150th Anniversary of Ryoma’s Assassination

Sakamoto Ryoma was assassinated on his 33rd birthday: the 15th day of the Eleventh Month of the year on the old Japanese calendar corresponding to 1867 (Keio 3/11/15), which is actually in December on the Gregorian calendar. But the anniversary of his birth and death are generally observed each November 15.

Ryoma’s assassination is the subject of Part III of my Samurai Assassins, published earlier this year.

I take the opportunity on this day to reiterate my hope for a film about “Renaissance Samurai” Sakamoto Ryoma targeted at a worldwide audience.

Think big! Create!


hillsborough_978-1-4766-6880-2
widget_buy_amazon

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

180px-sakamoto_ryomaNietzsche187a

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)


ryoma
widget_buy_amazon

“The Ryoma Phenomenon” (14): Ryoma and Nietzsche (1)

 

180px-sakamoto_ryomaNietzsche187a

I began studying the life of Sakamoto Ryōma in the mid-1980’s to research my novel Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai. It was during that time that I discovered the underlying theme of his life: a relentless quest for freedom. Immediately following the scene in which he flees Tosa, I wrote that “abandoning Tosa was Ryoma’s giant leap across the border which had separated him from freedom,” and that he “had chosen to throw himself into a cauldron of political and social chaos” for freedom. “Freedom was what Ryoma had longed for, and it was for freedom that he had sacrificed both country and home. The freedom to act, the freedom to think, the freedom to be: these were the ideals that drove him on the thorny road toward salvation, the salvation of Japan.”

It wasn’t until much later that I delved into the works of Nietzsche, another famous lover of freedom. I discovered that despite their vastly different historical, cultural, and ideological backgrounds, Ryōma and Nietzsche were kindred spirits. I perceived an uncanny resemblance between the provocative German thinker whose ideas resonate throughout the twentieth century and beyond, and the audacious samurai who changed history. Ryōma and Nietzsche were contemporaries, though the latter lived many years longer than the former; and both were modern thinkers. But while Nietzsche was a philosopher, Ryōma was a man of action who lived some of Nietzsche’s fundamental ideas, including the exhortation to “live dangerously.”

“I welcome all signs that a more virile, warlike age is about to begin, which will restore honor to courage above all. For this age shall prepare the way for one yet higher, and it shall give the strength that this higher age will require some day—the age that will carry heroism into the search for knowledge and that will wage wars for the sake of ideas and their consequences. To this end we now need many preparatory courageous human beings. . .” .And so, Nietzsche exhorts courageous human beings who are “seekers of knowledge” to “live dangerously!” [Nietzsche, Friedrich. Walter Kaufmann, trans. The Gay Science, sec. 283. New York: Vintage-Random, 1974. The philosopher R. J. Hollingdale points out that here Nietzsche is not inciting people to arms, as he is often misunderstood to do. His gist, rather, is seen in an earlier line of Nietzsche’s: “Strife is the perpetual food of soul.” (Hollingdale, R. J. Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy, p. 144. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999)]

Ryōma was indeed a seeker of knowledge; and though he was a warrior, he was also a peacemaker. The knowledge he sought included Western military science, and modern business and governmental systems to develop a modern navy, establish Japan’s first modern trading company, and write the blueprint for the modern Meiji government. Commanding a Chōshū warship in 1866, he waged war for the sake of ideas and their consequences against Tokugawa forces at Shimonoseki. In arranging for a military alliance between Satsuma and Chōshū against the Bakufu, and composing a plan for the shōgun’s peaceful abdication and restoration of Imperial rule, even while running guns for the revolution, he proved to be a preparatory courageous human being, even in defiance of his allies, Satsuma and Chōshū, who were determined to crush the Bakufu by military force, and his enemies in the Bakufu who opposed the shōgun’s decision to abdicate.

Ryōma began living dangerously when he rejected Confucian-samurai values and the discriminatory class structure of his native Tosa, fled Tosa, and became an outlaw. In 1865, as he worked to broker the Satsuma-Chōshū Alliance, he wrote a letter to his sister Otomé, in which he dismissed men who stayed behind in Tosa as “truly very stupid” for “spending their days in a place like [Tosa] without any ambition at all.” In the following year, he wrote to Otomé, “Rather than staying home . . . and receiving a stipend of rice, it is much more fun to be working for the nation, if only one is prepared to lay down his life.” Ryōma perceived the Bakufu’s Confucian-based social and political systems as a threat to Japan’s sovereignty in an age of Western imperialism; and resolved to live dangerously, he was determined to overthrow the Bakufu.


ryoma
widget_buy_amazon

“The Ryoma Phenomenon” (13): Ryoma Books at Teradaya

teradaya-books-overall

I visited the Teradaya inn in Fushimi, Kyoto, last week for the first time in many years, since before publishing Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai. I don’t remember if I sent it to the Teradaya when it was published or what,

teradaya-books-hills

but I was pleasantly surprised to see it with four of my favorite books about Sakamoto Ryoma in the library at the storied inn. The four books are:

Hirao Michio, Sakamoto Ryoma: Kaientai Shimatsuki, Tokyo: Chuokoronsha, 1976 (坂本龍馬 海援隊始末記);

Miyaji Saichiro, ed., Sakamoto Ryoma Zenshu, Tokyo: Kofusha, 1982 (坂本龍馬全集) [second shelf, first book on left in bookcase below]; teradaya-books-miyaji

Matsuoka Mamoru, Teihon Sakamoto Ryoma-den, Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu Oraisha, 2003 (定本 坂本龍馬伝) [right below]; and Omino Kiyoharu, Sakamoto Ryoma to Token, Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu Oraisha, 1995 (坂本龍馬と刀) [left below].

teradaya-books-omino-matsuoka


ryoma
widget_buy_amazon

“The Ryoma Phenomenon” – 龍馬現象 (12): Ryoma’s Killers

imai13hillsborough

It is almost certain that these two men, Imai Nobuo (left) and Watanabe Atsushi (right), had a direct hand in the assassination of Sakamoto Ryoma. Ryoma’s assassination is the subject of Part III of my forthcoming Samurai Assassins: “Dark Murder” and the Meiji Restoration, 1853-1868, to be published by McFarland in 2017.

Subscribe to my newsletter and follow me on Facebook, to receive updates about the publication of Samurai Assassins, my speaking appearances, and more.


hillsborough_978-1-4766-6880-2
widget_buy_amazon