Ryoma : Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Hillsborough, Romulus

War: "The Most Amusing Thing I've Ever Done"

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War: "The Most Amusing Thing I've Ever Done"
Just a few days before Ryoma had left Kagoshima, Katsu Kaishu, still under house arrest in Edo, was suddenly summoned to Edo Castle. The Bakufu was in a bind, and had decided that Kaishu was the only man who could fix things. Not only was Edo on the verge of war with Choshu, but Satsuma had recently informed the Bakufu of its refusal to fight. Aizu resented what it considered treason by Satsuma, whose alliance with Choshu was no longer a secret. A group of Aizu samurai, in fact, were now threatening to attack the Satsuma estate in Osaka, an action which, the Bakufu feared, might very well induce Satsuma to enter the war on the side of Choshu. The Shogun 's ministers knew that Kaishu was the only Tokugawa retainer who commanded enough respect among the men of both clans to enable him to mediate between them, thus his sudden reinstatement to his former post of navy commissioner, after having spent the past year and a half under house arrest.
At the beginning of June, Kaishu was again summoned to Edo Castle by Minister Mizuno Tadakiyo, the Lord of Yamagata. When Kaishu arrived, however, there was another member of the Edo elite whom he particularly despised, waiting with Minister Mizuno in a conference room in the outer castle.

"Hello, Katsu-san," Oguri Tadamasa greeted with staged aloofness the man he had replaced as navy commissioner shortly after arranging his ouster and subsequent arrest. Kaishu's hate for Oguri was equaled only by Oguri's hate for Kaishu. Two of the most gifted men in the Edo government, their political philosophies clashed. While Kaishu conducted affairs with the welfare of all of Japan in mind, Oguri's sole concern was the House of Tokugawa. It was no wonder, then, that Oguri detested Kaishu's good relations with Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa samurai who would overthrow the Bakufu, just as Kaishu bitterly objected to Oguri's overtures to the French, who, given the opportunity, would colonize Japan as the great Western powers would all of Asia. "It's been quite a while since we last met," Oguri said. His soft manner of speech suited his delicate features, the thin face and pale complexion, but not the scathing black eyes nor the biting undertone which he reserved for his political enemies. Okubo had warned Ryoma of Oguri, who, as navy commissioner and head of the pro-French faction, had begun the construction of steel mills and a shipyard at Yokosuka under the tutelage of the French, with the immediate goal of crushing Choshu. More recently, as finance commissioner, Oguri had initiated the formation of trading houses as part of a drive to modernize the tottering financial structure of the Bakufu, also with French cooperation. Nor were Oguri's ambitions limited to crushing Choshu. His ultimate goal, rather, was to subjugate all of the feudal lords, confiscate their domains, abolish the feudal system, and replace it with a centralized, absolute regime in Edo, modeled after certain European powers, particularly the government of Napoleon III.

"Hello, Oguri-san," Kaishu returned the greeting with mock amiability, sitting down on the tatami floor opposite the man who had nearly destroyed him.

"Now that you've been reappointed to your former post..."

"Which is?" Kaishu interrupted sarcastically.

"Why, commissioner of the navy, of course," Oguri said through forced laughter, glancing at Minister Mizuno, who sat to his immediate right. "And I should think you'd be more grateful," he added with false jest, "considering that the Shogun's Council nearly ordered you to commit seppuku."

"Yes," Kaishu responded tersely, concealing his disgust for Oguri, who like himself had risen through the ranks by virtue of brilliance rather than birthright.

Oguri cleared his throat. "Now that you are again navy commissioner," he paused, took his fan from his sash, began fanning his face, "I assume you've seen the French military facilities at Yokohama Port." The finance commissioner again cast a glance at the Shogun's minister sitting silently next to him, whose function at this meeting, Kaishu surmised, was to arbitrate between the two bitter rivals.

"Yes," Kaishu replied flatly. Kaishu could no longer conceal his disgust for Oguri, whom he considered the most dangerous man in the Bakufu for his absolute determination to sell out to the French.

"Katsu Awa-no-Kami," Oguri said sharply, referring, not without an air of sarcasm, to Kaishu's honorary title of "Protector of the Province of Awa," which he had received from the Imperial Household at the urging of Edo just six months before his ouster. Through use of the honorific, Oguri was subtly stressing his own social eminence over Kaishu, although both were from the relatively low ranks of direct Tokugawa retainers. "You, of all people," Oguri now spoke in a slightly condescending tone to the man who had on numerous past occasions referred to him as "one of those stupid potato-heads in Edo," "ought to know that we mustn't have those facilities removed from Japan." Oguri paused for a response from Kaishu, who offered none. "You're aware of the damage that the foreigners caused in the bombardments of Shimonoseki and Kagoshima," Oguri continued. "If we should act rashly with the foreigners at this point, they are capable of doing a lot more damage than merely destroying a few villages in Choshu and Satsuma. And so, no matter how difficult it may be for us as Japanese, as samurai, and as direct retainers of the Shogun himself," Oguri raised his voice, "we must be patient until the Shogun has regained his rightful and complete authority over the entire nation. Only after that can we even consider expelling the foreigners. Not only must we endure the foreign military presence in Japan, Katsu Awa-no-Kami," Oguri repeated the honorific as a derogation, "but we must welcome them." Oguri stopped speaking, took a deep breath, and waited for a response from Kaishu, who even now remained silent, staring hard into the dark eyes of his nemesis. Kaishu knew that no matter what he said, he could not convince Oguri that if his goal of subjugating all of the feudal lords with French military and financial aid were indeed realized, Japan would at that time become a colony of Napoleon III.

