Ryoma : Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Hillsborough, Romulus

The Sweltering Summer of Frenzy

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The Sweltering Summer of Frenzy
During the summer of 1863, while Ryoma was making the final arrangements for Kaishu 's private naval academy in Kobe, his Loyalist comrades were active in their own respective arenas. With the radicals increasing their power in Kyoto, the three feudal lords who had been working to achieve a compromise between court and camp-those ofFukui, Tosa and Satsuma- had been compelled to quit the Kyoto stage and perform behind the scene from their individual castles. The Imperial capital was now in the hands of the Choshu extremists, while the leading players in the drive to topple the Bakufu-the extremist factions of Choshu, Satsuma and Tosa-acted and reacted with one another in a bloody coup de theatre which sent the entire nation reeling.
With Shogun lemochi having set May 10 as the date by which the foreigners would be expelled from Japan, the Choshu extremists made their plans accordingly. Aware that Edo had no intention of using military force to carry out its promise, the Choshu-sponsored rebels, led by Kusaka Genzui, had a dual-purpose in mind when they gathered at Shimonoseki Strait at the southwestern point of Choshu: increasing their status among the xenophobic court nobles and further diminishing Bakufu prestige, by attacking foreign ships passing through the strait.

Shimonoseki Strait, which separated Kyushu from Honshu, served as an important route for foreign ships traveling between the open Ports of Yokohama and Nagasaki. On the morning of May 11, the day after the deadline to expel the foreigners, an American merchant ship bound for Nagasaki was suddenly chased and fired upon by two Choshu warships as it passed through the strait. On the twenty-third of the same month a French dispatch-boat crossing these waters was similarly attacked. Three days later a Dutch corvette sailing from Nagasaki to Yokohama became the third target of Choshu guns at Shimonoseki.

Although all three of the unsuspecting ships escaped intact, Choshu's boldness elevated its already high status among the radicals at court, at the expense of Satsuma and even Tokugawa prestige. Exuberant over his temporary victory, the Lord of Choshu immediately relayed the events to the Imperial Court, which in turn sent a letter of praise to Hagi Castle, setting even higher the spirits of the Loyalist fighters in Choshu.

* * *

Upon his return from Fukui in late May, Ryoma went to Kobe to meet Katsu Kaishu. Although Kobe was still an obscure fishing village on the outskirts of the large outpost town of Hyogo, it was at this spot on Osaka Bay that Kaishu had chosen to establish his naval academy. As Hyogo, like nearby Osaka, was a domain of the Tokugawa, it was a suitable location for an official Bakufu training center; and the natural harbor at Kobe promised to serve; as an ideal location for naval headquarters.

When Ryoma reported to Kaishu of his success in procuring the 5,000 ry from Lord Shungaku, the naval commissioner was nevertheless reluctan to demonstrate too much excitement. After all, they were still without the basics: ships for training, coal for their engines, and a building for headquarters. When Kaishu had received permission from Edo to establish the naval academy, he was also guaranteed that the necessary ships and equipment would be supplied by the Bakufu Naval Training Center in Nagasaki, but none had yet arrived.

"The money will be delivered here from Fukui within a few days," Ryoma, informed, before Kaishu relayed the details of the events in Choshu as they had occurred over the past two weeks.

"There's no sense in your getting so bothered," Kaishu said consolingly. He had never seen Ryoma so upset, and felt ill at ease, despite himself. "What's done is done."

"I just can't understand those maniacs," Ryoma said angrily. "We must act fast, Sensei. We must build our navy to help Choshu, if the barbarians don't retaliate first by blowing Shimonoseki off the map."

"The difference between you and your friends in Choshu," Kaishu said, "is your sense of timing."

"Timing," Ryoma bitterly agreed, "is one thing the Choshu men don't seem to understand."

Kaishu and Ryoma stood on an expansive beach near Kobe Village one morning in the first week of June. The coast was dotted with thatched houses of fishermen, pines lined the road above, and behind the road were green rice fields which flowed with the breeze into the hills beyond. The two men were admiring a new building, much different in style than the thatched houses. It was longer and narrower, and had only one story. The paneled walls were freshly lacquered, and the black tile roof gleamed in the morning sunlight. The beach this morning was empty, and the shrill of cicadas in the pines seemed to rise up all of a sudden through the warm salt air.

"What do you think?" Kaishu asked of the headquarters of his private naval academy.

"Just like home," Ryoma said, when a voice called his name from the road above. This was Sonojo, who ran down the hill to meet the two men. "Ryoma," he said excitedly, "I've just come from Tosa headquarters in Kyoto with some horrible news."

"What is it," Ryoma asked.

"Tosa Loyalists Hirai Shujiro, Masaki Tetsuma and Hirose Kenta are dead."

Kaishu had recently appointed Ryoma head of his private naval academy.

Ryoma's following of nearly one hundred men, mostly ronin, included seven of his comrades from Tosa, all former members or sympathizers of Hanpeita's recently crushed Tosa Loyalist Party. Ryoma's nephew, Takamatsu Taro, was second to enroll after Kondo Chojiro, the bean jam bun maker's son who had recently received samurai status. Sawamura Sonojo had also shown up at Kobe headquarters lately, accompanied by Umanosuke, the son of a Tosa peasant. Even the staunch Loyalists Mochizuki Kameyata and Chiya Toranosuke, like Ryoma, now considered Kaishu "the greatest man in Japan." The latest recruit from Tosa was Yasuoka Kanema, Toranosuke's younger cousin.

Lord Yodo's recent crackdown on the Tosa Loyalists helped convince these Tosa men to stay in Kobe with Ryoma. As Sonojo had just reported, three of Hanpeita's lieutenants-Hirai Shujiro, Masaki Tetsuma and Hirose Kenta-had been ordered by Yodo to commit seppuku. Suspecting that the same might be in store for Hanpeita and the others, Ryoma hurried to Kyoto, and went straight to Tosa headquarters there. But when he arrived, he found the barracks nearly empty.

"Won't someone tell me what's happening around here?" he hollered, storming through the barracks, looking in each room.

"Sakamoto-san," called a voice from inside one of the rooms. Standing at the center of the room was a man dressed in typical samurai garb, but with a black hood covering his entire head and wrapped around his face, so that only his eyes, nose and mouth were visible. His sword, which hung from his left hip, was too long for him.

"Who are you?" Ryoma asked.

"I'm Tosa samurai Mutsu Yonosuke."

"You're not from Tosa," Ryoma scoffed. "It's obvious from your accent that you're from Kii."

"Yes," Yonosuke said, annoyed, "but I've been telling people I'm from Tosa."

"Have it your way. You can have Tosa and do what you like with it," Ryoma sneered. "But just tell me what's going on there now."

"Don't you know?"

"If I knew, do you think I'd be asking?"

Yonosuke explained, in a monotone, that three of Hanpeita's top men were recently ordered to commit seppuku for "insolence in not carrying out their lord's orders." Yodo had been furious with them, accusing them of meddling in Tosa affairs after the assassination of Yoshida Toyo.

As Yonosuke relayed in great detail, all three men performed their suicides courageously. Since Masaki did not have a calligraphy brush in jail, he formed Chinese characters out of strips of paper to compose his death poem in his cell. The poem stressed the condemned man's great pleasure that the court had regained political power, his only lament being that the Tosa banner could not fly in the Imperial capital with those of Choshu and Satsuma. In his last words, he tearfully denounced Lord Yodo for his indecisiveness in the face of the Bakufu.

Hirose had studied the proper way to commit seppuku, claiming that a man's value was determined by how well he was able to cut open his belly. He discovered that if one plunged his short sword into the left side of the belly, sliced straight across to the right side, then cut with the tip of the blade diagonally upward, and immediately sliced across this vital area to the right nipple, death would be instantaneous. When his chance came, Hirose, dressed in ceremonial white, calmly sat down and asked his second not to behead him until he had finished. In fact, Hirose had cut himself so skillfully that he was dead before his second could offer any assistance.

