Ryoma : Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Hillsborough, Romulus

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"You have my word," Ryoma assured. “Leave everything to Shinta and me, promise to give us a little more time, and we'll have the guns delivered to Choshu. This I swear on my life." Ryoma grabbed the Choshu man by the wrist. "Katsura-san," he shouted, "you must trust us."

"You' re right," Katsura said, "Without those weapons we don't stand chance against the Bakufu forces."

"Shinta, let's leave for Kyoto tomorrow," Ryoma said, drawing a solemn nod from Nakaoka. "Katsura-san, we'll contact you as soon as we've seen Saigo."

"You can reach me at the administrative office in Yamaguchi," Katsura informed, before leaving the two Tosa men to themselves.

The two Tosa ronin sat brooding in a room overlooking Shimonoseki Strait, the only light from a single candle and the full moon shimmering on the still surface of the sea.

"1 didn't want to mention it in front of Katsura tonight," Nakaoka broke the silence, "but I have some more bad news."

Ryoma sat up, stared hard at Nakaoka. "Hanpeita?" he said.

"Yes. Zuizan-sensei is dead. He was ordered to commit seppuku earlier this month," The candlelight flickered in Nakaoka's dark eyes.

"Hanpeita!" Ryoma howled, his face contorted, hot tears welling up in his eyes. "Dead! And the others?"

"Izo, Murata, Hisamatsu, Okamoto-all dead."

Ryoma had not seen Okada Izo for two years, since his sudden disappearance while serving as bodyguard to Katsu Kaishu. Abandoned by Hanpeita, Izo remained in Kyoto, but no longer able to earn a living in the name of Heaven '$ Revenge, took to the streets, robbing and murdering to support the habits of drinking and womanizing he had acquired when bounty money for assassination had been plentiful. One day in the spring of 1864-more than a year after Hanpeita and the other Tosa Loyalists had been recalled to Kochi-Izo was arrested for assaulting a man in Kyoto. In his heyday Master Zuizan's most feared hit man would have been able to cut himself out of trouble; but two years of living as a drunken outcast had shattered his nerves so badly, that his genius with a sword-the only thing that Izo had ever cherished-had been destroyed. Even his physical condition had so deteriorated that, while he retained his lean, hungry look, his eyes, which had once been as fierce as a wild animal's, were now glassy from dissipation. After being thrown into jail and ordered to identify himself, Izo gave an alias, as he was well aware that revealing his true identity would only seal his fate. But when it became apparent that he would be executed at any rate, Izo decided to at least have the honor of being sent back to Tosa to die as a samurai. Expecting that the Tokugawa authorities would shudder at the mere mention of his real name, which during Hanpeita's reign of terror in Kyoto had been synonymous with Heaven's Revenge, Izo was outraged when they only laughed at him. '"The Butcher' Izo," they jeered at him through the wooden grating of his jail cell. "If you're so tough, what are you doing in there?"

As Tokugawa law stipulated that any samurai arrested outside his han must be returned to the authorities of that domain for trial, the police notified Tosa's Kyoto headquarters. Unwilling to admit that the likes of Okada Izo was of their own han, the Tosa authorities denied that such a name was listed in the han register, leaving me Tokugawa police no choice but to treat Izo as a nonentity. His captors gave him the name "Homeless One," which they tattooed on his forehead, and banished the wretch from Kyoto.

The Tosa authorities, however, were actually elated when they heard of the arrest of the notorious killer, a prime witness in their investigation against Takechi Hanpeita. No sooner was Izo released by the Tokugawa police, than he was captured by Tosa agents, caged like a wild animal and returned to Kochi, where he too was incarcerated.

Hanpeita and several other Tosa Loyalists had been in prison since the previous September, during which time they were frequently interrogated concerning the assassination of Yoshida Toyo, among others. Lord Yodo knew that Hanpeita was responsible for the regent's death, and was intent on proving it, even at the risk of inciting a dangerous rebellion among the lower-samurai. Although Hanpeita's upper-samurai status excluded him from torture, many of his men were not so fortunate. During their interrogation they were hung upside down from the ceiling, and whipped until their flesh was shredded from the bone, or until they passed out from the pain. Nevertheless, not one of them talked, even when put in "the squeezer," a wooden vise which crushed one's legs as a juicer does pieces of well-ripened fruit. And while the horrendous screams from the torture chamber were heartrending even to the stoic sword master sitting alone in his cell, the sudden appearance of Okada Izo in the middle of June filled Hanpeita with dread.

As a megalomaniac, Hanpeita could endure his men being brutally tortured; had he merely confessed to masterminding Yoshida's assassination, Yodo would have been satisfied, and the interrogations and tortures would have ceased as surely as he would have been ordered to commit seppuku. Although Hanpeita was prepared to die, he was simply unable to acknowledge that the lives of all of his men were more important than his own, which he was convinced Tosa desperately needed. "What ever happens to me alone is of no concern," he wrote to his wife Tomi from his prison cell. "But as I can't help worrying about the fate of our han, I am unable to control my lairs." So inflated was his ego that, despite his resolve to die, he refused to give up hope, however dismal, of his own survival, even as the bloodcurdling screams of his men echoed throughout the prison.

Then Hanpeita's "wild dog" suddenly returned, as if from the dead to haunt his master for having abandoned him. "If only that idiot would have done me the favor of dying," Hanpeita wrote. "If ho is tortured everything will fall apart." The sword master was sure that Izo did not have the mental strength to withstand torture; unlike the others it would just be a matter of time before be confessed. But when Izo's turn for torture came, he showed an unexpected amount of courage, adamantly refusing to speak. Although Hanpeita did not know it, Izo's brazen stoicism was founded on his anger toward Tosa for having refused to acknowledge his existence to the Tokugawa police in Kyoto. He had been willing to die, if he could at least have his due honor of being recognized as a samurai, no matter how low his status. And so, when his torture began Izo repeated over and over the same words: "All I know is that I'm the 'Homeless One.* If you don't believe me, take a look at my forehead." But when he was eventually placed on the squeezer, the screams which echoed through the prison were the worst Hanpeita had heard thus far. "If Izo should break," he agonized alone in his cell, "then all of the torture that everyone else has endured will nave been in vain. Poison is the only way

to stop him."

Before his arrest, Hanpeita had asked one of his Loyalist Party members, a doctor of Western medicine, to prepare poison to be taken by any of his men should their torture become unbearable. Using his connections among the prison guards, who revered him even as he sat in his stinking cell, Hanpeita had poison sent to Izo, with a note instructing him to take it for his own good. But as Izo's outrage toward his former master outweighed even his dread of the squeezer, he ignored Hanpeita's orders.

Izo was soon overcome by the pain of the squeezer; and, in confessing to me murder of the Tosa police agent Inoue Saichiro, he was able to avenge himself on Hanpeita. For not only did Izo give the names of his three accomplices-all of whom had refused to talk-but he also divulged that they had acted under the orders of the Tosa Loyalist Party leader.

Nevertheless, Hanpeita remained firm in his refusal to admit his own guilt; for although it was true that he had ordered many assassinations, he had acted only for the good of Tosa, the Imperial Court and the Japanese nation. During his interrogation, Hanpeita questioned the judgment of the authorities, who would believe the "lies of a worm like Izo." A natural teacher, even with his hands bound, Master Zuizan espoused his own philosophy: "A person who has no sense of duty, and no sense of obligation, is inferior to an animal.

Lord Yodo was determined that his philosophical vassal should die. With the Loyalist leader alive, the danger of rebellion throughout the seven districts of his realm remained very real, "but once Hanpeita is dead," he told his two chief interrogators, Goto Shojiro and Inui Taisuke, "things will finally return to normal in Tosa." Aside from avenging Yoshida's death and restoring cairn to his domain, Yodo had one other reason for wanting Hanpeita dead. So intense was this desire that the daimyo himself often went to the courthouse, where he would hide behind the screens and secretly listen to Hanpeita's interrogation. Although Yodo would never admit it, he suffered faint pangs of inferiority to this leader of the lower-samurai, and to nobody else in the world. Like Hanpeita's, Yodo's egotism was a form of megalomania; for one megalomaniac to slight another can be dangerous, and fatal when the one on the receiving end has it within his power to order the death of his insulter. Just before his arrest-when Hanpeita had been consumed with convincing Yodo to abandon his duty to the Tokugawa, and unite Tosa behind Imperial Loyalism-he dared utter to Yodo the following outrage: "My Lord, to dwell so fervently on the favor your august ancestors received from the Tokugawa almost three centuries ago, particularly now when the very future of Japan is at stake, could be likened to the idle fancy of a fool." It was this slight from a vassal, particularly one who was originally of the lower ranks, which me Lord of Tosa would never forgive.

