Ryoma : Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Hillsborough, Romulus

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The Tosa Loyalist Party
Despite Sakamoto Ryoma s position of leadership among Men of High Purpose in Tosa, he had recently come to embrace secret ambitions that he could not yet disclose to his more traditional-minded comrades. Although he sympathized with their xenophobic sentiment, he was captivated by the idea of one day commanding a Western-style warship. Kawada Shoryo had taught him the futility of trying to expel the technologically advanced foreigners without first importing warships, guns and the expertise to use them. To achieve this, Japan would have to open itself to foreign trade. In this sense, Ryoma s views did not much differ from those of Tosa Regent Yoshida Toyo, nor certain farsighted Bakufu officials, including Ii Naosuke himself. But unlike the Tosa regent, and, needless to say, men of the Tokugawa, Ryoma reasoned that those who really meant to save Japan from foreign subjugation must put Western technology to use to overthrow the decrepit Bakufu and replace it with a new government centered around the Imperial Court. However, as even the slightest mention of support for Opening the Country would be considered traitorous among his comrades, Ryoma was compelled' to maintain a strict code of silence until the time was right. Frustrated, the Dragon waited.
Takechi Hanpeita had been on a year-long subversive journey to gain support' for the Loyalist cause in some of the more powerful clans in Japan. Soon after his return to Kochi in the fall of 1861, the leader of the Tosa Loyalists paid a visit to the home of his right-hand man.

"Ryoma," Hanpeita said, "I have some important matters to discuss with you." The two men sat on the living room floor at Ryoma's home, next to a short, dark wooden table, on which were placed a large ceramic flask of sake, and two small cups. "I have some things to show you before I get into; the details of what I've accomplished over the past year." Hanpeita accepted a cup of sake from Ryoma, but replaced it on the table without drinking. "I got this in Edo," Hanpeita said, reaching for his sword which he had previously placed on the floor at his left side. The hilt was made of sharkskin and wrapped with fine silk, the guard of polished gold, and the gilt deep blue scabbard lined with silver on its bottom edge. Hanpeita slowly drew the razor-sharp blade from the scabbard. "Beautiful, isn't it," he said. "It was made by one of the finest sword smiths in Edo." Holding the blade above the table, he proclaimed in a low, deliberate voice: "With this we will cut down the enemies of the Emperor." Hanpeita slammed the blade back into the scabbard with a loud clang.

"I'll drink to that," Ryoma said, and drained his cup. Hanpeita did not drink. Rather, the stoic swordsman, who had recently acquired a reputation among Men of High Purpose for his dedication to the Emperor, produced, a document from the breast of his kimono. "This," he said proudly, "is the Manifesto of the Tosa Loyalist Party."

"The Tosa Loyalist Party?"

"Yes. And this is our manifesto," Hanpeita said, staring hard at Ryoma, "to be signed by any Tosa man who will fight to unite Tosa in the struggle to overthrow the Bakufu, expel the barbarians, and return the political power to His Imperial Majesty in Kyoto."

"Unite Tosa?" Ryoma said in disbelief.

"Precisely!" said the leader of the Tosa Loyalist Party, thoughtfully stroking his long chin.

"You can't think that the upper-samurai will ever agree to unite themselves with the lower-samurai," Ryoma snickered.

"Leave that to me, Ryoma. I've promised the Loyalists of Choshu and Satsuma that I would unite Tosa under the banner of Imperial Loyalism. We've pledged to form an alliance between our three great han as soon as we can demonstrate our collective strength and dedication to the Emperor. That is why we must unite Tosa behind Toppling the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism," Hanpeita uttered the new Loyalist slogan which was rapidly replacing Imperial Reverence and Expelling the Barbarians as the battle cry of Men of High Purpose.

"You can't be serious," Ryoma groaned. "How can you really believe that the daimyo and his ministers would ever listen to you? You're just a lower-samurai. They'd only laugh in your face, if they didn't have you arrested first. You know that it's prohibited to form political parties. But even if it wasn't, the idea that the Yamanouchi would ever vow to overthrow the Bakufu," Ryoma sneered at the blind loyalty of the Lord of Tosa for his ancestral benefactors in Edo, "is just not realistic."

"I'm absolutely serious," Hanpeita calmly objected to Ryoma's lack of enthusiasm for his meticulously devised plans. "With the strength in these arms," he vowed, again drawing his blade and holding it before his face, "I'll see to it that Tosa stands for Toppling the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism."

As Hanpeita continued to explain, he intended to convince the Tosa authorities of the necessity of expelling the foreigners from Japan, but of the futility of trying to do so under the leadership of the decrepit shogunal system. He hoped that Lord Yodo, whom he reasoned would be able to see the virtue of his plan, would agree to lead an army of Tosa Loyalists into Kyoto, guard the Imperial Palace and restore the political power to the "Divine Emperor." In short, the Loyalists were plotting to overthrow the Bakufu for having yielded to foreign demands without Imperial sanction, and in so doing restore Japan's damaged pride.

While I intend to persuade the Tosa authorities to support us," Hanpeita said, "I am fully aware that this plan can only be realized through the support of all the lower-samurai in the seven districts of Tosa. Only through such massive support can our noble goal be realized." Hanpeita handed the manifesto to Ryoma. "We already have eight signatures from men who were in Edo at the time we drew up the manifesto. Now, I ask that you, Sakamoto Ryoma, be the first to sign your name to it in Tosa. I'm counting on your support. I need your leadership to recruit more men." Hanpeita had recently taken the nom de guerre "Shield of the Emperor" for his dedication to imperial Loyalism. His party's manifesto began as follows:

ls a source of deepest grief to our Emperor that our magnificent and

divine country has been humiliated by the barbarians and that the Spirit of, Japan, which has been transmitted from antiquity, is on the brink of being extinguished."

The manifesto continued to state that too many samurai, grown lazy and weak from the long years of Tokugawa peace, had lost the Spirit of Japan. Those who were most lazy and weak were the Tokugawa retainers who had yielded to foreign demands. It disdained the unjust chastisement of such a "noble heart" as Lord Yodo, who had been "accused and punished for the wise advice he had given those in power." It proclaimed that every member of the party must be willing to "go through fire and water to ease the Emperor's mind, to carry out the will of our former daimyo (Yodo), and to purge this evil from our people." Should any signatory put personal considerations before the cause, it admonished, "he shall incur the punishment of the angered gods." Any such man, it explicitly warned, "shall be summoned before his comrades to commit seppuku."