Hirai Shujiro, Kao's older brother, carved his death poem with his fingernails on the walls of his jail cell. When he sat down to perform seppuku he noticed that his second, a close friend, was pale and extremely tense.

"Relax," Hirai said calmly, rubbing his hand over the portion of his belly he would cut. "Let's get on with it," he said, then tightly gripping his short sword, plunged it into his belly. The second panicked, and instead of severing the head at the neck, his blade struck his friend on the back of the skull, cutting him badly. "I told you to relax," Hirai screamed, his face contorted in agony. An instant later the second struck again, and Hirai's head fell from his body.

"A waste!" Ryoma cried out as Yonosuke finished speaking. "I told them from the beginning not to trust Yodo. I pleaded with them to leave Tosa, and join me." Ryoma's eyes filled with tears. "Any word about Hanpeita?"

"As far as I know, he has not been arrested."

"Maybe not yet," Ryoma sneered, "but with the way things are now, none of the Loyalists in Tosa are safe."

"And since all of them have been ordered to return, there's not one Tosaj Loyalist left in Kyoto, Sakamoto-san."

"How do you know my name?" Ryoma asked suspiciously.

"I was working with the Tosa Loyalists. And since there's not a man among them who doesn't speak of you, I've heard a lot about you."

"Do you always wear that?" Ryoma asked.

"Wear what?"

"That hood."

"I was about to get out of here when you came along. I feel safer if, people don't recognize me." The man removed the hood, revealing a light complexion, long face and well defined nose. His thick eyebrows were dark over sunken eyes, his build frail, and though at five-feet, three-inches he was above average height, Ryoma was much taller.

"Why don't you join my naval academy in Kobe," Ryoma said.

"I was just on my way to Kobe to do that, Sakamoto-san."

"Then put that hood back on, and let's get out of here."

Unlike Ryoma and the other men at Kaishu's naval academy, Mutsu Yonosuke was of an elite lineage. His grandfather had been a high ranking government minister of the fiefdom of Kii, the wealthiest of the elite Three Tokugawa Branch Houses and the home of the present Shogun. Yonosuke's father, Munehiro, was a famous scholar of Japanese history, who, in spite of his Loyalist views, enjoyed both wealth and political power in the Kii government. Munehiro's political rival was a minister by the name of Mizuno, who criticized the scholar's Loyalist ideas as treason. The two became bitter enemies, and in 1852 Mizuno drove Munehiro from power, had him imprisoned and his family banished from the castletown to live in poverty. Yonosuke at this time was only nine years old.

The boy was determined to avenge the outrageous treatment of his father, by cutting down a Kii official. The plan was thwarted when a relative caught Yonosuke sneaking out of his house with a sword. Yonosuke screamed and hollered, bit and scratched, then screamed and hollered some more. When he found that tantrums would not work, he tried argument to get his way. He protested violently his relative's interference, and insisted that he be allowed to avenge the injustice done his father. He argued that the daimyo himself was corrupt for allowing such injustice within his domain. And all this came from the mouth of a nine-year-old boy. Such were the makings of Japan's greatest foreign minister.

Yonosuke would never forgive Kii Han. At age fifteen he fled, and went to Edo where he studied at the academies of two famous scholars. This was in 1858, when Ii Naosuke had just come to power, signed the treaty with the Americans and begun his terrible purge. When Ryoma fled Tosa four years later, Yonosuke, at eighteen, was mingling with other Loyalists dedicated to the overthrow of the Bakufu. Near the end of 1862 Yonosuke went to Kyoto, where he was reunited with his father, who had also fled Kii and become friendly with the radical court nobles. During this time Yonosuke began frequenting Tosa's Kyoto headquarters, where he developed close relations with Hirai Shujiro. Although Hirai was a member of the Tosa Loyalist Party, his upper-samurai status gave him access to the daimyo. Recognizing the young man's intellectual capacities and his enthusiasm for Toppling the Bakufu and Imperial Loyalism, Hirai arranged for Yonosuke to have an audience with Lord Yodo: thus Yonosuke's self-styled status as a Tosa samurai.

Shortly after the Choshu radicals had fired on foreign ships in Shimonoseki, Ryoma's fear of foreign subjugation was exacerbated with the news that Shimonoseki had been bombarded by American and French warships.

The United States was in the middle of the Civil War when the Union sloop of war Wyoming was patrolling the Japanese coast in search of a certain Confederate cruiser. The captain of the Wyoming had heard of the recent attack on an American merchant ship, and decided to punish Choshu. At dawn of June 1, the Wyoming entered Shimonoseki Strait prepared for battle. As soon as the Choshu forces spotted the foreign ship, they fired their outdated bronze cannon from three separate batteries along the coast. But unlike the three ships recently fired upon in these waters, the Wyoming crew was aware of the inferior firing range of the Choshu guns, and so stayed a safe distance away. The Americans fired relentlessly, and within minutes had

sunk two Choshu warships and badly damaged a third. Just an hour after the

first shot had been fired, the Wyoming left the startled Choshu domain for the

Port of Yokohama.

The French retaliated on the morning of June 5 by pounding the Shimonoseki coast with two heavily armed warships. After destroying the Choshu battery, 300 French troops landed on Shimonoseki, burning to the ground a surrounding village and, to the horror of the xenophobic Choshu samurai, temporarily occupying the remaining batteries. At dusk of the same day, however, the French gathered up their dead and injured, reboarded their ships and departed the humiliated Choshu domain for Yokohama.

Choshu's short-lived mood, of triumph had now completely vanished. In just five days, not only had it lost dozens of men, a large number of cannons and two of its three warships, but the occupation by the French, though temporary, sent shock waves throughout the domain. The Japanese had always been confident that if it came to combat on land the foreigners would be no match for the fighting spirit of the samurai. The French proved them wrong and the leadership of Choshu had once and for all realized that repelling the barbarians by force was impossible.

It was late at night, and Ryoma was outraged. The only sound was the steady pounding of the surf, the only light that of a paper lantern, as he sat alone in his private room at Kobe headquarters. The building was full of men fast asleep; but having heard of the attack on Choshu and of the Bakufu's subsequent treachery, Ryoma was too disturbed to sleep. He picked up his writing brush from his low desk, and began scribbling his truest thoughts to his sister Otome.

"This letter concerns the most important of matters, so don't show it to a soul, and be sure not to chatter about it to anyone.

"Things for me are coming along fine now. I have become very close with one of the big han, (a powerful daimyo), and if trouble should start now I would have two or three hundred men to use as I thought best"

Gloating with self-pride over his recent success in obtaining the loan from Fukui and his relationship with Lord Shungaku, Ryoma wanted to share this with his sister. And even if he exaggerated the number of men at the academy, surely this was due to his enthusiasm.

"As for money, I can always come up with at least ten or twenty ryo. This eases my mind a lot.

"But it is really too bad that Choshu started a war last month by shelling foreign ships; this does not benefit Japan at all. But what really disgusts me is that the ships they shot up in Choshu are being repaired at Edo, and when they 're fixed will head right back to Choshu to fight again. This is all because the corrupt officials in Edo are in league with the barbarians."

Ryoma stopped writing, and with his sleeve wiped the sweat from the side of his face. Although he could understand the attack from the foreigners' point of view, he was furious with the Bakufu for secretly welcoming foreign assistance to punish Choshu.

"Although those corrupt Bakufu officials have a great deal of power now, I'm going to get the help of two or three daimyo and enlist like-minded men so we can start thinking more about the good of Japan, and not only the Imperial Court. Then, I'll get together with my friends in Edo (you know, Tokugawa retainers, daimyo and so on) to go after those wicked officials and cut them down"

Ryoma replaced the brush on the desk, then pounded his right fist into his left palm. "Damn it," he muttered to himself, and took up the brush again. "I vow to clean up Japan once and for all," he scrawled in large, flowing Japanese script, confiding in Otome his firm conviction to topple the Bakufu. "The big han I mentioned fully agrees with me, and its representatives are letting me in on all its secrets. Still, I haven't really been appointed to anything. It's really a shame that there aren't more men like me around the country."

