Miyaji Saichiro’s Monumental Works

As a writer of Bakumatsu history, two of the most important books I own are Sakamoto Ryōma Zenshū (坂本龍馬全集) (Kōfūsha Shuppan, 1978) and Nakaoka Shintarō Zenshū (中岡慎太郎全集) (Keisō Shobō, 1991), collections of letters to and from their respective subjects, and other related documents, compiled and meticulously annotated by Miyaji Saichiro (宮地佐一郎). I have relied heavily on Sakamoto Ryōma Zenshū in all my own books. It includes a lengthy document entitled “Sakamoto to Nakaoka no Shi” (坂本と中岡の死) (“The Deaths of Sakamoto and Nakaoka”), one of my main sources for “The Assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma,” the title of Part III of my forthcoming Samurai Assassins.


[This photo, published in “Ryōma Times,” No. 41 (newsletter of Tokyo Ryoma-kai), shows Miyaji Saichiro (right) on a trip to Kochi in 1968, with his mentor, the famous writer Osaragi Jirō, who at the time was working on Tennō no Seiki (天皇の世紀), his masterpiece of Bakumatsu-Meiji Restoration history.]

I first met Miyaji-sensei around November 1988, while working as a writer for Flash, a weekly magazine in Tokyo. The magazine was doing a special feature on Sakamoto Ryōma to commemorate his upcoming birthday. Since I was working on my novel about Ryōma at the time, the editor in charge asked me to accompany him to Miyaji-sensei’s home to interview him. Needless to say, I was thrilled to meet the great writer, whose books I depended on heavily in writing my novel.

Miyaji-sensei, born in Ryōma’s native Kochi, lived in Mitaka, Tokyo. He greeted us at the front door of his home, dressed in traditional kimono. During our visit I remember him saying something to the effect that he thought of me as an “American Ryōma.”

Years later, in December 1999, Miyaji-sensei gave me this copy of Nakaoka Shintarō Zenshū. He included this signed “complements from the author” slip, inscribed to me.

Related articles:

“Now is the time to reread Ryoma’s letters.” Miyaji Saichiro

“The Ryoma Phenomenon” – 龍馬現象 (11): My Five Favorite Books About Ryoma

Two Masterpieces of Shinsengumi History and Lore


Shimosawa Kan’s Shinsengumi Shimatsuki is one of the earliest accounts of the Shinsengumi. It was first published in 1928, just before Hirao Michio’s groundbreaking history Shinsengumi Shiroku (新撰組史緑; original title, Shinsengumishi, 新撰組史). As I mention in my Shinsengumi: The Shogun’s Last Samurai Corps, Shimosawa’s narrative is partially based on interviews with former corpsmen and other people who had direct contact with the Shinsengumi. But he was first and foremost a novelist. He began the preface of his book by stating, “It is not my intention to write history.” Some of his information has been repudiated by more recent studies, whose authors have enjoyed the benefits of nearly a century of subsequent scholarship unavailable to Shimosawa. Accordingly, like other early historical narratives of the Shinsengumi, Shimosawa’s book should best be taken for what it’s worth, and relished for its portrayal of the spirit of the men of Shinsengumi rather than a faithful history.

Hirao, on the other hand, was an historian, widely known for his writings about Tosa history including biographies of Sakamoto Ryoma, Nakaoka Shintaro and Yamauchi Yodo.

I have many books about the Shinsengumi in my private library. This edition of Shimosawa’s book (photo above), published in 1967, which I found in a used bookstore in Tokyo’s Kanda district years ago, is one of my prized possessions.

My Shinsengumi: The Shogun’s Last Samurai Corps, is the only history of the Shinsengumi in English.

Takasugi Shinsaku and the Chōshū Domain

Takasugi Shinsaku

During the first two months of 1866, around two years before the fall of the Tokugawa Bakufu, the anti-Bakufu rebels in Chōshū, led by the indomitable young samurai Takasugi Shinsaku, ousted the ruling conservatives in a bloody civil war. As leader of Chōshū’s powerful army, Takasugi envisaged Chōshū as becoming “the most powerful and wealthy nation among the five great continents.”