Ryoma finished reading the manifesto, placed it on the table. "The Language is so pompous," he said, "so rigid. Just like you, Hanpeita. But if it means that much to you, I'll sign it. I'll dedicate myself to overthrowing the Bakufu, and saving our nation. But I don't see any possibility of the Tosa daimyo supporting us. And I know you know that the upper-samurai will never cooperate with the lower-samurai. They think we're no better than animals. But in the United States of America," Ryoma suddenly changed his tone, "the president has to consider the good of all of the people. The Tokugawa Shogun, on the other hand, has for the past two and a half centuries been concerned solely with the welfare of the Tokugawa Bakufu, with the feudal lords caring only for their own fiefdoms. This alone is enough to warrant the overthrow of the rotten Bakufu and the entire feudal system." Ryoma stopped speaking, his face red with anger. "Yes, Hanpeita, I'll sign." Ryoma picked up a writing brush, dabbed it on a block of black Chinese ink, signed his name in four large, bold characters to the list of sworn followers of the Tosa Loyalist Party. "Let me borrow your sword," he said," thinking it more appropriate to use Hanpeita's symbolic blade than his own. Unsheathing the blade, Ryoma pressed the tip of his left small finger on the edge, and sealed his name in blood. "Hanpeita," he said, grabbing his friend's hand, "even if we should succeed in uniting Tosa behind Toppling: the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism, I want you to realize that my signing this manifesto is not a pledge that I will remain in this rotten han and fight side by side with the upper-samurai."

"What do you mean?" Hanpeita gave Ryoma a hard look.

"What I mean is that I can't promise to be limited."

"Limited to what? To Imperial Loyalism?"

"No. I can't promise to be limited to toppling the Bakufu within the confines of Tosa."

"I don't follow you. What do you mean?"

"I mean exactly what I said. I don't know when I might be leaving this rotten han. But I will make one thing clear, Hanpeita. As long as Sakamoto ' Ryoma is alive, as long as there is blood flowing through these veins, breath in these lungs, strength in these arms, I pledge to topple the Tokugawa Bakufu."

Ryoma tightened his grip on Hanpeita's hand, and laughed to hold back the tears that were welling up inside his head. "But," he quickly added, staring straight into Hanpeita's eyes, "I have to do it my own way."

"What way is that, Ryoma?" Hanpeita said grimly.

"I haven't discovered it yet." Ryoma released his grip on Hanpeita's hand.

"Then, until you do, will you help me recruit men for the party?"

"Yes." Ryoma took his own sword. "I swear on my sword," he uttered the ancient pledge of the warrior. Releasing the latch, he drew the blade slightly from its sheath, then immediately slammed it back into place, clanging the silver guard against the metallic rim.

"On our swords!" Hanpeita repeated the pledge, clanging the guard of his own weapon. "This body, this mind, this very spirit within me is the shield of our cause," he solemnly pledged, his eyes too filling with tears. "And you, Sakamoto Ryoma, are the sword, and the very pillar of our noble struggle. Together we will overthrow the Bakufu," he proclaimed, as a single teardrop escaped the corner of his eye.

As Hanpeita continued to explain, his recently devised plan had come into being as a result of his meeting with revolutionary samurai from other han of Loyalist sentiment, namely Choshu, Mito and Satsuma.

"We've agreed that the proper measures must be taken soon against the Bakufu, as it has been plotting to convince the Imperial Court to sanction a marriage proposal between the Shogun and the Emperor's sister," Hanpeita said disdainfully. "Once the Princess is living within Edo Castle, she'll be a veritable hostage, and the Imperial Court will thus be forced to bend to the Bakufu's will. If that happens, we'll have even greater difficulty overthrowing the Bakufu and protecting Japan from the barbarians." The self-styled Shield of the Emperor paused, cleared his throat, then continued. "I particularly spent a lot of time this summer with men from Choshu," he said.

Choshu had ample reason for harboring a special hatred for the Bakufu. After his victory in the Battle of Sekigahara, the first Tokugawa Shogun confiscated eighty percent of the land of the former Choshu domain, which until then had been the largest in all of Japan, to ensure that his vanquished enemy could never pose a threat to Tokugawa rule. Soon after, however, Choshu began to industrialize its economy. At a time when the economy of the Bakufu, and indeed the economies of most of the fiefdoms throughout Japan, were dependent primarily on the production of rice, Choshu was engaged in such light industrial projects as the manufacture of paper and wax, and was meanwhile developing arable land to increase its annual rice yield. By 1853, the beginning of the end of Tokugawa rule, while other fiefs were struggling to subsist on their decrepit agricultural economies, Choshu had an annual income of nearly three times that of its predecessors at the outset of Tokugawa rule.

Latent anti-Bakufu sentiments in Choshu, simmering for the past two and a half centuries, eventually manifested themselves as Imperial Reverence and Expelling the Barbarians, and more recently as Toppling the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism. The man who had reignited the flame of these anti-Bakufu sentiments was the martyred Loyalist teacher Yoshida Shoin, a victim of Regent Ii's purge. Among Yoshida's top disciples were three Choshu samurai who would not hesitate to use the great wealth of their han to purchase modern warships and weapons to challenge the Tokugawa. Their names were Takasugi Shinsaku, Kusaka Genzui and Katsura Kogoro.

One hot afternoon in the previous August, Hanpeita had met with Takasugi and Kusaka at an Edo teahouse to discuss the formation of Loyalist Parties in Choshu and Tosa, and the necessity for war to "cleanse the nation of the Western stain."

"Zuizan-sensei, please have a drink," Takasugi said, raising a porcelain flask to pour sake for Hanpeita. The eldest son of an elite Choshu samurai family, Takasugi had the uncanny ability to vacillate his subtle personality between that of wolf and poet. Going through the formality of holding up his cup to accept some sake from Takasugi, Hanpeita returned it to the table without drinking. "It will be necessary to consolidate our power," he said, looking hard at both men, who returned his powerful stare with equal intensity. "That's why I strongly propose an alliance between Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa. I doubt the ability of any one of our han alone to challenge the Bakufu forces in all-out war.' But I also doubt that even the Bakufu could stand up against a Choshu-Tosa- Satsuma alliance."

"Zuizan-sensei," Kusaka began speaking in an excited but low voice. "Princess Kazu is due to leave Kyoto for Edo in October. We can't allow. her to enter Edo Castle, because once she does she'll be a hostage. We are therefore planning to intercept the entire Imperial procession and personally return the Princess to the Imperial Palace."

"Then, after she is safely back in Kyoto...." Takasugi intervened, his voice1

trembling with passion.

"We are going to cut down the Tokugawa councilor Ando Nobumasa, the villain behind the scheme to marry the Shogun to the Princess," interjected Kusaka.

"Your intentions are just," Hanpeita said calmly, his voice void of emotion. "But it would be unwise to act too rashly at the present. I can see nothing of permanent value being gained by sending the Princess back to Kyoto, or even by cutting down Ando. Such deeds would only be ruinously costly to our cause, a waste of valuable Loyalist life. And even if you were successful l in returning the Princess to the Imperial Palace, she would most likely be, sent out again under a much stronger guard. Although assassinating Ando' might temporarily ease our indignation, it would be a warning to the Bakufu to take even greater precaution. Besides, Ando can always be replaced."

"Zuizan-sensei," Kusaka said, his eyes wide open, "we must act now*; before it's too late. The only way to deal with these matters is through violence. We have to destroy our enemies if we are to save the Empire. We must wash away the foul stench of the barbarians with the blood of the Tokugawa and its henchmen."

"Yes," Takasugi said, "the only way to drive out the barbarians is through force."