Again Ryoma stopped writing, wiped the brush on the same sleeve he had just used to wipe his face, laid the brush on the desk, and reached for a gourd flask of sake. He pulled out the wooden stopper with his teeth, spit it out, took a long swig, then sighed heavily as he thought about a letter he had received from his sister recently. Otome had left her husband. This, however, was not news to Ryoma; she had told him of her intentions the last time they had met. What troubled him was his sister's apparent depression. She had written in a tone of uncharacteristic self-pity that she was considering renouncing the world for religion. But no sooner had Ryoma taken another long swig of sake, than he began laughing at the thought of Otome, of all people, becoming a Buddhist nun. Alone in his dimly lit room, Ryoma picked up his brush.

"You say in the letter I got from you the other day that you want to become a religious person and retire into the remote mountains somewhere. (Well, well! Ahem!) An amusing idea, but you 've had it before. Things are pretty hectic around here, but if you 're going to go through with it, put on some old faded priest's robes and start wandering around like a pilgrim. It probably won't be too much trouble. You can travel across Japan without spending a single silver coin. Still, if you 're going to do that, first you have to read the Shingon sutras, Kanon sutras, Ikko sutras andAmida sutras. They're rhythmic and quite difficult."

Here, Ryoma started laughing aloud, even uncontrollably, at the idea of Otome reading the Buddhist sutras. He took another drink of sake. Then a cold, blue flash filled his mind for an instant as he realized that he hadn't seen his sister for over a year, and didn't know when, or if, he would see her again.

"In the end" he continued, "this world isn't worth a damn. So put all you have into it, with such intensity that you fart doing so. If you should die, what'11 be left in the fields will look like white stones (dear, dear!).

"But becoming a pilgrim is not something you can do alone, without checking with people (for instance, poor old Ryoma is likely to die and haunt you any time). If you're thinking about it, you have to think of others and respect their wishes and thoughts. I think that you are a little too young, you know. When you look for a husband you don 't just want some pretty boy who looks good on the outside; you have to be a vigorous, tough woman with some spunk. If for instance, you go out with one or two friends for an evening and should encounter some robbers, go after them and don't let them go until you have smashed them in the balls."

Ryoma again put down his brush. He chuckled briefly and took another drink from the flask. He was beginning to feel drunk, and the night was getting on toward dawn. A strong ocean wind was howling through the pines behind the building, and Ryoma's humorous thoughts suddenly turned morbid.

'’I don't expect that I'll be around too long. But I'm not about to die like any average person either. I'm only prepared to die when big changes finally come, when even if I continue to live I will no longer be of any use to the country. But since I'm fairly shifty, I'm not likely to die so easily. But seriously, although I was born a mere potato digger in Tosa, a nobody, I'm destined to bring about great changes in the nation. But I'm definitely not going to get puffed up about it. Quite the contrary! I'm going to keep my nose to the ground, like a clam in the mud. So don't worry about me!"

Ryoma signed the letter, and again wiped the brush on his sleeve, threw it on the desk and drank the remaining sake. "Don't worry about me, Otome," he said aloud. "I'm not about to die so easily."

The dawn had crept into the night sky, and a pale light filtered into the room through the open window, as Ryoma suddenly felt extremely tired, lay back and was soon fast asleep.

"Sakamoto-san," Mutsu Yonosuke called at Ryoma's room late that morning.

Ryoma opened his eyes. "What?"

"Something urgent."

"Well, come in."

Yonosuke entered the room, and without sitting down or speaking, gave Ryoma a long, troubled look.

"Well, what is it?" Ryoma said impatiently.

"While I was in Edo," Yonosuke began in an annoying monotone, "I heard about a man by the name of Kabuto Sosuke, a real fanatic. He's an expert swordsman, and word has it that he's cut down a lot of people in Kyoto."

"Heaven s Revenge," Ryoma groaned.

"Yes. He has about six or seven men in his gang, which has recently come from Kyoto to Osaka with one particular purpose in mind."

"And?" Ryoma yawned. He was not inclined to get excited over a gang of fanatic Loyalist killers; after all, he had tamed Okada Izo, the most notorious of them all.

"And what do you suppose that purpose is?" Yonosuke asked.

"I have no idea." Ryoma again yawned.

"To assassinate Tokugawa Navy Commissioner Katsu Kaishu."

"What?" Ryoma roared, springing to his feet. If Ryoma had not been disturbed by the content of Yonosuke's words, he might have been inclined to knock some feeling into the younger man who spoke with, what he considered, uncalled for composure. "Katsu-sensei left for Osaka this morning," Ryoma shouted. "Has he been warned?"

"Yes. I told him before he left. He said he'd be careful, but didn't seem to mind."

"That sounds like him." Ryoma shook his head slowly. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?" he hollered. Ryoma, who seldom angered, was furious; such was his concern for the safety of his mentor.

"That's not all," Yonosuke continued calmly.

"What else?" Ryoma snapped.

"I heard about all of this from a man named Inui Juro. He's friendly with Kabuto's gang, and has even hidden some of them in his own home."

"What else can you tell me about Inui?"

"He's quite rash, if you know what I mean." Yonosuke uncharacteristically grinned. "In other words, Inui has deceived his friends by informing me, and apparently some others, of their scheme. But he felt obligated to do so because of all that I've told him about Katsu-sensei. Then, when Kabuto and the others found that Inui leaked their plan, they decided to kill him."

"And you want me to protect him," Ryoma said, shaking his head.

"If you could," Yonosuke said, bowing his head.

"How can I refuse?" Not only did Ryoma detest hearing of Japanese killing each other, but he was anxious to meet the man who could lead him to Kaishu's would-be assassins.

"Thank you, Sakamoto-san," Yonosuke said, again bowing his head.

"Where is Inui?"

"At his home in Osaka, I suppose."

"Well, let's go."

Arriving in Osaka late that afternoon, Ryoma and Yonosuke went directly to Inui's house. The sliding doors on the side of the house were open, and Inui's wife was sitting alone on the verandah. She started in fright at the sight of two men with swords approaching, but immediately relaxed when she recognized Yonosuke. "They've taken my husband," she cried, nervously eyeing Ryoma.

"Who's taken him?" Ryoma asked gruffly. He was not pleased with the way that the woman was staring at him, as if he were one of Kabuto's gang.

"Who is this man?" she asked Yonosuke, ignoring Ryoma's question.

"This is Tosa samurai Sakamoto Ryoma, my close friend."

Ryoma removed his long sword from his hip and sat down on a large rock

at the side of the house. He placed his sword on his lap, and plucked a reed

of grass from the moist ground.

"Kabuto and his men," the woman answered Ryoma's question, althou she was still obviously frightened of him.

"How many were there?" Ryoma asked, putting the reed in his mouth.

"About five or six."

"When did they take him?"

"Less than an hour ago."

"Which way did they go?" Ryoma spat out the reed of grass, and grippe the hilt of his sword. He was in a bad humor. After all, he was risking his Hi to save a man he did not even know, and the man's wife was treating him if he was one of the men who had abducted him.

"One of them hollered something about the mouth of the river."

"Which river?" Yonosuke asked.

"I don't know," the woman said, looking down.

"Must be the Ajikawa," Ryoma said. The main ship-landing in Osaka wa located just north of the estuary of the Ajikawa, which flowed into Osa Bay. Ryoma had landed at this spot several times while sailing with Kaishii "It's pretty desolate around that area," he said. "No houses. And not man-people pass by the mouth of the river, especially after dark. A perfect plac for a..."

The woman flinched. "For a killing," she murmured, as if resigned to the fact that she would never see her husband again.

"Yes, a killing," Ryoma said, stood up and thrust his sword through hi" sash. "Let's go, Yonosuke," he growled. "It's not far from here, but we' better hurry."