Goto and Inui were among Yodo's new elite-young upper-samurai who had been handpicked by Yoshida Toyo. Goto, in fact, was Yoshida's nephew. Inui was the same man who had delivered to Ryoma, at the Chiba house in Edo, orders to return to Tosa. Although Inui had never been a Loyalist Party member, he was an avid Loyalist who had recently become intimate with Nakaoka Shintaro, making it difficult for him personally to interrogate the revered leader of the Tosa Loyalists. And no matter how much their lord wanted Hanpeita dead, no matter how severely they were able to interrogate the other Loyalists, not matter how strong their desire to revenge Yoshida's murder, when it came to dealing directly with Master Zuizan neither Goto nor Inui could summon the strength to treat him as a common criminal, or for that matter, as an inferior. Nor were the chief interrogators able to find confirming evidence of Hanpeita's guilt from the mere confession of Izo.

Hanpeita's interrogation sessions become more frequent after Choshu's defeat at the Forbidden Gates, which roughly coincided with Izo's confession. The news of Choshu having been branded an "Imperial Enemy," and the death of the anti-foreign Loyalist movement, left Hanpeita without hope of his own survival, as he knew that Yodo, no longer compelled to appease the radical court nobles, now had less reason than ever to keep him alive.

One sweltering afternoon in late July Hanpeita sat in his miserable cell, drawing his self-portrait from his reflection in the water of a small basin, the only light from a single lantern. Although the bitter cold of winter had made him ill, summer was certainly the most unbearable time of year to be locked up. The wooden floor of his cell was barely large enough for him to lie prostrate; and although his wife sent his favorite foods to him daily, often *• was unable to eat for the sickening stench of the latrine intensified by the stifling heat. There were no windows in the cell, the only openings being the wooden grating through which he could see his jailers. His only respite from misery were a book of ballad dramas his wife had sent, her letters and the fireflies he had received from one of the guards. Not even in sleep could Hanpeita find relief, for the jail was infested with rats. When he finally got a cat to keep the rats away, the mosquitoes wouldn't give him a moment's rest, lice and ticks tormented him, and the centipedes that occasionally fell from the ceiling made his skin crawl. Hanpeita completed his self-portrait; and although the cheeks were hollow, the hair and beard long and tattered, he was so pleased with the artistic achievement that he sent it to Tomi, along with a letter telling her "if I should die, keep this in the house" as a remembrance because he now knew that death was near.

Nevertheless, Hanpeita was deeply troubled by the apparent ease with which Izo was now talking. At the end of October he wrote, "Yesterday Izo was called to court. I'm sure that idiot was talking again." With November came cold, sleepless nights when Hanpeita's bones would ache. "The woman who was in the cell on the north side was tortured the night before last," he wrote Tomi. "Although I could hear the sound of the jailers beating people, and the screaming, I couldn't detect the sound of a woman's voice. I thought that compared to her, a man like Izo is surely the biggest crybaby in all of Japan." Hanpeita spent the entire winter worrying about what Izo might be telling his interrogators, until at the beginning of March, at his wit's end, he wrote a friend, asking him to prepare poisoned food, and send it to the wretch in his prison cell. Although Izo ate the food, Hanpeita's plan was thwarted by the unusually tough physical constitution of his "wild dog." The poison was simply not enough to kill Izo.

Near the end of May, Hanpeita was again interrogated, after which he wrote to his wife, "They don't listen to a thing I say, but rather continue to insist that I'm guilty"; and summing up his feelings, he lamented, "Ah, what a truly despicable world this is."

After more than a year and a half of investigation, Yodo's men were still unable to find conclusive evidence of Hanpeita's involvement in the assassination of Yoshida Toyo. One day in the first week of intercalary May, Lord Yodo stormed into the courthouse, and confronted Goto and Inui. "Hasn't he talked yet?" "No, My Lord," one of them answered timidly. "And you still have nothing against him?" "Nothing conclusive."

"Order him to commit seppuku anyway," the daimyo roared, before retreating to his castle and sake cup.

On the morning of the fifteenth, Hanpeita was ordered to prepare himself for seppuku, to be performed on that very evening in the courthouse garden. His crime: "impudence toward the daimyo." Now that death was certain, Hanpeita was determined to die as a samurai, the culmination of a life given to practice in the way of the sword and the strict code of the warrior-m short, a life he had spent preparing for death. To the samurai, self-disembowelment was not simply an excruciating form of suicide, it was his ultimate form of expression, his opportunity to display his inner purity by exposing his very bowels, the seat of his courage, and thus create beauty through a noble death. After bathing, because, as he told his guards, "it would be unsightly to have dirt on the dead body," shaving his face and pate, meticulously oiling and combing his hair and tying his topknot, Hanpeita donned the pure white kimono, hakama and stiff ceremonial robe his wife had sent him, then returned to his dark, dank cell. As he silently waited to be called upon to die, his thoughts drifted to the only joy in his life-his wife Tomi. (Nevertheless, during the previous New Year's holiday, when one of the guards offered to sneak Tomi into the prison for a visit, Hanpeita refused, because it would be "a disgrace which would continue into the future if it were to become known that my wife snuck in here to see me") He also thought of Sakamoto Ryoma. His feelings for his close friend, as he waited to die, came straight from the heart; and despite the difference in their ways of thinking, Hanpeita found solace in the thought that although he himself, like so many others, would not live to see the fall of the Bakufu, and the restoration of the Emperor to power, as long as men like Ryoma survived, Hanpeita himself might witness the final achievement of their goals from his place in heaven, among his ancestors. (Although Hanpeita had been kept informed about happenings in the outside, he did not know that at this very moment Ryoma was in Shimonoseki with Katsura waiting for Nakaoka to arrive from Kagoshima with Saigo.)

Hanpeita's seppuku was performed with the precision of a classical sculptor. He believed that there were only three proper ways to cut-one straight horizontal line, two crossing lines, or three horizontal lines. Hanpeita chose the latter, which was the least common, because it was the most difficult to perform correctly. But so weak was his physical condition after one and a half years in jail, that he doubted even his ability to walk to the courthouse garden, let alone the strength in his arms to make three horizontal slices in his belly, before his seconds would be obliged to behead him. He worried mat if he should fail to perform his seppuku beautifully, his name might be slandered in death, and that his enemies might laugh and call him a coward who was unable to die like a samurai. He therefore informed one of the guards of his plans, making him swear to publicize his noble intent in the case that his physical strength should fail him.

At dusk Takechi Hanpeita was led to the empty, raked white sand garden in front of the courthouse, which in the darkness was illuminated by a bonfire at the center of the grounds. Hanpeita calmly took his place on two new tatami mats, which had been laid out at the northern corner of the garden. In front of him was an untreated, pale wooden stand, on top of which were placed a piece of clean white cotton cloth and a sheathed dagger. Earlier in the day he had chosen his two seconds, both former kenjutsu students and expert swordsmen, who now stood at either side of him. Chief Interrogator Goto Shojiro walked to the platform, read in a loud clear voice the death sentence, after which Hanpeita bowed from where he sat. Glancing up at his two seconds he said in a low voice, "Thank you for your troubles," took the dagger in his hand, and drew the razor-sharp blade from the sheath. "Don't cut me until I give the command," he told them, staring hard at the dagger, as a sculptor might his chisel, then gently replaced it on the stand. He removed both arms from his white robe, baring his pale shoulders, men loosened the sash around his waist, exposing his lower abdomen, the chunk of white marble on which he would carve his masterpiece. Master Zuizan tightened his mind as he summoned all of his spiritual strength into his hands as took up the bare dagger, mapped the hilt with the piece of white cloth and plunged the blade into the left side of his belly. Without uttering a sound, he sliced across to the right side, pulled out the blade for an instant, and plunged it in again, repeating the process in the opposite direction, as white turned to red. With the third slice, he released a guttural wail, his only means to summon a final burst of strength; then laying the bloody dagger at his right side he fell forward with both hands extended straight in front of him. The next instant the seconds drew their long swords, but as Hanpeita lay keeled over making decapitation impossible, each delivered alternate blows, piercing the heart of their beloved sword master. Takechi Hanpeita was dead at age thirty-six; and so nobly did he complete his final work of art, displaying his inner purity, that even Lord Yodo's two lieutenants witnessing the seppuku were left speechless.