On the rainy afternoon of June 4, the Union dropped anchor at Nagasaki Port, whereupon Ryoma and Oryo went directly to the mansion of Kosone Eishiro, the younger son of the wealthy merchant family who had helped to finance the Kameyama Company. The couple walked hand in hand, an uncommon, if not unbelievable sight, as was made apparent by the reaction of the young maid who spotted them passing through the huge front gate of the mansion. "It's Sakamoto-san with a beautiful woman!" Ryoma could hear her saying inside. "And he's holding her hand," she chortled facetiously. Neither the maid, the old manservant who stood beside her, nor young Eishiro-who now joined his servants at the front door to greet his guests-had ever seen anything like it. "And a samurai at that," the old man muttered in disbelief, as he watched the two approach through the pouring rain. Oryo was holding an umbrella, and having a hard time trying to cover Ryoma, who towered above her. "What beautiful hydrangeas!" she said, bending over to get a closer look at the bluish-purple clusters in full bloom at the entrance of the garden, while Ryoma, much to the chagrin of both his wife and the young maid, relieved himself in the nearby bushes.

In addition to operating a lucrative pawnbroking business, the Kosone family was also the official purveyor in Nagasaki for the governments of Satsuma, Choshu and Fukui. Ryoma had made the acquaintance of this youngest of the four Kosone brothers, who was several years his junior, during his first visit to Nagasaki with Kaishu, over two years before. The Kosone family, despite its merchant status, was permitted to wear the two swords of the samurai, and to have a surname. Like his eldest brother, who was a close friend of Kaishu's, Eishiro's talents were not limited to business. Not only was he an expert with a rifle, but so accomplished was he on the moon guitar, that when Ryoma, now sitting in the Kosone's living room with his new bride, asked if Eishiro knew someone who would teach the instrument to Oryo, the merchant answered with a wide smile, "It would be a pleasure to teach her myself." Then turning to Oryo, and bowing his head to the floor, he added, "Just as it is a pleasure to meet you."

"It will be a relief to know that she's safe here, while I'm in Shimonoseki," Ryoma said, as Oryo returned Eishiro's greeting.

"When do you leave?" Eishiro asked.

"Soon. But I have one other problem on my mind right now."

"Which is?"

"We've lost our ship. It sank near the Goto Islands on the way to Kagoshima."

Eishiro's face dropped. "I'm sorry to hear that. But maybe I can cheer you up. Unless, of course, you've already heard the good news about Katsu-sensei."

"No!" Ryoma said anxiously. "What is it?"

"I've just received word that Katsu-sensei has been released from house arrest and reinstated to his post as navy commissioner."

Ryoma was unsure how to react. Should he be glad for his former mentor's personal gain, or should he worry about the all too real possibility of Kaishu leading a Bakufu naval blockade in the Shimonoseki Strait? "I just don't think I could fight against him," Ryoma thought now, as he had so often during the past several months.

Nor was Ryoma's greatest fear unwarranted. Although Kaishu opposed the expedition against Choshu, shortly after being recalled he had told Lord Yoshinobu, "If it's really necessary to punish Choshu, instead of counting on the various daimyo, lend me four or five warships from the Bakufu fleet, and I'll take the Shimonoseki Strait in no time." Although Yoshinobu laughed at what he dismissed as "Katsu's boasting," Ryoma knew Kaishu better than did the heir of the Tokugawa Shogun.

"Have you heard anything else about Katsu-sensei?" Ryoma asked Eishiro, walking over to the picture window to look at the rainy city below.

"What do you mean?"

"Have you heard if he'll be commanding the Tokugawa fleet in the war against Choshu?"

"That I don't know," Eishiro said, only now realizing why Ryoma had been alarmed. "But talking about the war, it doesn't seem that the Bakufu stands a chance."

"Oh?" Although Ryoma tended to agree, he was curious to hear the merchant's opinions.

"For one thing, with so much rice being sent to the Bakufu troops deployed in the west, food prices have increased greatly. And because of this, the Bakufu has lost whatever support it may have had among the common people, who are now rioting in Kobe, Osaka and Edo. And furthermore," Eishiro lowered his voice, "the merchants in Osaka are getting fed up with the loans forced upon them by the Bakufu to cover military expenses."

"Sakamoto-san," the pretty young maid who had facetiously announced his arrival called from the threshold in a melodic tone peculiar to the people of Nagasaki, bringing her master's grim explanation to an abrupt end. "You don't know how wonderful it is to see you again!" she said, entering the room with a tray of sponge cakes and tea.

"I think I do," Ryoma drolled through an exaggerated Tosa drawl, acutely aware of his wife's displeasure, if not jealousy. "Looks delicious," he said, before helping himself to a piece of cake, stuffing the entire portion into his mouth.

"Would you mind if I asked you something personal, Sakamoto-san?" the girl said playfully, drawing a steely-eyed glance from Oryo.

"How could I?" Ryoma washed down another mouthful of cake with a gulp of hot tea.

"Why is it that you always wear such shabby clothes?" the girl asked, giggling slightly, and pointing at Ryoma's faded black kimono and dirty gray hakama.

"Insolence!" Eishiro exploded, but was immediately calmed by a burst of laughter from Ryoma.

"You can go now," Eishiro said crossly, dismissing his servant. "Sakamoto-san, I'm terribly sorry about her..."

"Forget it! In these troubled times, things like a man's clothes or swords don't count for much. Today luxury is rampant, but men with foresight have to take the initiative, in order to make up for the past three hundred years of lethargy." Ryoma paused, took Oryo's hand. "It's for that reason that I don't wear clothes which are apt to please women."

"I understand, Sakamoto-san," Eishiro said, obviously taken aback by Ryoma's sudden air of bookishness. "But what puzzles me, if you don't mind my saying, is how you ever managed to capture such a beauty," he added, smiling at Oryo, who blushed slightly.

"Ask her," Ryoma urged, but before Eishiro could speak, Oryo answered. "Very simple," she smiled. "My husband is unlike any other man I've ever met, seen or even heard of. Maybe that's why I was attracted to him from the very beginning."

Eishiro nodded, his embarrassment drawing a burst of laughter from Ryoma. "Yes, I can certainly believe that," the merchant said. "And since that is the case, I'd better teach you to be the best moon guitarist in Nagasaki," he said to Oryo, before excusing himself, and leaving the couple alone to the sound of the pouring rain.

Soon after, Ryoma fell asleep to the steady sound of the rain, but was suddenly awaken by the shrill voice of the old manservant. "Sakamoto-sensei, there is someone here to see you," he called from the corridor. From the other side of the house Ryoma could hear the soft murmur of the moon guitar, and wondered if it was his wife playing.

"Who's that?" Ryoma asked drowsily, opening slightly one eye.

The old man slid open the paper screen door. "A samurai from Tosa."

"No. I mean, who's that playing the moon guitar?"

"Your wife, of course."

"I see." Ryoma smiled.

"But Sakamoto-sensei," the manservant said anxiously, "what should I do about the man who's here to see you? He says his name's Nagaoka."

Nagaoka Kenkichi was a Tosa physician who had studied under Kawada Shoryo.

"Ryoma!" a voice called from the front door of the house.

Immediately recognizing the voice, Ryoma left the room and ran down the corridor to the front door.

"I was waiting for several days with the others at your company headquarters for you to return," the usually sedate Kenkichi answered excitedly. "Then Umanosuke finally showed up, and told me that I could find you here."

Kenkichi sat on the floor next to Ryoma, offered him a warm smile, exaggerated by his tanned round face, and his wide forehead made wider by a receding hairline.

"It's good to see you!" Ryoma said, and not without reason. After all, with the recent deaths of Chojiro and Kurata, Ryoma had lost two of his best men. He had heard of Kenkichi's reputation as a scholar, who was well versed in knowledge of the West, and proficient in both Dutch and English. "I hear that you've sailed to Shanghai," Ryoma said.

"Yes. And Hong Kong."

Ryoma slapped himself on the knee. "How about joining my company? Our only ship has just sunk, and now we're getting ready to fight for Choshu against the Bakufu at Shimonoseki. But when that's finished, we could really use you, and..."

"Why do you think I'm here?" interrupted Kenkichi, who from this day became the only man in the Kameyama Company older than Sakamoto Ryoma.

* , * *

The "War On Four Sides," as the expedition against Choshu had been dubbed, was waged on four different fronts: the southeastern, eastern, northeastern and western borders of the renegade domain. The fighting finally broke out on June 7, when Tokugawa warships fired on the island of Ohshima in the southeast, just across the Inland Sea from Shikoku. The Bakufu planned to use its superior naval power to occupy the island, thus cutting off Choshu's access to the sea on its eastern-most border. Although Bakufu forces initially captured Ohshima, Takasugi Shinsaku rushed from Shimonoseki to the island with his Extraordinary Corps on the warship Year of the Tiger, retaking it within a week, before returning to Shimonoseki.

At the mansion of the wealthy Shimonoseki merchant, in a room overlooking the strait, Takasugi, now commander of the Choshu Navy, reported the details of his victory to Katsura Kogoro, the most powerful man in the Choshu government. Despite the heat, Takasugi still had on the same black coat of arms he had worn in battle, his family crest of four diamonds in a circle displayed in white on both shoulders. His long, narrow, pockmarked face was a sickly yellow, but the determination in his dark eyes, and the position of the mouth on the resolute jaw betrayed an inner-conviction that even Katsura himself could not fathom.

"How many enemy warships were at Ohshima?" Katsura asked, taking a drag from a long-stemmed pipe.

"Four. Each one was at least five times the size of the Year of the Tiger." Takasugi paused to pour sake from a ceramic flask. "Let's drink to our first victory," he said, and the two men drained their cups.

"How did you ever do it?" Katsura asked, a cold glimmer in his eyes. "Four against one?"

"You ought to know that even though the Bakufu might have a superior navy, we have something they don't."

"What's that?"

"Balls," Takasugi grunted, taking a fan from his sash and waving it furiously in front of his face.

"Tell me more, Takasugi." Katsura took another drag from the pipe, exhaled slowly a long stream of white smoke.

"We attacked at night."

"You what?" Katsura raised his voice in disbelief, put down the pipe. "It's a basic rule of naval warfare that you never attack at night."

"We did it, and it worked. The enemy was asleep, apparently content in their victory. They didn't notice us until we were upon them, and then we opened fire." Takasugi began coughing violently, and the red spray of the consumption that was slowly killing him filled his handkerchief.

"Takasugi," Katsura gasped, "how long have you been like this?"

"What's the difference?" Takasugi folded his handkerchief and tucked it into the breast of his kimono, under his coat of arms. "Here," he said, refilling the cups.

"No!" Katsura protested. "If you drink too much in your condition, you will die."

"Please understand, Katsura-san. Sake is the only thing that's going to get me through this war. As long as I have it, I can fight. And as long as I'm fighting, I know we'll win. After that," Takasugi coughed again," it doesn't really matter."

Katsura stared silently at Takasugi, who continued telling him of the battle at Ohshima. "We snuck right up on their four great warships. There wasn't a soul on deck. And even if there had been, they wouldn't have been able to do much because they couldn't move. They had their boilers turned off. And just as I had expected, all of their men were asleep below decks. It was beautiful, Katsura-san. We caught them completely off guard. I maneuvered our little ship right between those four monsters, and we commenced firing our cannon from both sides. When their men came running up on deck, our marksmen were waiting to pick them off like rabbits. We were so close, that we couldn't miss. It was so easy I couldn't help feeling a little guilty." Takasugi smiled, and drained his sake cup. "As we were blasting away at their ships, their troops on the island opened fire at us. But from the way they panicked, it was obvious we had them scared out of their wits. I figured that once we had the enemy scared, it would never beat us. And I was right."