Chōshū (modern-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) was one of two samurai clans most responsible for overthrowing the Bakufu and bringing about the Meiji Restoration. The other was its rival Satsuma (modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture). After the United States, Great Britain, France and others forced unfair trade treaties on the thus far isolated country in 1858, samurai from Chōshū, Satsuma, and other parts of Japan, most notably Tosa (modern-day Kochi Prefecture and home domain of Sakamoto Ryōma), called for a “strong military and rich nation” under a newly restored monarchy to fend off Western imperialism. They developed a military strong enough to overthrow the Tokugawa Bakufu, which, under the shogun, had ruled the country for over two and a half centuries.

For Takasugi “the five great continents” were synonymous with “the world,” suggesting his belief that Japan’s future lay with Chōshū. And to a great extent he was right. Former samurai of Chōshū and Satsuma would control the Meiji government into the twentieth century. During its infancy, the new Meiji government was dominated by the triad of Saigō Takamori, Ōkubo Toshimichi, and Kido Takayoshi (formerly Katsura Kogorō), and the Court nobles Sanjō Sanétomi and Iwakura Tomomi. After the deaths of Saigō, Ōkubo, and Kido within one year of each other (Kido of illness in May 1877, Saigō on the battlefield that September, Ōkubo by assassination in May 1878), the Japanese government continued to be dominated by Satsuma and Chōshū men, including Itō Hirobumi, Inoué Kaoru and Yamagata Aritomo. Itō, architect of the Meiji Constitution of 1889, was the Meiji government’s first prime minister (from 1885 to 1888). Of the first fourteen cabinets (1885 to 1912), eight were led by former Chōshū samurai (Itō, four times Yamagata Aritomo, twice; Katsura Tarō, twice), and three by men of Satsuma (Kuroda Kiyotaka, once; Matsukata Masayoshi, twice). And while Katsu Kaishū, “the shōgun’s last samurai” of my Samurai Revolution, headed up the Imperial Navy in its nascent years, after Saigō’s death the Imperial Army was dominated by Yamagata, though Satsuma’s naval leadership was stronger than Chōshū’s. It is noteworthy that current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a descendent of Chōshū samurai.

Related articles:

Takasugi Shinsaku’s Indomitable Spirit

Takasugi Shinsaku: The Dynamic Leader of the Choshu Rebels

Takasugi Shinsaku: “To Think While on the Run”

Prime Minister Abe’s Choshu Connection

Takasugi Shinsaku, along with Chōshū and Satsuma,  features prominently in Samurai Revolution.



“The Ryoma Phenomenon” (15): Ryoma and Nietzsche (2)


As I wrote in No. 1 of this series, Ryōma began living dangerously when he rejected Confucian-samurai values and the discriminatory class structure in Tosa, fled Tosa, and became an outlaw.

Ryōma’s rejection of certain Confucian-samurai values (by no means did he reject them all) resembles Nietzsche’s rejection of Christian values, just as the philosopher’s famous announcement of the death of God is comparable to Ryōma’s heralding the death of Tokugawa feudalism. According to Nietzsche, once a person rejects society’s old values, he is left with nothing but himself to rely on. This fundamental Nietzschean idea is reflected in an often-cited poem by Ryōma, which, I think, sums up the latter’s philosophy very nicely: “It matters not what people say of me, I am the only one who knows what I must do.” (世の人はわれを なにともゆはゞいへわがなすことはわれのみぞしる)


“Samurai Assassins”: The Assassination of Sakamoto Ryoma

“Since Sakamoto was no good for the Bakufu or the Imperial Court…, I thought we had to kill him.” Imai Nobuo, formerly of Bakufu security force Mimawarigumi, speaking years after the fact.
“The Assassination of Sakamoto Ryoma” is the title of Part III of my forthcoming Samurai Assassins: “Dark Murder” and the Meiji Restoration, 1853-1868, to be published by McFarland in spring 2017.