Izo and three other lower-samurai were not so fortunate. Although Hanpeita never knew it, earlier that same day the four had been beheaded for assassinations they had committed in Kyoto, not even permitted the honor of dying as samurai. Their conviction was a result of Izo's confession; and as Izo's crimes were the gravest, his head alone was hung on the prison gate for public display.

The morning after Nakaoka had relayed to Ryoma me bitter tidings from home, as the two were about to leave Shimonoseki for Kyoto, a special delivery message arrived from Nagasaki. The message informed that Ryoma's men had set up company headquarters in the Kameyama Hills, to the east of the city, overlooking the bay. The financial backing for the enterprise had come from Satsuma and the Kosone family, wealthy merchants to whom Kaishu had introduced Ryoma. Although the company was still without a ship, it had been contracted to transport merchandise aboard a Satsuma steamer between Kagoshima and Nagasaki, but was waiting for instructions from Ryoma for its first "big assignment."

"This is fantastic, Shinta!" Ryoma said, handing Nakaoka the letter. "As soon as we talk to Saigo, we can get started on our first big assignment.

"Which is?” Nakaoka asked.

"Procuring weapons in Nagasaki for Choshu, and transporting them to Shimonoseki."

"I see," Nakaoka nodded approval.

"Since we're stationed in the Kameyama Hills, we'll call ourselves the Kameyama Company."

"Ryoma," Nakaoka said blankly, "just exactly what is a 'company?'"

"A company is a group of people operating a commercial enterprise for profit," Ryoma quoted Katsu Kaishu verbatim.

In the spring of 1865-when on the opposite side of the globe a great civil war had just ended, and a great American president been assassinated-a Japanese outlaw, whose dedication to freedom was no less than that of Abe Lincoln himself, had founded Japan's first modern company, staffed by a group of wanted men, perhaps the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The Kameyama Company was certainly unprecedented in Japan, in that it was established by private individuals, rather than by a single ham-with Ryoma, Saigo, Komatsu and Kosone as its "Board of Directors." Similarly, it was the first Japanese company to be owned by more than one entity, with Satsuma Han and the Kosone family as "shareholders." Since all employees were equal, regardless of social rank, age or han, their duties were determined by ability alone. Ryoma, who had been the leader of these men since recruiting them for Kaishu's naval academy two and a half years before, was naturally company "President," with Sonojo "Vice President" in charge of accounting. Yonosuke, who had been Ryoma's right-hand man since the days in Kobe, was given the post "Secretary to the President," with "Chief Navigator" Toranosuke in charge of technical matters. Ryoma assigned Chojiro and Taro to the vital posts of "Chief Negotiators," and placed Umanosuke in charge of general affairs. Since it had always been Ryoma's policy that all of his men be treated equally, each one, including himself, was to receive the same monthly salary of three and a half ryo, with all profits divided equally.

"Once Saigo agrees to let us buy guns for Choshu under Satsuma's name," Ryoma told Nakaoka, "the alliance will be as good as sealed."

"But we must move quickly," Nakaoka replied with an ominous look in his eyes, "Before the Bakufu can launch its expedition."

"We will, Shinta! We will! And once Saigo has contracted us to purchase weapons for Choshu, he'll surely be willing to allow us to buy warships for them as well." It was with such a ship-purchased with Choshu money-that Ryoma planned not only to run guns into Choshu, but to transport cargo up and down the Japanese archipelago, and with the profits develop a private navy.

After Ryoma wrote a short note to his men in Nagasaki, instructing them to prepare to procure guns for Choshu under the Satsuma name, he and Nakaoka set out for Kyoto.

When Ryoma and Nakaoka arrived at Satsuma's Kyoto headquarters on the rainy morning of June 24, Saigo was waiting for them. "I received your message," he said, his large, sullen face damp with sweat.

"As you know, we've come from Shimonoseki," Ryoma began, surprising even the stringent Nakaoka with the unusually stern look in his eyes. In fact, there were very few men who dared look at Saigo the Great the way that Ryoma looked at him now. "Whatever reason you might have had for not coming to Shimonoseki and talking to Katsura is your business. Although I will say, you nearly ruined everything. It was all Shinta and I could do to convince Katsura to give us one last chance to persuade you to speak with him. But now he insists that Satsuma help Choshu procure guns from foreign traders in Nagasaki before he meets you."

"1 see." The huge man gave Ryoma a sheepish look, like that of being scolded. "For your information," Saigo paused, shooting a hard glance at Nakaoka, "when I received a message from Okubo on our way to Shimonoseki, I had no choice but to come directly to Kyoto to convince the Imperial Court not to issue a decree for a second expedition against Choshu.”

"And what was the outcome?" Nakaoka asked sharply. "I haven't heard yet," Saigo groaned. "After all, Choshu has been declared an 'Imperial Enemy.*"

The Tosa men stared hard at the commander in chief of the Satsuma forces "1 see," Ryoma groaned, giving Nakaoka a sideways glance. "Even so Katsura will need the guns before Satsuma can gain his, and Choshu's, trust" Ryoma paused, then added encouragingly, "The Choshu men need proof of Satsuma's goodwill."

Saigo groaned heavily, was about to speak, when Ryoma interrupted: "And I don't blame them at all."

"I see." Saigo nodded his heavy head, the wide chin nearly touching the base of the stout neck. "Exactly what is it that they want?" he asked, fanning his sweaty face, his black-diamond eyes focused hard on Ryoma's. "Breech-loading rifles, ammunition and warships." "I can guarantee right now that we can help them purchase the guns and the ammunition, but as for warships, I'll need more time."

"Time!" Nakaoka exploded violently. "We don't have anymore time. If the Bakufu should start moving on Choshu before it has those weapons..."

"Fine!" Ryoma interrupted, confident that once Saigo had made a promise not even the fear of death could make him break it turning to Nakaoka, Ryoma said with a casual grin, "Just like I told you, Shinta. Saigo-san is on our side."

"And it's a good thing," Nakaoka added with an eerie smile, "because I was ready to cut that big belly of yours, Saigo-san, if you didn't agree to at least help us get the guns." Although Nakaoka spoke as if in jest, Saigo, and Ryoma, sensed sincerity in his eyes.

"Saigo-san," Ryoma immediately changed the subject, exaggerating his laughter, "the Kameyama Company will handle everything. I'll leave right away to inform Katsura of your promise, and to set up a meeting between the two of you." Neither Nakaoka nor Saigo had ever seen Ryoma speak with such urgency. "Like Shinta just said, we have no time to waste."

"My main partners are Umanosuke, Chojiro and Takamatsu Taro. Mochizuki (Kameyata) is dead. I have these men and others.... in Nagasaki now, getting some good training. As for myself, I travel alone quite a lot...I'm in Kyoto right now, but in five or six days I plan to head west again. Only a real idiot would waste his time in a place like Tosa, without any ambition at all. "If you have anything to send me, send it to the Teradaya in Fushimi, at the Horai bridge...near the Satsuma estate. The Teradaya is an inn, where I feel just as much at home as I do when I'm at Takamatsu Junzo's (Taro's father, and Ryoma's brother-in-law) house; in fact they even treat me better at the Teradaya."

Ryoma stopped writing this letter to his family, wiped the black Chinese ink from his brush onto his cotton robe, lay me brush on the low wooden desk in his second-story room at the Teradaya, which the proprietress Otose now reserved solely for him. He had written enough for now; besides, his attentions were diverted by the girl who lay sleeping under the bedding beside him on this pleasantly cool, still night in early September. He had never felt this way for a woman before; part of him regretted ever having met her that day, over a year ago, in Osaka. He had tried to repress his desire for her. "Much easier to merely buy a girl, and be done with her," he had repeatedly told himself. "As it is, I can barely find enough time to do what I must, let alone give myself up to a woman," Indeed, Ryoma had been so busy, that until recently he had not had time to see her at all, and had felt confident that he had finally gotten over her. When he had come again, however, to the Teradaya in June, after leaving Saigo in Kyoto, there she was, the same pretty face that had enchanted him on that day he found her fighting with the two thugs in Osaka. It was as if she had been waiting for him just as he had left her at me Teradaya one year before, after Choshu's defeat at the Forbidden Gates. And now, he knew that he must have her. "Strange," he thought to himself, "I never thought I'd feel this way about anyone."

