Ryoma : Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Hillsborough, Romulus

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The Great Plan at Sea
The man who had united Satsuma and Choshu was about to meet yet another test of his ability to persuade. At the end of May the Shogun had gained Imperial sanction to open the Port of Kobe, but more significantly had been unable to find a face-saving formula to solve the problem of dealing with Choshu. Meanwhile, Saigo, Okubo and Iwakura had begun arrangements for an Imperial decree to be issued for the Satsuma and Choshu armies to attack the Tokugawa for disregarding the wishes of the late Emperor. Then on the rainy morning of June 8, a short message from Nakaoka reached Kaientai headquarters, informing the Dragon that the Conference of the Four Great Lords had finally convened in Kyoto.
Ryoma tore up the message, lay back on the tatami floor in his room, and released a long, loud groan. "Time's running out," he fretted. "There must be a way to convince the Shogun to abdicate before there's a bloody civil war. There must be someone with enough influence who'll be willing to urge the Shogun to abdicate as a last resort." He thought of Katsu Kaishu and Okubo Ichio, neither of whom were in a position to influence Yoshinobu. Suddenly an idea flashed through his mind. "That's it," he said aloud. "Yamanouchi Yodo."

Ryoma got up, ran his fingers through his tangled hair, grabbed his sword, thrust his pistol through his sash, and immediately left the Kosone mansion for the lodgings of Goto Shojiro.

"Ingenious!" Goto blurted, when Ryoma had finished telling him of his plan. Goto knew that his lord was torn between obligation to the Tokugawa for bestowing upon his ancestors the Tosa domain, and his desire to rectify Japan's dangerous situation. "This is just what Lord Yodo needs to avoid a war that will benefit Satsuma and Choshu at the expense of Tosa."

"Goto," Ryoma growled, "if Tosa benefits from the plan, it's simply an accident of circumstances."

"I see," the Tosa minister shrugged, understanding Ryoma's ill feelings toward his han. "But no matter how much Lord Yodo likes the idea," Goto said, "he still has to convince the Shogun."

"Of course," Ryoma said.

"But what if Yoshinobu should refuse to listen to reason?" Goto asked.

"Then, we'll have to do as Nakaoka and Saigo insist." Ryoma drew his pistol. "With so much firepower that not only the Bakufu, but the House of Tokugawa, will cease to exist altogether." Despite his penchant for bloodless revolution, Ryoma was prepared for war as a last resort to overthrow the Bakufu. "But Satsuma and Choshu alone might not be able to defeat the Tokugawa armies," Ryoma said.


"With the French helping Yoshinobu modernize his military, Satsuma and Choshu need Tosa on their side."

"I've been summoned to Kyoto by Lord Yodo," Goto said. "I sail tomorrow morning. How about coming with me?"

"What for?"

"I need your help. If the Shogun refuses to abdicate peacefully as you suggest, then I truly believe that Lord Yodo will agree to unite Tosa with Satsuma-Choshu against Edo. Either way, I need your help to convince him."

"You need my help to convince Lord Yodo?" Ryoma laughed sardonically, slapping his knee.

"What's so funny?" Goto asked, not a little annoyed.

"If only Hanpeita could hear this!" Ryoma snickered, clapping his hands, and drawing an uneasy look from Goto. "If only Hanpeita and all of the other lower-samurai from Tosa who lost their lives because of Yamanouchi Yodo could hear this." Ryoma's voice cracked with emotion, and his face became red, not only out of anger toward Yodo and the entire feudal system, but for the futility of the deaths of so many of his friends.

"If only they could hear what?" asked the man who had ordered Hanpeita's seppuku two years before.

"The top minister of Tosa asking Sakamoto Ryoma to come with him to convince Yamanouchi Yodo." Ryoma paused, hugged his belly and broke out in a loud laughter. "I'd have thought the very idea utterly preposterous just a few months ago."

"You would have thought the idea preposterous!" Goto roared. "How do you think I feel about it? But," he said, lowering his voice and staring hard into Ryoma's eyes, "the way things are now, it appears that the lower-samurai Sakamoto Ryoma might have more to do with saving Tosa Han than anyone else."

"Damn it, Goto!" Ryoma flared, his eyes filled with disdain. "I don't give a damn about Tosa Han."

"I know that," Goto hollered, pounding his fist on the floor. "But I'm one of Lord Yodo's ministers, so I have to. And whether you like it or not, your plan for Lord Yodo to convince the Shogun to abdicate peacefully before Satsuma and Choshu can begin a civil war might not only save Tosa Han, but the House of Tokugawa and the rest of Japan as well."

"I don't give a damn about Tosa, or the House of Tokugawa. They can live or die, it's all the same to me. All that matters now is that we topple the Bakufu and establish a democratic government whereby all Japanese people will be free to pursue their desires, and whereby our country can stand proudly among the nations of the world."

"Then you'd better come with me, Ryoma," Goto implored, pulling his fan from his sash and slamming it so hard on the tatami floor that it snapped in two.

"I'll give you my answer tomorrow," Ryoma said, before taking his leave.

On the following morning before dawn, Ryoma, Kenkichi and Yonosuke boarded the Tosa steamer Yugao in the pouring rain.

"Ryoma!" Goto called, hurrying toward them.

"I've come," Ryoma replied, after jumping from the gangway onto the deck, his clothes and hair drenched.

"Can we sail in this rain?" Yonosuke wondered aloud, looking up at the full moon barely visible for the clouds.

"We have to," Ryoma said. "The boil is finally ready to burst. I don't think that things in Kyoto will wait much longer."

