Ryoma : Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Hillsborough, Romulus

The Secret Alliance, or Into the Dragon's Lair

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The Secret Alliance, or Into the Dragon's Lair
While still determined to bring down the Bakufu, Sakamoto Ryoma now considered alternatives to war in realizing this goal. The Dragon was undergoing another metamorphosis in his outlook, his biggest personal development since meeting Katsu Kaishu over three years before. Just as Kaishu had shown him that the xenophobia of the Loyalists was not the answer to the nations problems, he was now beginning to wonder if that answer could really be found in a war with the Tokugawa. A bloody revolution, he feared, even ^successful in toppling the Bakufu, would give the foreigners an opportunity to strike when Japan was at its weakest. Instead, Ryoma reasoned, he could use his influence among the Group of Four to convince "the potato-heads in Edo " of the inevitability of change, while appealing to Satsuma and Choshu of the dangers of civil war. In so doing, he felt that perhaps he could persuade the Bakufu to surrender the political power peacefully on terms that would be acceptable to all. But despite his change in outlook, the Dragon never once deviated from the thorny road to freedom, nor did he back down from his vow "to clean up Japan once and for all," by eliminating the Bakufu. "Whether we topple the Bakufu through bloodless revolution, or all-out war," Ryoma now told himself, "Satsuma and Choshu must unite." He knew that the awesome military might of such an alliance would be vital at a peaceful bargaining table, and indispensable in case of war.
Ryoma returned to Shimonoseki near the close of the last month of the first year of the Era of Keio, 1865. Although he had hoped to finalize a deal with Glover for the warship Werewolf before leaving Nagasaki, he was anxious to get to Kyoto to oversee the all-important discussions between Saigo and Katsura. When Ryoma arrived at the mansion of the wealthy Shimonoseki merchant, Takasugi, Ito and Inoue were waiting for him.

Takasugi was not well. Choshu'* most important military leader was sickly pale, obviously worried, with an occasional nervous twitch below his right eye. "Katsura left for Kyoto on the twenty-seventh aboard a Satsuma steamer," he told Ryoma. "With him are a few of our own men, a messenger from Saigo, and Ike Kurata of Tosa." Ryoma had assigned Kurata as bodyguard to Katsura, whose life would be in grave danger once he reached the proximity of Kyoto. "Katsura said he'd be waiting for you at Satsuma headquarters in Kyoto."

"Good!" Ryoma rubbed his hands together. "I'll leave right away." "We have orders to assign a bodyguard to you," Takasugi informed Ryoma. "We are well aware of your expertise with a sword, but I hope you won't mind having one of our men along just in case. His name is Miyoshi Shinzo. and he's an expert with a spear. At any rate, I'm sure he won't be m the way."

The caution of the Choshu men was not unfounded. Ryoma had heard of the Bakufu's extraordinary intelligence network from Katsu Kaishu and Okubo Ichio- What he did not know, however, was that the Protector of Kyoto had recently issued orders for his arrest. The Lord of Aizu, in fact, had activated all of the police forces under his command: those of the Inspector-General of Kyoto, the Magistrates of Kyoto and Fushimi, the Shinsengumi and another unit, formed of the younger sons of Tokugawa retainers, known as the Patrolling Corps. In short, all police units in Kyoto were now on the lookout for "a Tosa ronin, around thirty years old, tall with a solid build, dark brown eyes, dark complexion, broad forehead, a wart above his left brow, moles on his face, and thick eyebrows. But be careful of him," the report warned, "because he is an expert swordsman." Unfortunately for the Bakufu police, the report did not mention that Ryoma was also armed with a Smith and Wesson.

Ryoma was overcome with anxiety. Katsura's distrust for Saigo, and for Satsuma itself, made him nervous. He was constantly imagining problems which might occur between the two men during his absence. Nevertheless, Ryoma had no choice but to wait for a Satsuma ship to arrive at Shimonoseki to take him to Kobe. Only a Satsuma ship would do, as that clan's extraterritoriality exempted it from inspection by Bakufu officials. While Ryoma now carried papers identifying him as "Satsuma samurai Saitani Umetaro," he was a wanted man, and unwilling to take any unnecessary chances with his life, not at least until he saw the realization of a Satsuma-Choshu Alliance. When a Satsuma ship finally arrived on January 5, Ryoma's departure was further delayed by rough winter seas; and although his ship finally set sail on the tenth, stormy weather in the normally calm Inland Sea prevented clear sailing, and he and Miyoshi Shinzo did not land at Kobe until the seventeenth.

