Photograph of samurai of the Satsuma Domain by Felice Beato
Kingdom of Prussia
|Commanders and leaders|
|more than 15,000 (early 1868)[a]|
|Casualties and losses|
|1,125+ killed and wounded||4,550+ killed, wounded and captured|
Total:8,200 killed and 5,000+ wounded
The Boshin War (, Boshin Sens?, lit. "War of the Year of the Yang Earth Dragon"), sometimes known as the Japanese Revolution, was a civil war in Japan, fought from 1868 to 1869 between forces of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and those seeking to return political power to the Imperial Court.
The war was founded in dissatisfaction among many nobles and young samurai with the shogunate's handling of foreigners following the opening of Japan during the prior decade. Increasing Western influence in the economy led to a decline similar to that of other Asian countries at the time. An alliance of western samurai, particularly the domains of Ch?sh?, Satsuma and Tosa, and court officials secured control of the Imperial Court and influenced the young Emperor Meiji. Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the sitting sh?gun, realizing the futility of his situation, abdicated political power to the emperor. Yoshinobu had hoped that by doing this, the House of Tokugawa could be preserved and participate in the future government.
However, military movements by imperial forces, partisan violence in Edo, and an imperial decree promoted by Satsuma and Ch?sh? abolishing the House of Tokugawa led Yoshinobu to launch a military campaign to seize the emperor's court in Kyoto. The military tide rapidly turned in favor of the smaller but relatively modernized imperial faction, and, after a series of battles culminating in the surrender of Edo, Yoshinobu personally surrendered. Those loyal to the Tokugawa retreated to northern Honsh? and later to Hokkaid?, where they founded the Republic of Ezo. Defeat at the Battle of Hakodate broke this last holdout and left imperial rule supreme throughout the whole of Japan, completing the military phase of the Meiji Restoration.
Around 120,000 men were mobilized during the conflict, and of these about 8,200 were killed. In the end, the victorious imperial faction abandoned its objective of expelling foreigners from Japan and instead adopted a policy of continued modernization with an eye to eventual renegotiation of the unequal treaties with the Western powers. Due to the persistence of Saig? Takamori, a prominent leader of the imperial faction, the Tokugawa loyalists were shown clemency, and many former shogunate leaders and samurai were later given positions of responsibility under the new government.
When the Boshin War began, Japan was already modernizing, following the same course of advancement as that of the industrialized Western nations. Since Western nations, especially the United Kingdom and France, were deeply involved in the country's politics, the installation of Imperial power added more turbulence to the conflict. Over time, the war has been romanticized as a "bloodless revolution", because of the small number of casualties.
Boshin () is the designation for the fifth year of a sexagenary cycle in traditional East Asian calendars. The characters can also be read as tsuchinoe-tatsu in Japanese, literally "Elder Brother of Earth-Dragon". In Chinese, it translates as "Yang Earth Dragon", which is associated with that particular year in the sexagenary cycle. The war started in the fourth year of the Kei? era, which also became the first year of the Meiji era in October of that year, and ended in the second year of the Meiji era.
For the two centuries prior to 1854, Japan had severely limited interactions with foreign nations, with the notable exceptions of Korea via Tsushima, Qing China via the Ryukyu Islands, and the Dutch through the trading post of Dejima.[b] In 1854, the United States Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry opened Japan to global commerce through the implied threat of force, thus initiating rapid development of foreign trade and Westernization. In large part due to the humiliating terms of the unequal treaties, as agreements like those negotiated by Perry are called, the Tokugawa shogunate soon faced internal dissent, which coalesced into a radical movement, the sonn? j?i (meaning "revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians").
Emperor K?mei agreed with such sentiments and, breaking with centuries of imperial tradition, began to take an active role in matters of state: as opportunities arose, he vehemently protested against the treaties and attempted to interfere in the shogunal succession. His efforts culminated in March 1863 with his "order to expel barbarians". Although the shogunate had no intention of enforcing it, the order nevertheless inspired attacks against the shogunate itself and against foreigners in Japan: the most famous incident was that of the English trader Charles Lennox Richardson, for whose death the Tokugawa government had to pay an indemnity of one hundred thousand British pounds. Other attacks included the shelling of foreign shipping in the port of Shimonoseki.