By the time Ryoma and Yonosuke reached the vicinity of the river mouthj the sun had disappeared from the evening sky. They walked quickly towards the coast, down a narrow path which led through a pine grove. Suddenly, they heard a loud scream, and Ryoma unlatched the sheath of his sword.

"This way," he said, then dashed through the pines toward the riverbank, with Yonosuke right behind.

Inui's hands and feet were tied to two bamboo stakes which had beenf driven into the soft mud along the riverbank. Six men stood in the dusk; huddled around him like a pack of wolves. One of them held the blunt edge of a sword across the bound man's throat.

"Go ahead, Kabuto, you coward," Inui gasped in pain. "Go ahead, kill me."

Kabuto was tall. His lean build evoked the image of a hungry wolf, and his; broad shoulders and long arms were telltale of his great physical strength. He wore a black kimono and hakama of coarse dark brown cloth. His thick black hair was tangled, and he had a long scar across one side of his face. "Shut up!" Kabuto roared, stuffing a wad of cloth into Inui's mouth. "This is what, happens to traitors," Kabuto snarled, kicking Inui in the groin.

"Sakamoto-san," Yonosuke whispered, "can you handle all six?"

"I'll take them without a fight," Ryoma said, and from this moment on Mutsu Yonosuke was devoted to Sakamoto Ryoma.

"Let him go!" a firm voice called out from the pine grove. All six men started, and turned around to see two samurai approaching in the dusk less than twenty paces away. The taller of the two, who held a drawn sword, squinted coldly at them.

"Who are you?" Kabuto growled.

"Sakamoto Ryoma of Tosa." Ryoma grinned menacingly. "Let him go!" he demanded, staring straight into Kabuto's eyes.

Yonosuke swallowed deeply, but remained steady by Ryoma's side.

"Sakamoto Ryoma?" Kabuto's face dropped, and he turned slightly, signaling to the others not to move. There was a mystique about Ryoma that affected all of them. Not only had Ryoma long been known in fencing circles around Edo as an expert swordsman and former head of the Chiba Dojo, but his name now evoked an enigmatic kudos. Although he was known as a leader of the Tosa Loyalists, and close friend of Takechi Hanpeita, he was also known as the right-hand man of the Tokugawa Navy Commissioner. And the very fact that Kabuto's gang had planned to assassinate Kaishu intensified the surprise of Ryoma's sudden appearance.

Kabuto started, as if to charge the imposing swordsman. "Stop!" Ryoma roared. "If you don't, I'll kill you."

Kabuto froze. Ryoma remained still, controlling his opponent with his eyes. It was now dark, and the silver light from the full moon glistened on the surface of the mouth of the river. Suddenly, one of the gang of six lurched toward the two intruders, and Ryoma raised his blade. "You move, you die," he said in a low voice.

"Put it away!" Kabuto ordered his man to resheathe his sword.

"Now, untie him," Ryoma said, never for an instant removing his eyes from Kabuto's.

"We'll untie him, Sakamoto. But things are not over between me and you. We have a score to settle."

"You can find me in Kobe. We can talk there. But now release this man."

"Talking is not what I have in mind, Sakamoto." Kabuto turned to his men. "Cut him free," he roared.

One of the men drew his short sword and cut Inui's arms and legs free from the bamboo stakes. The exhausted man, his face contorted in pain, fell like a dead weight to the muddy ground, and Yonosuke started toward him.

"Wait, Yonosuke," Ryoma said. "There's one more thing I have to tell you, Kabuto. If anything should happen to Katsu Kaishu, I'll kill you," he said, before slamming his sword back into its scabbard.

* * *

Kaishu had recently arranged for several instructors, trained at the Bakufu's Nagasaki Naval Institute, to teach at his Kobe academy, but Ryoma was too busy traveling between Osaka, Kyoto and Fukui to spend much time in formal navigational training. At the end of June, Kaishu sent Ryoma and Chojiro to Fukui's Kyoto headquarters to deliver a rifle as a token of appreciation for the loan received. Ryoma, however, had a more pressing reason for the visit. Outraged at the Bakufu for repairing the foreign warships which had attacked Choshu, he hoped to convince Fukui to realize changes witrr the Edo hierarchy in order to, as he had vowed in a recent letter to Otome|

"clean up Japan once and for all." He wanted to discuss the matter with

Murata Misaburo, a high ranking Fukui official in Kyoto. Although he had

never met Murata, Ryoma had heard that he was on friendly terms with both

Kaishu and Okubo, and of course, with Lord Shungaku.

A light summer rain seemed to hang in the thick, hot air when Ryoma and

Chojiro reached the great iron-studded oaken outer gate of Fukui headquar

ters. Having identified themselves as envoys of Katsu Kaishu, the two Tosa

samurai were led to the office of Murata, who, at age forty-two, was one of

Lord Shungaku's most trusted vassals.

"I am sure Lord Shungaku will appreciate the gift," Murata said, as he invited the two Tosa men to sit down. "I've never learned to shoot," he added, aiming the rifle. "Guns are so ignoble, hardly the proper weapon for a samurai."

"I understand your feelings," Ryoma said, "but you shouldn't forget that..."

"I know. Guns are essential to defend ourselves against the barbarians."

"And to overthrow the Bakufu," Ryoma thought to himself, but did not utter these words within the compounds of Fukui headquarters. Instead he; said, "Kaishu-sensei sends his deepest appreciation for Lord Shungaku's; generosity. But I've come here today to discuss more pressing matters."


"It is of the utmost importance that we deal properly with the foreigners for bombarding Choshu. If we allow things to stand as they are now, with the barbarians having the upper hand, it will be very difficult for us to ever deal with them on equal terms. And so, this is not a time for any of us to stand by and watch as the barbarians do as they will to Choshu," Ryoma concluded.

"What do you suggest?" Murata asked.

"We must begin negotiations with the foreigners, and get them to leave Japan," Chojiro answered for Ryoma.

"After they have withdrawn," Ryoma interrupted, "then we can get on with the all-important task of putting the nation in order." Ryoma paused to choose his words carefully.

"Please continue," Murata said.

"To begin with, we must get rid of the corrupt officials who are in charge in Edo."

Murata winced slightly. "I appreciate your speaking your mind, but under the circumstances I think it would be wise for you to keep your voice down."

"I see," Ryoma said, but continued speaking in the same manner. "In order to get rid of the corrupt officials in Edo, we will need the help of Katsu Kaishu and Okubo Ichio, the only two men in the whole Edo government who are of any worth."

"Please," Murata interrupted, "You must remember that our han is directly related to the Tokugawa. What you are suggesting is treason."

"Call it what you will," Ryoma lowered his voice. "But I am only considering the welfare of Japan." Ryoma was not about to back down, despite the troubled look in Murata's eyes. "Besides Katsu and Okubo, we will need to ask Lord Shungaku and the Tosa daimyo," Ryoma said, despite his bitter feelings for Lord Yodo, "and two or three other leading daimyo, to come to Kyoto to discuss these plans."

"Have you mentioned your ideas to Katsu-sensei?"

"No. I thought it would be more effective if he heard them directly from you. All I am is a..."

"I have a fairly good idea what you are." Murata looked at both Tosa men with amused scorn. "I've heard quite a lot about you and your men from Katsu and Lord Shungaku both. But, you seem to be forgetting one very important point."

"Which is?" Chojiro asked.

"Choshu was careless for attacking the foreign ships in the first place."

Ryoma nodded in agreement.

"And so," Murata continued, "even if we should succeed in convincing the barbarians to leave of their own free will, we must pay indemnities to them for the damages caused by Choshu. Otherwise, Japan will be branded a rogue nation by the rest of the world." Murata paused to take a deep breath. "And that would certainly be no way to ensure peace. However, with the Imperial Court praising Choshu's conduct, it is going to be very difficult to pay these indemnities."