"There is no denying that," Hanpeita agreed. "All samurai must be prepared to die when the time is right, when the necessity arises. But right now I strongly propose that we return to our domains to organize support. Assassinating Ando would prove nothing. But if both of our han stood strongly against the Tokugawa, I am sure that the other han would follow suit. Besides, as you well know, our allies in Satsuma have vowed to unite with us in a triple alliance. Once this happens, the Bakufu will have no choice but to change its cowardly foreign policy."

Hanpeita poured another drink for Ryoma. "If Katsura hadn't suddenly shown up at that particular time," he said, "I might not have been able to convince those two to abandon their radical plans and work more methodically to organize consensus in Choshu."

"Choshu is Choshu," Ryoma suddenly exploded, "but this is Tosa. The Mori of Choshu have no special relationship with the Tokugawa. Their ancestors were merely defeated and subjugated by the Tokugawa two and a half centuries ago. But the Yamanouchi..." Ryoma paused. "You know more about it than I do, Hanpeita."

"Ryoma, I know how you feel about Tosa. I know how you feel about the upper-samurai. But we can't do anything without organization. We are powerless when split into factions. But consolidated, we would definitely be ¦a force to be reckoned with. Choshu and Satsuma men have promised to persuade their respective governments to unite behind Toppling the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism, and I must convince Yoshida Toyo of the same thing."

"You don't actually believe that Yoshida will listen to you," Ryoma scoffed. "The Tosa regent is dedicated to the House of Yamanouchi, which is loyal to the Tokugawa. Yoshida supports a Union of Court and Camp, which the Bakufu has been struggling to achieve."

"I am confident I can persuade Yoshida,' Hanpeita said. "But before I approach Yoshida, I have to organize support among our own men," he said, carefully refolding the blood-sealed manifesto of the Tosa Loyalist Party. Then, taking firm hold of the hilt of his sword, Hanpeita added coldly, "But if the regent should refuse, I'll have to find other means to deal with him."

"When you meet the regent," Ryoma said, looking hard at Hanpeita, "you should try to find a way to kill him."

"I just might have to," Hanpeita acknowledged through steely eyes.

Yes," Ryoma laughed, "because a man who is easy to kill is useless."

"What do you mean?" Hanpeita gave Ryoma a puzzled look.

'I mean that you should not even deal with a man who is easy to kill. You should just leave him alone. But a man who would be hard to kill, is a man of wisdom."


"Ryoma laughed again. "That's the kind of man you should be quick to fool into becoming your ally."

* * *

By the beginning of October, 192 Tosa men had signed the manifesto, and a good many more had pledged their allegiance to the Tosa Loyalist Party without actually affixing their names to the document, thus giving Hanpeita ample confidence to visit the home of the powerful Tosa regent.

"Zuizan-sensei," Toyo addressed in mock respect the rebel leader who I sat facing him in the regent's drawing room. "You are aware that the Yamanouchi of Tosa have a much different relationship with the Bakufu than do either the Shimazu of Satsuma or the Mori of Choshu?" The regent spoke in a condescending tone, his large, intelligent face betraying ill humor at what he considered the "impudence of a lower-samurai."

"I'm aware of that," Hanpeita nodded slowly. "However..."

"If so," Toyo sharply interrupted, grasping a porcelain tea cup, "you should also be aware that it is neither wise nor profitable to be dealing with criminal, anti-Bakufu elements in either Satsuma or Choshu." Toyo's threatening expression did nothing to offset Hanpeita's icy glare.

"Yoshida-sensei," Hanpeita cunningly referred to the regent with the honorable suffix rather than his official title, "unless our han also takes the appropriate measures, it will lose out to Choshu and Satsuma, as they are

sure to unite to embrace the Emperor with thousands of troops at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, and topple the Tokugawa Bakufu. Such a display of military strength and Imperial Loyalism will certainly attract support among other han, first in Western Japan and then throughout the entire Empire. We must not permit Tosa to be branded a traitor to the Emperor for not having officially endorsed Imperial Loyalism."

"Zuizan-sensei," Toyo laughed derisively, finishing his tea and putting down the empty cup, "you speak rot. The Shimazu are related through marriage to the Yamanouchi. If the Lord of Satsuma was actually planning to lead an army into Kyoto, don't you think he would first inform Lord Yodo's regent before taking such a drastic measure? You shouldn't take to heart everything you hear. You don't seem to have read enough Japanese history. Throughout the ages each time the Emperor and the court nobles have voiced their opinions, trouble has always followed. Whenever the court has tried to seize political power, there has always been a war. And now they are starting to make noise again in Kyoto. Certainly you know that it was the founders of the three military governments throughout Japanese history who were successful in bringing peace to our nation. Use your head! Give up your sophomoric ideas. A man of your intelligence and influence should be of service to Tosa, not a negative force working against us."

Yoshida Toyo supported Edo's drive for a Union of Court and Camp. He reasoned that bumbling court nobles, who refused to cooperate with the necessary moves to meet the changing times, needed to be controlled, and such a ' union offered a satisfactory means by which to dominate what he considered to be "the renegade Loyalists in Kyoto," whom Hanpeita was representing.

Hanpeita suppressed his rage, collected his thoughts and began to speak in a cool, deliberate manner. "Yoshida-sensei, it is my every intention to be of service to Tosa. I therefore implore you to heed our manifesto." He thrust the document at his nemesis as if it were a weapon by which he might topple the conservative Tosa regime.

Toyo ran his eyes over the blood-sealed manifesto, and sardonically laughed aloud. "You don't really believe that we could expel the barbarians without first opening up the country," he said, his previously sarcastic tone replaced by one of gravity. "First we must conduct trade with the barbarians in order to enrich ourselves to a degree that we can deal with them on our own terms. Zuizan-sensei, how would you expect to defeat the barbarians when we don't even have one decent warship of our own?" Toyo paused, then began reading aloud from the manifesto, a derisive grin on his face. '" We now join our forces in brotherhood to reactivate the Spirit of Japan..."'' He stopped reading. "In other words," Toyo scoffed, "what you are actually saying here is that a band of lower-samurai have taken it upon themselves to join forces with the upper-samurai to reform Tosa policy. How could you," he roared violently, "have the impudence to assume that I would even consider such a preposterous idea? It seems you are asking me to grant the lower-samurai the right to participate in the administration of Tosa."

"That's precisely what I'm asking. I implore you, Yoshida-sensei, for the good of Tosa and for the Empire..."

"Over my dead body," Toyo roared.

Hanpeita's eyes flashed as a dark thought crossed his mind, and a momentary silence resounded throughout the regent's drawing room.

"It would seem to me, Hanpeita," Toyo now condescendingly referred to the sword master by his given name, "that you have disregarded Tosa policy altogether." He continued reading aloud from the manifesto, handling the document by the tips of his fingers as if it were something filthy with which he did not want to dirty his hands: "'We swear by our deities that if the Imperial Banner is once raised we will go through fire and water to ease the Emperor s mind, to carry out the will of our former daimyo, and to purge this evil from our people.''"