"Oryo," Ryoma whispered, gently placing his hand on her face, the skin like soft white silk in the dim candlelight. "I'll be leaving for Satsuma's Osaka headquarters in the morning." He blew out the candle, as the pleasant fragrance of slow-burning incense from a mosquito coil mixed with the fresh scent of the girl's body. "It's too dangerous for you to be traveling alone. The Shinsengumi..." Ryoma placed his hand gently over the girl's mouth. "Not even the ronin-hunters would have the nerve to arrest me," he snickered. "I have papers from Saigo identifying me as a Satsuma samurai. And everyone knows that Satsuma is one of the Bakufu's most important allies." Ryoma burst out laughing at the irony of the situation: over the past year-since Kaishu had been recalled to Edo and his naval academy had been closed down for harboring a band of rebels-not only had Satsuma secretly turned against the Tokugawa, but thanks to the mediation of the same band of rebels, i.e., the Kameyama Company, over this past summer, a Satsuma-Choshu Alliance seemed ever so close to being realized, "Besides," Ryoma told Oryo. "I have to get back down to Shimonoseki before long, and if all goes smoothly, on to Nagasaki." Although Ryoma had been too busy to even once get to Kameyama Company headquarters, as Chojiro had written him, it was set up in an old ceramics warehouse overlooking the Port of Nagasaki near the Satsuma trading station. The first "big assignment" Ryoma had given his men was the procurement of weapons for Choshu, under the Satsuma name, from foreign traders ,n the Tokugawa-administered Port of Nagasaki then transporting those weapons to Shimonoseki aboard a Satsuma steamer. The entire operation, Ryoma stressed, had to be conducted discretely, not only to avoid implicating Satsuma--which needed to ostensibly maintain its Tokugawa alliance-out also so that the Bakufu would remain unaware of Choshu's newfound military power.

Upon getting Saigo's approval, Ryoma had immediately sent a message to Katsura at Yamaguchi Castle, informing him of such. When a reply came telling Ryoma that Katsura was sending Ito and Inoue to Nagasaki to represent Choshu in the purchase of foreign weapons, Ryoma sent a message to Chojiro, allotting him the responsibility of seeing the deal through. Ryoma chose Chojiro for the job, which would encompass dealing directly with foreign traders, not only because Kawada Shoryo's former student could speak both English and Dutch, but because of his extensive knowledge of Western culture.

Soon after the arrival of the Choshu envoys at Kameyama Company headquarters near the end of July, Chojiro suggested that one of them go to Kagoshima. "Kagoshima!" Ito blurted, looking at Chojiro as if he were out of his mind. "That would be suicide."

"Don't you see?" Chojiro said. "By making the trip, you could kill two birds with one stone." He explained to the Choshu men that by going to Kagoshima, not only might they be able to reconcile the bad blood between Choshu and Satsuma, but they might even be able to negotiate the use of the Satsuma name in purchasing a warship, in addition to the rifles and ammunition Saigo had already promised. "Komatsu will be sailing from Nagasaki in just a few days," Chojiro informed. "I'll handle everything, if you agree to go."

The Choshu envoys agreed, and Chojiro brought them to the nearby Satsuma trading station to meet Komatsu, who was about to return to Kagoshima aboard a new steamer he had just purchased from a foreign firm in Nagasaki. "Komatsu-san," Chojiro said after introducing Ito and Inoue, "Choshu would like to formally thank your ban for the cooperation you have promised. Inoue-san would like to accompany you to Kagoshima for that purpose." To the great surprise of the Choshu men, Komatsu readily agreed, and Inoue, with Chojiro, accompanied the Satsuma councilor on his return journey.

Soon after, Taro arranged for a meeting between Ito, who remained in Nagasaki, and the Scottish arms merchant, Thomas Glover, dubbed the "Merchant of Death" for the weapons his Nagasaki trading firm, Glover and Company, supplied to the anti-Tokugawa clans. "Of all those in rebellion against the Tokugawa government? Glover would later write, "I felt that I was the greatest rebel." The Scotsman agreed to sell to the Kameyama Company 7,300 rifles. Forty-three hundred of these were rapid-firing breechloaders, weapons which had been used in the American Civil War, and with which Choshu planned to challenge the Tokugawa armies. These rifles alone cost Choshu 77,400 gold ryo, the 3,000 old-fashioned muzzle-loaders 15,000 ryo.

Inoue did not fare quite so well in Kagoshima. Although through Chojiro's mediation he did have several meetings with the Satsuma elite, and so succeeded in warming relations between the two clans, Satsuma was not ready
to go so far as to offer its good name for the purchase of a warship for its erstwhile enemy. But when word reached Chojiro and Inoue in Kagoshima that there were over 7,000 rifles in a Nagasaki Warehouse waiting to be shipped to Choshu, they returned immediately to Kameyama Company headquarters aboard the Butterfly, with permission to use that ship to transport the weapons to Shimonoseki. By the end of August, not only had Ryoma's shipping company completed its first "big assignment," receiving in return a sizable handling fee, but most importantly it had brought Satsuma and Choshu one step further toward an alliance, while secretly arming the latter for war against the Bakufu.

It was no wonder that Ryoma was pleased with things as he lay next to Oryo, who was sound asleep, his mind drifting between his family in Kochi and his company in Nagasaki. "That's it!" he muttered, relit die candle with the burning mosquito coil, picked up his brush, and addressed the next part of the letter specifically to his sister Otome.

"Although 1 know it's a bother, I have a favor to ask of you. The last time I was home, there was a box of books in the closet on the west side of the sitting room, including about ten volumes on Ogasawara Style etiquette, the covers of which were yellowed with age. Each of these volumes is only about three to six milliliters thick. Recently somebody has been asking me to get a hold of some books on etiquette, but since I can't seem to find any, I 'd like to have those Ogasawara books. Be sure not to ignore this request just because you think it's too much of a bother."

Ryoma stopped writing, recalling his sister's penchant for me arts, and her abhorrence for cooking and housework. Next he described a certain Kyoto family, whose deceased father had been a physician and friend of famous Imperial Loyalists who had lost their lives in Kyoto. "This was a good family. The oldest daughter is trained in flower arrangement, incense, the tea ceremony, and so on, but she can't cook at all." Ryoma paused to snicker, then, determined that Otome should like Oryo, dabbed his brush into the ink, and continued by boasting of Oryo's courage, how she had sold her kimono to raise traveling money to go to Osaka, and how she had threatened the thugs who had deceived her family, daring them to kill her, all the while screaming at them violently, demanding that they release her sister.

"The girl I've been talking about is really an amazing girl. She plays the moon guitar, and doesn't have to struggle any more to get by. I have helped her youngest sister and five-year-old brother by finding places for them to live...I would really like to help this girl all I can. And she is very anxious to meet you, Otome, just as if you were her own sister. So, as you can see, you have become quite famous. In fact, you have a reputation for being even tougher than Ryoma."

Ryoma stopped writing. "I suppose I've flattered her enough," he thought, laughed to himself, returned his brush to the paper and got to the point. "I would appreciate it if you could send something-a kimono or a sash-for this girl, along with the books I've asked you for. Her name is Ryo, like mine."

Ryoma felt suddenly exhausted. He signed his name to the letter, then lay down next to Oryo. The warmth of her body, the fragrance of her breath made him feel better than he could remember ever having felt before. But the next Hung he knew, it was the beginning of another day in these very troubled times, and he would have to leave Oryo to go to Osaka, to see the man in whose hands the very future of Japan seemed to rest.

Despite Satsuma's open opposition to a second expedition against Choshu, the orders had been given for thirty-one clans to dispatch armies to western Honshu-mostly the Kyoto-Osaka area-for an impending attack; and though Satsuma had no intention of taking part in the fighting, for the time being it had no choice but to feign obedience.

The Shogun-and most of his highest-ranking advisors-had been in the Kyoto-Osaka area since May to take command of Bakufu troops, and to rally Imperial support. There were three reasons, the Bakufu had told the court, that Choshu must be punished: the revival of its hostility toward Edo; its illegal purchase of weapons from foreign merchants; its smuggling of samurai out of Japan. And while Edo suspected Choshu's attempt to buy foreign arms, it was unaware that the rebels had actually procured breech-loading rifles under the Satsuma name. But as the Bakufu lacked both the funds for war and moral support among many of the clans-not the least of which was Satsuma-it preferred to avoid fighting, if this could be done while maintaining an air of authority.