During the stormy week aboard ship, Ryoma and Miyoshi spent long hours below deck, sipping sake and discussing politics, particularly the importance of a Satsuma-Choshu Alliance to overthrow the Bakufu. As Takasugi had assured, Miyoshi was a man of strong character, for whom Ryoma soon developed a deep trust.

They reached the Port of Osaka on the eighteenth, and from here took a riverboat to Satsuma headquarters, where Ike Kurata was waiting for them. After introducing Kurata to Miyoshi, Ryoma immediately asked, "Where's Katsura?"

"He's been at Satsuma headquarters in Kyoto for the past two weeks."


"That's all."

"That's all?" Ryoma gasped. "How are the talks between Katsura and Saigo progressing?"

"I'm not sure Katsura has talked with Saigo," Kurata said glumly. "I think he's waiting for you."

"We'll go to Fushimi the first thing in the morning, but tonight I have a very important meeting to attend to?"

"Where?" Kurata asked. ^ "Osaka Castle."

"This is no time for joking," Kurata admonished Tm not joking," Ryoma said. "The two of you stay here. If I don't return by morning, go to Kyoto without me." Kurata and Miyoshi stared in disbelief at Ryoma. "But no matter what happens, to me or anyone else remernb that Katsura and Saigo must come to an agreement. This is our last chance' The vary fete of Japan depends on what happens at Satsuma headquarters in Kyoto over the next few days."

"Sakamoto-san," Miyoshi implored, "you can't go to Osaka Castle! It would be suicide! Osaka Castle is the headquarters of the Tokugawa Army What business could you possibly have at Osaka Castle?" 1 must talk to the Keeper of the Castle."

The Lord of Osaka Castle was, of course, the Shogun himself. But since the Shogun spent most of his time in Edo, one of his most trusted vassals served as keeper of his castle in Osaka. The retainer of this post was responsible tor maintaining the fortifications of Osaka Castle, overseeing the two Magistrates of Osaka, and all of the daimyo throughout western Japan. The Keeper of Osaka Castle, along with the Inspector-General of Kyoto, was the highest ranking Tokugawa official outside Edo.

"What business could you possibly have with the Keeper of the Castle?" Miyoshi blurted in disbelief. "You'll be arrested."

"I want to find out as much as I can about the Bakufu's security measures, so that we can avoid arrest."

"I wonder if Ryoma's gone mad," Kurata thought to himself, but nevertheless admired his friend's nerve. "You expect the Keeper of the Castle to tell you where and how the Bakufu plans to arrest us?" Kurata said, laughing at the absurdity of the notion. "Exactly," Ryoma said, slapping his friend on the back. "You're serious, aren't you," Miyoshi confirmed. "Yes."

"In that case, I have no choice but to accompany you. I'm under orders to make sure that nothing happens to you." Miyoshi walked over to the corner of the room and took his spear. "Let's go," he said.

"Alright, Miyoshi-san. I know I can't convince you to stay behind. Kura. arrange for a Satsuma palanquin to take us to the castle. I can't think of any better way to get through the castle gates than with lanterns displaying the crest of the Lord of Satsuma lighting our way."

Leaving Kurata quite alone and anxious, Ryoma and Miyoshi set out tor the Bakufu fortress in a palanquin reserved solely tor high-ranking Satsuma officials, and flanked by several Satsuma samurai. What Ryoma did not tell Kurata was that the Keeper of Osaka Castle was actually Okubo Ichio, one of Kateu Kaishu's Group of Four, recently recalled from forced retirement.

Okubo sat alone in his study, warming his hands over a brazier, and considering the contents of a letter he had just finished reading from the Protector of Kyoto. "Your Excellency." a samurai called from the corridor.