"Then what happened?" Katsura asked, refilling Takasugi's sake cup.

"Before any of their ships could get their boilers going, we extinguished our lights and got out of there just as suddenly as we had come. And the best thing about the whole battle was that it was so dark the enemy couldn't tell how many ships we had. They most likely thought that we attacked with more than just one. We may have even convinced them that Choshu's fleet is a lot bigger than just four warships, or five once the Union returns." Takasugi coughed again, drawing a grimace from Katsura, who asked, "What about Ohshima? Have we recaptured it?"

"Yes. The day before yesterday, on the night of the fourteenth, I led my Extraordinary Corps onto the island. The battle lasted two nights and one day, but the Bakufu army has retreated, and we've gotten Ohshima back."

"Excuse me, Katsura-san," a servant called from the threshold.

"What is?"

"The warship Union has just arrived, with Sakamoto Ryoma in command."

While the fighting was still raging at Ohshima, another battle had broken out on the eastern front, near the border of Choshu and Hiroshima on the Inland Sea, where the Bakufu's best-trained and best-equipped forces were deployed. These consisted of the Shogun's own samurai and those of Kii Han, both of whom were supplied by the French with the same state-of-the-art guns used by the Choshu Army. But not even these forces proved to be a match for Choshu, as the Tokugawa commander in Hiroshima determined that the Bakufu could not win the war. He sent a letter to Edo Castle stating that the enemy had the backing of Great Britain, and that it was burning with the conviction of victory. Indeed, the entire Choshu domain, samurai and commoners alike, were fighting for their very survival. In contrast, the various daimyo who had supposedly sided with the Bakufu had been reluctant to deploy troops for lack of a clear reason to fight. This further diminished the already low morale of the Tokugawa troops, for whom Edo, heavily in debt to the Osaka merchants, lacked sufficient supplies of food and gold. And although the Tokugawa Navy was superior, the Choshu Army, equipped with rapid-firing, breech-loading rifles and cannon, was simply better armed than nearly all of the Bakufu's land forces, which had to resort to muskets, swords, spears and the ancient armor of their ancestors. "The war has already been lost," declared the Tokugawa commander in Hiroshima, and shortly after, a so-called truce, which was tantamount to a Choshu victory, was effected along the second front.

On the same day that Takasugi had returned to Shimonoseki from Ohshima, fighting broke out on Choshu's northeastern border, in the province of Iwami on the Japan Sea. Here, troops led by the military genius Murata Zoroku were advancing toward the Bakufu stronghold of Hamada Castle, on their way to claiming Choshu's third victory on its third front.

All, however, was still quiet on the western front when Sakamoto Ryoma commanded the Choshu warship Union into the Shimonoseki Strait on the afternoon of June 16. Across the strait, just seven meters wide at its narrowest point, was the Bakufu stronghold of Kokura Han, whose daimyo was a direct vassal of the Shogun. In the green shrouded hills, overlooking the strait, were the Kokura batteries, which even the nearsighted Ryoma could see if he squinted hard enough. Reinforced by troops from the Kumamoto and Kurume clans, the Kokura forces numbered 20,000 strong, while only 1,000 Choshu troops could be spared at Shimonoseki.

Seven men wearing white navy hakama stood on the deck of the gray warship as it steamed into the Port of Shimonoseki. Each of them, save one, was armed with two swords, thrust through his sash at his left hip. Ryoma, however, had only a single sword, at his right hip a Smith and Wesson, and hanging from his neck a pair of binoculars which he had received from Kosone Eishiro in Nagasaki. Kenkichi stood at Ryoma's left, his foot resting on the breech of one of six cannon mounted along the starboard gunwale. They stared hard across the strait at the batteries in the shrouded green hills.
"See anyone?" Kenkichi asked. "Not a soul," Ryoma said, peering through the binoculars, his low voice muffled by the wind. "But I'll bet they can see us," offered Ryoma's nephew Taro, his long black hair blowing furiously. Toranosuke and Sonojo nodded slowly, each anxious for the fighting to begin. Umanosuke watched as the youngest of the group, Shunme, climbed up the rope netting of the main mast, above which flew the Choshu flag. "Shun," Ryoma called, "we know you're a good sailor. Now we're going to see if you can fight."

"Do you think there will actually be a battle here, Sakamoto-san?" Umanosuke asked, nervously tugging on his mustache.

"That's why we came," Ryoma said, still looking through his binoculars at the green hills across the strait. "But I still can't see a soul," he muttered.

"What will you do if Katsu-sensei is in command of the Tokugawa fleet?" Yonosuke asked in his typical monotone the very question that had been haunting Ryoma for months.

"Let's just hope he isn't," Ryoma said.

"You mean to say that we might actually fight against Katsu-sensei?" Sonojo asked.

"No!" Ryoma, as usual, was blunt.

"Then what would you do?" Yonosuke prodded.

"I guess I'd have to try to convince Katsu-sensei not to fight," Ryoma answered, getting a little annoyed at the persistence of his right-hand man.

"How would you do that?" Toranosuke asked, as worried as Ryoma about the grim possibility.

"By talking to him."

"Talking to him? Where?" Yonosuke's relentless questioning was as

annoying as his monotone. '

"Aboard his ship. Where else?"

"But if you were to board his ship, you might be..."

"Killed?" Ryoma interrupted with a snicker. "I doubt that, Yonosuke."


"It's simple." Ryoma tucked his right hand into his kimono, the Chinese bellflower crest faded but still visible on both shoulders. "Before I can die," he said, leaning against the side rail, "I have some very important business to finish." Ryoma removed his right hand, and with it drew his revolver.

"Which is?" Yonosuke gave Ryoma a puzzled look.