Although at one time the Bakufu only possessed 20,000 ryo in its treasury, the maintenance of its armies cost 180,000 ryo per month, which meant it had already spent some 2,000,000 ryo since the first expedition against Choshu hand been announced. To raise this enormous sum, the Bakufu had borrowed from Osaka merchants and various clans. Even worse than its financial straits, however were the inferior weaponry and deteriorating morale of its troops. With the exception of the troops of Kii Han, the native domain of the present Shogun, the Bakufu armies were armed with old-fashioned guns, which would be no c >h for the rapid-firing breech-loaders of Choshu. And as Kondo Isami, commander of the Shinsengumi, had reported, not a few of the Tokugawa samurai sent to western Japan passed their time buying souvenirs to take back to Edo, and could think of nothing but the day they would return. Kondo recommended that since there was little hope of victory if war should break out, any sign of submission on Choshu's part should be accepted without further question. But when the Bakufu summoned the Choshu daimyo to Osaka to apologize for his clan's actions, he refused, and the Shogun had no choice but to go ahead with his original battle plans, unaware, of course, of Choshu's newfound military might.

The Lord of Choshu, in fact, had already issued orders for the people throughout his realm-commoners and samurai alike--to prepare for all-out war, and Ryoma had been very impressed with what he had seen while in Choshu earlier in the year, even before Choshu had acquired the superior guns. "Choshu is putting everything into the training of its troops" he wrote to his family. 'Since April they have been drilling from around six to ten every morning. It's the same all over Choshu. Each of their battalions is made up of between three and four hundred men, with a general staff officer in command. The battalions in every district, every village, drill each morning. There is nothing like it anywhere else in Japan. No matter where you go in Choshu-the mountains, the rivers, the valleys-you are bound to come across fortifications, and there are land mines planted on most of the main roads....Choshu is certainly at the forefront of Western artillery."

Nakaoka Shintaro reported similar circumstances in a letter to his comrades in Tosa: "Choshu policy has been stabilized, the government has been reformed, and the people are resolved to fight to the death. In this state the samurai spirit thrives, the preparation of weapons increases daily, and words have been replaced by deeds. In every way the forces of the han have been renewed; only battalions of rifles and cannon exist...In every respect the military system has been reformed. Cavalry units also flourish. Within this han great maneuvers are carried out; in one day as many as forty-six battalions may practice gunnery without stopping. Truly, Choshu's forces are unsurpassed."

Saigo was anxiously waiting for Ryoma when the latter arrived at Satsuma's Osaka headquarters.

"How many Satsuma troops are stationed in Osaka and Kyoto right now?" Ryoma asked, as the two men sat in Saigo's private quarters.

"With Bakufu orders issued to prepare for the second expedition," Saigo snickered, "thousands. But, of course, we won't be fighting." The large man paused, then laughed. "Against Choshu, that is."

"Do you have enough provisions here to feed all of them?" Ryoma asked.

"I've been very concerned about that." Saigo said uncomfortably. "Why do you ask?"

"What do they eat everyday?" Ryoma answered with another question, cleaning his teeth with his forefinger, then wiping it on his sleeve.

"The same as always."

"You mean sweet potatoes?" Ryoma grimaced, then released a loud guffaw. "Only country bumpkins eat potatoes instead of rice in the Imperial capital. Aren't you concerned about the morale of your troops?"

Saigo stared hard at Ryoma, unsure whether to appreciate or loathe the advice. After all, the sweet potato was the staple in Satsuma, where the warm climate and mountainous terrain made the cultivation of rice difficult. "Of course I'm concerned about the morale of my troops, but..."

"Saigo-san," Ryoma interrupted, putting his arm around the huge man's shoulders, "don't you think they deserve rice? And don't you think you ought to have a surplus of rice in Kyoto in case of war Not only would it help their morale, but this is the Imperial capital, not Kagoshima. And nobody lives on sweet potatoes in the..."

"I get your point," Saigo interrupted, a bit annoyed, but nevertheless impressed with Ryoma s sense for practical matters. “What do you suggest we do? Purchase rice from Choshu?" he said sarcastically.

"Great idea!" Ryoma feigned surprise, as if to give Saigo credit for the plan. "I'll leave for Shimonoseki right away to make the necessary arrangements. And I wouldn't be surprised, if Katsura offers to make a gift of the rice as a token of gratitude for Satsuma's help in procuring weapons " The timing of this last statement was perfect because Ryoma was despite his sincerity, beginning to sound more like a rice dealer than a Man of High Purpose. He knew that Choshu had excess quantities of rice in its storehouses, more titan it needed, while Satsuma was forever suffering from rice shortages. Certainly, he reasoned, this would further reduce tensions between the two clans, and even give Choshu the chance to save face by no longer being the sole benefactor of its renewed relationship with Satsuma. "The Kameyama Company will handle all the shipping," Ryoma added.

"I'll be sailing for Kagoshima as soon as I finish taking care of some business here in Kyoto," Saigo said. "We'll take you to Choshu."

In mid-September, just before Saigo and Ryoma were to set sail from Kobe, a squadron of nine foreign warships suddenly entered Osaka Bay, to present an ultimatum to the Shogun and his befuddled ministers at Osaka Castle.

The indemnity owed by Edo to the governments of the four foreign powers for Choshu's attack on foreign shipping was still unpaid, and the foreigners now demanded the payment in full by the end of the following year. Well aware of Edo's lack of funds, however, the foreigners offered an alternative. If Edo would agree to meet certain conditions, not only could the payment be postponed, but it would be reduced by two-thirds of the amount originally stipulated. The two biggest conditions were as follows: the Ports of Osaka and Kobe be opened to foreigners by the first of the following year; and Edo obtain Imperial sanction for the commercial treaties. When the alarmed Tokugawa officials were, as usual, unable to give an immediate answer, the foreign ministers, backed by the squadron of warships in Osaka Bay, threatened to bring their demands directly to the Emperor in Kyoto. The mere idea of such a move, which would even further diminish Tokugawa authority in the eyes of the nation and the world, caused further confusion in the Bakufu hierarchy.

Dissent within the Bakufu ensued. One faction favored opening Osaka and Kobe, with or without Imperial sanction, as the only way to dissuade the foreign delegation from forcing its way into Kyoto. On the other hand, Lord Yoshinobu, who was the Bakufu's Inspector General of the Forces to Protect the Emperor, would have nothing of the plan. Yoshinobu rightly feared that opening these ports without Imperial sanction would ignite the ire of xenophobes throughout Japan. While the court was at first adamant in its refusal to open the ports in question (unlike the open Ports of Yokohama, Nagasaki and Hakodate, Osaka and Kobe were only a day's journey to Kyoto, which bad remained closed to foreigners), Yoshinobu finally convinced the chronically xenophobic Emperor Komei that unless he sanctioned the treaties, Japan would face a war that it could not hope to win. The foreigners had scored an important victory, as not only the Bakufu, but the Imperial Court itself, officially sanctioned the opening of Japan at the beginning of October, over seven years after the first commercial treaties had been signed.

Ryoma and Saigo stood on the deck of the Butterfly, on the chilly morning of September 26, the sails taut against a strong wind, as the ship cut through the choppy waters of Osaka Bay. Moored in the bay were Japanese junks of various sizes, several wooden steamers flying the Tokugawa crest, but most imposingly the nine warships of the foreign squadron-five British, three French, one Dutch-their ministers still negotiating with Bakufu officials in Osaka. Ryoma squinted hard at the closest of the foreign ships, just a stone's throw away. This was a British paddle-sloop, cannon mounted along both sides, sailors in navy whites staring straight back at him. "We must get that steamer right way," he muttered aloud the same phrase he had, when on the night before Saigo had informed him, "Four days ago the Imperial Court was forced by Edo to agree to sanction the second expedition against Choshu, although Satsuma was the only han that dissented." On the same day that the Shogun had visited the Imperial Palace to request the sanction, Okubo had gone so far as to threaten certain court officials that Satsuma would not obey an Imperial order to attack Choshu. Okubo bad also ignored a recent proposal by Aizu to renew the Aizu-Satsuma alliance. "Don't worry," Saigo assured Ryoma now as then, "Choshu will have a steamer very soon."

Three days later Ryoma landed at Kaminoseki promontory in the southeast of Choshu, while Saigo continued on to Kagoshima. With Satsuma's recent display of goodwill toward Choshu, Ryoma had little difficulty convincing the authorities in Yamaguchi to agree to make a gift of rice to Saigo's troops in Kyoto, after, of course, he had informed them of the issuance of Imperial sanction for a Bakufu attack, and of Okubo's refusal to fight. This taken care of, Ryoma hurried to Shimonoseki, where Katsura was arranging a shipment of 2,400 bushels of rice for Satsuma. Ryoma's next plan to was urge Katsura to go to Kyoto to meet Saigo and Komatsu, who, with war imminent, would return to the Imperial capital later this month with more troops from Kagoshima. When Ryoma arrived at the mansion of the wealthy Shimonoseki merchant one afternoon in mid-October, to wait for the right time to approach Katsura, he was informed by Inoue that Choshu had purchased a warship.