"Yes, what is it?" Okubo's voice was shaken, as if he had just received some disturbing news.

"There is a Satsuma man here to see you," the samurai said, sliding the screen door halfway open. "He says he has an urgent message from Lord Hisamitsu. And from the looks of his escort, and the Shimazu cross on his palanquin, I'd say he was a high-ranking Satsuma official."

"What is his name?" Okubo asked.

"Saitani Umetaro."

Okubo had to stop himself from gasping. He had heard the alias from Katsu Kaishu, and of this Ryoma was well aware. "Saitani Umetaro?" Okubo said, reigning nonchalance, but feeling slightly sick to his stomach. "I've never heard of him. But I can't very well refuse a visit from a messenger of Lord Hisamitsu." Okubo rubbed his hands together over the burning coals. "It sure is cold tonight," he muttered, as he slowly stood up, a worried look on his face. Producing a handkerchief from the pocket of his heavy cotton frock, he wiped the cold sweat from his forehead. "Send him in," he told die samurai in a voice as vexed as the night was cold.

Presently the screen door slid open, and Ryoma entered, with Miyoshi remaining behind in the corridor. "Good evening, Okubo-san." Ryoma smiled, as if he did not notice the troubled look in the man's eyes.

"Ryoma," Okubo whispered in exasperation, "how could you come here like this?"

"Well, it's been almost a year since we last met. And since I was passing through Osaka, I just thought..."

"Of all the stupid..." Okubo checked himself. "Who's that waiting outside in the corridor?" he demanded.

"Miyoshi Shinzo, of Choshu."

"Choshu," Okubo gasped. "Are you crazy?"

"Perhaps," Ryoma said calmly, not a little amused at the situation. "He's a friend of mine."

"How could you do this to me, Ryoma? You know that I'm in charge of the police force for the entire city, which means it's my duty to arrest anybody..."

"1 knew you wouldn't arrest me," Ryoma interrupted, still smiling. "In fact, one of the reasons I've come here is because I thought that you could help us avoid arrest"

Okubo heaved a heavy sigh. "With the Shogun here in Osaka Castle now, there are about thirty thousand men patrolling the city, each one with orders to cut down on sight anybody who looks at all suspicious. And," he paused, gave Ryoma a hard look, "I've just received word from the Protector of Kyoto that Sakamoto Ryoma of Tosa is now the most wanted man in


"Really?" Ryoma clapped his hands together. "The Protector of Kyoto! That's really something. I never knew 1 was so important. I'll have to write my sister Otome about this." _ "Idiot!" Okubo hissed. "This is no time for jokes. You've been seen entering Sateuma headquarters earlier m the day. You must get out of here and

away from Osaka-Kyoto unmedtatery, or I fear that you'll be a dead man within a matter of days."

"Okubo-san," Ryoma said "Let me ask you something." "What?" Okubo snapped irritably.

"I have to go into Kyoto in the next day or two. But do you know why?" "How should I know why?"

"Good! That's all I wanted to know." Ryoma smiled, assured for the first time that the Bakufu had not discovered his plan for a Satsuroa-Choshu Alliance. "But I really appreciate your concern for my safety. And in return if 1 may, I'd like to offer some advice." "What may that be. Ryoma?" Okubo sighed again. "Advice for the Shogun, that is," Ryoma said, drawing a strange look from the Tokugawa retainer. "Just because the Bakufu is treating me as if I were a common criminal, doesn't necessarily give me cause to hate them. But if I should have such cause, the Shogun will have every reason to worry. As you well know, this lowly ronin" Ryoma put his hand to his chest, "has close, trusting relations with some of the most powerful daimyo in western Japan, not to mention some of me most influential men in the Bakufu." Okubo nodded slowly, as if to acknowledge Ryoma's reference to the Group of Four. "Just as Katsu Kaishu has." Ryoma paused, stared hard into the eyes of Kaishu's closest ally. "And, as you may well imagine, this lowly ronin is constantly informed of the situation in Choshu. Although the Choshu men do not have much of an opportunity to hear what is happening in the Bakufu, it would only take one day for this ronin" again Ryoma placed his hand on his chest, "to find out anything Choshu wants to know. As I've said in the past with the way things are going for the Bakufu nowadays, with its lack of public support and even commitment from many of the hem in western Japan, if it was to attack Choshu right now it would surely lose, and so become the laughing stock of the entire nation."

