Clark’s Biography of Katsu Kaishū

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Until my Samurai Revolution, the biography by E. Warren Clark, Katz Awa: “The Bismarck of Japan” or the Story of a Noble Life (New York: B.F. Buck, 1904), was the only English-language account (in book form) of Katsu Kaishū (referred to as Katz Awa by Clark), published five years after Kaishū’s death. Clark’s book is more of a hagiographical sketch than a true biography. “HE IS THE MAN (sic) I love – the man to whom personally I owe more gratitude and respect than to any other individual I ever met,” Clark writes of Kaishū. A devout Christian, Clark was one of three American teachers invited to Japan by Kaishū (soon to be appointed minister of navy) in 1871, three years after fall of Bakufu, to help establish scientific schools. Clark excerpts Last Days of the Bakufu, the English translation of Bakufu Shimatsu, written by Kaishū for Clark’s benefit. Regarding Kaishū’s all-important role in the civil war of 1868, Clark asserts that the “surrender of military power on the part of [last shogun] Tokugawa Keiki [Tokugawa Yoshinobu], acting solely on Katz Awa’s advice, was voluntary, patriotic, and immediate.” Contrasting Japan’s handling of its greatest internal conflict with America’s Civil War, Clark lauds Kaishū for having “secured by one stroke of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice conditions of a national unity which we at the same epoch in the ‘sixties’ were struggling to attain in the United States at the cost of nearly a million lives.” Numerous inaccuracies in Clark’s book include the date and city of Kaishū’s birth, and claim that Kaishū served as “president of the naval training school at Nagasaki . . . about a year before . . . Perry’s advent with those barbarian ships” – though he actually served as head of naval cadets at the school several years after Perry’s arrival. Clark also incredulously claims Katsu Kaishū, an exemplar of an ancient society and culture to which Christianity was anathema, accepted Christian faith near end of life.

(In 1860, Katsu Kaishū, “the shōgun’s last samurai of Samurai Revolution,” traveled to San Francisco as captain of the warship Kanrin Maru, the first Japanese vessel to reach the United States. The above photo was taken at that time. The scans below are from a September 24, 1894 article about Clark’s visit to San Francisco in a local newspaper.)


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Shiba Ryotaro’s “Junshi”

Shiba Ryotaro’s masterpiece Ryoma ga Yuku immortalized Sakamoto Ryoma in the psyche of the Japanese people. Along with that book and many others by Shiba, I also love this one, Junshi, about Nogi Maresuke (Nogi Taisho), the famed hero of the Russo-Japan War, formerly a samurai of Choshu, whose seppuku in the wake of the death of the Meiji Emperor shocked the country. Junshi is the ancient practice of following one’s lord in death – and Shiba’s account of the incident is nothing short of awesome.

A Writer’s Bookshelf (5): The Nietzsche Edition

Included on these shelves are Nietzsche’s books, along with some of my favorite works of literature with Nietzschean themes. These books have provided me with a moral guide to help navigate through the morass of life in our times.

I have identified several fundamental Nietzshean ideas in the life and deeds of Sakamoto Ryoma, based on which I have written a long essay (not yet published).

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A Writer’s Bookshelf (4): The Bakumatsu Edition

Included on these shelves are forty of the most important books on the Bakumatsu era (“end of the shogunate,” 1853 – 1868) that I’ve referred to in my writing over the years (but by no means all of them).

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Add to the above, the following major piece of Bakumatsu historical literature: the biography of the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, by Shibusawa Seiichirō, his former private secretary, along with three volumes of related materials from Tokyo University Press.