Newly revealed document seems to confirm that Ryoma and Kogoro faced off in kenjutsu match in Edo

A newly revealed document shows that Sakamoto Ryoma lost a kenjutsu match to Katsura Kogoro of Choshu by a score 2 points to 3 points, at the Tosa Han residence in Kajibashi, Edo, on Ansei 4/3/1 (1857). The tournament has been discussed in history books, novels and other media over the years. Until now it was suspected that perhaps it never really took place. This document changes that perspective.

The Japanese media seems to be making a big deal out of the fact that Ryoma lost the match to Kogoro, which I think is a bit ridiculous. Both were highly skilled swordsmen. Losing (or winning) one match doesn’t amount to very much, in my view.

非常に興味深い!ですが二人とも優れた剣士だったので, 龍馬が小五郎に負けた、とは別に驚くことはありません。

[from Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Oct. 30, 2107]

Takéchi Hanpeita and the “shit bug” Samurai

Part II of Samurai Assassins is the first in-depth biographical treatment in English of Takéchi Hanpeita, charismatic leader of the Tosa Loyalist Party and mastermind of “divine punishment,” which wreaked terror on the streets of Kyōtō. Takéchi’s important role in the “samurai revolution” is covered in detail, including his meteoric rise to power and his sudden arrest and imprisonment. I referred to Takéchi’s journals, contained in an early biography published in 1912; and more heavily to his letters from jail to his wife and cohorts on the outside. To the best of my knowledge, Takéchi’s letters have rarely, if ever, been used by Western writers. Following is an excerpt:

At the end of the Second Month, Takéchi wrote home about his new cellmate, a samurai named Itō Reihei, whom he referred to as “shit bug” (kuso mushi). Itō had been arrested for seducing a woman and attempting to run away with her, behavior which Takéchi would not condone. But from Takéchi’s letters home it seems that the two men became unlikely friends during the next few months, which they spent together in the same cell, with Itō, perhaps starstruck by the famous Loyalist Party leader, regularly fixing Takéchi’s hair. And so “I don’t have to get my hands dirty,” which was “the only good” thing about the “shit bug.”


Saigō’s Magnanimity and Ryōma’s Underwear

Amid the current toxic political climate in the United States, I remember the following anecdote (cited from Samurai Assassins, Chapter 16, without footnotes) involving Saigō Takamori and Sakamoto Ryōma, which provides insight into the magnanimity of the former:

Hirao relays an anecdote that goes a long way to illustrate Saigō’s affection and even reverence for Ryōma. In Keiō 1/5 (1865) Ryōma traveled to Saigō’s native Kagoshima to lay the groundwork for the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance, during which time Ryōma stayed at Saigō’s home. According to the story, which Hirao heard directly from Saigō’s sister-in-law, one day Ryōma asked Saigō’s wife, Itoko, if he could borrow Saigō’s “oldest loincloth,” i.e., underwear. As Hirao interjects, Ryōma, a rōnin without a source of income, probably didn’t have the money to buy such things. So Itoko gave Ryōma exactly what he asked for; and when her husband returned home and she told him about it, he was angered: “Don’t you know that he’s ready to die for the country?” he said, and instructed her to change the “old loincloth for the newest one” he had. Recalling the story years later, Itoko said that it was the only time she had ever seen her husband so angry.


New Shinsengumi Book (2)

A few months ago I wrote that I was about one-quarter finished with the Shinsengumi book I’ve been working on these past several months. I had hoped that “without stumbles, confusion, unexpected (i.e., new) discoveries, misunderstandings . . . “ I might finish by next year. I was being a bit optimistic!

I’ve made some significant discoveries since then. I’ve also made a lot of progress. I’ve written much and learned even more. But as they say, the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

I think that this next Shinsengumi book will not disappoint anyone interested in the Shinsengumi or Bakumatsu history in general.

Again, thank you all for your continuous support and encouragement to push forward in this lonely occupation.

Think big! Create!

[The publication shown above, from Hinoshi Furusato Hakubutsukan, is a valuable source of information.]

Am I Alone Outside of Japan?

I write about the Samurai Revolution at the Dawn of Modern Japan – i.e., the Bakumatsu and Meiji Restoration. I’ve been at it for about thirty years. I think it’s the most important and interesting era of Japanese history. There are some great, and many good, writers of this history, all of whom are Japanese. Of course they write in the Japanese language. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only non-Japanese writer who focuses on this history. I wonder why!