Katsu Kaishu’s Martial Arts Teachers

As a young boy Katsu Kaishu spent a lot of time at the inner-palace of Edo Castle, which was the residence of the shogun, his immediate family, and the women who surrounded the shogun. He was invited there as a playmate to the grandson of Shogun Tokugawa Ienari. Katsube Mitake, a Kaishu biographer, surmises that he “gained much by spending so much time at the inner-palace during his early youth,” which was “an opportunity that nobody else had,” particularly a poor boy of his low social standing. It was a period in history, writes Katsube, in which “Edo culture had ripened to the height of decadence. By that time Utamaro [Kitagawa Utamaro, woodblock print artist, 1754-1806] was already dead, but Hiroshige [Ando Hiroshige, woodblock print artist, 1797-1858] and Hokusai [Katsushika Hokusai, woodblock print artist, 1760-1849] were both still actively producing. It was a time of refined and delicate lifestyle in the great city of Edo, with its population of more than one million. Edo Castle was a place where the highest standard of that culture was practiced, and where one might imagine that advanced aristocratic tastes, comparable to those of the Palace of Versailles in France, were realized.” (Katsube, Mitake. Katsu Kaishu, vol 1. Tokyo: PHP, 1992: p. 337)

Men were not permitted in the inner-palace, where Kaishu surely learned about human nature, the shogun and his family, who, Katsube imagines, were “coming and going before his very eyes.” The experience would prove to be invaluable to Katsu Kaishu in his future capacity as a high-ranking Tokugawa official. As I wrote in Samurai Revolution, he probably heard the wives in the inner-palace talk about the shogun’s councilors and the feudal lords, and observed the complex relations among the women, some of whom wielded significant influence in the government. “I was a favorite among many of the old women,” Kaishu recalled.That was a great help to me later in life. When those old women heard that even Saigo feared me, they thought that I had become quite a man.” That he became “quite a man” was in large part because of his father, Katsu Kokichi.

Kokichi, an accomplished swordsman, was not about to let his only son spend too much time with women, but rather took great care that he would be trained in the martial arts. One of Kokichi’s teachers was an extraordinary old man whom he praised as “an exceptional martial artist and superb scholar.” The teacher’s name was Hirayama Kozo (1759-1828). He hailed from an old family of ninja who had practiced their secret art in the service of the shogunate six generations past. He was a highly skilled swordsman who was also trained in the arts of yarijutsu (“spear techniques”), jujutsu and artillery, and was an expert in the tried-and-true Naganuma school of military strategy. Hirayama lived by a daily routine of rigorous martial training and study. According to Kokichi, the old man slept in armor on a dirt floor, as if “always on the field of battle.” He wore only light cotton clothes, even in the dead of winter. He was an ascetic, whose house in Edo Kokichi likened to a “hermit’s dwelling.” Although Kokichi never received a formal education, for about ten years, from age sixteen, he received a classical education in military history through numerous and lengthy discussions at Hirayama’s home.

While Kaishu was still a young boy, his father enrolled him at the fencing school of Odani Seiichiro, a son of Kokichi’s eldest brother. When Kaishu was sixteen, a particularly skilled swordsman named Shimada Toranosuke enrolled at Odani’s school. Soon Shimada, who had come from Nakatsu Han, in the province of Buzen on Kyushu, opened his own school in Edo, which Kaishu joined at age eighteen, “thanks to the efforts of my father,” he recalled. Shimada, who urged his students to practice Zen “to gain a deeper understanding of kenjutsu,” had a profound influence on Katsu Kaishu, who stated that “Zen and kenjutsu became the foundation of my future life.”

This image of Shimada Toranosuke is taken from the website of Nakatsu City.

This image of Shimada Toranosuke is taken from the website of Nakatsu City.

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For more on Katsu Kaishu’s martial arts training see Samurai Revolution, the only biography of the man in English.

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Ryoma’s Assassination and His Peace Plan

The assassination of Sakamoto Ryoma is shrouded in mystery. Conspiracy theories abound, including that Ryoma’s friends from Satsuma eliminated him for having foiled their plans for a violent revolution. But there has never been any hard evidence uncovered that Satsuma was involved or in any way complicit in Ryoma’s assassination. Rather, the historical consensus, while not conclusive, is that he was cut down by swordsmen of the Mimawarigumi (Patrolling Corps), a security force in Kyoto in service of the shogun’s government. Ryoma’s alleged assassins, then, were die-hard loyalists of the shogunate who blamed him for their imminent fall, based on his eight-point plan to avoid civil war.