The men's determination to brave the storm notwithstanding, the rains soon subsided, and the Tosa ship steamed north from Nagasaki. Having told Goto that he was badly in need of sleep, Ryoma went below deck. But despite his exhaustion from the past month and a half of legal battle with Kii Han, he was unable to sleep. His mind raced to contrive a way to save Japan from the brink of war. "Yodo's our last hope," he thought glumly. "But even if Yodo does agree to urge Yoshinobu to abdicate, can the Shogun be convinced to forfeit everything his family has stood for over the past two and a half centuries? And even if by some farfetched chance Yoshinobu can be convinced, who's to say that his aides would let him go through with it?" Having thus spent the entire day in deep contemplation below deck, Ryoma was joined by Yonosuke and Kenkichi that evening.

"I have something to tell the both of you," Ryoma said, sitting with his back against the wall, his arms folded at his chest. "I want you to listen very closely. And Kenkichi, you'd better get something to write with, because I want these ideas recorded."
When Kenkichi returned soon after with writing utensils and paper, Ryoma was ready to explain his blueprint for a new centralized government, which he had by no means formulated in the course of this one day below deck on the Tosa steamer bound for Osaka. "It was about four and a half years ago," Ryoma said, "that Katsu-sensei urged the Shogun to relinquish power as the only way to save Japan from destruction." He paused, drawing an anxious look from Kenkichi. "Continue, Ryoma," his chief secretary urged, brush in hand. "Katsu-sensei had me very worried," Ryoma said. "There were plenty of stupid officials in Edo who wanted him dead after that. Of course, the time had not yet come for the Shogun to relinquish power, but it seems now that Katsu-sensei was able to read the future. Both he and Okubo knew years ago what some of us are only now beginning to realize. They knew that a time would someday come when either the Shogun would have to restore the power to the Emperor peacefully, or face a bloody revolution that would not only destroy the House of Tokugawa but most likely all of Japan." Ryoma paused, took a deep breath, then looked hard at Yonosuke and Kenkichi as if he anticipated what they were about to say.

"But Sakamoto-san," Yonosuke broke a short silence, "what you've just told us is completely different from what you've been saying all along. You've always insisted that the Bakufu must be crushed militarily and buried, to be sure that it will never rise again. That has been our reason for running guns for Choshu and Satsuma. That has been our reason for the Kaientai. In fact, that has been our whole reason for everything."

"Yes, it has, Yonosuke," Ryoma said, rubbing the back of his neck, his face strained.

"Ryoma," Kenkichi said with worried eyes, "people will say you've changed."

"Kenkichi, don't you see? It's not me who's changed. It's the times that have changed. I'm only adjusting to those changes. When I first entered the service of Katsu-sensei, Hanpeita thought I was a traitor. But I was just doing what I felt I should at the time, and, as it turned out, it was right." Ryoma paused, slammed his fist on the wooden floor. It was the only choice I could have made."

"I see," Kenkichi said.

"That's why I've asked the two of you to come on this trip. I wanted you to hear my plan before any of the others. I knew that of all the men in the Kaientai, only you, Mutsu Yonosuke, and you, Nagaoka Kenkichi, would understand right away that war is not the only, or by any means, the best way to topple the Bakufu."

"I see," Yonosuke said, not a little shaken.

"But I have confidence in the others, too. All of them will understand."

"But Ryoma," Kenkichi gave him an anxious look, "even if you can convince our own men in the Kaientai of the necessity of your plan, what about Satsuma? What about Choshu? They're our closest allies. But if your plan works, they won't be able to help but think that you've deceived them at the last minute, just as they were about to crush the Bakufu. How can you do that to men like Saigo and Katsura? And as for Nakaoka," Kenkichi shook his head slowly, "he may never forgive you."

Ryoma gave Kenkichi a pained look. "Damn it," he said. "What's more important, that Shinta forgives me, or that Japan is saved? I feel badly for Satsuma and Choshu, but they're going to have to accept one important fact: not all of us have been risking our lives day in and day out all of these years just for the sake of Satsuma and Choshu. It's the future of Japan that matters, and nothing else," Ryoma exploded, then paused. "But we must act quickly," he added, now calmly, "so that Goto can bring my plan to Lord Yodo before it's too late."

"Lord Yodo?" Kenkichi gave Ryoma a puzzled look.

"Yes. Can you believe it? The Lord of Tosa is our last hope. We have to convince him to urge the Shogun to abdicate."

"Yodo?" Yonosuke hissed. "He'll never agree to..."

"I've already discussed it with Goto," Ryoma interrupted. "He's assured me that Yodo will agree."

Both men looked dumbfounded at Ryoma. "But even if Lord Yodo should agree," Kenkichi said, "what makes you so certain that the Shogun will?"

"That's a chance we have to take. And it's our last chance."

"And if it fails?" Yonosuke prodded.

"Then our Kaientai will be the first to join the Satsuma-Choshu forces to crush the Tokugawa."

"I see," Yonosuke said, bowing his head slightly.

"And it will offer Tosa a perfect excuse to unite its forces with Satsuma and Choshu," Ryoma added. "So, either way, the Bakufu has had it. But listen closely. There are eight different points to my plan for a new system of government after the Shogun relinquishes power."

Yonosuke and Kenkichi stared silently at Ryoma. Neither could believe what they were hearing, although both were quick to absorb the gist of Ryoma's awesome words.

"Kenkichi, remember to get everything down on paper, so Goto will have something with him when he talks to Lord Yodo in Kyoto."

"I'm ready," Kenkichi said.

"No, wait a minute." Ryoma paused. "I think we'd better get Goto down here to hear this."

"But Sakamoto-san," Yonosuke advised, "don't you think it would be more appropriate for us to go to Goto's cabin?"

"Why not?" Ryoma said, stood up and stretched his arms above his head. "Let's go."

Soon the three men joined Goto in his cabin. "Ryoma," he said, "I've been wanting to talk to you."

"That's why I'm here," Ryoma laughed, then told the Tosa minister of his plan for a centralized government.

"Let's hear it," Goto urged.

"Point One," Ryoma began, as Kenkichi started writing. "Thepolitical power of the entire nation should be returned to the Imperial Court, and all decrees should be issued from the court." Although the three men had anticipated the first point, they listened in awe.