"Cleaning up Japan," the outlaw exclaimed. "Who is going to do it, if not me?"

"What exactly do you mean, Sakamoto-san?"

Ryoma scratched his chest with the barrel of his gun. "To begin with, we have to get rid of the Tokugawa Bakufu. Because never has there been a dirtier, more corrupt government in the history of Japan."

Soon Ryoma and Kenkichi left the others, and took a sculling boat to the pier in front of the mansion of the wealthy Shimonoseki merchant, to see the two most powerful men in Choshu.

"Sakamoto-san," Takasugi roared when the Tosa men appeared in the room where he and Katsura had been discussing the war. "I can't tell you how happy I am to see you. Did you get my message?"

"No," Ryoma said, noticing that Takasugi looked more pale than ever.

"What I wanted to talk to you about was..."

"Sakamoto-san," Katsura interrupted, "Miyoshi has told us about the fighting at the Teradaya, but I still can't believe you escaped alive."

"It was easy" Ryoma lied. "Thanks to that pistol you gave me, Takasugi-san." Then turning to Kenkichi, he said, "Oh, I nearly forgot. Meet Nagaoka Kenkichi from Tosa."

After Kenkichi bowed, and made the proper greetings which were returned by the two Choshu men, Takasugi looked at Ryoma, and smiled. "Sakamoto-san, your showing up at this particular time is an omen, I'm sure. If you'll fight on our side, the Bakufu won't stand a chance." Next, Takasugi briefed the two Tosa men about the situation on the other three fronts, after which Ryoma proposed a toast. "Here's to victory!" he roared, and all four men drained their cups.

"Our intelligence sources," Takasugi continued, "tell us that the enemy plans to attack on the fourth and most crucial front on the day after tomorrow. But before they can make the first move, we'll surprise them by crossing the strait tomorrow morning, and blow them to hell. Can we count on you to command the Union in battle?"

"That's why I've come!" Ryoma said, slapping his knee, then shaking Takasugi's hand furiously. "Tomorrow morning it is!"

"Good," said Takasugi. "You take the Union and another one of our ships, the Koshin Maru, across the strait to the inlet of Moji, where the enemy is heavily fortified. Then I want you to blow them to hell. I'll take the Year of the Tiger and the two remaining ships of our fleet, and do the same at the inlet of Tanoura, just east of there. We only have five warships in our entire fleet. You'll command two, and I'll command three. Our goal is to capture the enemy's military headquarters at Kokura Castle. But since we estimate that they have about twenty thousand troops up there, it won't be easy. First we must destroy their fortifications at Moji and Tanoura. Then from the Choshu island of Hikoshima we'll attack Dairi, which is further west, closer to the castle."

"Where is the Bakufu fleet?" Kenkichi asked.

"Off the coast of Hiroshima, apparently to help with the fighting in the east." Takasugi grinned diabolically. "Although we did plenty of damage to them at Ohshima."

"Once we attack," Ryoma said, "you can be sure that the enemy will rush directly to this strait, with all the sea forces they have." Ryoma shuddered to think that Katsu Kaishu might be commanding the Bakufu fleet.

"That reminds me," Katsura said, as if reading Ryoma's thoughts. "It might interest you to know that we've just received word that Katsu is at Osaka Castle."

"Osaka!" Ryoma exclaimed. Ryoma wiped his sweaty forehead with his dirty sleeve. "Then he won't be commanding the Bakufu fleet." Ryoma had
never felt so relieved in his life. "Katsura-san, there's something I nearly forgot to mention," he lied. "What is it?"

"It's about the rice you gave to Saigo." "What about it?"

"I have the rice with me on the Union." "What?" Katsura slammed his cup on the floor.

"Saigo told me that as a samurai he wouldn't be able to accept your rice at a time like this, when Choshu is fighting a war."

Vehemence filled Katsura's eyes. "What you're telling me is that Saigo has refused to put Satsuma in a position of gratitude toward Choshu."

"Katsura-san," Ryoma silenced him with a wave of his hand, "you have no call to be angry. Think of it this way," he said consolingly. "What way?" Katsura snapped.

"Choshu's having given the rice to Satsuma in the first place was a token of gratitude for the favors they have done for you, right?" Katsura nodded grimly.

"Well, Saigo's having returned the rice at a time like this, when you are fighting a war, is nothing less than a gesture of honor." Ryoma stopped speaking, and a heavy silence fell over the room, as he wondered if Choshu and Satsuma would ever really trust each other.

"But Sakamoto-san," Katsura said, "certainly you understand why I can't take back that rice."

"Yes, I understand." Ryoma scratched the back of his head. "But I don't think you'd want it, bound up as it is in gratitude and honor, to rot in the hold of the ship."

"No, of course not. But what do you suggest?"

"Well, if you'd let my company have the rice as capital, we'd put it to use for the good of the nation."

Katsura laughed in spite of himself. "You have a special way of putting things," he said. "How can I refuse?"

Later that afternoon Ryoma returned to the Union. "We fight tomorrow at dawn," was the first thing he told his men after assembling them on deck. "Tora, you're captain of this ship," he instructed his best seaman. "You stay on the bridge to steer. Shun," he turned to Toranosuke's young assistant, "since you're so good at climbing the mast, you be in charge of flag signals to communicate with the Koshin Maru, which will be fighting alongside us. Taro," Ryoma looked hard at his nephew, "you're the chief gunner, so make sure all guns are charged and ready to fire. Sonojo, you take good care of the engine. Uma, you handle the boiler room. Yonosuke, you troubleshoot. And Kenkichi," he said, placing his hand on the shoulder of the only man in the group who had not studied under Katsu Kaishu, "you stay with me until the fighting starts, at which time I want all of you to do just that. Everyone mans a gun, except Tora, who'll stay on the bridge. Is that clear?" Ryoma shouted.