Toyo stopped reading, then threw the document on the floor. "In other words, Hanpeita, you totally disregard the Shogun to whom the Yamanouchi owe their very existence as ruler of our great domain. And in the same breath you have the audacity to pledge to carry out the will of Lord Yodo. That's not only a lie and a blatant contradiction, but it's also a complete insult to our daimyo. If I showed this to him, he'd have you cut open your belly." Toyo paused, drew his forefinger slowly across his neck, and added with sardonic laughter, "If he didn't have your head first."

* * *

He's our only obstacle," Hanpeita uncharacteristically sighed, after relaying to Ryoma and his favorite disciple, Nakaoka Shintaro, the contents of his conversation with Yoshida Toyo. The recollection of having been made a fool of by the arrogant regent left the proud sword master with a bitter taste in his mouth and an ache in his gut that longed for revenge. Equally troubling him was the prospect of losing face among his Choshu and Satsuma allies for his failure to fulfill his pledge to unite Tosa under the banner of Toppling the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism.

"Hanpeita, I've received official permission to leave Tosa for a month,' Ryoma said. Although ostensibly Ryoma's impending tour was for the purpose of observing fencing academies around western Japan, his actual intent was to gather information for Hanpeita on the political atmosphere in Choshu, particularly the development of Loyalist activities there. "When do you leave?" Hanpeita asked.


"I want you to deliver this message to Kusaka Genzui when you get to Hagi Castletown." Hanpeita reached into his desk for a letter he had written to the leader of the Choshu rebels. The short message explained the futility of attempting to convince the Tosa administration to stand up against Edo for Imperial Loyalism. Hanpeita had finally come to the realization that trying to convince the stubborn Tosa regent would be impossible. Force, reasoned the rebel leader, was the only alternative.

Hanpeita continued speaking to Ryoma and Shintaro in an icy tone: "I have decided to deal with Toyo the only way I can."

"How's that?" Ryoma asked, glancing at Shintaro.

"With this," Hanpeita replied firmly, drawing his long blade from its scabbard.

"Zuizan-sensei," Shintaro blurted, "Let me cut him."

"No," Hanpeita said, then turning to Ryoma asked, "What do you think about my decision?"

Ryoma shrugged, then said, "If killing Yoshida Toyo would mean that Tosa would unite against the Bakufu, I'd do it for you. But I don't believe that he is the only one in this rotten han who is against us. Even with Toyo eliminated, you would still have one more player to contend with," Ryoma scoffed. "Are you also prepared to cut down Lord Yodo himself? Because uniting Tosa against the Tokugawa, would be nothing short of a coup d'etat, and that's exactly what you'd have to do."

"Ryoma, are you with me or against me?" Hanpeita asked, evading the question which was out of the question.

"You know I'm with you. I just can't condone killing Toyo, or anybody else for that matter, without proper reason."

"Ryoma," Hanpeita roared, "you don't seem to understand. With Lord Yodo under house arrest in Edo, Toyo is the only person standing in our way. He must be eliminated."

"Hanpeita, I think we should get out of this rotten han. But if you insist upon working within its bounds, do me one favor."

"What's that?"

"Wait until I get back from Choshu. Wait and hear what the Choshu men have to say before you do anything drastic."

Choshu Han
While Ryoma would travel to Choshu as an envoy of the Tosa Loyalist Party, his mind had already taken a turn toward a less defined but exceedingly more stimulating course of action. He had grown despondent of Tosa, and longed to be rid of the bonds of feudalism-so much so, in fact, that he had recently made up his mind to flee his han. Although he had not yet informed even his closest friends, the "Dragon-Steed" had chosen to bolt, to abandon his han, and in so doing, forfeit home, family and security. He would become a ronin, a lordless samurai, an outlaw. "A samurai receiving a stipend from his lord, " Ryoma was apt to say, "is like a bird being kept in a cage. If I don't feel in my heart that something is right, I get rid of it like I would an old cage. " The old cage, to Ryoma, was his native Tosa.

Ryoma's ideals notwithstanding, the crime of fleeing one's han was among the most serious a samurai could commit, as becoming a ronin was tantamount to forsaking one's feudal lord. But it was an integral part of the unwritten code of the samurai that once a man had decided upon a goal, he must be ready to sacrifice his life in order to fulfill that goal. For Ryoma the goal was clear: building a modern navy and overthrowing the Tokugawa Bakufu. Only the means remained an enigma.
On January 15, 1862, just one day after Ryoma had reached Hagi Castletown in Choshu, Tokugawa Councilor Ando Nobumasa was attacked as he was about to pass through Sakashita Gate, one of the main entryways into Edo Castle. Not only was Ando the mastermind behind the plan to marry the Emperor's sister to the Shogun, but it was rumored that he was also behind a scheme to dethrone the xenophobic Emperor Komei and replace him with a Tokugawa puppet. Such sacrilege was too much for the Loyalists to endure; and although Ando survived the attack, his wounds were sufficient to force him to retire from his post soon after.

On the afternoon of the same day that the Sakashita Gate Incident had sent shock waves throughout the Shogun's capital, a lone ronin called at Choshu headquarters in Edo, looking for Katsura Kogoro.

While there had been no Choshu men directly involved in the assassination attempt, the unexpected visitor, a Mito man by the name of Kawabe, was fully aware that Katsura had known in advance of the secret plot. Although Kawabe had been included in the assassination squad, he had arrived late on the scene, only to discover from a distance that the attempt had failed and his six comrades had been cut down on the spot. "I've come with an urgent message for Katsura-san," the nerve-shattered ronin told a group of Choshu samurai at the outer gate of the headquarters.

Although the cunning Katsura had instructed the guards to send away the unwelcome visitor, Kawabe was adamant in his insistence on speaking with the influential Choshu official. Katsura's reluctance to meet with the ronin from Mito was only natural: he wanted at all costs to avoid dangerous suspicion that he, or any other Choshu man, was in any way involved in the assassination attempt earlier in the day. "Why doesn't he just go away and send me his message if it's so damned important?" Katsura thought irritably to himself.

But Kawabe, who had introduced himself with an alias, refused to leave until he could speak with Katsura. Convinced that the desperate man would not leave without being granted a meeting, Katsura had him brought to an empty hall located in the headquarters compound. Katsura was seated cross-legged on the polished dark wooden floor of the high-ceilinged hall when Kawabe appeared at the doorway There were no furniture or fixtures in this room, which was as cold as the icy air outside.

"You must be Katsura-san," Kawabe said nervously. Although this was' the first time the two had met, Kawabe had heard of Katsura's great fencing skills, and more recently the influence he wielded among the Choshu, Loyalists. "I've come here today with a request of the utmost importance."

"Please keep your voice down." Katsura spoke calmly, without bothering to stand up. "Come, sit down, Kawabe-san," he whispered. Although the Mito ronin had not yet given his real name, Katsura had seen the list of names of the six men who had been cut down. And having been well informed of the assassination plot, he also knew that there was one man, by the name he had just uttered, whose body had not been among the dead. Kawabe entered the hall and sat down on the cold wooden floor, facing Katsura. "What is it?" the Choshu man asked in a soft, calm voice, only his

eyes betraying his contempt for the unwelcome visitor.