"Point two. Two legislative houses of government, one upper one lower, should be established, and all government measures should be decided by its councilors on the basis of public opinion." Here, the lower-samurai of Tosa, with absolutely no legislative authority of his own, was setting the basis for democracy in Japan.

"Who do you propose serve as councilors?" Goto asked.

"That's taken care of in Point Three. Men of ability among the feudal lords, court nobles, and the Japanese people at large should serve as councilors," Ryoma said, drawing a look of approval from Goto. Although by no means did Ryoma include this point to appease Yamanouchi Yodo, its acceptance would assure the Lord of Tosa a seat in the Upper House not only for himself, but for the Tokugawa Shogun as well. "And," Ryoma continued, "traditional offices of the past which have lost their purpose should be abolished.

"Point Four," Ryoma's voice was as steady as his eyes were clear. "Foreign affairs should be conducted according to regulations which have been decided by public opinion.

"Point Five. Old laws and regulations should be replaced by more adequate ones.

"Point Six. The navy should be expanded.

"Point Seven. An Imperial Guard should be organized to defend the capital.

"Point Eight. The value of gold and silver should be brought into line with that of foreign countries."

Ryoma stopped speaking, took a deep breath. "Considering the way things are in Japan right now," he said, "once these eight points are accepted as the basis for a new government, they must be made known to the rest of the world. If they are carried out, Japan will become a stronger nation, able to stand on an equal footing with other nations." Ryoma wiped his sweaty forehead with his sleeve. "So, Goto, what do you think?" he asked nonchalantly of his Great Plan at Sea, which would become the basis for the future government of Japan.

"What do I think?" the Tosa minister roared, clapping his hands together. "It's fantastic, Ryoma! Absolutely fantastic! For the past ten years I've heard a countless number of men speak of overthrowing the Tokugawa Bakufu and restoring the political power to the Emperor. But nobody has ever talked of a new form of government to replace the old one. That was Lord Yodo's biggest reason for repressing the Tosa Loyalist Party. I've even heard people talk about a Shimazu Bakufu and a Mori Bakufu," Goto winced at the thought of either of the Lords of Satsuma or Choshu replacing the Tokugawa Shogun. "That's the very reason that Lord Yodo has been so wary of Satsuma and Choshu all these years. But I've never heard anyone speak of a government run by men of ability regardless of hart, and bound by public opinion. Sakamoto Ryoma, your plan will be the key to our nation's future."

"Let's just hope that Lord Yodo feels the same way."

"He will, Ryoma. He definitely will. Don't you see? Your plan is going to save Tosa from the biggest dilemma in our history. With your plan Lord Yodo can remain loyal to the cause of saving Japan without betraying the Tokugawa, avoid a civil war and safeguard against the formation of a Satsuma-Choshu Bakufu." Goto paused, slapped himself on the thigh. "But Ryoma," he said, "how did you come up with such ingenious ideas?"

Ryoma, at age thirty-one, could have retraced his life since he had first read about American democracy in Kawada Shoryo's book, An Account of an American Castaway, years before. He could have told Goto that he had heard the ideas he had just presented from Katsu Kaishu's Group of Four. But instead of going into all of that, Ryoma simply snickered, gave a sideways glance to Yonosuke and Kenkichi, and said with a wide grin, "Goto, let's just say I've been around."

On the following morning, just before dawn, the Yugao entered the Port of Shimonoseki, where Ryoma had asked Goto to stop long enough for him to make one important visit.

Actually there were two people Ryoma wanted very much to see in Shimonoseki. So, when he found that Katsura, whom he had intended to advise of his Great Plan at Sea, was away, Ryoma rushed through the town at dawn to the mansion of Ito Kuzo.

Oryo was ecstatic when Ryoma slid open the bedroom door at Natural House. "How are you?" he asked, kneeling down to take his wife's hand.

"Wonderful, now that you're here."

"I only have a few minutes."

Oryo's face dropped. "Why must you leave so soon?"

"I have to get to Kyoto."


"For the nation. Here, take this." Ryoma gave his wife a small pouch of gold coins. "It's not much, but it will have to do for now. Remember, if anything happens to me, you're to contact Miyoshi." Ryoma left Oryo as suddenly as he had come to her, and though neither had intended to worry the other by an outward display of emotion, it was not without a trace of tears in both of their eyes that they parted.

Ryoma returned directly to the ship, which immediately set sail, reaching the Port of Kobe on the rainy morning of June 12. From here Ryoma, Goto and the others traveled overland to Osaka. By dusk they had reached the outskirts of the mercantile capital, where they could see the great Tokugawa citadel of Osaka Castle, its white walls and towers clearly visible in the fading sunlight. "I wonder what's to become of the castle," Goto said, as if to himself, gazing up at the magnificent emerald green roof. "Not even this great fortress could withstand the fire of today's cannon."

"It won't have to," Ryoma said, "if Lord Yodo can convince the Shogun to abdicate peacefully."

Soon they reached Tosa headquarters at Osaka, where they planned to stay the night, and go directly to Kyoto in the morning. "Your Excellency," the official caretaker of the estate greeted the minister with a deep bow, "there's been a sudden change of plans. Lord Yodo has already left for Kochi."

"What?" Goto opened his eyes wide. "But he's just summoned me to Kyoto."

"It's his tooth ailment," the caretaker explained, trying to appease the minister.

"What about the conference of the four lords?" Goto asked irritably, suspecting that it had been a fiasco.