"Where is it?" Ryoma was ecstatic.

"On its way here," replied Inoue, just returned from Nagasaki, where he, Ito and Chojiro had finalized a deal with Glover. "I don't believe we've ever met, Sakamoto-san." Inoue bowed, then introduced himself. He was slight of build, of light complexion, his face badly scarred from a nearly fatal attack by Choshu conservatives in the previous fall. "I can't thank you enough, on behalf of our lord and every man in our han. for what you and your men have done for Choshu," Inoue said. "Particularly, Kondo-san. Our lord has recently presented him with a sword as a token of

his appreciation.

"Not bad for a bean jam bun maker's son," Ryoma snickered, pleased that a commoner had been thus honored by the Lord of Choshu.

Without the services of Ryoma's Kameyama Company, Choshu would never have procured the guns and warship from Glover, and, after Ryoma it was Rondo Chojiro who had played the most active role in realizing the deal. But despite Chojiro's ability-or perhaps because of it-he was reluctant to allot work to others if he thought he could do it himself, a trait which earned him the resentment of the entire group. Ryoma had recently received several letters from his men complaining about Chojiro. "If you were hen " Yonosuke had written, "Chojiro wouldn’t 't dare to do what he's doing now. He arranged for himself to go to Kagoshima twice, so that he could get the credit for handling the weapons deal for Choshu.'" Taro had expressed similar sentiment when he wrote, "Chojiro simply doesn’t 't know how to work with others, and is primarily concerned with himself" Ryoma suspected that Taro and Yonosuke, both of whom were of samurai stock, resented the fact that Chojiro had been thus honored by the Lord of Choshu. "Since we have enough problems as it is," he replied, "do your best to get along with each other until J get to Nagasaki, which will be as soon as I can." Ryoma was consumed with the urgent business of a Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, and had no time to worry about petty squabbles among his men.

"Where's die ship now?" Ryoma asked Inoue, clapping his hands in excitement.

"In Shanghai. Glover is on his way right now to pick it up and bring it to Nagasaki. We can have it then." "You mean you bought a ship you haven't even seen yet?" "We saw a photograph," Inoue replied smugly. "But since we've dealt with Glover before, I assume we can trust him." "What's the ship's name?" Ryoma asked. "The Union.1"

"What does 'Union' mean?" Ryoma asked.

When Inoue explained the meaning of the English word, Ryoma clapped his hands together. "Perfect!" he said. "For the union between Choshu and Satsuma."

"Ah, yes," Inoue hesitated. Despite the recent goodwill displayed by Satsuma, even Inoue himself, who had been to Kagoshima twice, had an audience with the Satsuma daimyo, and played a vital role ill acquiring Satsuma support for Choshu, still retained feelings of mistrust for that han; albeit compared to most of their clansmen, he, Katsura and Ito had considerably changed their views toward Satsuma. "Although, the Union is made entirely of wood," Inoue said, "with war imminent, we can't be choosy, thought that as long as we can mount guns on it, to blow our enemies to hell, that's all that matters right now."

"Wood is fine," Ryoma said, "because there's not an iron-plated ship in die entire Tokugawa Navy."

"Here's the agreement we've drawn up with Glover," Inoue said, handing a document to Ryoma.

There were three main parts to the agreement, which Ryoma, after getting approval from Katsura, had dictated to Chojiro. The Union was to fly die Satsuma flag, in order to avoid trouble with Tokugawa officials in Nagasaki. The officers and the crew would consist of Kameyama Company employees, and when neither Choshu nor Satsuma needed the ship for war against the Tokugawa, Ryoma's company would have free access to it for business purposes. And so, the Union would actually belong to Choshu, be registered to Satsuma, and operated by the Kameyama Company, which meant that Ryoma's men finally had the use of a steamer, free of charge.

"How much did it cost?" Ryoma asked.

"Thirty-seven thousand ryo."

"You could buy a lot of sake for that amount," Ryoma said, roaring with laughter. "But considering its purpose, mat's not much to pay. If we can topple the Bakufu for thirty-seven thousand ryo, I'd say it's a very fair price."

* * *

"Damn it, Katsura-san! What more do you want?" Ryoma shouted, pounding his fist on his knee, not even trying to hide his anger. His forehead was drenched with sweat, despite the cold air, which turned his hot breath white in this now familiar room in the mansion of the Shimonoseki merchant, where over the past month he had met with Katsura on several occasions, each time pleading with him to travel to Kyoto to talk with Saigo. Ryoma stood up, walked over to the window, noticed that a light snow had begun falling on the Inland Sea. "It's cold for me end of November," he muttered, wrapped his faded, black cotton jacket tightly around his chest Ryoma turned around, looked hard at the most powerful man in Choshu Han. "Since Satsuma has done so much for Choshu, don't you think it's about time you get rid of your old attitude?"

"That's why we've agreed to send the rice," Katsura answered sharply.

"Exactly! And Saigo has expressed his gratitude for mat." Ryoma sat down next to Chojiro, whom he had recently summoned, partly to avoid trouble with me rest of die men in Nagasaki, partly because he needed someone to bring the Union to Shimonoseki. Ryoma and Chojiro had just returned from a short trip to Kyoto, where they had informed Saigo of Choshu's agreement to provide rice for Satsuma troops, and heard from him that Edo had just issued orders to thirty-one han, including Satsuma, to send armies to me Choshu borders. With war imminent, Ryoma and Chojiro returned directly to Shimonoseki aboard die Union to meet Katsura. "Choshu has been generous in offering rice to Satsuma," Ryoma said. "Now it's time for you to go a step further and visit Saigo in Kyoto."

Katsura released a heavy sigh, nodding slowly, an unpleasant look on his face.

"And real soon!" Ryoma shouted, hitting the floor with his fist "Because time is running out." Ryoma drained his sake cup, slammed it down on the my in front of rum, leaned over to reach for the flask, and poured drink for Chojiro, Katsura and another man with a badly pockmarked face "He right, the man said This was Takasugi Shinsaku, the founder of Choshu's crack Extraordinary Corps, and commander of the Loyalists in their victory against the Choshu conservatives earlier in the year. Ryoma had met Takasugi only once before, on the same evening he had first met Katsura seven years ago, when Hanpeita had urged him to "exchange ideas with men from Choshu." So much had happened since then-for himself, Tosa Choshu and Japan-and so many of his comrades had died, that it seemed to Ryoma a lifetime ago. At age twenty-six, Takasugi was now the most power-fill military leader in Choshu. "We must put our personal feelings aside, and not be afraid to act for the future of our han" Takasugi said. "It's up to you, Katsura-san, to set things straight with Saigo."

Katsura smiled bitterly. "Takasugi," he snickered, "I've never heard you speak so rationally. You of all people."

"We no longer have me luxury of choice," Takasugi said. "The Bakufu forces could attack at any time." He leaned over, grabbed Katsura by the wrist. "And although we have procured another warship, that is not going to be enough to stop the entire Tokugawa Navy. As Sakamoto-san says, if we don't form an alliance with Satsuma very soon, I'm afraid we will be defeated."

Although Ryoma had managed over the past year to bring Satsuma and Choshu this close to an alliance, neither Saigo nor Katsura had been willing to approach the other. But with the unexpected support of Takasugi, Ryoma now felt that Katsura would finally give in Ryoma was surprised at Takasugi's great influence over Katsura, who was, after all, the de facto leader of the Choshu government. And this despite Takasugi's reputation as an extremist, whose motto was "to think while on the run," and who had been described as "moving like a thunderbolt, with the energy of a rainstorm," while Katsura preferred careful contemplation before action.

"I've taken it upon myself to promise Saigo that you'd come to Kyoto,' Ryoma suddenly informed. "You've what?*' Katsura exploded.

"Ryoma has been pushing himself to the limit," Chojiro spoke up, "running between Kagoshima, Shimonoseki and Kyoto, going without sleep, and thinking nothing of himself. In all due respect, I think it's lime you made the next move."

"You don't understand." Katsura groaned, a dark expression on his face. "Neither of you do." "What don't we understand?" Ryoma said.

"Saigo!" Katsura hissed. "He's the one who went back on his word by not stopping here in the first place."