"Please allow me to cut open my belly right here in this hall," Kawabe said, his voice trembling.

More than being amazed at the awesome request, Katsura was angered at Kawabe's lack of concern for the welfare of Choshu Han. If it was to become known to the Tokugawa authorities that Katsura Kogoro had anything at all to do with the abortive assassination plot, not only would his own life be is danger, but Choshu itself could very well be subject to severe punishment. In short, for a man who was known to be directly involved in the assassination1 plot to visit, in broad daylight, one of the leading disciples of Choshu's martyred revolutionary teacher, Yoshida Shoin, at Choshu's official headquarters in Edo, was nothing short of insanity. Furthermore, Kawabe's concern for the welfare of his own hart was limitless. His reason for fleeing Mito and becoming an outlaw was, unlike Ryoma's decision, out of loyalty to his han; by defecting, Kawabe and other Mito extremists could be certain that the Lord of Mito and his family would not be subject to punishment in connection with the Ando attack and their other subversive activities.

"Doesn't this idiot realize that if he kills himself here after so blatantly insisting on seeing me, that Choshu heads could very well roll?" Katsura thought to himself, as he stared hard at the very troubled man before him.

"I arrived too late to Sakashita Gate this morning," Kawabe continued in the same trembling voice. Then, reaching into his kimono, he produced a folded document. "This is the written vindication of the assassination.' Kawabe handed the document to Katsura.

Titled The Vindication of Men of High Purpose, it began by stating that the traitorous plotting of Ando was even more blasphemous than that of Ii Naosuke, who had already paid for his crimes with his life. It likened the proposed marriage between the Emperor's sister and the Shogun to kidnapping the Princess from the Imperial Household. It denounced the "Bakufu s secret scheming to dethrone Emperor Komei in case his Sacred Presence should not concede to shogunal demands." But as the Lord of Mito was directly related to the Shogun, the Mito men clearly stated that they harbored no anti-Bakufu sentiment, but rather that the blame for the recent crimes rested entirely on the shoulders of the "evil Councilor Ando Nobumasa."

It was with this last point that Katsura completely disagreed. Like their counterparts in Tosa, the Choshu Loyalists clearly opposed the Bakufu. As a preliminary step for strengthening Japan in order to expel the foreigners, the Choshu and Tosa extremists insisted that it would be necessary to topple the "treacherous and decrepit Bakufu."

"Each of the six men involved in the attack," Kawabe said, "was expected to be carrying a copy of the vindication. But the Bakufu police apparently confiscated the copies from the bodies of the six. This is why I've come here. For the sake of Japan, I implore you to get this last remaining copy into the public eye."

Katsura, knowing well that he could not refuse the request, simply nodded.

"Thank you," Kawabe said, obviously relieved. "Now that I've accomplished my purpose, I will be able to follow my brave comrades into death with peace of mind." The Mito man's voice was calm now. "Would you do me the honor of serving as my second?" he asked, untying his sash and exposing his belly.

"Wait!" Katsura hissed. If Kawabe should commit seppuku right in front of him, he reasoned, there was no telling what the consequences might be. "There's no reason to be in a hurry to die. There is still an endless amount of work that needs to be done, and we need all the support we can get, especially from such dedicated men as yourself."

But no matter how hard Katsura tried to stop him, Kawabe remained determined to cut open his belly right there on the spot.

"How about some sake?" Katsura suggested. "As a farewell salute to this world."

"Sake?" Kawabe's eyes lit up. "A farewell salute," he repeated in a crazed tone. "Yes, that would be fine."

Relieved, Katsura stood up immediately, and left Kawabe alone just long enough to order sake to be brought into the hall before the deranged man could do anything drastic. As Katsura hurried through the dark wooden corridor which surrounded the building, a voice called from behind. "Katsura-san, is something wrong?" This was Ito Shunsuke, who, despite his humble lineage as the son of a samurai's attendant, had risen to official rank due to his reputation as a leading disciple of the late Yoshida Shoin. During the years hat Ito, Katsura, Kusaka and Takasugi had studied at Shoin's private academy in Hagi Castletown, the great revolutionary teacher had praised Ito's keen ability of persuasion, and expressed his expectations for Ito's future as a politician. Shoin's predictions would prove correct a quarter of a century later when Ito would become the first prime minister of Japan. Now, at age twenty-one, Ito had recently been appointed Katsura's assistant at Choshu's official headquarters in Edo.

"Ito!" Katsura said. "Am I glad to see you!" After explaining the problem awaiting him in the hall, but being careful not to incriminate his assistant by making him privy of his previous knowledge of the assassination plot, Katsura asked Ito to try to persuade the Mito ronin to abandon his resolve to die. "I can't seem to convince him not to do it here, but maybe you can," he said. This was Katsura's sole worry. Whether or not Kawabe disemboweled himself was not a matter of great concern to the crafty Loyalist leader, who thus far had been able to avoid any suspicion for his role in the assassination plot.

Without further delay Ito brought a flask of sake and two drinking cups into the hall, where he found Kawabe waiting silently. The future orator began speaking in the same convincing manner that would one day win him the top post in the Japanese government, but he could not persuade Kawabe to abandon his resolve to commit seppuku. Finally, Ito excused himself to report back to Katsura, who was anxiously waiting in a room at the other end of the corridor. "I'm not sure what he'll do," Ito said, "but he seems to be content drinking for the time..." As Ito was speaking, a loud scream of crazed ecstasy came from the other end of the building. "Wonderful! Wonderful!" the

voice cried out.

"He must be drunk," Katsura said. "Let's go take a look."

Katsura and Ito hurried to the hall, where they found the Mito man keeled over on the cold wooden floor, writhing in a pool of blood. The two Choshu men stood at the entranceway momentarily dumbfounded, as Kawabe released

a final gasp and ceased to be.

The ronin from Mito had taken his life in perfect samurai manner. Even after slicing open his belly below the navel horizontally with his short sword he had the self-control to readjust his grip on the hilt and pierce the right side of his throat, slashing all the way across to the left side of his neck. And then in true samurai spirit, he let his body fall forward as his life gushed forth in red spurts. The dead man's right hand still tightly gripped the bloody hilt while his left hand, extended in front of him, was clenched in a fist of agony. Such was the position of the body when Katsura and Ito found it.

"I'll have to report this to the magistrate's office," Katsura groaned.

"Couldn't we just bury the body without reporting it?" Ito asked lamely.

"If Kawabe hadn't come here in broad daylight, that might be possible. But since he was undoubtedly seen coming here, we must report it."

"But, Katsura-san, if we report this to the magistrate there will be a lot of questioning, and there's no telling where that might lead. The magistrate might even suspect that you were involved in the attack on Ando." Although Ito was unaware of Katsura's involvement in the plot, he had ample reason to worry for his safety: their martyred teacher had been executed by the Bakufu for treason two years previously.

