“A long-lost petition promising secrecy, sealed with the blood of visionary Sakamoto Ryoma (1836-1867), has been found,” Asahi Shimbun reported on July 26, 2013.
The document is a pledge not to reveal the secrets of Western artillery instructor Tokuhiro Kozo of Tosa Han — whose students included Takechi Hanpeita and Okada Izo, both of whom also signed it. The Japanese version of the article says that Ryoma signed the document in the Ninth Month of Ansei 6 (1859), but does not mention when the other two signed. This is of particular interest to me because I am currently doing research on Hanpeita and Izo for my next book.
As far as I know, the only other extant object containing Ryoma’s blood is the folding screen that was in the room where he was assassinated in Kyoto; and, like the Tokuhiro pledge, its whereabouts had been unknown for over a century before it was discovered in a storage area in Kyoto National Museum in 1985.
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Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai, the only biographical novel about Sakamoto Ryoma in English, is available on Amazon.com.
A widely covered recent New York Times article (“Calls Grow in China to Press Claim for Okinawa,” June 14, 2013), regarding the question of who owns Okinawa, Japan or China, omitted some important historical and cultural facts that must be considered for a more informed discussion of this potentially volatile issue. The article cites a Chinese official’s argument against Japan’s sovereignty over the Ryukyus “because its inhabitants paid tribute to Chinese emperors hundreds of years before they started doing so in Japan.” It also quotes a Boston University professor that Japan conquered the Ryukyus in 1609. While it is true that the Ryukyus had been under the nominal suzerainty of China since 1372, it is a misconception of Japanese history to say that the Ryukyus paid tribute to Japan or that Japan conquered the Ryukyus in the 17th century.
Samurai Revolution! I’ve been living in it – through my research, traveling and writing (and even my dreams!) – for nearly three decades now – and I guess I should be grateful that I am still here after so many close calls with “barbarian”-hating samurai. Since my first encounter with the Samurai Revolution (i.e., the Meiji Restoration) was through Sakamoto Ryoma, the focus of the eponymous biographical novel originally published in 1999, I think it’s appropriate to include the new Preface to the recently released ebook, in the first post of this new blog.
But first a few words about the blog. In addition to complementing my other writing, I intend to address topics in relevant online discussions among writers, historians and readers, as well as current events, while also welcoming comments from readers. Planned categories for this blog include “Famous Samurai of the Meiji Restoration,” Noteworthy Historical Events of the Meiji Restoration,” “Samurai Philosophy,” “Interviews with Descendants,” “The Experts” (dedicated to distinguished historians and historical novelists who focus on this era), and a special category called something like “Thinking outside the box: why all this samurai stuff still matters in the 21st century.” I also might revisit my “Samurai History Papers” of the past, and if I feel extremely energetic I might occasionally write book and film reviews to post here. And, oh, I should also mention that I am open to suggestions for other topics, for which I would be very grateful indeed!
Following is the Preface from the new ebook edition of Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai: