Ryoma : Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Hillsborough, Romulus

Yüklə 1,7 Mb.
ölçüsü1,7 Mb.
1   ...   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   ...   27

The Bakufu was crumbling. Defeat at the hands of a single han had not only demoralized its own samurai, but had also made it clear to the entire nation that the Tokugawa hegemony of over two and a half centuries had, for all means and purposes, ended. With the exception of the Tokugawa-related clans, the Bakufu had now lost the support of virtually all of the han in Japan; and Edo was now painfully aware of the alliance between Satsuma and Choshu.

With open defiance to Tokugawa rule now possible, Sakamoto Ryoma was anxious to conduct business with Western traders in Nagasaki. But his shipping company was without a ship, and the capital it had made during the past year was fast running out. Such were the circumstances facing the Dragon when he led his men back to company headquarters in Nagasaki at the end of the seventh month of 1866.
Ryoma and his men had returned to Nagasaki victorious in battle, but nevertheless felt defeated by what seemed an insurmountable impasse. They had temporarily moved their headquarters from the old two-roomed building in the Kameyama Hills east of the city, to the second floor of Kosone Eishiro's house near the center of town. It was here that they gathered one night at the end of July to discuss the dismal future of their shipping company without a ship.

"I don't see that we have any other choice but to disband the company," Ryoma told them grimly.

"Disband the company?" Toranosuke exploded. "We can't do that."

"Choshu doesn't need our help anymore to buy foreign weapons," Ryoma said. "Anyway, what good is a shipping company without a ship?'"

"Sakamoto-san," Sonojo grabbed Ryoma's wrist, "we've come this far together." Tears welled up in his eyes. "Everything we've done is bound up in this company. I'd rather die together than disband."

"I don't like it any more than the rest of you," Ryoma groaned. The thought of dissolving the company tore at Ryoma's insides; but so heavy was his sense of responsibility for the welfare of his men that he was willing to go even that far. They had been surviving off the rice that Ryoma had received from Katsura. Part of this they exchanged for gold to supplement their minimal monthly salaries from Satsuma. But the supply was limited, and without a ship Ryoma could see no other way out of the predicament than to disband. "Katsura's rice isn't going to last for ever," he said. "And we can't very well continue taking money from Satsuma without doing anything in return."

"I suppose as ronin we're no better off than the peasants were three centuries ago under the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi," Kenkichi said. "In order to get as much rice as possible to feed his armies, Hideyoshi had a simple policy: 'Don't let the peasants live, but don't kill them either.' In other words, Hideyoshi took nearly all of the rice that the peasants could produce, leaving them just enough to subsist on so that they could continuing growing more rice for his troops."

"Like us," Yonosuke said. "Although we're not dead, as sailors we're not really alive without a ship."

"You're right about one thing, Kenkichi," Ryoma said.

"What's that?"

"No one's going to kill us, at least not until I've gotten rid of all of the damn tyrants like Hideyoshi, and cleaned up Japan once and for all."

Yonosuke, who had heard Ryoma allude to his favorite metaphor on several occasions, knew exactly what he meant. "But, Sakamoto-san," he said, "how do you propose cleaning up Japan without the proper tools, including a ship?"

"I wish I had an answer. But," Ryoma looked hard at each of his seven men, "don't any of you ever forget that we have an extremely valuable commodity that many people need, but only a few have."

"Which is?" Taro asked.

"Navigational expertise," Toranosuke answered for Ryoma.

"What good is navigational expertise without a ship?" Shunme asked.

"Or the money to buy one?" Umanosuke added.

"That's why it looks like we'll have to disband," Ryoma said, pounding his fist in his hand. "Wait a minute!" he suddenly hollered, his eyes open wide. "I have an idea."

"What?" Sonojo asked.

"Something similar to what we've done for Satsuma and Choshu. We'll form a financial union between all thirty-four han on Kyushu, and Choshu. The union would be in the form of a company, like ours, only each of the clans involved would own a share."

"A mutual stock company," Kenkichi said.

"Yes. And through this company, each of the clans could market their own products, which we, the Kameyama Company, would transport to the central market in Osaka for sale throughout Honshu. And since Choshu is in control of the Shimonoseki Strait, we could check all ships, both foreign and Japanese, as they pass through. In addition to finding out what products are being supplied to the Osaka market, we could also collect a duty from all ships which did not belong to the union. We would handle only those products for which there was not such a large supply. In other words, we'd only handle products for which there was a high demand, and so make the largest possible profit. Not even the Bakufu would be able to compete with us."

"Ryoma-san," Toranosuke said, "the idea sounds good, but..."

"Good?" Ryoma bellowed. "I think it's a stroke of genius, even if it is my own idea. The clans would supply the money and the ships, and the Kameyama Company would run their business for them."

"Fantastic!" Yonosuke blurted.

"But..." Toranosuke said, still doubtful.

"I know," Ryoma interrupted. "It all sounds like so much big talk, right?"


"If anyone has any better ideas, let me hear them."

The next morning Ryoma had two unexpected visitors, one from Satsuma the other from Ohzu.

The Outside Lord of Ohzu, of northern Shikoku, was related through marriage to the Mori of Choshu, and a staunch proponent of Imperial Loyalism. Although Ryoma had never dealt with Ohzu men before, it was not without camaraderie that he and Toranosuke received the visitors in the reception room at the Kosone house.

The Satsuma man was Godai Saisuke, whom Ryoma had recently met in Nagasaki. Godai impressed Ryoma with an air of elegance uncommon among Satsuma samurai. He was much smaller than Ryoma, slight of build, had a wide forehead, and intelligent penetrating eyes accented by upswept brows. Unlike Saigo, Okubo and, with the exception of Komatsu, any of the other Satsuma men Ryoma knew, Godai was of the upper-samurai class, and so from an early age had been chosen to study navigation and gunnery under the Dutch at Nagasaki. In 1862, before the falling out between Satsuma and Choshu, Godai had sailed to Shanghai with Takasugi Shinsaku, during which time the two became close friends. In 1865, Godai had led fourteen Satsuma samurai on a study tour of Europe, and was now in Nagasaki to buy weapons from foreign traders.

"Sakamoto-san," Godai said, "this is Kunishima-san, of Ohzu. He has just purchased a steamer from a Dutch trader here, but there are only a few Ohzu men who know how to operate it."

"Why did you buy the ship?" Ryoma was blunt.

"To transport guns from Nagasaki to Ohzu," Kunishima replied in a low voice.

"For what purpose?" Ryoma asked.

"To prepare for all-out war against the Bakufu."

Ryoma nodded slowly, staring hard into Kunishima's eyes. "Godai-san, how many troops does Satsuma have stationed in Osaka right now?" he asked, shooting his gaze at the Satsuma man.

"Seven or eight hundred."

"Is that enough to restrain the Bakufu forces there?"

"Saigo thinks so."

"Where is Saigo?"

"In Kagoshima with Komatsu."

"Then Okubo's still in Kyoto?"

"Yes." Godai smiled. "He's negotiating with the Imperial Court daily, trying to secure its support, and restore Choshu to Imperial grace.

Ryoma scratched his chin, smiled. "I'd better inform Katsura of this. I know how cagey he can be, and I wouldn't want him thinking that Satsuma wasn't living up to its part of the agreement."

"That's exactly why I'm here in Nagasaki," Godai said. "To buy weapons for Choshu, and Satsuma of course. As you know, the British legation visited Kagoshima in June, the same day you attacked Kokura." Godai paused, offered a wide smile. "For which, by the way, I must commend you and your men." While the French supported the Bakufu in an attempt to gain a monopoly on Japanese trade, its arch-rival Great Britain now wholeheartedly backed Satsuma and Choshu for similar purposes. Unlike the French, the British had recently come to two very important realizations about the future of Japan: the Bakufu was fast crumbling; and soon the nation would be ruled by an Imperial government which would be formed by a coalition of the leading clans. The British envisioned Satsuma and Choshu at the vanguard of this coalition, and in order to secure favorable trading conditions with the future Japanese government, at the exclusion of the French, London established amicable relations with the two archenemies of the Tokugawa.

