Katsu Kaishū Portrait by Kawamura Kiyo’o

The title “returning from the surrender of Edo Castle” is misleading because Katsu Kaishū did not attend the official (formal) surrender ceremony. But he did negotiate the peaceful surrender of the castle with Saigō, which of course resulted in the actual surrender. For that he was considered a traitor by many in the Tokugawa camp. As stated in the museum’s description of the painting (below), behind Kaishū is supposed to be a stonewall of the castle, to the left side of which is a fellow Bakufu samurai, sword drawn, as if ready to attack him.

This portrait is based on a photograph at the British Legation in Yokohama taken by Ernest Satow, secretary to Sir Harry Parkes, the British minister to Japan, around the time the castle was surrendered. “I was so very sleepy at the time,” Kaishū recalled years later. “But they dragged me over there. Satow took it, because, as he said, ‘You’re going to be killed.’”

Kawamura Kiyo’o’s grandfather, Kawamura Tajima-no-Kami, was a high official in the Bakufu, who had served in magisterial posts in Niigata, Sakai, Ōsaka, and Nagasaki. Kiyo’o, who grew up in Nagasaki, developed a keen interest in oil painting, a Western art form. He was sent to study in the United States in Meiji 4 (1871), after which he traveled to Europe to study oil painting in France and Italy. Kaishū built a studio for Kawamura within the compound of his estate at Hikawa in Tokyo. (from Samurai Revolution)

[This reproduction of the original painting is at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. I took these photos about two years ago. There was no avoiding the glare from the flash.]


Katsu Kaishū of course is “the shogun’s last samurai” of my Samurai Revolution.

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Katsu Kaishū: One of the reasons I love this man so much

 

…on August 14, 1895 (Meiji 28), at age seventy-three, Count Katsu Awa gave an interview to the Kokumin Shimbun newspaper, in which he alluded to his title. “I’m naturally a bad person, which is why I put a market price on society,” he said in his signature mock self-deprecatory tone, which he was apt to quickly change to self-praise underpinned by the truth.

“I know that when the price goes up, it’ll eventually go back down. When the price goes down, it’ll eventually go back up. And it never takes more than ten years for the market price to rise and fall. So, if I see that the price for me is down, all I need do is hunker down and wait a while—and sure enough it’ll rise again. The former villain and traitor Katsu Rintarō is now Count Katsu Awa. But even if I act as if I’m important now, after a while I’ll only grow old and senile, and nobody will even bother to spit on me then. So anyway, that’s the way the market price of society is. A person who has the patience to wait out those ten years of rising and falling is a great man. And actually I’m one of them.”

[The above is excerpted from Samurai Revolution: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen Through the Eyes of the Shogun’s Last Samurai. Katsu Kaishū (aka Katsu Awa and Katsu Rintarō) is the “Shōgun’s Last Samurai.” The statue stands at Asakusa, Tokyo, near the Sumidagawa river, pointing out at the Pacific Ocean.]


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Oryō, a Woman Who Changed Japanese History

In the early days of Keiō 2, the Japanese year that corresponds to 1866, Sakamoto Ryōma was attacked and nearly killed by a Bakufu police unit at the Teradaya inn in Fushimi (below), just south of Kyōto. A young woman named Oryō, soon to be Ryoma’s wife, was working at the Teradaya. Taking a bath downstairs when the intruders stormed the place, she ran up the stairs to warn her lover that Bakufu men had come to kill him. It was probably because of her quick thinking and courage that Ryoma escaped with his life. Less than two years later the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, would announce his intention to step down and restore political power to the Imperial Court, based on Ryōma’s famous plan to avert civil war. For details about Ryōma’s narrow escape from the Teradaya and Oryō’s heroic role therein, see my Samurai Revolution, Chapter 19, and  Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai, “Attack At the Teradaya.”

(To avoid any misunderstanding, I should add that the original building was destroyed in a fire. The building, as seen in these photos, stands today as a monument of past history. If not an exact replica, it captures the feeling and image of the Teradaya during the Bakumatsu.)


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The Assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma (4)

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma, which is the subject of Part III of my new book, Samurai Assassins.

Ryōma’s assassination is shrouded in mystery, and this book provides the first in-depth study of the tragic event in English, based mostly on primary sources. My most important primary sources for Part III include Ryōma’s letters; testimonies and writings by, and interviews of, his alleged assassins; and accounts from people who were either present at the assassination scene or who arrived shortly after the fact. These primary sources, described in Chapter 17, are published in Miyaji Saichirō’s monumental Sakamoto Ryōma Zenshū. (from the Preface)


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Assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma (3)

The assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma on the eve of a peaceful revolution of his own design was a tragedy. Following is an excerpt (without footnotes) from Chapter 15 of Samurai Assassins:

Though Ryōma was the author of the plan for the peaceful restoration of Imperial rule, he was also a leading proponent of Tōbaku, “Down with the Bakufu.” These two seemingly contradictory stances underlie the tragedy of his assassination. In a letter to Ryōma dated Keiō 3/9/4 (1867), the Chōshū leader Katsura Kogorō, using the name Kido Junichirō, likened Tōbaku to a “Great Drama,” the final act of which was getting under way in Kyōto, as Satsuma and Chōshū, in collaboration with Court nobleman Iwakura Tomomi, prepared to destroy the Bakufu. With Ryōma’s assassination around two months later, on the eve of a peaceful revolution of his own design, that drama turned tragic.

Ryōma’s murder by multiple sword wounds to the body and a blow to the head from which his brains reportedly protruded even as he was still able to move around and speak, was as horrible as it was tragic. To fully understand the scale of Ryōma’s tragedy, we must realize that he was a visionary and a genius—if genius means to conceive of original ideas and to have the courage and audacity to bring them to fruition. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Ryōma’s contemporary, alluded to genius, I think, with the following statement: “When a human being resists his whole age and stops it at the gate to demand an accounting, this must have influence.” Based on his determined resistance to the social iniquities and restraints under the Tokugawa Bakufu and its archaic feudal system, Sakamoto Ryōma influenced “his whole age” through a series of unparalleled historical achievements: Japan’s first trading company, the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance, and his great plan for peaceful restoration of Imperial rule.


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