As the caretaker explained, Yodo, the last of the four lords to arrive at Kyoto and the first to leave, simply did not trust Satsuma. Although he was still unaware that Saigo and Okubo were in league with Iwakura, Yodo, upon his arrival, sensed Hisamitsu's intention to obtain an Imperial decree for the four lords to send armies to attack the Bakufu. Indeed, this was exactly what Iwakura and the two Satsuma leaders were planning, but only after they had arranged for the court to pardon Choshu. The Satsuma and Choshu armies would then join forces to drive the Tokugawa from Kyoto and establish a new government around the Imperial Court. "Lord Shungaku," Yodo had warned the Fukui daimyo after the first of several meetings, "something tells me that Satsuma and Choshu are scheming to set up a new Bakufu in Kyoto." At the conclusion of another meeting at Nijo Castle, it was decided that the four lords would pay their respects to a group of the Shogun's ministers assembled in the inner-castle. But when Hisamitsu, not wanting to show any sign of deference to the Bakufu, refused and abruptly stood up to leave, the Drunken Lord of the Sea of Whales became furious. "You'll come with us," Yodo exploded, throwing the Lord of Satsuma to the floor. A few days later, when it was clear to Yodo that an Imperial decree to overthrow the Tokugawa would soon be issued, he claimed sudden illness and returned to Kochi.

"Perfect timing!" Ryoma said as the caretaker finished speaking. "If Lord Yodo had stayed around any longer, I have little doubt that Saigo and Okubo would have arranged for an Imperial decree to be issued, and that we'd have a war on our hands."

"Even without Lord Yodo in Kyoto," Goto said worriedly, "Satsuma just might succeed in getting an Imperial decree."

"That's why I'm here," Ryoma said. "You get back to Kochi immediately and convince Yodo to go along with my plan, and I'll work on Satsuma in Kyoto."

"How do you intend to stall them?" Goto asked.

"Goto," Ryoma grinned, "when I put my mind to it, I can convince Saigo of just about anything."

"I see," Goto snickered, not a little amused at Ryoma's blatant self-confidence.

"But I'll need one word of reassurance from you, Goto."

"Which is."

"I want you to promise me that if Satsuma agrees to postpone its war plans long enough for Yodo to petition the Shogun to resign, then Tosa will be willing to enter into a military alliance with Satsuma. And also that when you return to Kyoto-Osaka to deliver Yodo's memorial petitioning the Shogun, you'll have with you a company of Tosa troops which will be willing and ready to fight on the side of Satsuma and Choshu."

"You have my word," Goto assured, and soon after departed for Kochi.

A light drizzle was falling when Ryoma, Kenkichi and Yonosuke arrived at Kyoto by riverboat early next afternoon. From the boat-landing they walked southward along Takasegawa. "Ryoma," Kenkichi stopped short, "Satsuma headquarters is in the opposite direction."

"I know. But we're not going there just yet," Ryoma said. The three men continued down the narrow street lined with houses on one side, the canal on the other.

"But I thought we were going to talk to Saigo," Yonosuke said.

"First we have to stop at Tosa headquarters."

"But I thought you hated going to Tosa headquarters," Kenkichi said.

"I do. But I sent Shinta a message from Osaka. If he's gotten it, he should be waiting for us there now. It'll be much easier to convince Saigo once we've convinced Shinta."

"But, Sakamoto-san," Yonosuke said, "certainly there are still some upper-samurai, perhaps at Tosa's Kyoto headquarters, who would like nothing more than to cut you down."

"Yonosuke," Ryoma said wryly, "the stage is set in Kyoto for the play to begin. All we have to do is a little manipulating backstage, then lift the curtain. After all we've been through, I'm not about to miss out on the performance for anything, least of not for the likes of some upper-samurai with a grudge on their shoulders."

Ryoma's self-confidence notwithstanding, his power to persuade was to be put yet to another grueling test. For as Nakaoka would soon inform him, the commander in chief of the Satsuma military was ready to move.

"Where's Nakaoka?" Ryoma demanded of the caretaker of the estate, an upper-samurai whom Goto had instructed to make himself "useful to Ryoma."

"In here, Ryoma," Nakaoka called from an adjacent room.

"Willingly restore the power to the Emperor?" Nakaoka bellowed when Ryoma had finished relaying his plan. "Are you crazy? You don't actually believe the Shogun will abdicate peacefully."

"It's our last resort, before war," Kenkichi answered for Ryoma, drawing a look of dismay from Nakaoka.

"We have to give him this last chance, Shinta," Ryoma said.,

"The Sakamoto Ryoma I always knew was determined to bring down the Bakufu," Nakaoka roared.

"He still is," Yonosuke said indignantly.

"What do you think, Shinta?" Ryoma said. "Can't you see that my plan brings our chances of bringing down the Tokugawa one step further?"

Nakaoka groaned, apparently at his wit's end. "We've come this close to finally going to war with the Tokugawa, and you come up with this crazy scheme."

"Goto is on his way to Kochi right now to talk to Yodo," Ryoma informed. "He's assured me that Yodo will agree to go along with the plan because it's his only way out of a bad situation."

"Hmm..." Nakaoka muttered with a thoughtful nod.

"If Yoshinobu still refuses to abdicate peacefully, then Yodo will no longer feel obligated to support the Tokugawa."

"I see," Nakaoka continued nodding. "But Satsuma has already entered into an alliance with Tosa to oppose the Bakufu."

"Shinta," Ryoma snickered, "you know as well as I do that that alliance means nothing without the approval of Lord Yodo."

"That's right, but Inui's on our side now," Nakaoka informed, referring to Inui Taisuke, who, along with Goto, was one of the few men the headstrong Lord of Tosa was apt to listen to. "And Inui's promised Saigo that Tosa will fight no matter what."

"Shinta," Ryoma snickered again, "things just aren't that easy. You can't really believe that Inui or anyone else would be able to lead Tosa troops against the Tokugawa without the consent of Lord Yodo."

"Maybe not," Nakaoka conceded, "but Inui has returned with Yodo to convince him."

"So has Yodo's top minister. And Goto has assured me that when he returns to Kyoto with Yodo's memorial to the Shogun, he will have with him a company of Tosa troops which will be willing and ready to fight on the side of Satsuma and Choshu in case the Shogun should refuse to resign peacefully."