"And what came of the British visit to Satsuma?" Ryoma asked.

"They've pledged to cooperate with us in procuring as many warships and guns as we'll need to overthrow the Bakufu. Unlike the French, the British seem as anxious to see the Tokugawa fall as we are." Godai burst out laughing, drawing similar sentiments from Ryoma and Toranosuke, but not from Kunishima, who remained silent. Godai turned to the Ohzu man, "Kunishima-san," he said, "please speak your mind."

"Sakamoto-san," Kunishima's voice was anxious, almost desperate, "Godai-san has suggested that your company might be willing to hire out some men to us to operate our new ship. Of course, we would pay you well for your services."

"How big is the ship?" Toranosuke asked.

"Small. Only four hundred fifty tons."

"How many men would you need?" Ryoma asked.

"About six."

Ryoma looked over his shoulder at his most skilled seaman, who nodded approval. "Very well," he said, thrusting out his right hand to the delight of the Ohzu man.

On that same day, Toranosuke and five other men-sailors the company had hired to man the Werewolf-went to work for Ohzu Han, aboard the steamer Iroha Mam. Assured of a temporary source of income, Ryoma could now work on his new idea of forming a financial union between Choshu and the Kyushu clans, or at the very least, procure a single ship, to avoid disbanding his company.

One afternoon in mid-August, Ryoma and Oryo sat on the verandah, on the downstairs floor of the Kosone house, to escape the stifling heat inside. Since the end of July, Ryoma, Oryo and several of his men had taken up residence, if not refuge, on the second floor of the house. Aside from Oryo, the whole lot of them were fugitives, with Ryoma himself one of the Bakufu's most wanted men. Not only had Tokugawa agents just missed killing him at the Teradaya in the previous January, but it was now believed, if not known, that he was the man most responsible for uniting Choshu and Satsuma.

Ryoma was drinking a glass of beer-a beverage which Eishiro had recently introduced him to, and which he had dubbed "foamy sake." Oryo

was sipping cool barley tea, her moon guitar on the dark wooden floor beside her. From the open verandah they had a pleasant view of the front garden. Kenkichi was writing at a desk in the next room, and Umanosuke was sleeping in another. Ryoma had dispatched Taro, Shunme, Yonosuke and Sonojo to the mercantile center at Osaka to investigate the markets there, so they would know what kind of merchandise to handle, when and if they could procure a ship. Toranosuke was still working aboard the Ohzu steamer with the other sailors.

"It's been five months since we've been married," Oryo said in a low voice.

Although Oryo was coy, Ryoma read her intentions. "I know you'd like to have a house of your own," he said. "I'd like more than anything for you to have one. And you will. But I have so much on my mind right now. The Bakufu is about to fall, and I have a lot to do before that happens." Now that Choshu had been victorious in the west, Ryoma had begun considering the best way to avoid all-out war in the east. He feared that a civil war between the pro-Tokugawa forces and Satsuma-Choshu would not only cost tens of thousands of Japanese lives-lives which would be essential in building a new nation-but would also make Japan more vulnerable to foreign invasion. It was for this reason that Ryoma had made an appointment this very evening to meet a vassal of Lord Shungaku to discuss the possibilities of a peaceful revolution. "Unfortunately, Oryo," he said, "I really believe that without me the very future of Japan would be in jeopardy. I've never said this to anyone else, but recently, I've realized that it is up to me to form a new government in Japan." Ryoma paused, laughed aloud. "After I clean up the mess we're in now, that is." Ryoma rarely, if ever, spoke about matters of politics, war or business with Oyro, who was not quite sure how to react. "But what about all of your men in the company?" she asked. "Certainly they can help you."