"And what is it that this nmtn would like to advise the Shogun?" Okubo asked.

"First of all, he must clear the Shinsengumi and all of his other murderous police forces out of Kyoto and Osaka. Then, he must start reforming his government in Edo, and himself assume the rank of common soldier." Ryoma paused, as if to stress the heaviness of his words. "Then, rf die Tokugawa is sincerely determined to improve itself, and make every effort to that effect, using all of its resources in all eight of its provinces in eastern Japan, 1 think that in about ten years it will be able to regain control of the country. But unfortunately," Ryoma's tone darkened, "there are too many stupid officials in Edo who are so restricted by convention that they are incapable of change And it is for this very reason that Japan is in such grave danger."

"Ryoma," Okubo took firm hold of the outlaw's hand, "I don't know what you're up to, and I don't want to know. But i will say for the last time that wish you would get out of the Osaka-Kyoto region before you get yourself killed."

"I am aware of the danger. Okubo-san. I thank you for your concern." Okubo sighed, folded his arms at his chest "If you insist on going into Kyoto," he said, "you should know that the Shinsengumi is checking everyone traveling by river between Osaka and Kyoto. And although you have papers identifying yourself as a Satsuma samurai, if there's an emergency tell them that you know me. But remember," Okubo stressed, "only in an emergency."

"I appreciate that, Okubo-san," Ryoma said, before bowing and taking his leave.

The next morning Ryoma, Miyoshi and Kurata boarded a riverboat from Osaka, and arrived at Fushimi without incident just after midnight. A light snow had begun falling as they stepped up onto the boat-landing below the Terada The shutters of the inn were drawn on the downstairs verandah, and the entire house was dark, save a small opening in one of the upstairs windows, from which Ryoma caught a glimpse of someone watching them. Just then a shadow seemed to pass through the darkness beyond, and Ryoma drew his revolver.

"What's wrong?" Miyoshi asked, stopping in his tracks, holding his long spear with both hands.

"Maybe it's my imagination, but 1 feel someone watching us."

"Could very well be a spy," Miyoshi suggested, as they proceeded up the stone steps toward the front door of the inn.

"You've finally arrived," Otose whispered from the entranceway, holding a small lantern. "Come in quickly." The proprietress spoke in short spurts, as if worried that someone might be eavesdropping.

"What's going on here?" Ryoma asked once they were inside, the door bolted behind them.

"We've been closed since the day before yesterday. There's nobody here but Oryo and myself."

"I don't understand," Ryoma said. "Fushimi is always busy with people traveling between Osaka and Kyoto. Why would you close down?"

"A special request from Satsuma. They told me that a certain individual would be arriving soon from Osaka, and that 1 shouldn't take any other guests but him, and his party. They say that this individual is very important" I "Who is this individual?" Ryoma asked.

"Sakamoto Ryoma," Otose said. "Just what's going on?" \ **I have some important business in Kyoto tomorrow. But don't ask any more than that. It wouldn't be safe for you or us."

Not only had Otose closed her inn to business, but she refused to take money from Ryoma or his comrades when they stayed there. What's more, she risked arrest and even her life by helping them. "She* well educated 'and indeed a woman of character" Ryoma described Otose in a letter to his sister. "She helps people who work for Choshu and the nation...and carries out projects worthy of men."

"I see," Otose said, giving Ryoma a worried look.

"Where's Oryo?" be asked. "Asleep. I’ll wake her."

"No, don't"

"But she's been waiting to see you since we heard you'd be coming. That's all she's been talking about. Sakamoto-san..." Otose hesitated. "Yes, what is it?"

"Why don't you marry the poor girl?" "Let's get some sleep," Ryoma evaded the question. "I'm dead tired."

Ryoma slept until late the next morning, when he sent Oryo to the nearby Satsuma estate in Fushimi to have them notify their Kyoto headquarters of his arrival. "I've just seen two very suspicious men outside," Oryo told him when she returned.