During 1864, these actions were successfully countered by armed retaliations by foreign powers, such as the British bombardment of Kagoshima and the multinational Shimonoseki campaign. At the same time, the forces of Ch?sh? Domain, together with r?nin, raised the Hamaguri rebellion trying to seize the city of Kyoto, where the Emperor's court was held, but were repelled by shogunate forces under the future sh?gun Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The shogunate further ordered a punitive expedition against Ch?sh?, the First Ch?sh? expedition, and obtained Ch?sh?'s submission without actual fighting. At this point the initial resistance among the leadership in Ch?sh? and the Imperial Court subsided, but over the next year the Tokugawa proved unable to reassert full control over the country as most daimy?s began to ignore orders and questions from the Tokugawa seat of power in Edo.
Despite the bombardment of Kagoshima, the Satsuma Domain had become closer to the British and was pursuing the modernization of its army and navy with their support. The Scottish merchant Thomas Blake Glover sold quantities of warships and guns to the southern domains.[c] American and British military experts, usually former officers, may have been directly involved in this military effort.[d] The British ambassador, Harry Smith Parkes, supported the anti-shogunate forces in a drive to establish a legitimate, unified Imperial rule in Japan, and to counter French influence with the shogunate. During that period, southern Japanese leaders such as Saig? Takamori of Satsuma, or It? Hirobumi and Inoue Kaoru of Ch?sh? cultivated personal connections with British diplomats, notably Ernest Mason Satow.[e]
In preparation for future conflict, the shogunate also modernized its forces. In line with Parkes's strategy, the British, previously the shogunate's primary foreign partner, proved reluctant to provide assistance.[f] The Tokugawa thus came to rely mainly on French expertise, comforted by the military prestige of Napoleon III at that time, acquired through his successes in the Crimean War and the Second Italian War of Independence.[g]
The shogunate took major steps towards the construction of a modern and powerful military: a navy with a core of eight steam warships had been built over several years and was already the strongest in Asia.[h] In 1865, Japan's first modern naval arsenal was built in Yokosuka by the French engineer Léonce Verny. In January 1867, a French military mission arrived to reorganize the shogunate army and create the Densh?tai elite force, and an order was placed with the US to buy the French-built ironclad warship CSS Stonewall, which had been built for the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War. Due to the Western powers' declared neutrality, the US refused to release the ship, but once neutrality was lifted, the imperial faction obtained the vessel and employed it in engagements in Hakodate under the name K?tetsu ("Ironclad").
Following a coup d'état within Ch?sh? which returned to power the extremist factions opposed to the shogunate, the shogunate announced its intention to lead a Second Ch?sh? expedition to punish the renegade domain. This, in turn, prompted Ch?sh? to form a secret alliance with Satsuma. In the summer of 1866, the shogunate was defeated by Ch?sh?, leading to a considerable loss of authority. In late 1866, however, first sh?gun Tokugawa Iemochi and then Emperor K?mei died, succeeded by Tokugawa Yoshinobu and Emperor Meiji respectively. These events, in the words of historian Marius Jansen, "made a truce inevitable".
On November 9, 1867, a secret order was created by Satsuma and Ch?sh? in the name of Emperor Meiji commanding the "slaughtering of the traitorous subject Yoshinobu".[i] Just prior to this, however--and following a proposal from the daimy? of the Tosa Domain--Yoshinobu resigned his post and authority to the emperor, agreeing to "be the instrument for carrying out" imperial orders. This ended the Tokugawa shogunate.
While Yoshinobu's resignation had created a nominal void at the highest level of government, his apparatus of state continued to exist. Moreover, the shogunate government, the Tokugawa family in particular, remained a prominent force in the evolving political order and retained many executive powers. Moreover, Satow speculates that Yoshinobu had agreed to an assembly of daimy?s on the hope that such a body would restore him, a prospect hard-liners from Satsuma and Ch?sh? found intolerable. Events came to a head on January 3, 1868, when these elements seized the imperial palace in Kyoto, and the following day had the fifteen-year-old Emperor Meiji declare his own restoration to full power. Although the majority of the imperial consultative assembly representing all the domains was happy with the formal declaration of direct rule by the imperial court and tended to support a continued collaboration with the Tokugawa (under the concept of "just government" (?, k?giseitai)), Saig? Takamori threatened the assembly into abolishing the title "sh?gun" and ordering the confiscation of Yoshinobu's lands.[j]
Although he initially agreed to these demands, on January 17, 1868, Yoshinobu declared that he would not be bound by the Restoration proclamation and called for its repeal. On January 24, he decided to prepare an attack on Kyoto, which was occupied by Satsuma and Ch?sh? forces. This decision was prompted by his learning of a series of arsons in Edo, starting with the burning of the outer works of Edo Castle, the main Tokugawa residence. This was blamed on Satsuma r?nin, who on that day attacked a government office. The next day shogunate forces responded by attacking the Edo residence of the daimy? of Satsuma, where many opponents of the shogunate, under Takamori's direction, had been hiding and creating trouble. The residence was burned down, and many opponents killed or later executed.
