A Writer’s Bookshelf (7): Takasugi Shinsaku: “tickled pink”

On a great stone monument near a flower-strewn grave in the verdant Yamaguchi countryside is a telltale description of the most radical samurai hero to hail from the most radical of samurai domains: “Once he got moving, he was like a bolt of lightening. Once he got started, he was like the wind and the rain.” Takasugi Shinsaku – pampered child prodigy; brilliant disciple of Yoshida Shoin; unruly swordsman who in a drunken rage cut a wild dog in two; sometimes stoic whose escapades in the Nagasaki and Kyoto pleasure quarters are the stuff of legend; restless youth who preferred “to think while on the run”; explosive military commander and gifted poet; creator of Japan’s first modern militia who played on the three-stringed shamisen even as the war around him raged; consumptive who kept his sake cup near the sickbed from which he laid his war plans, in defiance of the disease that would soon kill him.

The above is from an article I wrote for Tokyo Journal in 2003. The “to think while on the run” description is from a biography by Furukawa Kaoru, published in 1971 (below).

Takasugi of course was a friend and political ally of Sakamoto Ryoma. In the 1980s, while researching Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai, I visited Hagi, Takasugi’s hometown in Yamaguchi Prefecture. In front of Takasugi’s house I met an old woman selling copies of Furukawa’s biography, which featured a special stamp stating, “Birthplace of Takasugi Shinsaku (高杉晋作誕生地)” She must have been in her eighties – and so Takasugi was most likely of her grandfather’s generation. It is entirely possible that her family lived in Hagi for many generations. If so, it is likely that she grew up hearing stories of Takasugi. When I bought a copy of this book, she smiled and told me that Shinsaku would be “tickled pink” to know that an American was buying his biography!

Takasugi Shinsaku is featured in Samurai Revolution.