The Samurai Revolution at the Dawn of Modern Japan


My books tell the story of the samurai revolution that transformed Japan from a country of hundreds of samurai clans under the hegemony of the Tokugawa Shogun, into a modern industrialized world power under the unifying rule of the Emperor. The shogun was the head of the Tokugawa family, and his government was known as the Tokugawa Bakufu (Bakufu, for short). The Emperor existed at the pinnacle of Japanese society; but the Imperial Court had not held real power since the twelfth century. For more than six hundred years Japan was ruled by warrior houses, the last of which was the House of Tokugawa, which seized power in 1603. During the two and a half centuries that the Tokugawa Bakufu ruled from Edo (modern-day Tokyo) in the east, the Emperor remained a powerless figurehead in his palace at Kyoto in the west.

The samurai revolution that finally toppled the Bakufu in 1868 is defined by two events. The first was a tumultuous period of bloody conflict between the Bakufu and so-called Imperial Loyalists representing a few of the most powerful samurai clans, which spanned the final fifteen years of the Bakufu (1853-1868). The second was the return of political power from the shogun to the Emperor. These events are collectively referred to as the Meiji Restoration.

I have written five books on this subject. My two most recent books are Samurai Revolution: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen Through the Eyes of the Shogun’s Last Samurai (Tuttle, 2014) and Samurai Assassins: “Dark Murder” and the Meiji Restoration, 1853-1868, scheduled to be published by McFarland in spring 2017.

The Japanese word for assassination is ansatsu, “dark murder,” and its significance in the samurai revolution forms the substance of Samurai Assassins. For all the impact of “dark murder” on the revolution, most of the assassinations covered in Samurai Assassins have thus far received only cursory, if any, attention by Western writers, though the assassins and their deeds are an indelible part of the popular Japanese literary genre that focuses on the final years of the shogun’s government. Samurai Assassins is the only thorough presentation and analysis in English of “dark murder” and the assassins who committed it, without which the Meiji Restoration as we know it could not have happened.

While Samurai Revolution is a history of the Meiji Restoration and the first ten years of Imperial rule, told from the perspective of Katsu Kaishu, visionary, modernizer and one of the most important men of the era, Samurai Assassins provides an in-depth overview of the era while focusing on significant men and events, and ideology, not expatiated in Revolution. The result of thirty years of research and writing, these two books combine to present a comprehensive history of the Meiji Restoration.