Set in the turbulent times leading up to the Meiji Restoration, when power was returned from the Tokugawa military government in Edo to the imperial court in Kyoto, the novel centers on the activities of the Shinsengumi, a group made up largely of masterless samurai. These ronin are appointed the task of curtailing the lawlessness in Kyoto in the name of the government, yet they are regarded by many as little more than a band of terrorists.
The story begins in January 1868?it was not until nine months later that this year was retroactively declared the first year of Meiji?when, despite the formal return of power to the imperial court the previous autumn, it remained unclear exactly who was in charge of the Japanese state. Late one snowy night, a badly wounded samurai appears at the Osaka residence of the powerful feudal lord representing the Nanbu domain of northern Honshu. The samurai is Kan'ichiro Yoshimura, age 35, who had deserted his post as a low-ranking retainer to the lord of Nanbu some three years before in order to join the Shinsengumi. Having suffered substantial injuries in a battle with imperial court partisans, he is seeking refuge with his former employer. He begs for mercy, and to be allowed to return to his native home, but his childhood playmate Jiroemon Oono, who is not only the top Nanbu official in residence but one of the lord's highest advisors, coldly orders him to commit harakiri.
The story switches between the first-person narrative of Yoshimura as he faces his fate, and the narrative of a newspaper reporter fifty years later, who is seeking out and interviewing six men who knew Yoshimura during his Shinsengumi days. Little by little the historical events of the time and the details of Yoshimura's life unfold. The reader is shown a man of untiring industry, distinguished in both swordsmanship and scholarship, who is never without a smile but can also be very tight with money?a combination of qualities that cause him to be variously regarded as a model samurai and a model pauper. The picture that emerges is of a man who saw his primary loyalty as being neither to the government nor to the emperor, but rather to his own family.
(Vol. 1) ISBN 978-4167646028, 463pages
(Vol. 2) ISBN 978-4167646035, 454pages