Ryoma’s plan called for the shogun to abdicate and restore Imperial rule toward the establishment of two legislative houses of government, an upper and a lower, to be filled by able men, including feudal lords, nobles of the Imperial Court, and the Japanese people at large, under the Emperor and accountable to public opinion. The last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, accepted Ryoma’s peace plan, which was submitted to him through the influential daimyo of Tosa, Ryoma’s home domain. On the thirteenth day of the Tenth Month of the year corresponding to 1867, Yoshinobu announced his intention to abdicate and restore Imperial rule. Ryoma was assassinated about a month later on his thirty-third birthday, the fifteenth day of the Eleventh Month – about one month before the so-called “Restoration of Imperial Rule of Old,” a coup d’etat which took place on the ninth day of the Twelfth Month (January 3, 1868).

Ryoma’s plan, which Restoration historian Hirao Michio calls “the most noteworthy document in Restoration history,” embodied Ryoma’s second great contribution to the Meiji Restoration, following his brokering of a military alliance against the shogunate between two erstwhile enemies, Satsuma and Choshu, at the beginning of the previous year (1866). Ryoma’s plan served as the blueprint for the Charter Oath of the new Meiji government, promulgated by the Emperor in the Third Month of 1868.

I wrote in detail about Sakamoto Ryoma’s indispensible role in the Meiji Restoration in the novel Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai, and in the historical narrative Samurai Revolution.

[This photo of Sakamoto Ryoma, taken shortly before his assassination, is used in my book Samurai Tales, courtesy of Tokyo Ryoma-kai.]

Ryoma fukui

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ryoma

Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai, the only biographical novel about Sakamoto Ryoma in English, is available on Amazon.com.

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The Most Politically Significant Assassination of the Samurai Revolution

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ii Naosuke, who as the shogun’s regent was the most powerful man in Japan. It is also the 155th anniversary of his assassination. He was cut down in broad daylight at Sakurada Gate, a main entrance to the shogun’s castle on an unseasonably snowy morning in spring 1860. It was the most brazen offense ever committed against the Tokugawa Shogunate and the most politically significant assassination of an era plagued with assassination and bloodshed. The shogunate collapsed less than seven years after the so-called Incident Outside Sakurada Gate.

This image of Ii Naosuke is from “The 200th Year Celebration of the Birth of Lord Ii Naosuke.”

This image of Ii Naosuke is from “The 200th Year Celebration of the Birth of Lord Ii Naosuke.”

“I cannot help but wonder who, if anyone, at the time realized the severe mental agony the regent was going through,” recalled Katsu Kaishu regarding Ii Naosuke’s mental state during the series of events surrounding the shogun’s successor and Japan’s first foreign trade treaties that resulted in Naosuke’s assassination. Kaishu was “the shogun’s last samurai” of my recent book Samurai Revolution, in which I have written about those events in detail.

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For more on Ii Naosuke and Katsu Kaishu, see Samurai Revolution, a comprehensive history of the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

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Prime Minister Abe’s Choshu Connection

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan announced his intention to remain in his post until 2018, the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, the “dawn of modern Japan.” He made the announcement on August 12, at Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, formerly named Choshu during the pre-Restoration samurai era. Abe’s forebears were from Choshu, which played a leading role in the overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate and the restoration of Imperial rule – a significant point I have made in previous blog postings including “Samurai Lineage Underlies Japanese Premier’s Drive to Strengthen Military.” The Restoration heroes from Choshu are among the most revered men in Japanese history. There can be little doubt that Abe’s Choshu samurai lineage is connected to his intention to rebuild Japan into a military power. “I’m quietly resolved to make decent achievements as a prime minister from Yamaguchi Prefecture, home to key figures in the Meiji Restoration,” he is quoted in The Japan Times on August 13, 2015.

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(I wrote extensively about Choshu and Satsuma, the other leading samurai clan of the Meiji Restoration, in Samurai Revolution.)

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A Fortuneteller’s Prophesy About Katsu Kaishu

Kaishu

Katsu Kaishu is the “shogun’s last samurai” of my Samurai Revolution. His given name was Rintaro. Kaishu is a pseudonym, consisting of the Chinese characters for “ocean” and “boat.” It was given him by his teacher Sakuma Shozan, a celebrated military scientist and designer of big guns. In giving his student his own pseudonym, perhaps Sakuma foresaw in him an element of greatness, correctly anticipating that Katsu would play a leading role in developing a modern Japanese navy.Katsu Kaishu’s biographer Katsube Mitake reports a much earlier prophesy by a fortuneteller in Edo regarding a young Katsu Rintaro. “This is a handsome child, with girlish features,” the fortuneteller supposedly told the boy’s father, Katsu Kokichi. “But he has . . . flashing eyes—and there is something extraordinary about him. When he grows up, if he is evil he will cause chaos throughout the land. If he is good he will save the world from chaos.” (This is reported in Vol. 1 of Katsube’s 2-volume biography published by PHP in 1992.)

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Samurai Revolution is the only biography of Katsu Kaishu in English.

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