The forces of Ch?sh? and Satsuma were fully modernized with Armstrong Guns, Minié rifles and one Gatling gun. The shogunate forces had been slightly lagging in terms of equipment, although the French military mission had recently trained a core elite force. The sh?gun also relied on troops supplied by allied domains, which were not necessarily as advanced in terms of military equipment and methods, composing an army that had both modern and outdated elements.
Numerous types of more or less modern smoothbore muskets and rifles were imported, from countries as varied as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, and the United States, and coexisted with traditional types such as the tanegashima matchlock. Most shogunate troops used smoothbore muskets, about 200,000 of which had been imported into Japan over the years since around 1600.
The first modern firearms were initially imported about 1840 from the Netherlands by the pro-Western reformist Takashima Sh?han. The daimy? of Nagaoka however, an ally of the sh?gun, possessed two Gatling guns and several thousand modern rifles. The shogunate is known to have placed an order for 30,000 modern Dreyse needle guns in 1866. Napoleon III provided Yoshinobu with 2,000 state-of-the-art Chassepot rifles, which he used to equip his personal guard. Antiquated tanegashima matchlocks are also known to have been used by the shogunate, however.
Imperial troops mainly used Minié rifles, which were much more accurate, lethal, and had a much longer range than the imported smoothbore muskets, although, being also muzzle-loading, they were similarly limited to two shots per minute. Improved breech-loading mechanisms, such as the Snider, developing a rate of about ten shots a minute, are known to have been used by Ch?sh? troops against the shogunate's Sh?gitai regiment at the Battle of Ueno in July 1868. In the second half of the conflict, in the northeast theater, Tosa troops are known to have used American-made Spencer repeating rifles. American-made handguns were also popular, such as the 1863 Smith & Wesson Army No 2, which was imported to Japan by Glover and used by Satsuma forces.
For artillery, wooden cannons, only able to fire 3 or 4 shots before bursting, coexisted with state-of-the-art Armstrong guns using explosive shells. Armstrong guns were efficiently used by Satsuma and Saga troops throughout the war. The Shogunate as well as the Imperial side also used native Japanese cannons, with Japan making cannons domestically as far back as 1575.
In the area of warships also, some of the most recent ironclads such as the K?tetsu coexisted with older types of steamboats and even traditional sailboats. The shogunate initially had the edge in warships, and it had the vision to buy the K?tetsu. The ship was blocked from delivery by foreign powers on grounds of neutrality once the conflict had started, and was ultimately delivered to the Imperial faction shortly after the Battle of Toba-Fushimi.
Uniforms were Western-style for modernized troops (usually dark, with variations in the shape of the helmet: tall conical for Satsuma, flat conical for Ch?sh?, rounded for the shogunate). Officers of the shogunate often wore French and British uniforms. Traditional troops however retained their samurai clothes. Some of the Imperial troops wore peculiar headgear, involving the use of long, colored, "bear" hair. The "red bear" (, shaguma) wigs indicated officers from Tosa, the "white bear" (, haguma) wigs officers from Ch?sh?, and the "black bear" (, koguma) wigs officers from Satsuma.
On January 27, 1868, shogunate forces attacked the forces of Ch?sh? and Satsuma, clashing near Toba and Fushimi, at the southern entrance to Kyoto in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. Some parts of the 15,000-strong shogunate forces had been trained by French military advisers. These forces were known as the Shinsengumi. The forces of Ch?sh? and Satsuma were outnumbered 3:1 but fully modernized with Armstrong howitzers, Minié rifles and a few Gatling guns.
After an inconclusive start,[k] an Imperial banner was presented to the defending troops on the second day, and a relative of the Emperor, Ninnajinomiya Yoshiaki, was named nominal commander in chief, making the forces officially an imperial army (, kangun).[l] Moreover, convinced by courtiers, several local daimy?s, up to this point faithful to the sh?gun, started to defect to the side of the Imperial Court. These included the daimy?s of Yodo and Tsu in February, tilting the military balance in favor of the Imperial side.
