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Jules Brunet (2 January 1838 – 12 August 1911) was a Frenchmarker officer who played an active role in Mexicomarker and Japanmarker, and later became a General and Chief of Staff of the French Army in 1898.

Jules Brunet was a member of the first French military mission to be sent to the Empire of Japanmarker in order to help modernize the armies of the shogunate.

Early life

Brunet was born in Belfortmarker, in Alsacemarker (today in the Franche-Comtémarker region of eastern France). He graduated from the École Polytechniquemarker in 1857, where he specialized in artillery.

Jules Brunet first participated in the French intervention in Mexico (1862-1867) sent by Napoleon III, where he received the Légion d'honneur. He then arrived in Yokohama, in the beginning of 1867, as a member of the first French Military Mission to Japan.

First French Military Mission to Japan

The military mission was able to train the army of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu for a little more than one year, before the Tokugawa shogunate lost to the Imperial forces in 1868 in the Boshin War. The French military mission was then ordered to leave Japan by Imperial decree.

However, Jules Brunet chose to remain. He resigned from the French army, and left for the North of Japan with the remains of the Shogunate's armies in the hope of staging a counter-attack. In a letter to Napoleon III, Jules Brunet explained the plan of the Alliance, as well as his role in it:

The Boshin War

The French military advisers and their Japanese allies in Hokkaido.
Jules Brunet took a very active role during the Boshin War, between partisans of the Shogun, with whom Brunet sided, and partisans of the restoration of Emperor Meiji. Jules and Cazenave were present at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. They left Osaka and returned to Edo on 12 January, together with Enomoto Takeaki onboard the Fujisan. Enomoto was bringing with him various documents, objects, and a treasure of 180,000 ryos, from Osaka castlemarker. They arrived in Edo on 14 January.

After the fall of Edo, he fled north with Enomoto Takeaki, and helped set up the Ezo Republic, with the leader of the Japanese shogunate's navy, Enomoto Takeaki, as the President. He also helped organize the defense of Hokkaidō in the Battle of Hakodate. Troops were structured under a hybrid Franco-Japanese leadership, with Otori Keisuke as Commander-in-chief, and Jules Brunet as second in command. Each of the four brigades were commanded by a French officer (Fortant, Marlin, Cazeneuve, Bouffier), with eight Japanese commanders as second in command of each half-brigade.

The final stand occurred in the northern island of Hokkaidōmarker, in the city of Hakodate, where in June 1869, the shogunate forces lost a final battle between 800 shogunate soldiers and an 8000-strong Imperial army.

In an interesting postscript to his involvement in the Boshin War, Brunet spoke highly of Shinsengumi vice-commander Hijikata Toshizo in his memoirs. Praising Hijikata's ability as a leader, he said that if the man had been in Europe, he most certainly would have been a general.


Jules Brunet in 1890.
Jules Brunet, with the rest of the French soldiers, was evacuated by the French corvette Coëtlogon, commanded by Dupetit-Thouars, and then transferred to the Dupleix in Yokohama on which he was transported to Saigonmarker. From Saigon he sailed to France onboard a commercial cruiser. Benefitting from popular support for his actions in Japan, Jules Brunet did not receive judgement, in spite of the Japanese request. He was quickly rehabilitated by the time of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), but was taken prisoner by the Germans at the Siege of Metz. After the war, he played a key role as a member of the Versailles Army in the suppression of the Paris insurrection of La Commune in 1871.

In May 1881 and again in March 1885, Jules Brunet received medals from the Meiji Emperor, which were given to him at the Japanese Embassy in Paris. It seems his former ally Enomoto Takeaki, then Minister of the Imperial Japanese Navy, played a key role in this late recognition.

Jules Brunet rose to the position of General and Chief of Staff of the French army ("Chef d'Etat Major") under the Minister of War Chanoine (his former senior officer at the French Military mission in Japan) thirty years later in 1898.

Jules Brunet was partly the inspiration for the character of Nathan Algren in the 2003 movie The Last Samurai.

Drawing and paintings by Jules Brunet

Jules Brunet was a talented painter who left numerous depictions of his travels in Mexico and Japan.Image:ChogeiJapaneseSailors1867.JPG|Japanese sailors on the Chōgei, 13 May 1867.Image:JapaneseBakufuInfantryApril1867.JPG|Japanese Bakufu Infantry (Osaka, 29 April 1867).Image:BakufuTroopsIn1867.JPG|Bakufu troops near Mount Fujimarker in 1867.


  1. 函館の幕末・維新 p.9
  2. "Jules Brunet: this officer, member of the French military mission, sent to Japan as an artillery instructor, joined, after the defeat of the Shogun, the rebellion against Imperial troops, serving as an inspiration for the hero of the Last Samurai." Monthly Letter of the French Chamber of Commerce in Japan, p.9 "Diner des sempais en compagnie de M.Christian Polak. Monthly Letter of the French Chamber of Commerce in Japan, p.9 "Diner des sempais en compagnie de M.Christian Polak
  3. Le dernier samouraï était un capitaine français ("The Last Samurai was a French captain"), Samedi, 6 mars 2004, p. G8, Le Soleil. Quoting Christian Polak about The Last Samurai movie.


  • Polak, Christian. (1988). 函館の幕末・維新 "End of the Bakufu and Restoration in Hakodate." ISBN 4-12-001699-4 (in Japanese).
  • __________. (2001). Soie et lumières: L'âge d'or des échanges franco-japonais (des origines aux années 1950). Tokyo: Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie Française du Japon, Hachette Fujin Gahōsha (アシェット婦人画報社).
  • __________. (2002). 絹と光: 知られざる日仏交流100年の歴史 (江戶時代-1950年代) Kinu to hikariō: shirarezaru Nichi-Futsu kōryū 100-nen no rekishi (Edo jidai-1950-nendai). Tokyo: Ashetto Fujin Gahōsha, 2002. 10-ISBN 4-573-06210-6; 13-ISBN 978-4-573-06210-8; OCLC 50875162

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