Nakaoka grabbed Ryoma by the forearm. "Inui has promised me," he said feverishly, "that even if Yodo should refuse to fight against the Bakufu, he will personally lead a Tosa army into battle against the Tokugawa within one month."

"One month?" Ryoma snickered. "In a month the war would be over, and very possibly with a Tokugawa victory."

"A Tokugawa victory?" Nakaoka gasped, as if he had never before contemplated the possibility.

"Be realistic, Shinta. How many troops do Satsuma and Choshu have in Kyoto right now?"

Nakaoka looked blankly at Ryoma, as both men knew the answer. Satsuma had less than 1,000 troops stationed in Kyoto, while Choshu, still officially an "Imperial Enemy," had none. "Yonosuke," Ryoma said, "remind Shinta how many troops the enemy has in Kyoto."

"Aizu has one thousand troops here," Yonosuke began in a calculated monotone. "Add to that the five hundred troops of Kuwana Han stationed in Kyoto, and Satsuma's already outnumbered. That's not even mentioning ten thousand of the Shogun's own troops that are stationed in Osaka. Then, when you include the Shinsengumi and other Tokugawa police units, the Bakufu has over twelve thousand troops ready to fight in the Kyoto-Osaka area alone."

Ryoma smiled sardonically. "How are one thousand Satsuma samurai going to defeat that many Tokugawa troops?"

"Saigo has an additional one thousand men in Kagoshima ready to sail here anytime," Nakaoka said. "They're just a few days away. As are thousands of Choshu troops. Once war breaks out it won't matter that Choshu's an 'Imperial Enemy,' as long as we're victorious."

"And to assure victory," Ryoma said, "we need to get Tosa on the Satsuma-Choshu side before the war starts."

"By getting the Shogun to abdicate peacefully?" Nakaoka asked, dismayed. "It just doesn't make sense, Ryoma."

"Like I just said. If the Shogun disagrees, then Yodo will have every reason to unite Tosa with Satsuma-Choshu. Only after that will we be ready to crush the Tokugawa militarily. But if Yoshinobu agrees to restore the power to the Emperor peacefully, then there will be no need for war."

"Ryoma," Nakaoka groaned, "that's just it. The Shogun will never agree to abdicate peacefully. Just as the Tokugawa came to power on horseback, it must be defeated on horseback."

"Are you willing to risk the future of Japan on that assumption?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do you think the foreigners will just sit back and watch while we kill each other?" Ryoma hollered, taking firm hold of Nakaoka's wrist. "Remember what Britain did to China. The chances are that the foreigners will use the internal chaos of a civil war to strike when Japan is most vulnerable."

"Hmm..." Nakaoka muttered. "You have a good point. But can you convince Saigo to wait?"

"That's why I've come to see you first, Shinta." Ryoma looked hard into his friend's eyes. "I'm counting on you to help me persuade him to hold off long enough to give Yodo a chance to petition the Shogun to abdicate peacefully."

"Alright, Ryoma. You win."

"Then, let's go," Ryoma said, jumping to his feet.

"Sakamoto-san," boomed Saigo Kichinosuke when Ryoma and the others arrived at the Satsuma estate in Kyoto's district of the Two Pines. "You've arrived just in time. We're getting ready to proceed with our plans." With Saigo were the two other members of the Satsuma Triumvirate—Komatsu Tatewaki and Okubo Ichizo.

Ryoma removed his sword, placed it on the floor beside him, sat down opposite Saigo. "Plans?" Ryoma said, feigning ignorance, though well aware that Saigo's "plans" meant nothing short of war. "I have something urgent to

discuss with you."

"And I with you," Saigo replied with a wide smile. "But, Sakamoto-san," the huge man's expression suddenly changed to one of troubled concern, "you must be very careful. Word has it that the Shinsengumi and other Tokugawa police units suspect you're in Kyoto."

Ryoma glanced at Yonosuke and Kenkichi, grinned widely at Saigo. "Danger is a professional hazard," he said. "Now that we've come this far, I can't let fear of death get in my way." Despite the great number of his friends and comrades who had died over the past years in the struggle against the Bakufu, Ryoma believed that he was somehow invulnerable, until, at least, he could topple the Tokugawa and "clean up Japan once and for all." Ryoma looked hard into the eyes of Okubo, then shifted his gaze to Komatsu and Saigo. "I have a plan that will assure us the best possible chance of victory."

"What is it, Sakamoto-san?" Saigo asked with the innocence of a curious child.

"Not fighting a war at all," Ryoma declared, then nodded to Kenkichi, who produced a folded document and began reading aloud, drawing looks of dismay from the three Satsuma men. "Based on this plan," Ryoma said after Kenkichi had finished reading his Great Plan at Sea, "the Shogun will abdicate power peacefully."

"We Satsuma men know for a fact that Sakamoto Ryoma is no turncoat," Saigo said, radiating sincerity, his black-diamond eyes open wide. "But for the life of me, I can't understand your sudden change of heart."

"Nor can I," said Okubo indignantly, methodically rubbing his square jaw. "You've always spoken of the necessity of strengthening our military to overthrow the Tokugawa. And now that we're ready, you come to us with

this." "Sakamoto-san has not changed," Yonosuke exploded in anger. "If you can't understand that his only concern is getting rid of the Bakufu for the welfare of Japan..."

"Enough, Yonosuke!" Ryoma silenced his right-hand man. "But Yonosuke is right," he said. "I haven't changed. I still think we must have a strong military, because without one we would never be able to intimidate the Shogun into relinquishing power. Can't you see that a peaceful transition of government is a thousand times preferable to war?"

Saigo nodded grimly, then looked at Nakaoka sitting silently by. "But Sakamoto-san," he said, "you don't honestly believe that the Shogun would restore sovereignty to the Emperor without a war, do you?"

