Also known under the name Komatsu Kiyokado (小松清廉), Tatewaki (小松帯刀, 1835-1870) was born as the third son to Kimotsuki Kiire (肝付兼善), a high-ranking retainer of the Satsuma domain with an annual rice stipend of 5,500 koku (石), and was later adopted by Komatsu Kiyoshi (小松清), another retainer of the Shimazu clan of Satsuma, who ruled the fief of Yoshitoshi (2,600 koku). He changed his name to Tatewaki in 1858.

In 1861, he studied rangaku (蘭学, “Western sciences) in Nagasaki and soon became a confidant of Shimazu Hisamitsu (島津久光), the younger brother of daimyō Shimazu Nariakira, who acknowledged Komatsu’s talent, assigning him to Ōkubo Toshimichi to work on a political reform of the Satsuma domain. He engaged in clan politics and accompanied Shimazu Hisamitsu to Kyoto in 1862, acting as a liaison between Satsuma and the imperial court. In the same year, he was appointed karō (家老, “house elder” or chief retainer), a title bestowed on top-ranking samurai officials and advisors in service to a daimyō. Komatsu held the title until his death in 1870, just one year before the han system and all its titles were abolished. Komatsu is said to have helped shelter Sakamoto Ryōma of the Tosa Domain, who played a crucial role in mediating between the two rival domains of Satsuma and Chōshū.

Komatsu was instrumental in forging the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance (薩摩長州同盟 Satsuma-Chōshū dōmei), concluded between the Satsuma retainers Saigō Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi and the Chōshū representative Kido Takayoshi. Just like his fellow clansmen, he was convinced that the imperial rule had to be restored (大政奉還 taisei hōkan). In November 1867, the fifteenth and last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu finally resigned, resulting in the Meiji Restoration in January 1868.

Komatsu participated in the Boshin War of 1868 and assumed a government position in the sōsaikyoku (総裁局, general supervisory department). In 1869 however, he had to resign due to his ill health. He died in Ōsaka in 1870 at the age of 36, reportedly in the arms of a concubine, and was buried in the city of Hiyoki (日吉), modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture.


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Komatsu Tatewaki (小松帯刀, photo credit)