"Yes!" all seven men shouted back in unison.

The next morning before dawn, five Choshu warships left the Port of Shimonoseki. Only the Union, commanded by Sakamoto Ryoma, and the Year of the Tiger, commanded by Takasugi Shinsaku, were steam-powered. Shortly out of port, less than 400 meters from the Kokura coast, Takasugi's three ships cut a 45-degree arc, and headed straight for the inlet of Tanoura, leaving Ryoma's two vessels just offshore from Moji.

The Union headed slowly toward the enemy shoreline, the only sounds the soft humming of the engine, and the bow cutting a steady course through the water. The darkness was gradually giving way to dawn, but so dense was the fog that Ryoma, on the bridge with Toranosuke and Kenkichi, could barely see the red and green searchlights on the Choshu warship sailing alongside, or even the beacon on the coast between the inlets of Tanoura and Moji, let alone the enemy batteries, which were now within gunshot range. "I guess that means they can't see us, either," Ryoma said to Toranosuke, who only nodded in reply. "But we know that they're there, and that's all that matters." A short while later the fog began to lift, just enough for the three men to see the military barracks and the batteries along the enemy coast. "Well, this is it," Ryoma said, before jumping onto the deck and shouting at the top of his lungs, "Chief gunner Takamatsu Taro! Fire!"

Taro immediately pulled the lanyard at the breech of one of six 12-pound bronze cannon mounted along the starboard gunwale. A thunderous boom ripped the air, and a split-second later an entire enemy battery burst into flames. The next shot, fired by Sonojo, hit a munitions storehouse, the deafening explosion on land drowning out the cheering of every man on deck. "This is easy," Ryoma screamed, sweat running down his face. "Now come on, everyone. Fire! Fire! Fire!" he hollered furiously, running along the smoky gunwale, the smell of gunpowder filling his head. "Come on, Yonosuke, fire! Let's go," he screamed, walloping Umanosuke on the back. Soon all six Union guns and those of the Koshin Maru were firing repeatedly at the enemy, who wasted no time returning fire with fire. Although the Union, which now shuddered violently from its own cannon fire, was able to move about of its own power to avoid being hit, the sailing vessel Koshin Maru had to drop anchor to keep from drifting in the strong current. Enemy shells grazed the masts of the Union, several exploded in the sea just beyond the starboard, others zoomed overhead, exploding in midair. After about thirty minutes of continuous fighting, the coast of Moji was burning, but not before the Union was hit on one of the wooden lifeboats mounted along her starboard. Yonosuke, however, was quick to react, dousing the flames with seawater before any real damage was done. But when a cannonball zoomed just above Ryoma's head, he gave the order to cease fire and circle back out of gunshot range.

"Now listen, everyone!" Ryoma shouted from the center deck, Shunme standing next to him and signaling his every command to the men on the Koshin Maru. "We've given the enemy hell! And just listen to Takasugi's

squadron pounding the shore at Tanoura. But it looks like the Koshin Maru has been hit pretty badly, so let's get back there and finish the job."

Even as Ryoma shouted, the constant booming of cannon and the crackling of rifles made his ears ring. Five hundred men of the Extraordinary Corps had crossed the strait in dozens of rowboats to storm the enemy shore. As these troops advanced inland, now shooting their rifles, now hitting the dirt to avoid enemy fire, Ryoma and his men could see their bayonets glisten in the morning sunlight. Thousands of enemy troops fought frantically to defend against the Choshu beachhead but couldn't, as the hundreds of junks, on which they had intended to cross over to Shimonoseki, burned.

The Extraordinary Corps, consisting mostly of men of the peasant and merchant classes, were clearly routing the samurai overlords of Kokura Han. As the Union circled back into firing range, Ryoma watched the spectacular sight through the telescope on the bridge. "It's fantastic, Tora," he shouted, as his men resumed pounding the Moji inlet with cannonade. "This is revolution. Real revolution. Peasants fighting samurai and winning. I've finally seen it, and it's fantastic. It's time for the people to come to power. Soon there'll be no more samurai, no more daimyo, nor more han and no more Bakufu."

As Ryoma spoke, hundreds of rifles simultaneously opened fire on the enemy from across the strait at Shimonoseki. "Sakamoto-san," Toranosuke gasped, peering through the telescope. "Take a look at that." The ship's captain swallowed hard to keep steady his nerves, just as his skilled hands kept steady the ship throughout the furious sea battle.

"Enemy warships," Ryoma snickered, somewhat crazily thought Toranosuke, as he looked through the telescope at the three great warships just beyond the tiny islet of Ganryujima, barely visible in the dense fog. "Two and a half centuries ago, Miyamoto Musashi defeated Sasaki Kojiro in a sword duel on that little island," Ryoma said. "That was way back when the Tokugawa Bakufu was powerful. But now it's weak, and those great ships epitomize its weakness."

"What are you talking about, Sakamoto-san? Each one of those monsters must be three times the size of the Union."

"No matter," Ryoma snickered, as the booming of cannonade shook the ship. "We keep fighting."

"But if just one of them should attack," Toranosuke's eyes opened wide as he spoke, "we wouldn't stand a chance in this old boat."

"That's just the point. They won't attack."

"How do you know that?"

"Because if they intended to attack, they would have already done so. Those are three of the most powerful warships in Japan. The biggest one of them is the Fujisan Maru, which the Bakufu bought from America last year. If I remember correctly, it weighs one thousand tons, more than three times what the Union weighs. It has one hundred fifty horsepower, more than twice the power we have. The Fujisan Maru is a world-class warship. But even if they wanted to fight, we couldn't run away."

"But we wouldn't stand a chance, Sakamoto-san."

