more sips, and at length, I finally remembered.

“Nakaya is one of the hereditary Machi Doshiyori families, high-ranking commoner police officers. Are you a son or relation of Nakaya Ichizaemon?”

Saru nodded slowly, then shook his head inexplicably.

“I WAS a son of Nakaya; I still have the name, but the old man kicked me out of the house. I suppose it is easy to see why.” Saru’s head was hanging now.

“So you thought by helping these Satsuma men you might better yourself, rise to samurai status and show your father?”

“Well, sort of but not really. My father threw me out for hooking up with the ronin ‘rebels,’ as he called them. It was a sore spot, as you might understand.”

“Well, by all laws of Edo, these Satsuma men are criminals; they fired a gun in the city streets, which is a crime. You did the same thing, but they wouldn’t let you run to the Satsuma residence and escape justice so handily. They left you to rot in the Edo streets, probably figuring you’d take the rap for them while they escaped.  Did the men who approached you give any names?”

Saru looked sad, like a monkey deprived of a banana. His shoulders fell, and he leaned on his hands as he sat on the bare wood of the office floor.

“The leader said he was Sagara Souzou of the Soumou Roshitai. He said he was leader of a ronin group, not with Satsuma. I wasn’t really trying to climb the status ladder; I was just eager to help with the restoration of the Emperor. When I heard the Shogun had stepped down and the Emperor would be restored to power, I wanted to be close to the action. I wanted to serve something bigger than myself. This group came along at the right time.”

“As I understand it, your shot didn’t kill or injure anyone and perhaps didn’t even hit anything. Since you gave up your weapon to us and surrendered your swords without incident, we’re not going to hold you; but you will have to pay a fine for violating an ordinance against firing a gun in the city. And we’ll have to keep the gun as evidence. We want all the information you can give us about Sagara Souzou and his group.”

We took notes, learning that Sagara and his group had met with a man Saru described as “huge, with a little dog” quite some time back. That man had given them the assignment to “create an atmosphere of discontent in Edo,” as Saru remembered it. From the description of the man, it was most likely the mover of the Satsuma military forces, Saigô Takamori. How many huge men with little dogs are there in Edo? Scratch that. Edo’s a big place.  But all signs pointed to Saigō on this one. More trouble. It sounded like a conspiracy on the part of Satsuma to create unrest in Edo in order to oust support for the Tokugawa at this critical juncture of the governmental changeover. Satsuma…of course. Sometimes rumors turn out to be true.

Biru talked from the side of his mouth, “Won’t the machi bugyô be happy…that’s about a half hour more sleep than he would’ve gotten otherwise. But you and I won’t be so lucky. We’ll have to write up the report and probably do a lot more footwork.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want the machi bugyô’s job, Biru; there are about 50 of us yoriki doing this same kind of job, and only two machi bugyô for the entire city of Edo—and only ONE of those is actually on duty. Someone has probably already woken him up by now.”

We kept the rifle but gave Saru back his two swords and escorted him out of the building. He did get a small card with an address—he would have to be available to testify should our investigations yield results. But, without Sagara Souzou or other members of the Soumou Roshitai to tie the incident with Satsuma and Saigō, it would remain nothing more than another case of hooliganism. Bows were exchanged, and Saru staggered slowly down the street, headed generally southward. Hopefully this was enough excitement for him for one night.

“Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it, Jô? I think I need a snack after that, especially if we have to make up another report tonight. I’m going to see O-tsu at the soba stand. Can you hold the fort for a few?”

“Sure, Biru. I’ll just have a smoke.” I watched Biru disappear to my left as Saru tottered slowly off to the right, past the waving evergreens. I realized I was going to be the one who got no sleep. As senior yoriki, I would have to deliver this report to the higher-ups. It was as close to a definitive proof that the officials of Satsuma were instigating major disturbances as I could document thus far.  I took out my pipe for a leisurely smoke, but I dropped it as I watched one of the shadows move in a way I had been trained to recognize.

A man emerged from behind a wooden fence, vaulting over it and coming down in a silent crouch on the road behind Saru, who was slow to pick up on it. My sword was out immediately. I heard a yell before I saw the man draw his weapon.

“You Satsuma bastard! You should all die!” The man had raised his sword for a killing stroke, but he was too eager. The backward arc was too long; I executed a slashing thrust under his upraised arms as I dove between the two men. Saru looked frozen; he had stepped back but hadn’t drawn his sword. His eyes were huge.

The man’s downstroke was interrupted as I wedged myself and my sword under his arms. I knew I had cut deeply, as I realized I was now covered in blood. The man stood in mid-stroke and slowly twisted towards me. I couldn’t tell if he was falling or if he meant to attack. I rolled over my right shoulder and brought my sword down in a long-practiced downward sweeping right-to-left cut. The assailant’s left arm was severed at the shoulder. Blood spray covered the street, my already soaked uniform, and it even reached Saru, who was now several paces back, his eyes still huge with shock. I barely heard the dead man crumple to the ground.