"Saigo-san," Nakaoka began speaking, but was interrupted by Ryoma. "Shinta, let me ask Saigo-san this one question first: Are you absolutely sure that Satsuma and Choshu alone can defeat the Tokugawa? You know that the French are helping Edo modernize its military, and whether we like it or not, that Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu is a very able leader. And even though Choshu was able to defeat the Tokugawa in a defensive war, it's common knowledge that an offensive war presents a much different situation." Ryoma glanced at Kenkichi, then at Yonosuke, who quickly repeated the breakdown of pro-Tokugawa forces in the Osaka-Kyoto area. When Yonosuke had finished, Ryoma looked straight into the eyes of Satsuma's commander in chief. "Don't you think we'd be much better off with Tosa fighting on our side?" he asked, shifting his gaze to the grim eyes of Nakaoka Shintaro.

"He's right," Nakaoka said, then repeated what Ryoma had just told him of the dangers of civil war.

"Goto is on his way to Kochi right now to convince Yodo to go along with my plan," Ryoma said.

"A plan for peaceful restoration of power by the Shogun?" Okubo snapped bitterly. "Preposterous!"

"Sakamoto-san," Saigo said in a sincere baritone, "the only way to obliterate the Tokugawa is with gunfire and blood. As it stands now the territories of the Tokugawa by far exceed those of any other domain in Japan. Unless we defeat the Tokugawa militarily, and confiscate its land, things will never change."

"If fight we must, then at least give us the chance to get Tosa on our side first," Ryoma pleaded. "Goto has agreed to the proposal of a Satsuma-Tosa alliance. In fact, he's written a letter to Tosa headquarters in Kyoto sanctioning a meeting between Tosa and Satsuma representatives on the earliest date possible. That's how confident he is that he can persuade Yodo to petition the Shogun to abdicate." Ryoma paused, wiped his sweaty forehead with his sleeve, then told the Satsuma men of Goto's promise to return to Kyoto not only with a memorial from Yodo to the Shogun, but with at least one company of Tosa troops in case war should be necessary.

"Tosa and Satsuma must unite before war breaks out to ensure victory," Nakaoka implored.

"Yes," Okubo nodded approval. "But what makes you so sure Lord Yodo will approve a union?"

"If he agrees to go along with my plan," Ryoma explained heatedly, "he'll agree to a union with Satsuma, because if the Shogun doesn't accept the peaceful alternative, then Yodo will no longer feel obligated to support him."

"I see," Okubo nodded.

"But," Ryoma said, looking hard at Okubo, "if Yoshinobu does agree, Satsuma must promise Tosa that its troops will not attack him."

"Why should we make such a promise?" Okubo asked bitterly.

"For the sake of Japan," Ryoma shouted.

"For the sake of Japan?" the reticent hereditary councilor to the Lord of Satsuma, Komatsu Tatewaki, spoke for the first time. "I don't follow your logic, Sakamoto-san. Don't you think that it's in Japan's best interest that the Bakufu be destroyed?"

"Of course I do," Ryoma assured sharply. "But if you were to attack even though Yoshinobu had agreed to restore sovereignty to the Emperor, I fear that most of the other clans in Japan, including Tosa, would be moved by the injustice of the act, and so come to the aid of the Tokugawa."

"Sakamoto-san," Saigo spoke in a slow, deliberate voice, "I remember well the first time you proposed a union between Satsuma and Choshu. We all thought that it was too preposterous an idea to even consider." Saigo looked over his broad shoulder at Okubo and Komatsu, who nodded acknowledgment. "Since you feel this strongly about your plan, you have our solemn word that Satsuma will give Lord Yodo time to petition the Shogun to abdicate."

"Thank you," Ryoma said.

"But what about Choshu?" Okubo asked. "Can you convince Choshu to postpone its attack? Choshu is even more eager than we are for the war to begin."

"Choshu wants an alliance with Tosa as much as Satsuma does," Ryoma explained. "Between Nakaoka and me, we can convince Katsura to wait."

"But Sakamoto-san," Saigo said, "if Lord Yodo should refuse to cooperate, or if Yoshinobu should refuse to abdicate—and I think he will refuse—then let it be understood here and now that the armies of Satsuma and Choshu, with Imperial edict in hand, will attack and crush the Tokugawa, with or without the aid of Tosa."

"But not without the aid of my Kaientai," Ryoma assured grimly.

Goto's ship reached the Port of Urado in Tosa just one day after leaving Osaka. From Urado, he hurried on horseback to Kochi Castletown, arriving at Lord Yodo's residence shortly after dark.

As usual, the Drunken Lord of the Sea of Whales was drinking sake. He sat alone in his study on this humid night, wearing only a thin cotton robe. Although the doors were wide open, there was no breeze whatsoever from the lantern-lit garden outside, as two chambermaids kept mosquitoes away by waving large straw fans on either side of the daimyo. "Damn Satsuma," Yodo thought to himself, as he watched fireflies dance above the surface of a small pond at the center of the garden. "Damn that cunning fox Hisamitsu. He would have the House of Yamanouchi betray the House of Tokugawa." Yodo emptied the flask, slammed it on a small tray. "More sake" he told the maid, as an attendant appeared at the foot of the open verandah. "My Lord," he said, bowing his head to the ground, "His Excellency Goto Shojiro has just returned."

"Shojiro?" Yodo's eyes lit up at the mention of his favorite retainer.

"He requests an audience with you."

"Bring him in."

Soon Goto joined Yodo, and immediately revealed to him the plan for the Shogun to restore sovereignty to the Emperor, without ever mentioning the name of Sakamoto Ryoma. Whether this was out of deference to his lords' refusal to acknowledge ability among the lower-samurai, or merely Goto's own desire for glory, will never be known. But regardless, Yodo was ecstatic over the plan he would not know was the brainchild of the lower-samurai Sakamoto Ryoma until after the fall of the Tokugawa Bakufu. "Ingenious!" Yodo roared, slapping his knee.

"Then you agree?" Goto confirmed.

"Of course."

"Then there's no time to waste," Goto said. "We must compose a memorial immediately, and deliver it to the Shogun before Satsuma and Choshu have the chance to attack."