"Tora, you of all people know how badly I've wanted to get a hold of a warship, even a small one like the Union, to fight the Bakufu. Well, here we are, finally in command of a warship, right at this moment, our guns pounding the enemy coast, and the largest ship in the Tokugawa fleet watching us from a safe distance. If it should approach us, we'll blow it to hell."

Hell is exactly what Takasugi's Extraordinary Corps was giving the enemy on land. Unlike the Bakufu troops, which outnumbered them ten to one, these commoners of Choshu had gotten actual fighting experience in the battle against the British fleet, and in the Choshu civil war. Murata Zoroku, the man whom Katsura had put in charge of modernizing Choshu's military, had not only made sure his troops were well armed, but he also trained them in guerrilla warfare, of which he was a master. After burning the batteries and fortifications that the ships' cannonade couldn't reach, the men of the Extraordinary Corps surrounded the enemy army, chasing it into the hills, and burning everything in their path.

As Ryoma had predicted, the Tokugawa warships never attacked. "If only they had the common sense to fire on Takasugi's troops from the rear they might have a chance," Ryoma snickered, as all seven men watched history unfold. "It's as if the Tokugawa Bakufu were crumbling before our very eyes," Ryoma said. "Fighting in this war is certainly the most amusing thing I've ever done." Victorious in his first sea battle, Sakamoto Ryoma led both ships back to the Port of Shimonoseki, as flames consumed the coastline.

Five days later, Katsu Kaishu reported to Osaka Castle for a meeting with

the Shogun's prime minister, Itakura Katsukiyo. This prime minister of a

regime which had brought itself to the brink of destruction looked

a great deal older than his forty-three years, and his good nature was often confused for frailty of character, although he was by no means a weak man. "Welcome, Katsu-sensei," Itakura referred to Kaishu with the honorific, although as a son of the daimyo of the Tokugawa-related domain of Kuwana and the Shogun's prime minister he unquestionably outranked the navy commissioner. "It's good to see you again, although I wish our meeting could be under more pleasant circumstances," Itakura said, then took a long pipe from a black lacquered smoking stand, and filled it with finely cut tobacco from a neat black box.

Kaishu sat down on the tatami floor, opposite Itakura. "Pleasant they are not." Kaishu returned the warm greeting with a smile. "But, Itakura-san, I know I can be frank with you."

"Yes, of course," Itakura replied, lighting his pipe as Kaishu began lambasting the recent policies of the Bakufu. "To start with," Kaishu spoke in a brisk Edo accent, "let me tell you that I chose not to bother speaking my mind at a recent meeting I had with Oguri, as I knew he would not listen." Kaishu paused, then asked, "You are aware of what Oguri said at that meeting?"

"Yes. I received a letter from Minister Mizuno informing me."

"Oguri is a maniac." As usual, Kaishu was blunt. "I agree that establishing a centralized prefectural system of government in Japan is necessary in our dealings with foreign countries, but it is Oguri's intent that the House of Tokugawa abolish all of the han, and set up an absolute dictatorship at Edo. The idea is not only ludicrous, but impossible." As Kaishu spoke these last words he pounded his fist on the floor, drawing a perplexed look from Itakura. "It would be the downfall of the Tokugawa," Kaishu shouted.

"But a strong Tokugawa Bakufu means a strong Japan," Itakura resorted to the trite logic prevalent among men of the Bakufu.

Kaishu sighed, shook his head slowly. "Itakura-san," he said, "you and I both know better than that. If the Bakufu is really sincere about establishing a centralized government for the good of the nation, and not just for its own selfish gains, then it must set an example for the other clans by first abolishing itself, and relinquishing its own lands to a new centralized government." Kaishu again struck the floor in anger. "Oguri will never understand that this is the only way to save Japan from foreign subjugation. Instead, he prefers to prostitute our sacred nation to the French, who are no better than a pack of wolves, so that he can buy weapons to wage war on other Japanese. Choshu," Kaishu screamed the defamed name from where he sat, in the inner-castle at Osaka, which for the past year had not only been the residence of the Shogun himself, but was the very nerve center of the Bakufu's war against the renegade domain, "should never have been attacked in the first place. Instead a council of lords should have been assembled to decide how to handle the Choshu problem. The enemy is not Choshu. The enemy is ourselves, until we change our whole system, whereby the most able lords have an equal say in a new centralized government, whose head would be the Emperor in Kyoto. The House of Tokugawa must consider the welfare of the Japanese nation before that of the House of Tokugawa. And I think you will agree with me, Itakura-san, that national welfare can only be achieved after peace has been restored, and harmony achieved among all the clans. And the key to peace and harmony lies in developing national wealth and military strength in a united Japan, and not," Kaishu again pounded his fist on the floor, "in selling out to the French or any other foreign country."

"How would you propose developing a powerful military without outside help?"

"As I've always said, we must continue trading with the foreigners, and incorporating their technology. But when I say 'we,' I'm not talking about just the Bakufu, but the entire nation. Edo must relinquish its monopoly on foreign trade, because it is only through international trade, conducted by all of the wealthy clans, that we can produce the wealth needed to strengthen our national army and navy, to build factories for weapons, ships and machinery, and to establish more universities to promote and spread knowledge of science and technology. All of this is essential for national security. We must do these things if Japan is to compete with the rest of the world, and most importantly, if it is to protect itself from foreign subjugation." Having spoken his mind to the Shogun's prime minister, the man whom Ryoma called "the greatest in Japan" stopped to take a deep breath, before summing up in a much calmer tone: "This is the only way we can regain our national pride. But in order to accomplish this, the Bakufu must first form a new representative government. This would be the strongest form of government, by which Japan would be able to stand up to the foreigners."

"Katsu-sensei," Itakura spoke in a low, disturbed voice, "let me say that I agree that what you have just said is of the utmost importance to the nation. But I have not called you here today to discuss the formation of a new government."