"Most likely spies," Ryoma snickered at the thought of the Bakufu police going to such trouble over him.

"The people at the Satsuma estate said they would like to send a palanquin and an escort to bring you into Kyoto," the girl said.

"No," Ryoma said. "That would be a mistake. If the rowin-hunters should insist on searching the palanquin they'd find me and Kura inside." "But I thought you were carrying Satsuma identification papers." "We are. But do we look important enough to be carried in a special palanquin, with the Shimazu cross displayed all over the place?"

"No," the girl laughed at the notion. "When you put it that way, I suppose not,"

"We'll walk into Kyoto, but we won't leave until after dark." Ryoma went to the window overlooking the street. "See those two standing under the bridge," he said, pointing at two swordless men dressed in the livery coals of common laborers. "They're most likely spies, for the Shinsengumi, or else the Magistrate of Fushimi."

"Sakamoto-san," Miyoshi said as he hurried up the stairs, "there are some very suspicious looking characters standing around outside. I think I'd better accompany you to Kyoto."

"I appreciate your concern, Miyoshi-san, but two are less conspicuous than three. Besides," Ryoma drew his revolver from his kimono, "if worse comes to worst, I always have this little gift from Takasugi."

It was almost midnight when Ryoma and Kurata arrived at the Kyoto residence of Satsuma Councilor Komatsu Tatewaki. Unlike Saigo and Okubo, both of whom were from poor, low-ranking samurai families, Komatsu, as a hereditary councilor to the Lord of Satsuma, maintained a private residence in the imperial capital. It was here that Katsura Kogoro was staying.

The two Tosa men found Katsura in a second-story room at the rear of the house, his swords set in an alcove, his wicker traveling case packed as if he were going somewhere. "I've been waiting for you, Sakamoto-san," Katsura said grimly. "Please sit down." The three men sat around a small table, set with one large flask of sake and three cups. Near the table was a ceramic brazier.

"Have you and Saigo come to an agreement yet?" Ryoma asked, sitting opposite Katsura, Kurata at his side.

"Saigo is up to his old tricks," Katsura said bitterly. "I've come all the way here at a time when Choshu is preparing for war, and all the Satsuma men can do is entertain me. Not one word out of Saigo or anyone else about an alliance. I've had it," he seethed, staring down into the smoldering brazier. "I've decided to return to Choshu tomorrow."

"How many times have you met Saigo?" Ryoma asked, ignoring Katsura's last remark.


"What did you talk about?"

"The first war in Kyoto, when Satsuma turned traitor and united with Aizu to expel Choshu and the seven nobles," Katsura said, before rattling off a list of other "crimes" committed by his enemy. "I told Saigo that Choshu will never forgive Satsuma for its double-dealing, for the way it tricked the court into branding Choshu an 'Imperial Enemy,' when everyone knows that there has never been a han in the entire history of Japan that has been more dedicated to the Emperor than Choshu."

"And what did Saigo have to say to all of this?"

"He just nodded that big stupid head of his, and said that I was right."

"He said you were right?" Ryoma was amazed.


"Then why didn't you mention an alliance at that time?" Ryoma asked indignantly.

"Because I couldn't."

"You couldn't?" Ryoma hollered, a look of disbelief on his face. "Why are you here then?"

Katsura groaned bitterly, shook his head. "Don't you understand?" he said darkly, staring hard into the brazier. "That would degrade Choshu."

"Katsura Kogoro!" Ryoma screamed the name, not bothering with the honorific suffix. Kurata, who had known Ryoma all his life, had never seen him so angry. "To hell with Choshu!" Ryoma roared at the top of his lungs. "And to hell with Satsuma! When are you going to stop worrying about Choshu and think about Japan? What about all the Tosa men, including Kurata here, and myself, who have been risking our lives everyday over these past several years? Kurata has a baby back in Kochi that he's never even seen. But you don't think we're doing all this for the welfare of Tosa, do you? And we certainly aren't doing it for Choshu or Satsuma. What about all the men from Tosa, and Choshu too, who have died for Japan? Certainly you haven't forgotten them. Damn it, Katsura-san!" Ryoma pounded his fist on the floor. "We've come this close to uniting Choshu and Satsuma as the only way to save Japan. I'm not going to let you ruin everything by leaving without first coming to terms with Saigo." Ryoma was so beside himself with anger that he grabbed his sword, and without thinking, drew the blade, before immediately slamming it back into the scabbard.