"Katsura-san," Ryoma said angrily, "you have to stop dwelling on that. You've gotten the rifles. You've gotten the ammunition. And you've gotten a warship."

"And a promise for a couple gunboats and some Armstrong guns from Glover," Chojiro added.

"Yes," Ryoma burst out. "All thanks to Satsuma."

"But can't you see that Choshu is in no position to approach Satsuma? We're the ones whose very survival is at stake, not Satsuma. If I went to Saigo, it would be like begging. And Choshu men would rather die fighting than beg for their lives."

"Of course we'd rather die than beg," Takasugi said. "But you yourself just said that the survival of Choshu is at stake. The time for hesitation is over. We must unite with Satsuma, because we have no other choice."

'Takasugi!" Katsura shouted angrily.

"I detested Satsuma for what they've done to Choshu as much as you or anyone else," the younger Choshu man said. "But you heard what Inoue said after returning from Kagoshima. About the sincerity of the Satsuma men, how we were wrong to continue calling them bandits and traitors. Katsura-san," Takasugi now raised his voice for the first time, "we must overcome our old feelings."

Ryoma threw his arms above his head in exasperation. "Do you trust me, Katsura-san?"

"Yes, of course."

'Then listen to what 1 say, and get your ass to Kyoto before it's too late." Takasugi flinched at Ryoma's choice of words, as Katsura returned the comment with an icy stare. "Katsura-san," Ryoma pleaded, "it's the only way."

"Alright!" Katsura shot back. "I'll leave immediately for Yamaguchi to see if I can persuade our lord to give me permission to meet Saigo." Katsura stared hard at Ryoma, his eyes filled with resolution. "But I won't be able to leave for Kyoto for at least two weeks."

"Good!" Ryoma roared, slapped the sullen Choshu man on the back. "1 knew that you of all men wouldn't let this chance go by. I'll inform Saigo right away to expect you."

"Nothing's been decided yet," Katsura said calmly. "First I have to get permission from our lord."

"I know," Ryoma said, then burst out laughing. "Katsura-san," he said, placing his hand on the shoulder of the most powerful man in Choshu Han, "we all know that if you want to go to Kyoto, then you will go to Kyoto." He emphasized these last words. "But," he added gravely, "be very careful in Kyoto. I'm sure you knew better than me. Kyoto is filled with ronin-hunters and other Bakufu agents looking for Choshu samurai."

Katsura nodded grimly.

"Which reminds me, Sakamoto-san," Takasugi addressed Ryoma for the first time, then drew a revolver from inside his kimono. "I want you to have this for protection, and as a small token of appreciation from Choshu." He handed Ryoma the revolver and a box of shells.

Takasugi had purchased this Smith and Wesson, Model No. 2, rim-fire -revolver in Shanghai. It held six 22-caliber rounds which could be fired continuously, and were loaded into a removable cylinder, which Ryoma now spun, wild-eyed, like a child playing with a much longed-after toy. “Is it loaded?” he asked, gripping the dark brown wooden handle in his right hand.

“I think so," Takasugi said.

Ryoma stood up, walked over to the window. "It's funny," he said, cocking the hammer, closing one eye, and taking careful aim at the sky. "All those years we've spent practicing with the sword, when this thing is so much easier to use, and more effective too." Ryoma fired a shot. "It is loaded!" he roared. "I'm sure it will come in very useful someday."

Ryoma and Chojiro stood on the bridge of the small British-built warship, the Satsuma flag flying from the mainmast, in the late afternoon of their second day out from Shimonoseki. "Cheer up," Ryoma said, conning the ship across the shimmering sapphire surface of the Sea of Genkai, unable to share his friend's ill feelings over an ordeal they had had just before leaving Choshu. Despite the agreement between lnoue and Chojiro, the Choshu naval office demanded that since the Union was owned by Choshu it must be commanded by Choshu officers, and not men of the Kameyama Company. Although Chojiro was furious at what he claimed was a breach of contract, Ryoma appeased him by arranging for the two of them to command the Union to Nagasaki, under the grounds that the amount of purchase had still not been paid for by Choshu. The man who had brought Choshu and Satsuma this far toward a grand compromise was not about to let something so trivial as the command of a single warship jeopardize the very future of Japan. Ryoma knew how temperamental me Choshu men could be, and wanted to avoid friction with them at any cost, particularly now that he had finally convinced Katsura to meet Saigo. "We still have the use of this ship for business purposes, and for something even more important."

"Which is?" Chojiro asked.

"War!" roared Ryoma, as if eager for the fighting to begin. "The Bakufu troops should be attacking Choshu any time now. They'll be coming by land from the east, but by sea from the west. That means they'll have to cross Shimonoseki Strait from Kokura Han, and when they do, we'll be there waiting to blow them straight to hell."

"With this ship?"

"Yes. What do you think those cannon are for?" Ryoma pointed at the guns mounted along the gunwales.

"But Sakamoto-san..." Chojiro said apprehensively.

"What's the matter, Mr. Bean Jam Bun Maker?" Ryoma goaded.

"I don't know how to fight."

"What do you mean, you don't know how to fight? You learned how to fire a cannon at the academy in Kobe, right? You learned how to operate a warship, right? Katsu-sensei taught you everything he knows about naval science-navigation, shipbuilding, mechanics, ballistics..."

"And sounding," Chojiro added.

"Yes, sounding too."

"I know, but..."

"But what?"

"Sakamoto-san, you don't understand. 1 guess I know how to fight, but I'm not sure that I'm suited for it."

"Suited for it?" Ryoma gave Chojiro a hard look.

"Yes. For war."

"But you are, Chojiro! As much as any of us."

"But I'm from a merchant family. I'm not a samurai."

"Chojiro!" Ryoma shouted, "don't degrade the merchants. There's no difference between merchants and samurai, or peasants, or anyone else. What matters is what you have here," Ryoma said, grabbing his friend's arm, "and up here," he pointed at Chojiro's head, "and most of all in here," he jabbed his finger in Chojiro's gut. "It's up to men like you and me to change things. Why do you think we're struggling so hard to overthrow the Bakufu?"

"I see," Chojiro said.

"It's the whole rotten feudal system that's been keeping us down. We must get rid of it, and replace it with a democratic form of government, whereby everyone is equal."

Chojiro shook his head; he had never seen Ryoma so excited. "Of course," he said.

"Good! Because unless we respect ourselves as merchants..."

"But Sakamoto-san, you're not a merchant. You're a samurai."

"Don't be an idiot, Chojiro," Ryoma groaned. "What about the Kameyama Company? We're all merchants, everyone of us."

"I see," Chojiro said.

"And we're samurai also. Chojiro, if you don't respect yourself as a merchant, how can you ever expect to gain the respect of others?" Ryoma was referring to his men in Nagasaki, all of whom, with the exception of Umanosuke, were of the samurai class. "You can fight. If I can fight, you can fight."

"What are the chances of dying in battle?" Chojiro asked.

"I don't know. All I can tell you is that if you die, well then you die. It's a matter of fate, I suppose. But if you spend your whole life afraid of dying, you'll never get anything accomplished."

"I see," Chojiro said, nodding grimly. "But it seems so ironic."

"What seems ironic?"

"That we should be fighting against the Tokugawa Navy."

"What are you talking about?"

"Well, wasn't it the commissioner of the Tokugawa Navy who taught us how to fight aboard ship?"

Chojiro couldn't have stunned Ryoma more if he had struck him across the face with an iron bar. "Of course," Ryoma introspected, turning the other way so that his friend might not read his thoughts. The idea had never crossed his mind, but now he realized that there was a very good possibility that Katsu Kaishu would be recalled from forced retirement to command the Tokugawa naval forces in the expedition against Choshu. "Anyone else the whole damn world," Ryoma agonized to himself. "But I just don't ha it in me to fight against Katsu Kaishu."

On the following afternoon Ryoma stood alone on the bridge, conning the Union through the calm waters of Nagasaki Bay, in which were moored foreign ships and Japanese junks. The Western-style houses along the coast, the green bills rolling beyond, reminded him of his first visit here with Kaishu "Has it only been a year and a half?" he thought sadly. "So much has happened since then." The faces of his friends who had died in Kyoto and Kochi during that time flashed through his mind, and his eyes filled with tears. "Satsuma and Choshu are about to unite to bring down the Bakufu," he said aloud. "After that the entire nation will unite. We'll fortify ourselves with a powerful navy by which Japan will be a force to be reckoned with."