"What you say makes sense," Ryoma said, "but..." he paused, pounded his right fist into his left palm, "the Choshu men are willing to die for Japan. This is something that the corrupt officials in Edo have completely ignored. They're only concerned about themselves, and the House of Tokugawa." Ryoma stopped speaking. A surge of outrage filled him, but he was careful not to be controlled by his emotions. "The Bakufu has ignored Choshu's courage, instead of praising it as it should. Can't you see? The Bakufu is rotten to the core."

"Calm down!" shouted the minister of the former political director of the Bakufu, obviously disturbed.

"When the Bakufu should be aiding Choshu," Ryoma said angrily, unable to calm down, "it looks the other way, and even helps the foreigners get the upper hand. With things as they are now, there's no telling when Choshu, unable to control its rage, will attack Edo, burn the capital, and destroy the foreign settlement at Yokohama. If that happens, we will certainly have a war on our hands. At any rate, the present Bakufu officials must be gotten rid of immediately, and negotiations conducted with the foreigners to convince them to leave Japan."

"What if the foreigners should refuse?"

Ryoma stared hard at Murata. "If they should refuse to leave even after we have explained why it is of the utmost importance for them to back off for now, then our whole nation must unite to drive them out," Ryoma said.

"That would mean that the whole nation would have to face annihilation just because Choshu has acted rashly. But we must do what our sovereign deems to be right. You must not be partial to Choshu in this matter."

"I agree that Choshu was wrong for attacking the foreign ships in the fi place. But," Ryoma slapped his knee, "that's not the most important issue. What we have to do now is clean up the mess in Edo by getting rid of the co rupt Bakufu officials. In other words, I ask that you immediately send lette to Katsu, Okubo and Lord Shungaku to urge their support in this matter."
Ryoma was unable to convince Lord Shungaku's vassal of the necessity "cleaning up Japan." Frustrated, he sent Chojiro back to Kobe headquarte and went alone to Choshu's Kyoto headquarters, only a short walk from Fukui residence. The sun was about to set in the overcast sky and the rain h stopped as he walked eastward along Oike Road, then, increasing his pace turned left at Kawaramachi Road which ran parallel to the Takasegawa. i

"Sakamoto-san," a samurai called as Ryoma approached the outer gate o Choshu headquarters, near the canal. This was Ito Shunsuke.

"Where can I find Kusaka?" Ryoma asked, drawing a grim look from th Choshu man.

"Please," Ito said, gesturing toward the building, "let's talk inside." Sin the attacks on foreign ships, the Bakufu had been going to all extreme to monitor the activities of the Choshu radicals, who now dominate!} the Imperial Court. Recently the Lord of Aizu, who was a close relative! of the Shogun and the Bakufu's Protector of Kyoto, had established the Shinsengumi, a crack police force made up entirely of expert swordsmen, which patrolled the streets of Kyoto to arrest or kill suspected dissidents.

"Kusaka is in Choshu," Ito told Ryoma once the two were safely inside Choshu headquarters.

"Where's Katsura?" Ryoma asked, wiping his sweaty brow with his sleeve. Ryoma hadn't seen Katsura Kogoro in several years, and was anxious to speak with him. Although Katsura was indeed intent on overthrowing the Bakufu, Ryoma suspected that he was not the extremist that Kusaka was, and rightly assumed that he had not supported the attacks on foreign ships.

"Katsura is here in Kyoto," Ito said, then explained that Katsura had been sent to the Imperial capital for secret negotiations with court nobles and representatives of various clans, particularly Tosa and Satsuma, in an aim to unite forces to topple the Bakufu.

"Where can I find him?" Ryoma asked.

Ito gave Ryoma a hard look. "That's secret, but I think I can trust you, Sakamoto-san."

"Well, I'm glad to hear that," Ryoma snickered.

Ito maintained a severe expression. "Katsura is in Sanbongi this evening. But please keep his whereabouts a secret."

Sanbongi, one of several pleasure quarters in Kyoto, was a common meeting place for both revolutionaries and men of the Bakufu. Its proximity to the Imperial Palace and the homes of court nobles made Sanbongi particularly suitable to the Loyalists, and it was in the brothels of this quarter that political intrigue on both sides was carried on nightly. Katsura's favorite house in Sanbongi was the Yoshidaya inn.

That evening Ryoma and Ito walked down a narrow cobblestone street lined on both sides with quaint, latticed wooden houses. In front of each house burned a red lantern, and just behind the row of houses on the east side was the Kamogawa. The Yoshidaya was among these houses.

Having passed through the thatched wooden gate of the Yoshidaya, the two samurai were greeted by an elderly woman, who, recognizing the Choshu man, led them down a dark paneled hallway, then up a narrow stairway to a spacious tatami room on the second floor, where Katsura was drinking sake in the company of a young girl. In the wooden alcove behind Katsura were his two swords, set in a wooden rack, next to which was a white ceramic flower vase with purple irises. On the wall behind the alcove hung a scroll of a mountain landscape drawn in black Chinese ink.

"Sakamoto-san," Katsura said, standing up as Ryoma entered the room. "This is a pleasant surprise." At thirty, Katsura had noticeably aged since Ryoma had last seen him. His face looked weary, but his eyes had not lost their intensity forged through years of training with the sword. "Please sit down," he said, then turning to the girl, "Ikumatsu, bring us

more sake."

Ikumatsu was the reason why Katsura's visit to the Yoshidaya was secret. She was twenty-one years old, and her face looked as though it had been carved from ivory. She was not beautiful, but the dark almond eyes, the small nose and the perfect flower-petal lips painted crimson formed a pretty and intelligent face. She wore a kimono of yellow silk, with flower patterns of brilliant red, pale blue, soft pink and dark green. Her thick raven hair was done up artistically in the fashion of the day, with a simple wooden comb arranged near the center, and a black lacquered ornamental hairpin in the back. Ikumatsu was a favorite among the men who came to be entertained at the Sanbongi pleasure quarter, but Katsura was her only lover.

Ikumatsu was by no means a harlot. Unlike the geisha of Edo, it was required that the geigi, or "artistic girls," of Kyoto be both refined in manners and accomplished at singing, dancing and playing the three-stringed shamisen.

Katsura had first met her in the summer of the previous year, soon after being sent to Kyoto as the Choshu emissary for secret negotiations with other Loyalists. Although the young girl's grace had charmed Katsura, it was her razor-sharp wit that had most attracted him. Finally, realizing that he must have Ikumatsu for his own, Katsura took the necessary measures to free the girl from the contract which bound her to her present occupation. Even after buying Ikumatsu's freedom, however, Katsura continued to have her entertain other men at Sanbongi. But she became a free agent, working at several different houses, and on occasion entertaining representatives of the Bakufu. It was for good reason, then, that Katsura was compelled to keep his affair with the popular "artistic girl" confidential: Ikumatsu was his personal spy. Although Katsura detested the idea of his lover entertaining other men, the information she was able to extract at these parties was invaluable the revolution. Over the past several months Katsura had tutored Ikumats on the current political situation so that she would best be able to perform her surveillant duties. Although the enemies of Choshu were not apt to on at the mouth about secrets of state, after enough sake had been poured there were more than a few occasions when secret information became the subject of drunken talk. And since the girls who entertained at the teahous and brothels were known to be generally politically uninformed, men who would normally be on their guard felt relaxed in the company of their pretty companions.

"Katsura-san," Ryoma said after Ikumatsu had left the room, "about the bombardment of Shimonoseki..."

"Ah, yes," Katsura said nervously. "Before we talk about that, please sit down, Sakamoto-san. You too, Shunsuke."

The three men sat in the formal position, and presently Ikumatsu returned to the room with sake.

"I've been trying to convince certain people I know to do something about the treachery in Edo," Ryoma said.

"What treachery?" Ito asked blankly.

"Repairing the foreign ships that have attacked Choshu. We must clean up Japan by getting rid of the corrupt officials in Edo who are only concerned for themselves."

"Attacking foreign ships was stupid." Katsura said. "Kusaka's a maniac. He has a one-track mind, and must be controlled. We had no business firing on the foreign ships in the first place. As much as I hate to admit it, we got what we deserved."