"I think it would be best to report it right away," Katsura said. "If we do that, they'll be less apt to suspect that Choshu men were involved in any way."

That afternoon, Katsura and Ito reported the suicide to the magistrate in Edo, explaining that they neither knew Kawabe, nor why he had killed himself at Choshu headquarters. "I was out when it happened," Katsura lied. "I returned just after the incident." As Ito was ignorant of Katsura's involvement in the assassination plot, it was easy for him to support his superior's alibi. And as it was true that Katsura had never met Kawabe before, the magistrate had no evidence whatsoever against the Choshu men.

But further problems awaited Katsura upon his return to the Choshu estate that evening. A high-ranking Choshu official, Nagai Uta, opposed the ideas of Katsura and the rest of the radical Choshu Loyalists. Nagai had recently persuaded the Lord of Choshu to endorse what he termed a Farsighted Plan for Navigation, which was no more than the advocation of a Union of Court and Camp. Nagai's plan was to strengthen the Choshu position among both the court and the Bakufu by acting as arbiter to realize a union. Nagai was the archenemy of the disciples of Yoshida Shoin, who, in accordance with their secret agreement with Takechi Hanpeita, had been struggling to unite their han behind Toppling the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism. During the previous summer, while Kusaka Genzui was planning the assassination of Ando by his own hand, Takasugi Shinsaku had been raring to cut down Nagai. Although Nagai did not know, it had been Katsura who saved his life by convincing both of these extremists that the time had not yet come for such drastic measures.

"So, Katsura," Nagai said to his nemesis, "are you sure you didn't have anything to do with the nasty business of today?"

Katsura's eyes flashed. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said coldly. "It's already been determined by the office of the magistrate that I had nothing to do with the incident."

"Is that so?" Nagai scoffed, as if he were able to read Katsura's mind. "It's common knowledge that you were one of Yoshida Shoin's favorite students. But I'll tell you what, Katsura. Just to make sure that there are no bothersome follow-up procedures, why don't I just put in a word or two with..." he paused to let Katsura wriggle on these last words. Although Nagai was shrewd, Katsura, who was even shrewder, remained calm. "I could always put a word in with, you know," Nagai continued, a complacent smile challenging Katsura's uncanny ability to remain cool, "the magistrate himself." As Nagai was the Choshu representative in charge of arbitrating to unite the court with the Bakufu, he was confident of his ability to call off any subsequent investigation of the Kawabe incident.

Katsura quickly saw through Nagai's strategy. He understood the goals of his political enemy. Nagai, of course, knew that Katsura was one of the leaders of the Choshu radicals. With Katsura in his present dangerous position, Nagai reasoned that he could certainly be persuaded to alter his political stance. Surely, Nagai assumed, Katsura would be willing to compromise his ideals to save his own neck.

But Katsura was crafty. "Nagai-san," he said, "anything you can do to fix things would be appreciated."

"Then if I pay the magistrate a visit, I can expect some cooperation on your part?" Nagai confirmed.

"Cooperation?" Katsura smiled sardonically. "Of course! You're a minister to Lord Mori, and I'm prepared to do anything for our daimyo and for Choshu Han."

The magistrate's investigation ended with light reprimands concerning Kawabe's suicide being handed down to Katsura and Ito. This was, of course, due to the close attention that Nagai had given the proceedings, fully expecting Katsura to cooperate in the promotion of his farsighted Plan for Navigation.

Nagai, however, had badly misjudged Katsura's true intentions. Once he was entirely free of the worry of Bakufu harassment, Katsura, with Ito's help, produced numerous copies of the assassins' letter of vindication, and dispersed them among xenophobic sympathizers in Edo. Katsura's plan worked, and it wasn't long before the attack on Ando stirred the spirits of townspeople and samurai alike. The would-be assassins' claim that the Bakufu had planned the dethronement of Emperor Komei was particularly effective in arousing anti-Bakufu sentiment. In fact, when word of this eventually reached the Emperor, it did much to shatter any hopes among the Edo regime of achieving a union with the court in Kyoto.

* * *

Ryoma walked nearly a day and a half along a winding road that followed a swollen river flowing to the Inland Sea through the green mountains of Choshu. He finally reached a valley covered with rice fields, brown in the dead of winter, and dotted with the thatched houses of peasants who tended the fields to feed the samurai who populated the nearby castletown. From here, Ryoma continued his steady pace toward Hagi, despite his tired feet and the cold wind which burnt his parched face. Finally, he caught sight of' the main keep of Hagi Castle towering in the distance, five black-tiled tiers sweeping out from white earthen walls. Ryoma squinted to get a clearer view of the imposing edifice, built atop a perfectly symmetrical stone foundation, and surrounded on three sides by a deep moat. To the immediate north of the castle was a great wooded rock, which was more of a hill than a mountain," but served as ideal protection from possible attack from the Sea of Japan just below.

Ryoma walked anxiously through the town, just south of the castle, the streets lined with samurai houses fronted by high white earthen walls topped-with black tiles. He stopped at one such house, the home of Kusaka Genzui, and without hesitation passed through the high wooden front gate. The sides of the two-storied house were of dark wood and white clay, the roof of black tiles. A young woman, Kusaka's wife, greeted Ryoma at the doorway. "So, this is the sister of the famous Yoshida Shoin," Ryoma thought to himself, impressed with her intelligent face. As Kusaka was not home, but expected back shortly, the woman invited Ryoma inside to wait. Soon Kusaka returned to find Ryoma sitting in his living room, near a glowing brazier, sipping hot sake.

"Welcome," the Choshu man said with a bow. "I've heard a lot about you from Zuizan-sensei."

Ryoma did not bother to stand up. "Cold outside, isn't it," he said. Ryoma's nonchalance confused Kusaka. Was not this the former head of the Chiba Dojo, the man who had once defeated Katsura Kogoro in a fencing match, and the right-hand man of Master Zuizan? Ryoma grinned, and produced a folded document from the breast of his kimono. "I've brought a letter to you from Takechi Hanpeita," he said.

Kusaka sat down and read the letter, in which Hanpeita had explained his loss of hope of convincing the Tosa regent to unite Tosa behind Toppling the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism. Kusaka threw the letter down in disgust. "We are having similar difficulties in Choshu," he began feverishly. "There is a filthy traitor among us by the name of Nagai Uta, who has wriggled his way into power and tricked our daimyo into supporting the drive for a Union of Court and Camp." Unlike his colleague Katsura Kogoro, Kusaka was unaware of the Ando assassination planned for the following day in Edo. Had he known of the plot, he may have been more hopeful about achieving the goals he and the other Choshu Loyalists had been striving for since the previous summer. "If Choshu continues on its present course," Kusaka said bitterly, a fiery look in his eyes, "before we know it, our han will become another Tokugawa lackey. The Satsuma men are also having problems convincing their daimyo to support us. Lord Hisamitsu, who is the father of the Satsuma daimyo, has taken control of the Satsuma government. He has apparently been successful at suppressing the Satsuma Loyalists. Our original plan for a triple alliance between Tosa, Satsuma and Choshu no longer seems feasible." Kusaka's eyes flashed into Ryoma's, as he added: "Please tell Zuizan-sensei that I don't think his plan has a chance."

