Samurai Revolution: Overview

The Introduction provides the historical and political background of Japan under the hegemony of the Tokugawa Bakufu. The body of Samurai Revolution  (not including the Epilogue) is divided into two Books (published as one volume), comprising a brief Prologue and five distinct Parts in 37 Chapters, and ending with the lengthy Epilogue and Appendix.

Book 1: The Fall of the Tokugawa Bakufu (1853-1868) covers the cataclysmic fifteen-year history of the fall of the Bakufu and the restoration of Imperial rule–i.e., the Meiji Restoration (1853-1868).  The Prologue and Parts I through III comprise Book 1.

Book 2: The Rise of Imperial Japan (1868-1878), comprised of Parts IV and V, chronicles the first decade of Imperial Japan (1868-1877) under the newly restored monarchy.

The Epilogue summarizes the last two decades of Katsu Kaishu’s life (1879-1899).

Throughout the entire volume, Hillsborough quotes Katsu Kaishu, a prolific writer, focusing on his journals, letters, histories, biographical sketches, and oral memoirs. (All citations are Hillsborough’s own translations of the original texts.) As such, Kaishu’s unique personality – the down-to-earth attitude, magnanimity, scathing humor, genius in overcoming adversity, and humanity – come forth.

Fourteen of the thirty-seven chapters focus on historical events and sociocultural phenomena in which Katsu Kaishu had little or no direct involvement–but which nonetheless had a profound effect on him personally and on Japanese society and history overall. The remaining twenty-three chapters focus either on Katsu Kaishu or events in which he was directly involved.

The revolution, broadly speaking, pitted three of the most powerful samurai clans – Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa – against the Bakufu and its allies, with the Emperor and his Court caught in the middle. Beside Katsu Kaishu, among the most prominent men are: Ii Naosuké, the boy-shogun’s dictatorial regent whose assassination in the spring of 1860 marked the beginning of the end of the Bakufu; Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun, whose rise and fall is integral to this history; Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, who emerged, respectively, as the military and political leaders of Satsuma, the former the driving force behind the revolution, the latter the most powerful man in the early Imperial government; Yoshida Shoin, Takasugi Shinsaku, and Katsura Kogoro, respectively the spiritual/academic, military and political leaders of Choshu, without whom the revolution, as it happened, would have been unachievable; and the outlaw samurai Sakamoto Ryoma of Tosa, who, formerly Katsu Kaishu’s protégé, brokered the military alliance between Satsuma and Choshu to overthrow the government his mentor represented.