Ryoma winced slightly, but remained silent.

"But now that we've been defeated," Katsura continued, "I think that even J Kusaka himself is convinced that we are not ready to fight the foreigners. Not yet." Then pausing, he said, "But, Sakamoto-san, I've heard some interesting things about you recently."

"Not all bad, I hope."

"I've heard about your work at the naval academy of Katsu Kaishu." Katsura was impressed with the navy commissioner. The two had met in Edo earlier in the year, and spoken at great length about the necessity of developing Japan's navy, conducting free trade, and the idea of an alliance among Asian nations. "Katsu is one of the few Tokugawa officials of any worth," Katsura said. "I'm particularly interested in his ideas for an Asian alliance. There's not a single country in Asia that's offering any resistance to the Western powers. Instead, we're all imitating them. None of us are pursuing a farsighted policy of our own. Before it's too late, we must dispatch emissaries to impress strongly on the leaders of all Asian countries that their very survival depends on all of us banding together to avoid subjugation by the West."

"Yes," Ryoma said, "we should start with Korea, our nearest neighbor, then go to China."

"But our cannon are still no match for foreign artillery," Katsura continued. "Our warships can't compete with foreign warships. And so, we can't even defend our own shores. We must improve our technology."

"And how can we raise the money to finance this?" Ryoma asked.

"By conducting international trade?"

Ryoma now realized that Katsura's ideas had developed in much the same way as his own. Although the Choshu man had once adamantly opposed opening Japan, he too had changed.

"International commerce will be vital to our success," Katsura said. "We can no longer isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. Only by opening Japan can we eventually expel the barbarians." Then with a snicker he added, "Ironic, don't you think?"

"Yes," Ryoma said. "And what's more, we must go beyond the concept of individual clans. Unless we unite together, we don't stand a chance of toppling the Bakufu, much less defending ourselves against the foreigners. You mentioned an Asian alliance. But how can we expect to achieve one if we can't even unite among ourselves? I've tried to explain this to Hanpeita, but he'll never understand. The most important thing for all of us is to form a strong nation, a nation that can compete with the rest of the world."

"Sakamoto-san," Katsura interrupted, glancing at Ikumatsu, "I have received some very disturbing information this evening. I have reason to believe that Satsuma is plotting to join forces with Aizu to drive Choshu and the rest of the Loyalists out of Kyoto." Katsura returned his eyes to Ryoma. "And I suspect that Satsuma and Aizu support Edo's ploy to suppress the Emperor's campaign against the barbarians."

The anti-Bakufu Loyalists in Kyoto, led by Choshu, had never been as powerful as they were now in the summer of 1863. It seemed that they had gained the complete backing of the Imperial Court, while those in favor of a Union of Court and Camp were at their wits' ends trying to suppress them. And so, at the bidding of Edo, Satsuma was secretly planning to destroy Choshu.

Choshu's glory in Kyoto was a direct result of two recent events. The first was the attack on foreign ships at Shimonoseki, an act that immediately endeared Choshu to the xenophobes at court. The other was the assassination of the radical court noble Anenokoji Kintomo in May, three days before Choshu fired on the French ship. Anenokoji was cut down just outside Sakuhei Gate, one of the nine Forbidden Gates of the Imperial Palace. Although the identity of the assassin was never confirmed, the sword of a Satsuma samurai was found at the scene of the murder. When this man was questioned by the Aizu authorities in charge of policing Kyoto, he insisted that his sword had been recently stolen at a Kyoto brothel. When the sword was subsequently shown him, he asked to be allowed to have a closer look at the weapon. His request granted and the sword handed him, the expert swordsman drew the blade with lightning speed, and right before the eyes of the startled authorities, plunged it into his own belly. Although it could not be confirmed that the Satsuma man was indeed Anenokoji's assassin, the suicide was taken as admission of guilt, and Satsuma consequently fell from Imperial grace.

The shady circumstances of the assassination of this champion of anti-foreign Imperial Loyalism belied the Loyalists' convictions, and shrouded the already blood-soaked stage of Kyoto in an eerie shadow of intrigue. Some suspected that Choshu's ally Takechi Hanpeita, in an effort to destroy Satsuma's prestige at court, was the mastermind behind the murder. Others,' particularly the Satsuma men, suspected that Choshu agents had killed Anenokoji, and planted the Satsuma man's stolen sword at the scene of the; crime; while Choshu blamed Satsuma, saying that the Satsuma daimyo, who loathed the Loyalist rebels, wanted the radical noble eliminated.

Satsuma's suspicions were not unfounded. Until this time Satsuma had been in charge of guarding the Imperial Palace, but Choshu had now used the uncertain evidence of Satsuma guilt to secure the dismissal of its rival's troops from the coveted guard duty. Choshu furthered its cause by convincing the radicals at court to produce an Imperial edict authorizing a campaign against the foreigners, which would be tantamount to declaring Expelling the Barbarians a national policy. Choshu and the court radicals were planning to drive the foreigners out of the settlements at Yokohama, Hakodate andi Nagasaki as an initial step toward toppling the Bakufu.

All of this occurred during the "Sweltering Summer of Frenzy," despite the reluctance of Emperor Komei, who more than anything else desired harmony in the nation in order that Japan might be strong enough to defend itself; against foreign invasion. The Emperor secretly detested the extremists-both samurai of the various clans and nobles of the court-who claimed to f revere him, but who were actually wreaking havoc throughout his capital, Furthermore, the Emperor was deeply concerned for the safely of his sister who was now married to the Shogun, and living in Edo Castle. Worried that an attack on the Edo regime might mean death to the princess, the Emperor issued a secret edict to the Lord of Satsuma, ordering him to restore order in f Kyoto. Since the Choshu men were still unaware of this edict, the information that Ikumatsu was able to uncover left Katsura puzzled as to the real reason for Satsuma's alliance with Aizu.

"I can understand such behavior from Aizu because of its close relation-1 ship with the Bakufu," Ryoma said disgustedly, "But Satsuma? What could possibly compel Satsuma to act against the Emperor?"

"Satsuma will stop at nothing to destroy Choshu," Katsura said bitterly, J "as its first step toward establishing a Satsuma Bakufu."

Suddenly Ryoma burst out laughing.

"Why do you laugh?" Ito asked, obviously annoyed. "What we're talking about is of utmost importance. There's nothing funny about it."

"It's not what we're talking about that's funny," Ryoma said. "But the three of us sitting here like this has just struck me as absurd. We can sit around and talk forever, but unless we act, we'll never get anything accomplished."

"You're absolutely right," Katsura said. "But there's one thing I want you to realize: Satsuma cannot be trusted."

As Katsura now informed, on the previous night, Katsura's lover-spy had uncovered some very important information. Entertaining a gathering of Satsuma samurai, Ikumatsu discovered that this han was secretly aiming to enlist the cooperation of Aizu to crush Choshu, and thereby regain its position of Imperial grace. Both Aizu and Satsuma, albeit for different reasons, resented Choshu's rise to power, and both were anxious to suppress its subversive activities.

"We must be patient," Ryoma urged. "We mustn't draw our swords until the time is right. In the mean time, I m going to develop a navy."

"You're absolutely right," Katsura said, refilling Ryoma's cup.

Ryoma left the Yoshidaya early next morning, and walked southward along Kawaramachi Road, with the canal on his left. On the opposite side of the canal was a boat-landing from where he would catch a riverboat to Osaka, just a short way from Kobe. His head ached from too much drink, the heat was stifling and he was anxious to get back to the naval academy.

There was not a cloud in the crystal blue sky as Ryoma passed Choshu headquarters without incident, and a few minutes later turned left toward the canal to cross the Sanjo Bridge. As he approached the foot of the bridge he heard a voice calling from behind, and immediately turned around to face a dozen men walking toward him. Three of them wielded long spears, one carried a white banner emblazoned in red with the Chinese character for "sincerity," the mark of the Shinsengumi. All twelve men wore jackets of pale blue with broad stripes on the sleeves.