"They are helping me."

"And Saigo-san, and Komatsu-san? Katsura-san and Takasugi-san? And Nakaoka-san? And what about Katsu-san, and Okubo-san? I thought you said that they were some of the greatest men in Japan."

"They are!" Ryoma was emphatic. "But each one of them is bound to something I'm not. Saigo and Komatsu are Satsuma samurai, so their top priority is Satsuma. Katsura and Takasugi are Choshu samurai, so their top priority is Choshu." Ryoma drained his glass of beer. "Although I know good and well that Katsu and Okubo are more concerned with the welfare of Japan than they are with the Tokugawa, since both of them are direct vassals of the Shogun, they can't oppose the Bakufu. That leaves Nakaoka and me. As ronin, our loyalties aren't bound to any particular han. But Nakaoka is intent on crushing the Bakufu through military force."

"I thought that was your intent as well."

"It is!" Ryoma took his wife's hand, looked hard into her eyes. "Oryo," he said ominously, "there are a lot of people who misunderstand me. I'm not only talking about people on the side of the Bakufu, who as you know better than anyone, have tried to kill me. But I can't let that stand in my way, because I know deep down in my own heart what I must do." Ryoma wiped a lone tear that had trickled halfway down Oryo's smooth, white face. "If the Bakufu remains adamant, and refuses to listen to reason and avoid a bloody revolution, then we must be prepared to bury the Tokugawa by military force. If we fail, then the best thing for us to do would be to leave Japan and stay overseas for a while."

"Leave Japan?" Oyro gasped softly. She couldn't fathom the thought. "Leave Japan?" she repeated, dumbfounded. "Stay overseas?" The notion seemed no less preposterous than going to another planet. "Who?" she asked.

"All of us. The men in my company, and you and I." Sensing his wife's dismay, Ryoma took firm hold of her hand. "Don't look too worried," he said. "All of us, including you, have already abandoned our homes. The next logical step would be to leave Japan if we can't save it. But listen closely now, because what I'm about to say is very important."

Oryo nodded.

"In case anything should happen to me before this whole thing is over, I've asked Miyoshi to make sure that you get to my brother's house in Kochi, where you'll be safe."

Oryo's face turned pale, and her dark eyes opened wide. "I've never heard you speak like this," she murmured.

Ryoma burst out laughing, to change the mood. "Nor have I," he said. "Bear with me a little longer. When things are finally settled, with the business our company will be doing, I'll buy you the best house in Nagasaki." He smiled, wrapped his arms around his wife. "Of course, I'd rather live in the mountains, just the two of us."

"You talk such nonsense, Sakamoto Ryoma," Oryo said, freeing herself from Ryoma's arms, and refilling his beer glass with cool barley tea. "You could no sooner live in the mountains than on the moon. You wouldn't be able to sit still for a day. And besides, who would run the new government if not you?" Oryo bantered, playing on Ryoma's inflated ego.

"I sure don't want any part in running it. I would bore me to death. But living in the mountains with you would suit me just fine. Of course, I'd still have my shipping company, and sometimes I'd be gone for long periods at a time. When I was, you could stay in Kochi with my sister Otome. But when there was nothing else to do, you and I could sit around our house in the mountains, just the two of us. You could play the moon guitar for me, and I'd write songs to your music."

"I've been practicing hard with Kosone-san," Oryo said, putting her hands together and smiling. "But if I'm going to be playing for you," her smile became a mock frown, "I wish I'd have begun playing the moon guitar when I was a little girl," she said, and both of them burst out laughing.

"Why don't you play something for me right now?"

"What would you like to hear?" Oryo took the short-necked instrument in both arms, held it in her lap.
"Something you think would go with that poem I showed you last night."

As Oryo began playing, and Ryoma slowly reciting, Kenkichi joined them on the verandah.