“It looks like one of ‘em was on your trail after all, Saru. Aren’t you glad of the Edo police now? Well, I guess I’ll have to write up a report for the metsuke now too,” I was beyond weary. Saru just stared at me. “Ironic. The Shinchogumi had been charged with maintaining order in Edo, and they turned out to be the ones disrupting it the most.”

I couldn’t shake the gloomy thoughts that this man I had cut down perhaps had a wife, children, dependents. But he had chosen the way of violence; it was he who cut himself off from a peaceful and productive life with his family by his own choice. My sword that had taken his young life had done so of necessity--to protect another’s. I kept telling myself that, but it didn’t make it any easier.

Biru was so shocked by my bloody kimono that he unfortunately dropped his bowl of soba noodles in the street. His stance was immediately at the ready, until I gave him the news about the attacker, who lay dead near the fence he had jumped only moments earlier.

“I leave for two minutes, and you get in trouble, Jô. Who was it?”

“Probably Shinchogumi; after Saru here from the Shonai incident. I stopped his attack. So now we have another problem.”

Saru, aka Nakaya Yasujiro, was released from our custody after giving yet another statement. He was shaken severely, but, all the same, he seemed to walk with renewed purpose in his stride at the waning of the Hour of the Dog.

I donned a spare kimono before returning inside and began the process of getting the dead man taken away and a report for the metsuke written up on the incident. I got maybe five words into it, when Yamaguchi once again came into sight, his characteristic heavy lope casting a familiar shadow against the trees beside the road.

“Officers,” Yamaguchi appeared sans jitte and immediate turned to the side of the building that housed buckets for firefighting. “Sorry for no formalities. Gotta get after a fire. At Edo Castle. Women’s quarters.”

“That’s OK, Yamaguchi. We’re coming to help. Biru, get Katsu from the desk. He’s going to be the runner. Tell him to run the doshin posts in the area; get everyone on the fire.”

We worked into the night attempting to quell the “flowers of fire” that characteristically marked life in Edo. Despite our best efforts, the building that housed Edo Castle’s women residents fell heavily under the assault of the flames.

Biru and I worked all through the cold December night of 12/23; when the last flames were quelled, morning twilight spread over the bay, and smoke from the ruins blended acridly with the morning fog. We were dead tired; we had stripped to our nagajuban and tucked them up for ease of movement; there was nothing of the dignified yoriki about either of us. I also noticed that Biru’s topknot was nowhere to be seen.

“Biru, I’d give up on that glue if I were you. Looks like you lost your topknot altogether during the excitement.”

“No, Jô, I didn’t lose it.”

“But it isn’t on your head; you’re as bald as that old Saburo.”

“Not quite, Jô. I have eyebrows and teeth. I didn’t lose my topknot, Jô.”

“What, are you gonna report it stolen?”

“Don’t be silly, Jô. You know we spent all night fighting a huge fire, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah.”

“It was burned off in the Edo Castle Fire of 1867. After that trauma, hair would never again grow on the head of Gannin Biru. It’s a fairy tale for the ages, Jô.”

“So, you think your wife’ll believe it?”

“I’ll tell the kids first; they’ll believe it. Then when she finally tells them what she thinks, they’ll believe the fairytale and not the harsh reality. At least that’s the theory.”

“Good luck testing it, Biru.”


Two days later, angry Shonai men, Shinchogumi and even some Tokugawa officials were seen setting fire to the Satsuma mansion at Mita, which burned to the ground on 12/25.

Nakaya Yasujiro, aka Saru, was one of the firemen who worked diligently to keep that fire from spreading to the neighboring areas. He was determined to have been only incidentally involved in the Shonai incident and not a regular member of the Soumou Roshitai. He paid his fine in a timely manner at the machi bugyô’s office and we had no further trouble from him.

As for Sagara Souzou of the Soumou Roshitai, he and his men managed to escape the fire at the Satsuma residence, reaching the harbor where a Satsuma ship lay at anchor. Several of his cohorts from the Soumou Roshitai were apprehended attempting to escape Edo after missing the ship’s departure. They confessed not only to the shooting at the Shonai residence but also to setting the women’s quarters at Edo Castle on fire, during which an elderly woman who had served the Tokugawa for many years had died from suffocation. The apprehended members of Sagara’s group were executed where they were caught, and the doshin involved were cleared by the metsuke’s office as having acted within the confines of the law in punishing the culprits in the woman’s murder.

Sagara Souzou had escaped Edo this time, but he soon met with his comeuppance. The Imperial unit he commanded out of Kyoto, the Sekihoutai, disobeyed orders from Imperial army superiors, and Sagara was charged with using false promises of lowered taxes to obtain unauthorized funding for his unit’s activities. Sagara and seven of his officers were summarily beheaded for their offenses on March 3, 1868.

The story you have read is true—some of it, anyway. Consulting provided by former Edo machi bugyô Yamaguchi Naoki.