"Halt!" the voice called. A vicious-eyed man who stood at the front of the group placed his right hand on the hilt of his sword without drawing the blade.

Ryoma unlatched the sheath of his sword with his right hand, and stood motionless.

"I'm Hijikata Toshizo of the Shinsengumi, patrolling Kyoto under the authority of the Lord of Aizu, the Protector of Kyoto." The man spoke brusquely with a rising intonation, an accent of the province of Musashi, just southwest of Edo. "Identify yourself," he demanded, though from the workmanship of Ryoma's sword he had already identified him as a Tosa samurai.

The Shinsengumi had been established in the previous March under the command of the Lord of Aizu to put a stop to the rampant assassinations in and around Kyoto. It was a unique police force, whose sole purpose was to arrest or kill ronin and other suspected anti-Bakufu rebels. Rather than samurai from the elite classes of Tokugawa retainers which manned other Bakufu police units, the crack police force consisted of over one hundred ronin, the toughest that could be enlisted. The Bakufu felt that the best means to combat ronin would be with other ronin. "Fight fire with fire, and terror with terror," reasoned the Edo government, in an effort to control and suppress the radicals who had turned Kyoto into a bloodbath. And to this end, the Bakufu was successful. In less than a year, the Shinsengumi would become the most feared police force in Japanese history.

"Shinsengumi," Ryoma said, grinning diabolically. He had heard that this band had recently cut down several Loyalists without even trying to arrest them. "For the Lord of Aizu?" he scoffed. "So what? I'm Sakamoto Ryoma, retainer of Katsu Kaishu, the navy commissioner of the Tokugawa Bakufu. What do you want?"

"Sakamoto Ryoma?" The man repeated the name, slowly nodding his head. Despite Ryoma's special relationship with Kaishu, his name was also associated with the Tosa and Choshu radicals. "Nothing now," the man replied with an icy calm, but Ryoma could sense that these were dangerous men, impeccable swordsmen who would not hesitate, if given the chance, to cut him down.

* * *

Upon his return to Kobe that evening, Ryoma found that Kaishu was in Edo on official business. He burned with indignation at the Bakufu, and to ease his own mind until Kaishu's return, spent the following days with his men training under the maritime experts whom Kaishu had recruited for the academy. Then, on the day before Kaishu was to return, news reached Ryoma of an event in Satsuma which would hasten the course of history.

On July 2, about one month after the Americans and French had bombarded Choshu, a fierce battle was waged on Kagoshima Bay, between Satsuma forces and seven British warships.

Although Edo had little choice but to make the formal apology and agree to pay the indemnities as demanded by the British for the Namamugi Incident, it was unable to force Satsuma to either pay or hand over the murderer of the Englishman Richardson. In fact, this inability of Edo to control its vassals caused serious damage to its credibility among the foreign powers, as indicated in the memoirs of Sir Ernest Satow, serving at the time as interpreter to the British minister in Japan, "...we had serious doubts about the Bakufu. We saw that they are not supreme, or rather not omnipotent... Then the murder of Richardson and the impotence of the Bakufu to punish his murderers showed us that their authority did not extend as far as Satsuma"

After months of unsuccessful negotiation at Edo, the British decided to approach Satsuma directly, despite repeated warnings by the Bakufu to refrain from such dangerous action. On June 22, the British dispatched a squadron of seven warships from Yokohama to Kagoshima Castletown of Satsuma Han. Early in the morning of June 28, the British squadron sailed through Kagoshima Bay under the hot Kyushu sun which burnt as fiercely as the eyes of the hundreds of Satsuma warriors watching from the batteries along the coast and the lookout posts in the mountains above. Here the British anchored in full view of Kagoshima Castle to the west, the volcanic peak of Sakurajima to the east, and summoned Satsuma officials to board the flagship Euryalus to receive their demands. The Satsuma authorities thereupon insisted that they could not be held responsible for Richardson's death, since it had been caused by negligence on the part of Edo. Satsuma pointed out that the Bakufu had failed to indicate in its foreign treaties the Japanese law that a person showing disrespect for a daimyo procession was liable to be cut down on the spot. Satsuma did, however, insist that a thorough search for the murderer was being made, but the British were not to be duped.

Frustrated by Satsuma's adamancy, the British took coercive action at dawn of July 2, seizing three steamers Satsuma had recently purchased from Western traders in Nagasaki. The Satsuma officials interpreted this as an act of war, and all hell broke loose.

Confident that their defenses were adequate to stave off the British, at noon of the same day the Satsuma warriors opened fire on the squadron with eighty-three cannon from ten batteries along the coast. The first shot hit the deck of the flagship Euryalus, decapitating the captain. The British retaliated by looting and burning Satsuma steamers, and soon after, by opening fire with their superior Armstrong guns, setting the wooden buildings of the coastal town ablaze. "It was an awful and magnificent sight" wrote Satow, who witnessed the battle from shipboard, "the sky all filled with a cloud of smoke lit up from below by the pointed masses of pale fire."

The British left Kagoshima Bay the following day, but word soon reached Satsuma of plans for another attack. Although the Satsuma men had fought well, like Choshu, they had learned a valuable lesson: their inferior weaponry was no match for Western artillery and warships. Eventual negotiation in Edo between the adversaries led to a peace agreement, according to which Satsuma acquiesced to pay the indemnities. Concerning the demand that the murderer of Richardson be punished, Satsuma humored the British by agreeing, but actually had no such intention. Instead, the han merely waited for Britain to forget its demand, as it eventually did, and from this time on Satsuma and Britain were staunch allies.

* * *

On the evening after hearing of the British shelling of Kagoshima, Ryoma sat in his room at Kobe headquarters with his eight closest comrades. The nineteen-year-old samurai from Kii, Mutsu Yonosuke, was the only one among them not of Tosa. Yonosuke's impassivity notwithstanding, his razor-sharp wit had recently convinced Ryoma to appoint him to the post of secretary of the naval academy. Sawamura Sonojo, also nineteen, had by now abandoned his xenophobic sentiments, as his young mind expanded under the guidance of Katsu Kaishu. Kondo Chojiro, the bean jam bun maker's son whose eyes betrayed an insatiable hunger for knowledge, was twenty-five, three years younger than Ryoma. The peasant's son Umanosuke, twenty-seven, had been close to Ryoma since early adolescence when they practiced kenjutsu together at the Hineno Dojo in Kochi. After Ryoma, he was the oldest of the group, and the only commoner. Takamatsu Taro, at age twenty, was more like a younger brother to Ryoma than a nephew. Chiya Toranosuke, the village headman's son, had changed his outlook completely since joining Ryoma and Kaishu. Although less than a year before he had been involved in several murders of proponents of Opening the Country, Tora, at twenty-one was now a firm believer in the need to modernize Japan. Even Mochizuki, Kameyata, who at twenty-five had been the hardest of the eight for Ryoma to win over, now understood the necessity to open Japan, albeit he had not completely thrown off his xenophobic sentiments. Yasuoka Kanema's enthusiasm to learn navigation had recently earned the nineteen-year-old the special praise of the navy commissioner himself.

"It doesn't take great powers of deduction to figure out that the corrupt officials in Edo are glad for the free military support they've been getting from the foreigners," Ryoma said bitterly.

"It's a crime," Sonojo groaned.

"First Choshu, and now Satsuma," Tora seethed.

"The Bakufu's behavior is inexcusable," Ryoma concluded. Upon hearing of the attack on the previous night, Ryoma had made his feelings known to Kaishu. While the navy commissioner sympathized with Ryoma's contempt for the corruption in Edo, his position within the government made it impossible for him to voice his feelings. Of this Ryoma was well aware. "Best to have Katsu in a position of authority," Ryoma had told his men earlier, when asked about his mentor's stance concerning the outrage, "while we do the dirty work."