After the defections, Yoshinobu, apparently distressed by the imperial approval given to the actions of Satsuma and Ch?sh?, fled Osaka aboard the Japanese battleship Kaiy? Maru, withdrawing to Edo. Demoralized by his flight and by the betrayal by Yodo and Tsu, shogunate forces retreated, resulting in an Imperial victory, although it is often considered the shogunate forces should have won the encounter.[m]Osaka Castle was soon invested on March 1 (February 8 in the Tenp? calendar), putting an end to the battle.
The day after the battle of Toba-Fushimi commenced, the naval Battle of Awa took place between the shogunate and elements of the Satsuma navy in Awa Bay near Osaka. This was Japan's second engagement between two modern navies. The battle, although small in scale, ended with a victory of for the shogunate.
On the diplomatic front, the ministers of foreign nations, gathered in the open harbor of Hy?go (present day Kobe) in early February, issued a declaration according to which the shogunate was still considered the only rightful government in Japan, giving hope to Tokugawa Yoshinobu that foreign nations (especially France) might consider an intervention in his favor. A few days later however an Imperial delegation visited the ministers declaring that the shogunate was abolished, that harbors would be open in accordance with International treaties, and that foreigners would be protected. The ministers finally decided to recognize the new government.
The rise of anti-foreign sentiment nonetheless led to several attacks on foreigners in the following months. Eleven French sailors from the corvette Dupleix were killed by samurai of Tosa in the Sakai incident on March 8, 1868. Fifteen days later, Sir Harry Parkes, the British ambassador, was attacked by a group of samurai in a street of Kyoto.
Beginning in February, with the help of the French ambassador Léon Roches, a plan was formulated to stop the Imperial Court's advance at Odawara, the last strategic entry point to Edo, but Yoshinobu decided against the plan. Shocked, Léon Roches resigned from his position. In early March, under the influence of the British minister Harry Parkes, foreign nations signed a strict neutrality agreement, according to which they could not intervene or provide military supplies to either side until the resolution of the conflict.
Saig? Takamori led the victorious imperial forces north and east through Japan, winning the Battle of K?sh?-Katsunuma. He eventually surrounded Edo in May 1868, leading to its unconditional defeat after Katsu Kaish?, the sh?guns Army Minister, negotiated the surrender. Some groups continued to resist after this surrender but were defeated in the Battle of Ueno on July 4, 1868.
Meanwhile, the leader of the sh?guns navy, Enomoto Takeaki, refused to surrender all his ships. He remitted just four ships, among them the Fujiyama, but he then escaped north with the remnants of the sh?guns navy (eight steam warships: Kaiten, Banry?, Chiyodagata, Ch?gei, Kaiy? Maru, Kanrin Maru, Mikaho and Shinsoku), and 2,000 personnel, in the hope of staging a counter-attack together with the northern daimy?s. He was accompanied by a handful of French military advisers, notably Jules Brunet, who had formally resigned from the French Army to accompany the rebels.
After Yoshinobu's surrender, he was placed under house arrest, and stripped of all titles, land and power. He was later released, when he demonstrated no further interest and ambition in national affairs. He retired to Shizuoka, the place to which his ancestor Tokugawa Ieyasu had also retired. Most of Japan accepted the emperor's rule, but a core of domains in the North, supporting the Aizu clan, continued the resistance. In May, several northern daimy?s formed an Alliance to fight Imperial troops, the coalition of northern domains composed primarily of forces from the domains of Sendai, Yonezawa, Aizu, Sh?nai and Nagaoka, with a total of 50,000 troops. Apart from those core domains, most of the northern domains were part of the alliance.
In May 1868, the daimy? of Nagaoka inflicted high losses on the Imperial troops in the Battle of Hokuetsu, but his castle ultimately fell on May 19. Imperial troops continued to progress north, defeating the Shinsengumi at the Battle of Bonari Pass, which opened the way for their attack on the castle of Aizuwakamatsu in the Battle of Aizu in October 1868, thus making the position in Sendai untenable.
Enomoto's fleet reached Sendai harbor on August 26. Although the Northern Coalition was numerous, it was poorly equipped, and relied on traditional fighting methods. Modern armament was scarce, and last-minute efforts were made to build cannons made of wood and reinforced with roping, firing stone projectiles. Such cannons, installed on defensive structures, could only fire four or five projectiles before bursting.[n] On the other hand, the daimy? of Nagaoka managed to procure two of the three Gatling guns in Japan and 2,000 modern French rifles from the German weapons dealer Henry Schnell.