"It matters not what people say of me,

I am the only one who knows what I must do."

"Ryoma," Kenkichi said, obviously impressed, "I never knew you wrote poetry."

"Only when I have the time." Without saying another word, Ryoma suddenly stood up, stepped off the verandah into the garden, walked over to a mound of grass, and, to the chagrin of Oryo, relieved himself. Although Oryo never complained about her husband's urinating in the garden, it was what he was prone to do after that, particularly when he had been drinking, that bothered her. And sure enough, this afternoon was no exception. Ryoma proceeded to lay down in his favorite spot for a nap, which, to his wife's dismay, was the same place that he had chosen to urinate.

After a few minutes of wondering whether or not she should wake him up, her decency got the better of her. Oryo went out to the garden, where Ryoma was now fast asleep, snoring loudly. "Sakamoto Ryoma," she called.

"Huh?" Ryoma opened one eye.

"Either stop your habit of sleeping in the garden, or stop urinating here," Oryo reproached, drawing a burst of laughter from Ryoma. "I don't see what's so funny," she said.

"It's the look on your face. Anyway, you know that I like being natural. I hate a dark, cramped latrine. And besides, it's too hot to sleep inside."

Oryo just shook her head, and left her "natural" husband sleeping in the garden.

That evening, Ryoma, Kenkichi, and Umanosuke walked southward along the Nakajimagawa, an orange sun sinking into the purple mountains, which stretched westward beyond the green hills on the other side of the sapphire bay. The three men were clad in white navy hakama. Umanosuke and Kenkichi, in high wooden clogs, wore both swords at their left hip. Ryoma, in black navy boots, wore only a single short sword, and, as usual, carried his Smith and Wesson revolver tucked inside his kimono. After crossing a double-arched stone bridge, the three men followed the narrow lane to the main road running along the green foothills on the eastern side of the town, and turned right. The east side of the road was lined with ancient temples, their black tile roofs rising above stone-based white earthen walls. Ryoma suddenly stopped, pointed to a graveyard at the foot of the hills. "Chojiro's in there," he said in a low voice, barely audible. A brief silence ensued, broken by the shrill of tens of thousands of cicadas. "But what's done is done," he muttered, as the three continued walking. Soon they crossed the Bridge of Reflection, beyond which the streets were lined with pleasure palaces, hundreds of red lanterns hanging from their eaves illuminating the dusk. "Here it is," Ryoma said, stopping at the front gate of the House of the Flower Moon, his favorite house in Maruyama. "Shimoyama should be waiting inside."

Shimoyama Hisashi, a Fukui man, was in Nagasaki investigating the kinds of weapons foreign arms dealers were offering, and to whom. Ryoma had asked Kosone Eishiro to arrange a meeting with this vassal of Lord Shungaku, as he knew that the merchant enjoyed a close relationship with the retired Fukui daimyo. But it was neither weapons nor their procurement which Ryoma had come to discuss this evening. Rather his mind was preoccupied with another, more pressing matter, which had come to possess him of late, and which he felt was the only way for Japan to avoid bloody revolution, and subsequent foreign invasion.

Shimoyama was waiting for the three Tosa men in a private room, where four geisha sat with him on a tatami floor drinking sake. Despite the stifling heat, the Fukui samurai was dressed, as protocol demanded, in a neatly pressed jacket and hakama, both of pale blue linen, his family crest displayed in white just below the shoulders and the sleeves. The black kimono underneath was folded tightly around his chest, and the edges of his clean white undergarment were visible below his neck. His hair was combed and oiled, his topknot curled neatly over his cleanly shaven pate.