* * *

Choshu's deepest fears turned into a nightmare after Aizu and Satsuma reached a final agreement in mid-August, giving Satsuma and Tokugawa sympathizers at court influence over Imperial decree. The stage was now set for a coup d'etat in Kyoto, and a dramatic reversal of the Loyalists' fortunes. On August 18, under the cover of night, the Lord of Aizu entered the Imperial Palace, while heavily armed Satsuma and Aizu troops seized the nine Forbidden Gates. Soon after, five feudal lords, including the young Tosa daimyo, under Imperial decree, led their own troops to fortify the Imperial guard of Aizu and Satsuma, barring entrance to the palace by radical court nobles, Choshu samurai and all other Loyalists. In the still of the night the boom of a single cannon shot-a signal to the Emperor that the palace had been completely sealed off-awoke the startled champions of Imperial Loyalism at court, who now discovered that they no longer had access to the Emperor.

The Choshu troops responded by storming one of the Forbidden Gates, but to no avail. Like the eight other entrances to the palace, it too had been seized by their heavily armed Satsuma and Aizu foes. Betrayed, the Choshu men aimed their cannon at the gate, but when they received a written order from the Emperor to immediately retreat, this most dedicated of all Loyalist clans had to obey, or else be branded an "Imperial Enemy."

The defeated Choshu Loyalists, led by Kusaka Genzui and Katsura Kogoro, retreated to a temple in the hills just east of the city. Realizing that Choshu alone could not defeat the combined forces of Satsuma, Aizu, Tosa and Fukui, the Loyalists returned to Choshu to plan a countercoup. Into exile with them went the idol of anti-foreign Imperial Loyalism, Lord Sanjo Sanetomi, and six other radical court nobles. The political stage in Kyoto had taken a complete turnabout in a single night, as the pro-Bakufu faction at court regained power.

* * *

Having been in Edo since the beginning of August, Ryoma did not hear of the coup in Kyoto until several days after the event. The news of the Loyalists' defeat came as a great blow to Ryoma, and he directed his anger at all parties involved. He denounced the Union of Court and Camp as a fallacy which would only serve Tokugawa interest. He detested the rivalry among Satsuma and Choshu, who, he argued, should be cooperating with each other to topple the Bakufu. But he was most critical of the rashness of the Loyalists themselves, because, after all, their loss was his.

Ryoma had known that Hanpeita's reign of terror in Kyoto, Choshu's attack on foreign ships, and the Loyalists' plan for a Satsuma-Choshu-Tosa alliance under Imperial rule were doomed from the start. It seemed ludicrous to him that his comrades would aim to expel the foreigners and bring the Emperor to power without first establishing a concrete plan of government for when and after the Tokugawa had been overthrown. Hanpeita's idea of financing his plans through money extorted from wealthy merchants in Osaka had revolted him. He spurned the blind faith that led the extremists to believe that as long as they were willing to die to uphold their moral obligations, everything else would naturally fall into place, despite the very real threat of the Western powers.

Ryoma's indignation was not without good reason. Not only did he detest the waste of life, but he also worried more than ever that, unless the Japanese could somehow unite, the foreigners would take advantage of the inner turmoil and subjugate Japan like they had China. But for the time being, he was even more concerned with the immediate ramifications that the coup would have for Takechi Hanpeita and his other comrades in Tosa, and so decided to discuss the matter with Kaishu. He knew that if he himself returned to Tosa to try once more to convince his friends to join him in Kobe, he would also be subject to arrest as a charter member of Hanpeita's outlawed Loyalist Party.

Ryoma was staying at the Chiba house in Edo. One afternoon in late August, just as he was planning to ask for Kaishu's help, he received a message from his mentor summoning him to his home immediately. When Ryoma reached the sloped road below Kaishu's house, with the high stone wall built into the hill, and just beyond this the old Shinto shrine, he recalled that night less than one year before, when he and Jutaro had contemplated assassinating Kaishu. "A lot has happened since then," he thought, increased his pace and soon passed through the front gate of Kaishu's house. "Sensei!" he called from the doorway. The front door was slightly open, and Kaishu' appeared from the dark hallway, a worried look on his face.

"Come in, Ryoma," he said gravely. "I have something very serious to discuss with you."

Kaishu's wife served cool barley tea on this hot afternoon, then left the two men alone in the study. "What is it?" Ryoma asked anxiously, his face covered with sweat.

Kaishu began speaking much slower than usual. "Do you realize how the political change in Kyoto has affected Tosa?" he asked, taking a fan from his desk and waving it in front of his face. "I'm quite certain that Takechi Hanpeita and the rest of your friends in Tosa are in grave danger."

Ryoma was not surprised by such comments from this high-ranking Tokugawa official. He knew that Kaishu was more concerned for the welfare of Japan than for the regime he represented. He also understood Kaishu's concern for the safety of the very men who were intent on toppling the Bakufu. After all, hadn't Kaishu accepted him and his radical friends, most of whom were members of the Tosa Loyalist Party? Ryoma realized that his mentor loathed the waste of life that the Bakufu and now Lord Yodo were planning.

"I've been worried about the same thing," Ryoma said. "I'd like to ask you if there is some way you could intervene, to convince Lord Yodo not to do anything drastic." Ryoma wiped his sweaty forehead with his dirty sleeve. "He's already ordered three good men to commit seppuku" he said bitterly.

"With the Bakufu supporters restored to power in the Kyoto court, and the Loyalists banned, Lord Yodo is in a perfect position to arrest all of the Tosa Loyalists. If I know him, he's apt to either have them executed or order them to commit seppuku. All I can do is write to him, urging that he use discretion, and be lenient with those men." Kaishu paused, a grim look on his face. "But I know him quite well: he's extremely headstrong, and I doubt that he'll be willing to take my advice on matters concerning his own domain."

"If anything should happen to Hanpeita," Ryoma said excitedly, "there's no telling how the Tosa men at Kobe headquarters would react. Men like Tora, Sonojo, Kame and Taro are very hotheaded. In fact, I'd like to get back there as soon as possible. Without ships at our so-called naval academy, they have nothing to do but think about what's going on back in Tosa, and quarrel among themselves."

"That's another reason I summoned you here," Kaishu said. "It looks like we might be able to get a hold of two Western-style warships for training purposes. I've been negotiating with some of the people at Edo Castle, and the prospects look good."

"Sensei," Ryoma exploded, grabbing Kaishu's wrist, "while we're training aboard those ships, we can start a shipping business, transporting merchandise up and down the coast. We already have the crew, even if we aren't very well trained yet. We could get some of the daimyo to invest in us, pay for the lease of the ship, and if things go well, we'd have enough money to buy some ships of our own."

Kaishu raised his right hand, as if to calm his riled protege. "Don't jump to conclusions. I didn't say we have the ships yet." He paused for an instant. "But why don't you talk to Okubo about it. I'll arrange for a meeting between the two of you. The foreign minister has told me himself that he thinks quite highly of you. If anyone can convince him to help us get those ships, you can."

"I see," Ryoma said halfheartedly.

"Oh, I almost forgot," Kaishu said, grinning now. "I have something for you." He stood up and walked over to a stack of books in a corner of the study. "Once we do get our own ships, you're going to need this," he said, handing Ryoma a cloth-bound volume.

"The Practical Navigator;" Ryoma read the title aloud.

"Yes, a must for all sailors. Nakahama Manjiro translated it from the English. It's one of the seventeen or eighteen books he brought back with him from the United States. And I'll tell you a secret: without this little book, I'm not sure we ever would have made it across the Pacific," Kaishu said, referring to the expedition he commanded to the United States three years before. "But anyway, Ryoma, you can plan to see Okubo tomorrow. I have an appointment with him tonight, and I'll tell him to expect you. As for the letter to Yodo, I'll write it immediately."

"Thank you," Ryoma said, bowed, then left Kaishu alone in his study.

"With a fleet of warships we could topple the Tokugawa," Ryoma said aloud to himself as he walked through the front gate of Kaishu's house, then descended the narrow winding road which led to the city below.

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