Katsura retained his usual calm, though his bitterness was everywhere apparent "You are absolutely right, Sakamoto-san," he said starino u

* *><*"*- "However," "* P**ed, took a deep breath conSued sl^

slowly, deliberately, "if I should make a proposal for an Alliance it would appear that Choshu was begging for Satsuma's help. But since it is Satsuma who originally betrayed us by uniting with Aizu, 1 cannot do that. Besides, it is Choshu and not Satsuma who is completely ostracized by the rest of Japan, k is our han and not Satsuma who has been branded an enemy by the Imperial Court. And it is Choshu and not Satsuma who is about to go to war with the entire Tokugawa Army. Satsuma, on the other hand, openly serves the Emperor. Satsuma openly meets with Bakufu representatives. And Satsuma openly deals with the other clans. Satsuma can therefore openly and without hindrance, participate in national affairs, while Choshu has no say in such matters whatsoever. Sakamoto-san," Katsura sighed, "even if my initiating a proposal did not appear as if Choshu were begging for Satsuma's help, it would certainly seem that we were inviting them to share in our danger. As a samurai I cannot do such a thing." Katsura paused, took a deep breath, exhaled slowly. "Even if Choshu should be defeated by the Tokugawa, even if all that should remain of our lands is scorched earth, as long as Satsuma survives to overthrow the Bakufu for the Imperial cause we will have no regrets." Katsura stopped speaking, a bitter smile on his face.

"No regrets?" Ryoma repeated quietly, obviously moved by these last words. Only now did he realize that Katsura Kogoro's main concern was not for Choshu Han, but for the entire Japanese nation.

"And to," Katsura continued in the same defiant tone, "my men and I will leave for Choshu tomorrow to fight the Tokugawa. If we die in battle, then at least we will die with the dignity of samurai." Katsura took up the flask of sake. "Now, I'd like to propose a farewell toast, Sakamoto-san, for our long friendship and for all you've done..."

"No!" Ryoma roared, grabbed Katsura by the wrist, then immediately released his grip. He folded his arms tightly at his chest, stared up at the ceiling, then after a short while stood up. "But I understand," he said. "Where are you going?" Katsura asked.

"To Satsuma's Kyoto headquarters to see Saigo." Ryoma picked up his long sword, thrust it through his sash. "No matter what you do, Katsura-san, stay right here." Then to Kurata he said, "And you'd better stay here with him."

"No regrets," Ryoma said, staring hard in Saigo's sparkling black eyes "Don't you understand, Saigo-san? Katsura says he would have no regrets. Ryoma had just relayed to Saigo what Katsura had told him.

"No regrets," Saigo repeated in a low voice. "If only he had told me tnat when I spoke with him."

Ryoma leaned forward. "Don't you see?" he said pleadingly. "Katsura could never admit that to your face. That's why he told me."

"Of course." Saigo nodded heavily.

"So, it's now up to you to make the first move, and soon, or Katsura will leave, and that will be the end of it." Ryoma grabbed Saigo's wrist. "You must understand that Satsuma is in a much easier position than Choshu to make the first move."

"I see, Sakamoto-san. I owe both you and Katsura an apology. And there is one thing 1 must admit, although 1 am ashamed to. The reason mat I have not yet initiated a proposal for an alliance is because I was testing Katsura."

"Testing Katsura?" Ryoma slapped the side of his head in disbelief.

"Yes, testing his sincerity." Tears filled the great man's eyes as he spoke. "But now that I realize he is as sincere as you yourself are, as a samurai I am ashamed of my poor judgment of character."

Ryoma put his hand on Saigo's broad shoulder. "Then I can count on you to make the proposal for an alliance?"

"Yes." Saigo sat up straight, nodded. "Bring Katsura here the first thing in the morning."