"Yes, Shojiro," Yodo bellowed. "I think you've found a way for me once and for all to outsmart that fox Shimazu Hisamitsu."

When word of Yodo's acceptance reached Kyoto a week later, Ryoma and Nakaoka arranged a meeting between Satsuma and Tosa representatives there, and on June 22 an official union between the two clans was completed. The two men most responsible for uniting Satsuma and Choshu had performed their magic again, and Ryoma was confident that it was only a matter of time before Choshu would follow Satsuma's example. A Satsuma-Choshu-Tosa alliance had long been the dream not only of Sakamoto Ryoma, but of Takechi Hanpeita, Kusaka Genzui and other leading Tosa and Choshu Loyalists of former days.

Ryoma and Nakaoka, however, had two additional problems to attend to. One concerned Choshu, where people were growing tired of waiting for the war to begin. Ito Shunsuke and two other Choshu samurai had recently arrived undercover at Satsuma's Kyoto headquarters to find out when their troops, mobilized behind Choshu's borders, could be set into motion against the Bakufu. The other problem had to do with persuading Iwakura Tomomi, the leader of the anti-Tokugawa faction at court, of the wisdom of Ryoma's plan.

When word reached Ryoma and Nakaoka of the Choshu envoys' arrival to Kyoto, they went immediately to Satsuma headquarters to persuade them to hold off their attack. Their determination to crush the Tokugawa notwithstanding, the Choshu men, like their Satsuma counterparts, were confident that the Shogun could never be convinced to relinquish power without a war, which they agreed would be more easily won with Tosa fighting on their side. As for Lord Iwakura, Nakaoka arranged to introduce Ryoma to the exiled court noble at an early date.

The Kaientai had recently begun to prosper. Many of the clans had sent representatives to Nagasaki to purchase foreign weapons to prepare their armies for civil war, but they neither had the business acumen nor connections to succeed. This put Ryoma's company, experienced as it was in dealing with foreign arms merchants in Nagasaki, in a perfect position to profit by helping to arm those clans who were not sympathetic to the Bakufu.

Ryoma's private navy now had at its disposal a small flotilla of armed ships to transport goods between Nagasaki and Osaka. Two of these vessels, the Absolute and the Yokobue—the latter was a schooner recently provided by Tosa—the Kaientai owned outright; others it chartered, using Tosa as its guarantor. While Ryoma was anxious to join his men in their business endeavors, he was obligated to remain in Kyoto to, as he had told Yonosuke earlier, "do a little manipulating backstage, then lift the curtain." The stage was now set for the Great Play in Kyoto to start, the direction of which Ryoma had controlled since uniting Satsuma and Choshu. The "manipulating backstage" would be the deathblow to the Tokugawa Bakufu, peacefully or militarily, which the Dragon felt was his destiny to deliver.

In Kyoto, Ryoma set up a secret hideout in an upstairs room at the shop of a lumber merchant who frequently dealt with Tosa. Oddly enough the lumber shop was called the "Vinegar Store," and was located on a narrow back street in the Kawaramachi district, just west of the Sanjo Bridge which traversed the Takasegawa. From here Ryoma directed the Kaientai, writing letters to Taro, Kanema and the others stationed in Osaka; and to Sonojo, Eishiro and Toranosuke in Nagasaki. Recently, Umanosuke and Shunme had joined Ryoma in Kyoto to give him a detailed report of the goings-on of the company, and to relay any messages he might have to his men in Osaka and Nagasaki.

One afternoon in late June while Ryoma and Yonosuke sat in their hideout above the Vinegar Store discussing business strategy, the latter suddenly released a long, drawn out groan.

"What's the matter?" Ryoma asked. "You sound sick."

"No, Sakamoto-san." The Kii ronin wore a sour expression. "But I just can't help suspecting that Goto took all the credit for your plan when he presented it to Lord Yodo."

"Yonosuke," Ryoma snickered, "do you think I give a damn what the Tosa daimyo thinks?"

"No, but..."

"And don't blame Goto. He only did what he had to do to get Yodo to agree. The stage is set. My only concern now is getting this play underway so we can get down to the business of establishing a democracy in Japan."

"Of course, Sakamoto-san," said Ryoma's right-hand man, who would become one of Japan's greatest foreign ministers.

That night Nakaoka showed up at the Vinegar Store. I'm Ishikawa Seinosuke from Tosa," he gave his alias to a young maid who answered the front door. "I've come to see Saitani Umetaro."

"Saitani-san is not in now," the girl said cautiously.

"Then I'll wait," Nakaoka insisted, and started to enter.

"No," the girl blocked the way, "Saitani-san has instructed me not to accept any visitors while he's away."

"Listen," Nakaoka whispered impatiently. "My real name's Nakaoka Shintaro, and Ryoma's an old friend of mine. If..."

"Shinta!" Ryoma called from the top of the staircase. "It's alright," he told the maid. "Let him in."

The two sat in Ryoma's room upstairs. Soon the maid served sake, and left them alone. Nakaoka held up his cup for Ryoma to pour. "Iwakura says he'll meet you in the morning." Nakaoka drained his cup, wiped the sweat from his brow.

"Shinta,' Ryoma said, "when did you first realize that Iwakura wasn't pro-Tokugawa?" Nakaoka had been among the many Loyalists in Kyoto who once intended to assassinate Iwakura for having arranged the marriage of the younger sister of the late Emperor Komei to the late Shogun Iemochi.

"When I finally decided to go and meet him." Nakaoka had first met Iwakura at his home in exile in a desolate village in the outskirts of Kyoto.

"What made you decide to meet him?"

"Because I heard that it was Lord Iwakura who had organized the twenty-two nobles to petition the Emperor last year to reform the Imperial Court against the Tokugawa."

"I see," Ryoma nodded, as Nakaoka refilled both cups.