The coalition crumbled, and on October 12, 1868, the fleet left Sendai for Hokkaid?, after having acquired two more ships (Oe and H, previously borrowed by Sendai from the shogunate), and about 1,000 more troops: remaining shogunate troops under ?tori Keisuke, Shinsengumi troops under Hijikata Toshiz?, the guerilla corps (yugekitai) under Hitomi Katsutar?, as well as several more French advisers (Fortant, Garde, Marlin, Bouffier).
On October 26, Edo was renamed Tokyo, and the Meiji period officially started. Aizu was besieged starting that month, leading to the mass suicide of the Byakkotai (White Tiger Corps) young warriors. After a protracted month-long battle, Aizu finally admitted defeat on November 6.
Following defeat on Honsh?, Enomoto Takeaki fled to Hokkaid? with the remnants of the navy and his handful of French advisers. Together they organized a government, with the objective of establishing an independent island nation dedicated to the development of Hokkaid?. They formally established the Republic of Ezo on the American model, Japan's only ever republic, and Enomoto was elected as president, with a large majority. The republic tried to reach out to foreign legations present in Hakodate, such as the Americans, French, and Russians, but was not able to garner any international recognition or support. Enomoto offered to confer the territory to the Tokugawa sh?gun under Imperial rule, but his proposal was declined by the Imperial Governing Council.[o]
During the winter, they fortified their defenses around the southern peninsula of Hakodate, with the new fortress of Gory?kaku at the center. The troops were organized under a Franco-Japanese command, the commander-in-chief ?tori Keisuke being seconded by the French captain Jules Brunet, and divided between four brigades. Each of these was commanded by a French non-commissioned officer (Fortant, Marlin, Cazeneuve, Bouffier), and were themselves divided into eight half-brigades, each under Japanese command.
The Imperial Navy reached the harbor of Miyako on March 20, but anticipating the arrival of the Imperial ships, the Ezo rebels organized a daring plan to seize the K?tetsu. Led by Shinsengumi commander Hijikata Toshiz?, three warships were dispatched for a surprise attack, in what is known as the Battle of Miyako Bay. The battle ended in failure for the Tokugawa side, owing to bad weather, engine trouble and the decisive use of a Gatling gun by Imperial troops against samurai boarding parties.[p]
Imperial forces soon consolidated their hold on mainland Japan, and, in April 1869, dispatched a fleet and an infantry force of 7,000 to Ezo, starting the Battle of Hakodate. The Imperial forces progressed swiftly and won the naval engagement at Hakodate Bay, Japan's first large-scale naval battle between modern navies, and the fortress of Gory?kaku was surrounded. Seeing the situation had become desperate, the French advisers escaped to a French ship stationed in Hakodate Bay – Coëtlogon, under the command of Abel-Nicolas Bergasse du Petit-Thouars – from where they were shipped back to Yokohama and then France. The Japanese requested that the French advisers be given judgement in France; however, due to popular support in France for their actions, the former French advisers were not punished for their actions.
Invited to surrender, Enomoto at first refused, and sent the Naval Codes he had brought back from Holland to the general of the Imperial troops, Kuroda Kiyotaka, to prevent their loss. ?tori Keisuke convinced him to surrender, telling him that deciding to live through defeat is the truly courageous way: "Dying is easy; you can do that anytime." Enomoto surrendered on June 27, 1869, accepting Emperor Meiji's rule, and the Ezo Republic ceased to exist.
Of the approximately 120,000 men mobilized over the course of the conflict, about 8,200 were killed and more than 5,000 were wounded. Following victory, the new government proceeded with unifying the country under a single, legitimate and powerful rule by the Imperial Court. The emperor's residence was effectively transferred from Kyoto to Edo at the end of 1868, and the city renamed to Tokyo. The military and political power of the domains was progressively eliminated, and the domains themselves were transformed in 1871 into prefectures, whose governors were appointed by the emperor.[q]
A major reform was the effective expropriation and abolition of the samurai class, allowing many samurai to change into administrative or entrepreneurial positions, but forcing many others into poverty.[r] The southern domains of Satsuma, Ch?sh? and Tosa, having played a decisive role in the victory, occupied most of the key posts in government for several decades following the conflict, a situation sometimes called the "Meiji oligarchy" and formalized with the institution of the genr?.[s] In 1869, the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo was built in honor of the victims of the Boshin War.