The plan to which Kusaka referred was Hanpeita's scheme to unite the three powerful southwestern fiefdoms of Tosa, Satsuma and Choshu, march with their combined armies into Kyoto, where they would embrace the Emperor. The Loyalist forces would then topple the Edo regime and set up a new Imperial government in the ancient capital.

"The scoundrel Nagai is ruining Choshu," Kusaka said. "He has steered Choshu policy toward supporting the Bakufu."

"There is a similar situation in Tosa, with Regent Yoshida Toyo," Ryoma said. "But I don't care anymore."

"You don't care?" Kusaka repeated in disbelief. "What do you mean?" I've given up on Tosa. Men of High Purpose throughout Japan are going 0 have to join forces if we are to overthrow the Bakufu and save the nation from foreign invasion," Ryoma said, pounding his fist on the floor. "We can't rely on the court nobles or the feudal lords. We have nothing but our own brains, blood and guts."

Kusaka's eyes opened wide as he leaned forward. "You speak my thoughts," he said, clapping his hands loudly. Then, in a whisper, "I should cut Nagai."

It was Nagai's intention to save the ailing Bakufu by keeping Japan open to foreign trade, and in so doing import Western technology and culture. In this way he hoped to build modern ships by which to strengthen the nation militarily and expand Japan's economy. Nagai reasoned that this was the only way to avoid the catastrophe of foreign subjugation which had brought China and India to their knees.

Nagai's ideas did not greatly differ from those secretly harbored by Sakamoto Ryoma, as he sat drinking sake with the xenophobic Choshu extremist. In fact, Ryoma differed with Nagai on only one basic point: Ryoma was staunchly anti-Tokugawa. He felt that the Bakufu itself represented the greatest obstacle to the democratization of Japan. He desired nothing less than to topple the 250-year-old hegemony, create a modern navy to reach out beyond the shores of the island nation to the rest of the world, and in so doing, steer Japan into the modern age of which Kawada Shoryo had

often spoken.

"We must rid our sacred land of the foreign stench," Kusaka said, "and to do so, we must destroy the Bakufu." Like Takechi Hanpeita, Kusaka was chronic in his hatred of things Western, which personified evil in the minds of the Imperial Loyalists. But unlike Hanpeita, whose Imperial fanaticism was religious, Kusaka's ideas were based on logic: unless Japan could expel the foreigners, it would surely suffer a fate similar to China and India.

Ryoma, however, knew in his heart of hearts that exclusionism was no longer possible. This is not to say that he had abandoned his anti-foreign sentiments, but rather, he had taken a giant leap forward, beyond his comrades. Ryoma's vision did not stop at simply overthrowing the Bakufu; he desired more than anything the abolishment of the entire feudal system which maintained the existence of hundreds of individual han. He was aware of the necessity of uniting Japan into one nation, with a centralized government in Kyoto which would represent all of the han. His views of the Emperor possessed nothing of the religious fervor of Hanpeita and other xenophobic Loyalists. To Ryoma, the Imperial Court was no more than a means to an end to be utilized for the good of the nation, for the benefit of the Japanese

people. For the time being, however, he wisely chose to keep these views to himself.

Ryoma spent the night at an inn in the castletown. Early the next morning a young samurai came to escort the celebrated Tosa swordsman to the official martial arts training hall of Choshu. "Sakamoto-sensei, we've all been waiting to see a demonstration of your excellent swordsmanship," Kusaka's messenger said. Ryoma's reputation was still that of the distinguished former head of the Chiba Dojo. There was not a swordsman in all of Hagi Castletown who was not aware that Ryoma had defeated the esteemed Katsura Kogoro in a fencing match several years before.

When Ryoma arrived at the training hall, Kusaka was waiting for him with a group of some forty anxious young men, all sitting on the polished wooden floor. Rather than being flattered by the respect that the Choshu men showed for his swordsmanship, Ryoma was inwardly annoyed. He had not come to Choshu as a mere swordsman, but as the messenger of the leader of the Tosa Loyalist Party. Moreover, he had already made up his mind to abandon Tosa, and was dedicated to nothing less than saving the entire Japanese nation. "Kusaka-san, I'm afraid you expect too much," he said, scratching the back of his neck with his left hand, his right hand tucked into his kimono. Several bundles of straw, each about three feet high, had been lined up along one side of the training hall. Much to Ryoma's chagrin, he was invited to display his technique by cutting through a bundle of straw.

"I'll go first," shouted one of the younger Choshu men, who jumped up and walked over to one of the bundles. The younger man drew his sword and proceeded to hack through the bundle of straw, butchering it in the process. Another young man jumped up, drew his sword and sliced another bundle in half, though his blade left a gash on the wooden floor. A third man cut through another bundle, but in his lack of control sliced open his own foot.

While Ryoma had indeed become a Man of High Purpose in his own right, he was nevertheless an expert swordsman. Unable to stand by and watch these younger men perform their low-level techniques, he calmly walked up to one of the straw bundles and called the attention of all present. "This is how you cut an inanimate object," he announced. The next instant Ryoma drew his sword with his right hand, and with a silver-blue flash, returned the blade to its scabbard before the severed bundle of straw fell to the floor.

The entire hall was silent. "Sakamoto-sensei," Kusaka broke the quiet, "would you please do us the honor of sparring with a few of our men?"

Unable to refuse, and much to his own dismay, Ryoma again found himself yielding to the wishes of his host. Ryoma's first opponent was a boy of no more than sixteen, who charged the celebrated swordsman, and to his own surprise, not to mention the astonishment of all present, scored an easy "kill." With the two following matches ending much the same way, Ryoma's final opponent took it upon himself to complain. "Sakamoto-sensei, please don't make fun of us. You must fight seriously."

Ryoma laughed, tossed his bamboo sword across the room, and raised his hands above his head. "I lost because I'm weak," he declared indifferently. It was at this moment that Kusaka recognized Ryoma as not just another expert swordsman, but a Man of High Purpose of a truly unique character.
On the night before Ryoma was to leave Hagi Castletown, Kusaka delivered a letter to him. "This is for Zuizan-sensei," he said. "But I'd like you to read it."

"Ultimately" Kusaka's letter began, "it isn't enough for us to rely on our lords, and it isn't enough for us to rely on the court nobles. It is our opinion that we have no alternative but to assemble our rank and file and rise up in a righteous revolt. Forgive me for saying this, but even if your han and our han should be destroyed, it would not matter so long as our cause is just.'" Profane words! Throughout the past two and a half centuries the idea of a samurai allowing his han to perish was blasphemy, but Sakamoto Ryoma cherished the thought.

"Kusaka-san," Ryoma said, grabbing the Choshu man firmly by the wrist, "we must abandon our han and fight for Japan. The Japanese nation is the only thing worth fighting for." A single teardrop trickled down the twisted face of the Dragon, who was now more determined than ever to achieve his goal.