"I see," Kaishu said, but refused to stop just now. "Then how about the war?" he asked, staring hard at Itakura. "The Bakufu is losing on all fronts a war it should never have started in the first place. It's a total disaster. Satsuma has sided with Choshu, and..." Kaishu suddenly paused, a wide smile surfacing on his face.

"You appear pleased by Satsuma's deception." Itakura gave Kaishu a confused look.

"No, Itakura-san," Kaishu lied. "It's just that Sakamoto Ryoma, the man everyone is now saying was responsible for the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, was the head of my naval academy in Kobe. As a matter of fact, maybe people should be blaming me for Satsuma's support of Choshu."

"What are you talking about?" Itakura became suddenly annoyed.

"I was the one who introduced Ryoma to Saigo."

"Katsu-sensei! This is an outrage."

"Please, don't misunderstand me." Kaishu held out his hand in a gesture of appeasement. "That was nearly two years ago, after Satsuma had just helped drive Choshu from Kyoto. An alliance between Satsuma and Choshu at that time was unimaginable." Katsu was not being entirely truthful. After all, it was with the unimaginable in mind that he had introduced Ryoma to Saigo, and even urged the Satsuma leader to unite with other han to topple the Bakufu. "The last thing Satsuma and Choshu should be doing," Kaishu had told Saigo during their first meeting in the fall of 1864, "is fighting among yourselves" "But anyway," he grinned at Itakura now, in the dangerous summer of 1866, "Ryoma is really quite a fellow."

"How can you say such a thing?" Itakura was dumbfounded. "Sakamoto's one of the most wanted men in Japan."

"Yes, ridiculous, isn't it," Kaishu snickered. "Of all the Tosa men I know, and I know a lot of them, including Lord Yodo himself, Ryoma is definitely the most talented and farsighted. And something else. The very first time Ryoma came to my home in Edo, he intended to kill me." Kaishu released an amused chuckle.


"Of course, I just laughed at him then. But Ryoma has a presence of mind, and an inner-strength that makes him a very difficult opponent. He's a good man," Kaishu concluded in a melancholy tone, the smile now gone from his face. "But getting back to the war," he said, his voice now grim, "I really don't think the Bakufu has a chance of winning."

"That," said Itakura, "is exactly why I summoned you here today."


"Yes. Satsuma and Aizu are now feuding bitterly. Some of the Aizu samurai are up in arms over Satsuma's refusal to send troops against Choshu. Before that situation turns into a separate war, I want you to mediate between the two, and get them to settle their differences in a peaceful manner. Katsu-sensei," Itakura implored, "you must succeed in this, because as you probably know, you are the only man in the Bakufu who Satsuma will listen to."

"Yes, I know." Kaishu was not displeased with the remark, which of course was true. "The same goes for Choshu. I'm sure that eventually I'll have to negotiate a peace with them, too." Although Kaishu believed that the end of Tokugawa rule was very near, and even willed that it be so for the welfare of Japan, as a Tokugawa samurai he would give his very life to avoid the total destruction of the House of Tokugawa.

"Yes," Itakura nodded, "and to tell you honestly, I don't think that such a time is very far off."

"At any rate, I'm certain I can settle things between Satsuma and Aizu," Kaishu assured, and indeed by the beginning of the following month he had done just that.

As Kaishu had warned, the war against Choshu ended in disaster for the Tokugawa regime. Although cease-fires had temporarily been effected on all four fronts in June, fighting again broke out in July, and by August a Choshu victory was certain. On the southeastern front, Takasugi's forces had already recaptured Ohshima Island. Near the end of June, less than three weeks after the commencement of the war on the eastern front, the Tokugawa commander in Hiroshima ordered his forces to withdraw in hopes that Choshu would do the same. He was mistaken; and shortly afterwards Choshu's army advanced into the Bakufu's stronghold on its eastern border, after which an unofficial truce was obtained. At the end of July the Bakufu launched an all-out attack on the Choshu forces in Hiroshima, but to no avail. Finally, on August 7, representatives of the Lord of Hiroshima, whose troops had remained neutral throughout the war, met with their Choshu counterparts, promising to seal off the Choshu-Hiroshima border if the Choshu Army would withdraw from the territory it had gained in their domain. Choshu agreed, putting an end to the fighting on the second front. In the northeast, the Choshu Army had stormed the castletown of Hamada, forcing the samurai of this staunch Tokugawa ally to burn their castle and flee to nearby Matsue Han. In Kokura, the western front of the War On Four Sides, Takasugi's forces attacked again on July 3, and a third time shortly after. On the last day of July the commander of the Kumamoto troops, disgusted at the Bakufu's refusal to employ its powerful warship Fujisan Maru in the fighting, took his army home. Although Kumamoto Han had opposed the war from the start, its samurai had been the fiercest fighters at Kokura, defeating the Choshu forces in the third battle. It was no wonder, then, that the armies of three other Kyushu domains who had been fighting for the Tokugawa followed the Kumamoto example, and returned to their respective fiefdoms, leaving only the Kokura Army to defend against the Choshu onslaught. On August 1, the vice-commander of all the Tokugawa forces, Ogasawara Nagamichi, secretly fled his headquarters at Kokura Castle, sneaking out the rear gate under the cover of night, and sailing to Nagasaki aboard the Fujisan Maru. This, however, was not until Ogasawara, facing certain defeat, had received even more devastating news from Osaka Castle: on the twentieth of the previous month Shogun Iemochi had suddenly taken ill and died. On the same day that Ogasawara fled, Choshu attacked a fourth time, routing the Kokura Army, which, abandoned by its commander, burned the castle and took to the hills to engage in guerrilla warfare against the Extraordinary Corps. Although peace would not officially be achieved between Kokura and Choshu until the beginning of the following year, by August Choshu was in control of both sides of the Shimonoseki Strait, and had defeated the Bakufu armies on all four fronts.
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