The gravity of the matter which Ryoma had come to discuss this evening must have been apparent, despite his unwashed face, disheveled hair and shabby clothes, because Shimoyama-and much to the Fukui man's credit- was not at all concerned with appearance. As he would record in his journal, "That was the first time I ever saw Sakamoto Ryoma. His features were those of a great hero...From his refined bearing, and the clearness of his words, I knew right away that this was no ordinary man." Perhaps it was the intense, almost frightening glare in Ryoma's dark brown eyes that so impressed this representative of the Lord of Fukui. Or perhaps it was the weightiness of Ryoma's all-important mission, for which he had dedicated and constantly risked his life, and which was now apparent even in his mien, the way he stood and the words he spoke.

"Shimoyama-san," Ryoma said in a low voice, after he and his men had bowed as the threshold and introduced themselves, "do you think the women could leave us alone? What I have come to say is for your ears only."

"I see." Shimoyama looked hard at this Tosa man, whom Lord Shungaku and Yokoi Shonan had praised. Turning to the four geisha, he gestured for them to leave, as the three Tosa men sat down. "Now, Sakamoto-san, please tell me what's on your mind," he said, filling four cups with sake.

Ryoma sat in the formal position, his back straight, his hands resting on his thighs, his eyes burning with absolute conviction in what he was about to utter. "I've come to ask that you urge Lord Shungaku to press the Bakufu to restore the political power to the Emperor." Ryoma spoke slowly, in a low voice, but the awesome words startled Shimoyama, who could offer no immediate response. The Tokugawa Bakufu had controlled Japan for over two hundred fifty years. The century before that had been a period of civil war, during which a handful of warlords fought among each other. Before that the Kamakura and Ashikaga Shoguns had ruled since the twelfth cen-

tury. In short, the Emperor had not held the political power of his empire for nearly seven centuries.

Ryoma continued relaying his ideas, which did not come to him overnight, but had developed in his mind during his years of intercourse with Katsu Kaishu's Group of Four. "There is no sign of self-examination from the Bakufu," he said. "Rather, its arrogant leaders rule as despots; their sole concern is for the welfare of the House of Tokugawa." Ryoma paused, drew a grim nod from the Fukui man, who with his eyes urged him to continue. "The Bakufu is a corrupt regime, which has grown old and decrepit. I don't think there is any way to save it. I know for a fact that Satsuma and Choshu are anxious to start another war to crush the Tokugawa, and as Choshu has proven, they certainly have the military power to do so. But victory will not come easily. Instead, a war would turn our nation into a sea of blood, and leave us vulnerable to foreign attack. This is why I implore you to convince Lord Shungaku that the only way to avoid such a catastrophe is if the Bakufu comes forth and offers of its own free will to restore the political power to the Emperor. With this accomplished, we will finally be in a position to form a union of the most able lords to govern Japan through a council in Kyoto." Ryoma paused briefly. "But if," he shouted, raising his voice for the first time, "the Bakufu refuses to listen to reason, let it be known at Edo that Satsuma and Choshu are stronger than ever, and that in case of all-out war the number of han which would fight on their side is constantly increasing. The time to act is right now," Ryoma insisted, unconsciously slamming his fist on the floor, "before the heir to the deceased Shogun is named."

"I agree with you wholeheartedly, Sakamoto-san. As a faithful retainer of the Matsudaira of Fukui, the seventh highest ranking of the Tokugawa-related houses, I will relay to Lord Shungaku what you have said here this evening."

"Thank you," Ryoma said, smiling for the first time since entering the room, and drawing curious looks from the Fukui man, and his two friends sitting by. "But that's not all," he added.

"Oh?" Shimoyama said.

"I have one more favor to ask of you."

"If it's within my power, I'll be glad to oblige."

"I think it is." Ryoma glanced over his shoulder at Umanosuke, and burst out laughing. "How about calling back those four geisha? Men from Tosa hate to see pretty women sent away."

Yüklə 1,7 Mb.

Dostları ilə paylaş:
1   ...   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   ...   27

Verilənlər bazası müəlliflik hüququ ilə müdafiə olunur ©genderi.org 2024
rəhbərliyinə müraciət

    Ana səhifə