Some leading partisans of the former sh?gun were imprisoned, but narrowly escaped execution. This clemency derives from the insistence of Saig? Takamori and Iwakura Tomomi, although much weight was placed on the advice of Parkes, the British envoy. He had urged Saig?, in the words of Ernest Satow, "that severity towards Keiki [Yoshinobu] or his supporters, especially in the way of personal punishment, would injure the reputation of the new government in the opinion of European Powers". After two or three years of imprisonment, most of them were called to serve the new government, and several pursued brilliant careers. Enomoto Takeaki, for instance, would later serve as an envoy to Russia and China and as the education minister.
The Imperial side did not pursue its objective to expel foreign interests from Japan, but instead shifted to a more progressive policy aiming at the continued modernization of the country and the renegotiation of unequal treaties with foreign powers, later under the "rich country, strong army" (?, fukoku ky?hei) motto.
The shift in stance towards the foreigners came during the early days of the civil war: on April 8, 1868, new signboards were erected in Kyoto (and later throughout the country) that specifically repudiated violence against foreigners. During the course of the conflict, Emperor Meiji personally received European envoys, first in Kyoto, then later in Osaka and Tokyo. Also unprecedented was Emperor Meiji's reception of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, in Tokyo, "as his equal in point of blood".
Although the early Meiji era witnessed a warming of relations between the Imperial Court and foreign powers, relations with France temporarily soured due to the initial support by France for the sh?gun. Soon however a second military mission was invited to Japan in 1874, and a third one in 1884. A high level of interaction resumed around 1886, when France helped build the Imperial Japanese Navy's first large-scale modern fleet, under the direction of naval engineer Louis-Émile Bertin. The modernization of the country had started during the last years of the shogunate, and the Meiji government ultimately adopted the same policy.
Upon his coronation, Meiji issued his Charter Oath, calling for deliberative assemblies, promising increased opportunities for the common people, abolishing the "evil customs of the past", and seeking knowledge throughout the world "to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule".[t] The reforms culminated in the 1889 issuance of the Meiji Constitution. However, despite the support given to the Imperial Court by samurai, many of the early Meiji reforms were seen as detrimental to their interests. The creation of a conscript army made of commoners, as well as the loss of hereditary prestige and stipends, antagonized many former samurai. Tensions ran particularly high in the south, leading to the 1874 Saga Rebellion, and a rebellion in Ch?sh? in 1876. Former samurai in Satsuma, led by Saig? Takamori, who had left government over foreign policy differences, started the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. Fighting for the maintenance of the samurai class and a more virtuous government, their slogan was "new government, high morality" (?, shinsei k?toku). It ended with a heroic but total defeat at the Battle of Shiroyama.[u]
In modern summaries, the Meiji Restoration is often described as a "bloodless revolution" leading to the sudden modernization of Japan. The facts of the Boshin War, however, clearly show that the conflict was quite violent: about 120,000 troops were mobilized altogether with roughly 3,500 known casualties during open hostilities but much more during terrorist attacks. Although traditional weapons and techniques were used, both sides employed some of the most modern armaments and fighting techniques of the period, including the ironclad warship, Gatling guns, and fighting techniques learned from Western military advisers.
Such Japanese depictions include numerous dramatizations, spanning many genres. Notably, Jir? Asada wrote a four-volume novel of the account, Mibu Gishi-den. A film adaptation of Asada's work, directed by Y?jir? Takita, is known as When the Last Sword Is Drawn. A ten-hour 2002 television jidaigeki based on the same novel starred Ken Watanabe.
Western interpretations include the 2003 American film The Last Samurai directed by Edward Zwick, which combines into a single narrative historical situations belonging both to the Boshin War, the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, and other similar uprisings of ex-samurai during the early Meiji period. The elements of the movie pertaining to the early modernization of Japan's military forces as well as the direct involvement of foreign (mostly French) forces relate to the Boshin War and the few years leading to it. However, the suicidal stand of traditionalist samurai forces led by Saig? Takamori against the modernized Imperial army relate to the much later Satsuma Rebellion.
The main campaign in the 2012 expansion to Creative Assembly's game Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai depicts the Boshin War. Players can choose from various historical clans, such as the Imperial Satsuma or the shogunate Aizu.