"When I was at Dazaifu last March, I asked Lord Sanjo to write me a letter of introduction to Lord Iwakura. At first Lord Sanjo opposed my plan. He said that Lord Iwakura was a traitor, and that he was not to be trusted. But I finally convinced him to write the letter for me, and about two months ago, in April, I visited Lord Iwakura." Nakaoka placed his cup down. "I had never known that there was a man of such intellect among the court nobles," he said. Iwakura had impressed Nakaoka with papers he had written during his years in exile, and which he had secretly distributed among the Imperial Court. In his writings, Iwakura explained the reasons that the Tokugawa must be eliminated if Japan was to defend itself from the Western onslaught. "The man's a master of intrigue," Nakaoka told Ryoma. "And despite his personal suffering while in exile, he's been a pillar of strength to the anti-Tokugawa movement. Without him we'd never have the support of the Imperial Court behind us."

"If we're going to see Iwakura in the morning," Ryoma said, "we must leave tonight."

Iwakura Tomomi had been under house arrest for the past five years in a farmer's cottage in the desolate village of Iwakura, located in the northern

outskirts of Kyoto. His only companion had been his faithful servant Yozo, the son of a local peasant, but secret visitors included Nakaoka, Okubo of Satsuma and other anti-Tokugawa samurai and court nobles. After Iwakura's failed attempt to reorganize the Imperial Court in the previous December, the Bakufu, suspicious that Satsuma was now in league with Iwakura, had set up a surveillance post near his house, and manned it with Aizu samurai.

Behind Iwakura's thatched cottage was an empty field where he grew vegetables, on which, along with rice and the occasional fish that Yozo caught in a nearby stream, the exiled noble subsisted. Beyond were hills, barely visible in the darkness, as Ryoma and Nakaoka approached the small cottage. The two had left Ryoma's hideout in Kyoto just after midnight, and reached Iwakura Village before dawn. They traveled on foot, without lanterns, through the dark, hilly terrain, so as not to draw the attention of the Aizu samurai who were in constant watch.

"This way," Nakaoka whispered, as the two climbed over a low earthen fence which surrounded the house. Though there was not a cloud in the sky, the wooden storm doors were firmly shut so that the Aizu guards could not see inside. "He's expecting us before dawn, so the back door should be unlocked," Nakaoka said, as the two crept to the rear of the cottage. Nakaoka opened the door, and called in a muffled voice, "Lord Iwakura, I've brought Ryoma."

"Shintaro," a voice whispered. "Shut the door quickly." An instant later a figure appeared carrying a single candle. The dim light revealed a man who looked older than his forty-two years. Iwakura was slight of stature, with thin whiskers on his chin, a round face and closely cropped hair. He had a sad mouth, but severe eyes which betrayed a keen intelligence. "Did they spot you?" he asked nervously.

"I don't think so," Nakaoka said. "I've brought Ryoma," Nakaoka repeated.

"I see," Iwakura's eyes lit up. "Sakamoto Ryoma?" the master of intrigue confirmed. He had heard a lot about the ronin from Tosa who had been most responsible for allying Satsuma and Choshu, and more recently had formed a private navy. "Yozo, bring hot tea," Iwakura called his servant, then, with a slight gesture, "Please, right this way," he said. The two samurai followed the court noble down a narrow wooden corridor, and into a small room of six tatami mats, where they sat in the formal position opposite Iwakura, who lit a paper lantern. Piles of books were scattered about the room, and a low writing desk against one of the walls was covered with papers.

"Make yourselves comfortable," Iwakura said. "We needn't worry about protocol in a place like this. Besides, I have a lot to discuss with you."

"Good," Ryoma said, crossing his legs, and, with a loud yawn, stretched his arms above his head. Ryoma's indifference to the high rank of this elite court noble drew a look of slight dismay from the more rigid Nakaoka, whom Ryoma conveniently ignored, if just for this moment.

"Sakamoto," Iwakura said, as Yozo served tea, "tell me about your navy."

Ryoma told Iwakura about the Kaientai, and about his life over the past five years, since fleeing Tosa. Iwakura was impressed, just as Ryoma was impressed with this court noble.

"I've heard about your plan for restoring the power to the Emperor," Iwakura said. "Now I'd like to hear it directly from you."

Ryoma related in full detail his plan for the Shogun's peaceful restoration of power to the Imperial Court. He finished speaking, drew a hard look from Iwakura, who sighed. "Sakamoto, as you may well know I was once a staunch supporter of the Bakufu. But don't get me wrong. It's not as if I had any feelings of affection for the Tokugawa, but I thought that without the Bakufu in power Japan would be unable to defend itself against the foreigners. But, of course, I was wrong." Iwakura took a sip of hot tea. "In fact, the Bakufu's very existence diminishes our national strength to such an extent that unless we eliminate it our nation will surely crumble." This was the reason that, after the death of the pro-Tokugawa Emperor Komei, this master of intrigue had arranged for his longtime ally Nakayama Tadayasu to be appointed Guardian of the Emperor until the Son of Heaven would come of age. Iwakura's scheme was facilitated by the fact that Nakayama, a staunch opponent of the Bakufu, was the maternal grandfather of the boy-Emperor. With Nakayama as Imperial Guardian, Iwakura knew that it would only be a matter of time before he could arrange for an Imperial decree to be issued for Satsuma and Choshu to crush the Bakufu.

It was for this very reason that Ryoma had come to Iwakura Village on this hot morning at the end of June in his thirty-first year. "I couldn't agree with you more, Lord Iwakura," Ryoma said, looking hard into the older man's sharp eyes. "But for the reasons I've just explained, Saigo has promised to postpone his war plans. Now we have Tosa on the side of Satsuma and Choshu, so that if the Shogun doesn't agree with Lord Yodo's proposal, Tosa troops will join the Imperial armies of Satsuma and Choshu to crush the Tokugawa."

"Very well, Sakamoto," Iwakura said, giving his blessings to Ryoma's great plan.

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