With the decline of Tokugawa authority, which accompanied me liberalization of me Port of Nagasaki to foreign trade, die city had transformed into a political void. Certainly there was no other city in Japan from which a group of outlaws could operate their own shipping company, and even run guns to Choshu. Recently, some of die wealthier han had begun taking advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to purchase foreign goods by establishing branches in Nagasaki to deal directly with foreign traders. Some of them, like Satsuma, were even openly purchasing warships, guns and ammunition, and it was on this very point which Ryoma had based his entire plan to unite Satsuma and Choshu.

He was anxious to see company headquarters for the first time, to visit Satsuma Councilor Komatsu Tatewaki, and to meet die Scottish arms merchant Thomas Glover. Komatsu had recently written him about another warship, die Werewolf, that Glover was offering for sale. Since the Kameyama Company was still without sufficient capital, Komatsu offered to pay for most of die ship, a British schooner which was even smaller man the Union.

"At this point we can't be choosy," Ryoma reprimanded Taro later that afternoon when his nephew complained that the ship was not a steamer. "Komatsu has promised me that, unlike the Union, the Werewolf will be for our exclusive use." Ryoma and Chojiro had just arrived at company headquarters, located near die top of the hills to the east of the city. "So this is it!" Ryoma said, a little surprised by the smallness of the place. "But it will do." He was glad to be reunited with his men, whom, aside from Chojiro, he had not seen since they had left Kagoshima together over a half year ago. Headquarters consisted of a plain one-story wooden house, with a black tile roof, which Kosone Eishiro, the younger son of the wealthy merchant family, had recently purchased for the company. Inside were two small rooms, which used to be a storehouse for so-called Kameyama Porcelain when a nearby kiln was in use.

All eight men-Ryoma, Chojiro, Taro, Toranosuke, Umanosuke, Yonosuke, Sonojo and a very young ronin from Nagaoka Han by the name of Shiramine Shunme-sat in a circle in one of the rooms. "Shun," Ryoma chaffed, "do all men from Nagaoka look so good in white?" Ryoma had decided that all of his men would wear a white hakama, the color of navy uniforms in Europe and America.

At age eighteen, Shunme had replaced Yonosuke as the youngest of the group. He had left his Tokugawa-hereditary han when he was just fifteen to stay with his elder brother in Edo, and shortly after entered the Bakufu's Naval Training Institute. Shunme had first met Ryoma three years ago, while sailing from Edo to Osaka aboard the Jundo Maru. Shunme had joined Kaishu's academy in Kobe, but returned to Edo when it was closed down, and had only recently rejoined the others in Nagasaki. Despite his youth, Shunme knew more about operating a ship than anyone else in the company, with the exception of Chief Navigator Chiya Toranosuke.

"Since this is our first meeting as a company," Ryoma said, "I have some important things to discuss with you. I want to set up a branch office in Shimonoseki." It had recently occurred to Ryoma that the prices of commodities varied between eastern and western Japan, and that Shimonoseki was the dividing line where these prices were determined. "Prices are decided by supply and demand," he explained. "If we have an office in Shimonoseki, with die cooperation of Choshu officials, we can see exactly what goods are being shipped into the east and into the west. Then we can measure the supply against the demand, and so be able to know prices in advance. Once we know that..."

"We'll know which products will bring in the largest profits," Yonosuke said.

"Exactly!" Ryoma smiled. "And in so doing, we can't help but make money. I've already discussed this with some of the Choshu men, and been introduced to a wealthy merchant in Shimonoseki who is willing to let us use his place as an office."

"That's a great idea," Chojiro said, his eyes slightly downcast. "But why didn't you mention it to me earlier?"

"Because I wanted all of you to hear about the plan together."

"I see," Chojiro said with a shrug, drawing dirty looks from several of the others.

Ryoma continued. "Of course, we'll also set up an office in Osaka. I'm sure we can arrange for the use of some space in die Satsuma trading agency there. Before long I expect the Kameyama Company to accumulate more wealth than most of the han. And that includes Tosa," Ryoma sneered. "With that, and the power behind a Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, we can overthrow the Bakufu and establish one strong centralized nation. Then we'll be able to go wherever we want, whenever we want. We can sad all over die world. But enough of business for now. Tonight I want to celebrate. I have some extra money, and I hear that die Nagasaki women are nice." Takasugi had given Ryoma die generous sum of 100 ryo before he had left Shimonoseki. "This is a small token of Choshu's appreciation for everything you've done," Takasugi had said. Then with a fiendish smile, "But you had better use it well, Sakamoto-san. And I know of no better place in all of Japan to spend

this money than at the House of the Flower Moon in Nagasaki's Maruyama

district. J "

I'd like to celebrate,*' Taro said, but I have some important paperwork to finish."

"So do I," Yonosuke said. "With the Werewolf 'deal coming up..."

"Alright!" Ryoma said. "Who can take one night off to celebrate my homecoming?"

"Homecoming?" Umanosuke asked.

"Put it this way, other than the Teradaya, this is the first place I've been since we lost the Kobe academy that I can somehow consider home. Now who will it be?"

"I'll celebrate with you," Umanosuke offered.

"I will too," Sonojo said.

"Alright." Ryoma put his hand on Chojiro's shoulder. "With the bean jam bun maker's son, that makes four of us. Now, let's go."

"If there were no Maruyama in Nagasaki, all the gold and silver from Kyoto and Osaka would return safely home," bantered a popular seventeenth-century novelist. And two centuries later, when Ryoma and his men visited Maruyama, it was said that here "the fragrance of musk and orchids fills the soul with lust, the swishing of fine silk enraptures the ears."

Four men dressed in navy whites, with swords at their left hips, walked down a dark narrow street, their elevated wooden clogs making a low-pitched chafing sound against the stone pavement, then a heavy thumping noise as they crossed the Bridge of Reflection, on the other side of which lay paradise for any man with gold in his pocket. The light from hundreds of red lanterns hanging from the eaves of the magnificent two-storied pleasure palaces lining both sides of the street illuminated the night.

Soon they reached the House of the Flower Moon, where Ryoma had drank French wine with Kaishu in the Chinese Room. They approached the wooden outer gate, above which hung a huge red paper lantern, displaying the name of the establishment in black Chinese characters. In the front garden they were greeted by a maid, who led them into the house, down a long dark corridor, and into a spacious tatami room overlooking a wide garden. Soon several geisha joined them, sake was poured, and before long the room had become a scene of bacchanalian pleasure.

"How about playing something?" Ryoma said to the girl sitting next to him. She had pretty features: a perfectly shaped nose, small black eyes and a round mouth.

"How about singing something?" the girl replied coyly. She took up the moon guitar which lay beside her, and with a pick strummed the four strings over the round wooden body, "What's your name?" Ryoma asked. "Omoto." Ryoma had heard the name from Takasugi. "The beautiful Maruyama geisha who men can't help but fall for," Takasugi had described her, adding, "but she rarely gives in to men."

"Do you know this song?" Ryoma asked. "The beginning of the Year of the Tiger, 1854..." he recited the first line of a song he had heard in Shimonoseki. During the more than two centuries that Nagasaki had been open only to Dutch and Chinese traders, the clans of Hizen and Chikuzen shared the burden of guarding the port from intervention by ships from other countries. This was until the completion of the foreign treaties in the intercalary year of 1854. The Russian Admiral Poutiatine had led four warships into Nagasaki in December 1853 in hopes that his country might be die first to sign a treaty with Japan. Unable to obtain permission to land, die Russian squadron spent a month anchored near an offshore island, eventually leaving the port in January, which was during Hizen's watch. This short song makes fun of the Russian's folly.

Omoto laughed. "I should say so. The song was originated in Nagasaki. Now it's your turn."

"I'm waiting for you to start playing," Ryoma roared, draining his sake cup.

"No, I mean, it's your turn to tell me your name."

"Sakamoto Ryoma, from Tosa," he said, men to Umanosuke, who sat directly across the table, "How about taking your eyes off the girl for a while and listening to this?" Ryoma began singing again, as Omoto played the moon guitar.

"The beginning of the Year of the Tiger, 1854. We 're drinking New Year's sake, Getting drunk, drunk, drunk."

"Very good," Umanosuke slurred. "I'll sing the second verse," he said, his face bright red from drink. "There are thirteen months this year, Hizen's turn at watch. They say the Russians are floating aimlessly off of Jogashima Island.'"

As Umanosuke finished singing, everyone burst out laughing.

"Won't you take me for a walk in the garden?" Omoto whispered to Ryoma.

"Yes," Ryoma said, determined to possess this beauty who rarely gave in to men.

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