* * *

From Hagi Ryoma traveled east to Osaka, where he came across a particularly interesting piece of information which would not only have a profound effect on his own life, but also on the history of Japan. Word had it that Shimazu Hisamitsu, the father of the Satsuma daimyo and de facto lord of the second largest fiefdom in Japan, was planning to lead an army of over 1,000 troops into Kyoto to embrace the Emperor in an unprecedented display of military strength in order to "correct the Bakufu's renegade policies" concerning foreign demands. As Choshu and Satsuma had long been bitter rivals, however, the Choshu Loyalists were suspicious of Lord Hisamitsu's I true intentions. Never before in two-and-a-half centuries of Tokugawa rule had a daimyo escorted an army into the Imperial capital. Satsuma, Choshu suspected, planned to embrace the Emperor at the exclusion of the rest of the feudal domains, and set up an Imperial government by which the Lord of Satsuma would become the Shogun of a new "Satsuma Bakufu" in Kyoto.

Upon returning to Kochi in late February, Ryoma reported directly to the home of Takechi Hanpeita.

"Ryoma!' Hanpeita exclaimed, standing up from his desk to greet him.

"I've brought you a letter from Kusaka Genzui. You should forget about your plans for an alliance. As Kusaka has written, the Choshu Loyalists have given up hope in their han. The conservative Bakufu sympathizers in Hagi have gotten a firm hold on the government, and the Loyalists can't do a thing in Choshu. Kusaka himself has told me that he is going to flee Choshu, and bring the fight for the national cause to Kyoto. Forget about this rotten han, Hanpeita. If we hope to ever accomplish anything, we must leave Tosa and join forces with other Men of High Purpose throughout Japan." Ryoma slammed his fist on Hanpeita's desk, as a cold draft penetrated the thin walls of the house. Ryoma collected his thoughts, then relayed to the Shield of the Emperor the report of the impending coup d'etat in Kyoto.

Hanpeita read Kusaka's letter, went to the opposite side of the room, and picked up his long sword from a wooden rack in the alcove. Drawing the blade, he solemnly proclaimed, "I am left with no choice but to cut him down."

"Cut who down?" Ryoma started.

"The regent. Time is running out, as Kusaka has indicated in his letter. We must eliminate Yoshida Toyo soon if we are to unite Tosa behind Toppling the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism. Once that is accomplished, the Men of High Purpose in Choshu will realize that if we can succeed, so can they. But timing is of the essence. We must remain levelheaded and plan things carefully before we act."

"Hanpeita," Ryoma shouted, again slamming his fist on the desk. "You use the term Men of High Purpose too lightly. Don't you realize that we Men of High Purpose must band together on our own if we are to save the nation? Forget about Tosa, and give up your stubborn ideas about this rotten han. They're futile. Like I've told you before, even if you kill the regent, you're not going to be able to do a thing unless you're willing to cut down Lord Yodo as well. Because you know as well as I do that Yamanouchi Yodo will never take up arms against the Tokugawa."

"Ryoma, it's an outrage to talk of Lord Yodo disrespectfully," Hanpeita reprimanded, slamming his sword blade back into the scabbard.

"There are some things that we just can't agree on," Ryoma groaned. "Don't tell me that you actually care about the daimyo, because I don't think there is a lower-samurai in all of Tosa who considers him with any more reverence than they do a freshly laid fart."

"Ryoma," Hanpeita roared, "that's enough disrespect. Now, are you with me or against me?"

"If you're willing to cut down the daimyo first, I'll kill Toyo myself. Otherwise, forget it. I just can't condone killing a man for no reason at all. And if you cut down the regent without killing Lord Yodo, it will be meaningless bloodshed."

"Ryoma," Hanpeita roared again, "I'm not asking you to cut anyone. I already have my pawns carefully chosen," he said through steely eyes. "Now, I must know: are you with me or against me?"

"Hanpeita, I can't believe what you're saying. Not only are you planning to kill a man, but you're going to use your own men as pawns in the bloody business. I'm with you, Hanpeita, but I won't have anything to do with killing Toyo."

"Then you're against me," Hanpeita concluded bitterly.

"No, I'm not against you, Hanpeita. But I've decided to leave Tosa," Ryoma suddenly disclosed his long-kept secret.

"Leave? But you just returned."

"I mean I've decided to flee Tosa. I won't return until things have changed," Ryoma declared, then after a short pause, "if I ever return at all. Things are starting to take shape, Hanpeita. They say that Satsuma is beginning to move. If we don't start now, it will be too late. How can you insist on wasting your time in Tosa? There is absolutely nothing you can do here. The action is in Kyoto and Edo, and that's where we belong."

'Then that's all the more reason for us to get organized," Hanpeita insisted, stroking his long chin. "We can't let the Satsuma men get the edge on us. We Tosa men must work quickly if we are to play a leading role in the drama that is unfolding before us."

"Forget about Tosa," Ryoma hollered indignantly. "The Yamanouchi are different from the Mori and the Shimazu. The Yamanouchi will never agree to oppose the Tokugawa."

"What will you do after you leave Tosa?" Hanpeita asked. "Even if you go to Kyoto, what will you do there? When will you realize that working together as one great han is the only way to produce positive results? What are you going to do as a ronin, an outlaw, a fugitive? Even if you are able to organize an army of five hundred ronin, what could you do? But if we had a whole han dedicated to overthrowing the Bakufu, then things would start to materialize. Think about it. We must not act rashly. We must plan everything out, step by step. That's the only way." Unlike the fiery Kusaka, Hanpeita's idea of revolution was based on calm, deliberate action, free of dangerous risk which might result in sudden downfall.

"Like Kusaka says," Ryoma hollered in exasperation, "we have to get' started before the battle starts. We have to get ready, and Tosa is just not the place to do it. The lower-samurai can't do a thing in this rotten han. We have to go to Kyoto if we are to be of any use at all."

"That's where you're wrong, Ryoma. I've been talking to a few of the most powerful men in Tosa, men who are bitterly opposed to the regent. I've gotten their support. Once Toyo is eliminated, we'll have a direct hand in the government, if not officially then actually"

Shortly after resuming power as regent, Yoshida Toyo forced into retirement the conservatives who had thus far been in charge of Tosa affairs replacing them with his own progressive band of young disciples. Needles to say, the fallen old guard despised the ruthless regent; in order to eliminate him they were even willing to cooperate with Hanpeita's illegal Loyalist Party, made up almost entirely of lower-samurai.

"Hanpeita," Ryoma said angrily, "how could you even consider joining forces with the upper-samurai?"

"It's just a means to an end," Hanpeita said coolly, then asked, "When will you leave?"


"Then you won't at least stay long enough to help us cut Toyo?"

"Hanpeita," Ryoma groaned, "there's just no getting through to you. You're just as rigid as ever, and I guess you'll never change."

"One way or another," Hanpeita said, "I swear to you I will succeed in uniting Tosa under the banner of Imperial Loyalism. But to do so, I nr eliminate Yoshida Toyo."

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