"No, Saigo-san. It is Choshu who has suffered most. You must go to Katsura and make the proposal." Ryoma leaned back, stared hard into the eyes of the Satsuma leader.

"You're right," affirmed Saigo, nodding his heavy head. "We'll go in die morning."

Several Satsuma men, dressed formally in kimono, hakama and crested jackets, arrived at Komatsu's residence the next morning. With Saigo were Komatsu, Okubo, Yoshii-Saigo's personal secretary whom Ryoma had met in Kyoto during die previous spring to discuss the possibilities of an alliance-and three other samurai, one of which, by far the youngest, carried a Satsuma lute wrapped in dark blue cloth. Ryoma and Kurata had been waiting inside with Katsura.

The Satsuma men bowed as they entered; all but the youth carrying the lute sat down on one side of the room, Saigo directly opposite Katsura. The younger man excused himself, went to the next room, closing the paper screen door behind him. "Be sure not to stop playing," Komatsu called out. Then turning to Ryoma, "A little music from the Satsuma lute in case of eavesdroppers," he said. Komatsu's friendly smile contrasted widi the stone-cold expressions of all the other men present, save Ryoma who was apparently amused by the remark.

Saigo bowed his head to the tatami floor, sat up straight, rested his hands on his huge ttiighs, and stared hard into Katsura's dark piercing eyes. As Ryoma looked on, the difference between these two men seemed to him so great that he marveled, if only for an instant, that he had been able to bring them this far. "How could I have ever dreamed of uniting Satsuma and Choshu?" he thought, the loud twang of the lute coming from the next


Throughout history the peoples of Satsuma and Choshu had always been bitter enemies, unable to trust one another. Choshu, with its relatively close proximity to Kyoto and Osaka, produced a more culturally refined breed of samurai than did the geographically remote Satsuma. In the eyes of Choshu, Satsuma people were reticent, stolid and rustic-as was Saigo K.VK-The Satsuma samurai on the other hand, trained to be at See fnTi ^ warlike, saw their counterparts from Choshu as fanatic, cunning and ** hensive-as was Katsura Kogoro. But despite their differences Satsuma Choshu shared one common goal: overthrowing the Bakufu and restoring political power to the Emperor. "That's why they must be united," Ryoma had told himself over and over again.

"Katsura-san," Saigo began speaking slowly, in a quiet baritone, "let's put our past animosity aside for the sake of the Imperial nation." Saigo spoke with such dignity, such sincerity that even Katsura himself was overcome with a feeling of trust for the man who had crushed the Choshu forces one and a half years before, almost to the very day. The sound of the lute seemed to also have a softening effect on Katsura, which was visible in his eyes. He was apparently familiar with the tune, A Cherry Blossom Keepsake, an ancient Satsuma song about a covenant of brotherhood, symbolic of the brotherhood about to be formed.

Katsura responded by also bowing low. "I see," was all he said, as Ryoma suppressed an urge to groan. Ryoma knew that Katsura was determined to make things as difficult as possible for Saigo.

After a short silence, Saigo continued, glancing sideways at Ryoma: "I, Saigo Kichinosuke, promise, with Sakamoto Ryoma as my witness, that if war should break out between Choshu and me Bakufu, Satsuma will immediately dispatch additional troops to Kyoto and Osaka to hold off the Tokugawa armies here, and do everything else in our power to aid your han. Once Choshu is victorious, as I'm sure you will be, Satsuma will use all of its influence at court to have Choshu reinstated into Imperial grace. Then," Saigo raised his voice, "Satsuma and Choshu will join hands to destroy the Bakufu through military force." The commander in chief of the Satsuma armed forces extended his right hand. "Katsura Kogoro of Choshu," he boomed, "I hereby propose an alliance of trust and military cooperation between our two great hem."

Saigo and Katsura shook hands, and the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, the first anion between any of the clans since the establishment of me Tokugawa Bakufu two and half centuries before, was finally realized on January 21, 1866, the result of a yearlong struggle by Sakamoto Ryoma and his band of outlaws. This alliance, which formed the most powerful military force in the nation, was a turning point in Japanese history, and the beginning of the end of the Tokugawa Bakufu.

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