“The Ryoma Phenomenon” – 龍馬現象 (11): My Five Favorite Books About Ryoma


There are lots of books about Sakamoto Ryoma.* There are more than thirty volumes in one of the bookshelves in my personal library. And there are a lot more to be found in bookstores, and public and university libraries. During the thirty years that I’ve been researching and writing about Ryoma, my favorite books about him are the five mentioned below. I have chosen them for their originality, scholarship and overall readability, and also for their great value to me as a writer.

Miyaji Saichiro, ed. Sakamoto Ryoma Zenshu. Tokyo: Kofusha, 1982. (坂本龍馬全集): The collection of Ryoma-related documents, including letters written and received by him, letters written by others concerning him, other documents either written by or attributed to him, and much, much more, all of which is meticulously annotated. A must for all researchers and students of the life and times of Sakamoto Ryoma, compiled, edited and annotated by my revered late mentor and friend.
Matsuoka Mamoru. Teihon Sakamoto Ryoma-den. Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu Oraisha, 2003. (定本 坂本龍馬伝): Of the many biographies I have read or referred to, this fairly recent one is the most comprehensive and perhaps most painstaking. As indicated by its title, it is the definitive biography, and a truly remarkable work of scholarship and writing by a Tosa historian whom I am proud to call a personal friend.
Omino Kiyoharu. Sakamoto Ryoma to Token. Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu Oraisha, 1995. (坂本龍馬と刀剣): A scholarly collection of extremely interesting essays focusing on the significance of the Japanese sword in Ryoma’s life. As with other works by this fine author and Ryoma scholar, who is also an accomplished sword appraiser and polisher, this penetrating study of Ryoma is exceptionally original, and written in concise, easy-to-read language. I am proud to call Mr. Omino a personal friend.
Hirao Michio. Sakamoto Ryoma: Kaientai Shimatsuki. Tokyo: Chuokoronsha, 1976. (坂本龍馬 海援隊始末記): This exceptional biography is standard reading for all students of the life and times of Sakamoto Ryoma. It must be one of the most widely read books by an important and prolific writer who might be called the “godfather” of Tosa historians during the 20th century.

Shiba Ryotaro. Ryoma ga Yuku (vols 1-8). Tokyo: Bungei Shunshu, 1975. (竜馬がゆく) This masterpiece by a prolific historical novelist immortalized Sakamoto Ryoma in the psyche of the Japanese people. Originally published in serial form in the national newspaper Sankei Shimbun in 1962, this epic of the life and times of Sakamoto Ryoma comprises eight paperback volumes in its current printed form.

*Almost all books about Sakamoto Ryoma are in Japanese. The only two that I know of which are not are my novel, Ryoma Life of a Renaissance Samurai, and Marius B. Jansen’s biography, Sakamoto Ryōma and the Meiji Restoration. I should mention, however, that I have written extensively about Sakamoto Ryoma in other books as well, including Samurai Tales, Samurai Revolution, and my forthcoming Samurai Assassins (to be published by McFarland in 2017).