Ryoma : Life of a Renaissance Samurai by Hillsborough, Romulus

The Fall of Master Zuizan

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The Fall of Master Zuizan

The long hot summer of the third year of the Era ofBunkyu had ended. The events which had occurred during these months not only spelled disasert for the Choshu radicals, but also led to the downfall of Takechi Hanpeita Loyalist Party, as the pro-Bakufu faction, backed by Aizu and Satsu regained power at the Imperial Court.

Meanwhile, Ryoma s band of men, most of them former Loyalists, enjoy safe haven at the naval academy of Katsu Kaishu, while Ryoma himself enjoyed close relations with four of the leading men in the regime he would overthrow. Ryoma's relationships with Lord Matsudaira Shungaku ofFukuil Shungaku s Chief Political Advisor Yokoi Shonan, the Bakufu 's Minister of Foreign Affairs Okubo Ichio, and of course Navy Commissioner Katsu Kaishu, promised to serve the future interests of the former outlaw. In the meantime, however, he had no choice but to live up to the vow he had made to his sister "to keep my nose to the ground, like a clam in the mud, " spending the end of the Sweltering Summer of Frenzy idle and anxious in Edo, while his Choshu allies had been expelled from Kyoto and Hanpeita's Loyalist Party was about to meet its end at the hands of Yamanouchi Yodo.
With Lord Yodo's departure from Edo at the beginning of 1863, the Tosa Loyalists slowly began losing their grip on Tosa policy, as the former faction' of Yoshida Toyo regained power. While Yodo advocated Imperial Reverence, he insisted on working within the structure of the Bakufu, thus his support of a Union of Court and Camp. And although he had been placed under house arrest by Ii Naosuke, with the restoration to power of his colleagues Lord Shungaku of Fukui and Lord Yoshinobu of Mito, the highly respected Lord of Tosa now wielded significant influence in the Edo government.

Upon his arrival to Kyoto in January, in order to suppress intrigue among the Loyalists, Yodo forbade all Tosa samurai from visiting other domains for any reason but official business, and even from associating with men of other han. While in Kyoto, he consulted with leaders of the Union of Court and Camp faction, including the Lord of Satsuma, to find a way to deter the Loyalists who dominated the Imperial Court. Then, at the end of March, the Lord of Tosa returned to his own domain after an eight-year absence.

Although he had ordered three leading Tosa Loyalists to commit sep-puku in June, Yodo was more cautious with Hanpeita. Harsh treatment of the Loyalist Party leader, Yodo feared, might spark a dangerous backlash from the Imperial Court, which was still controlled by the Choshu Loyalists, unless he could produce evidence of Hanpeita's involvement in a serious crime. It was at this time that Yodo set out to investigate the murder of Yoshida Toyo. Unable to come up with proper evidence, however, it was not until the Loyalists were banished from the Imperial capital in August that Yodo would feel safe in dealing with his errant vassal as he saw fit.

Takechi Hanpeita sat before Yamanouchi Yodo in a spacious drawing room at the retired lord's residence in Kochi Castle one hot summer evening. They had been talking all afternoon, and the sun had just set, as a dark orange light filtered through the open windows and fell gloomily over the faces of the two men. Yodo, as usual, had been drinking since early in the day.

Since returning to Kochi-even after three of his lieutenants had been ordered to commit seppuku-Hanpeita continued to prod Yodo concerning Tosa policy, to convince him to unite Tosa with Choshu behind the Imperial Court.

"My Lord," Hanpeita spoke slowly, "although you often speak of your obligation to the Tokugawa, certainly you can't compare a mere two hundred years of goodwill with two thousand years of Imperial favor."

Yodo laughed derisively. "Hanpeita, don't put words into my mouth," he said, avoiding a straight answer.

"Then let me ask you this, My Lord: what of my suggestion for filling important positions with men of ability rather than lineage?" Although Hanpeita knew that he was treading on dangerous ground in thus pressuring the elitist Lord Yodo, his own sense of grandeur-not to mention readiness to die-urged him on.

"I've considered your suggestion," Yodo said bluntly, then took a sip from his sake cup.

"Extraordinary times," Hanpeita boldly continued, staring straight into his lord's glassy, bloodshot eyes, "necessitate extraordinary ability."

Yodo not only considered himself the most extraordinary man in his own realm, but one of the most able feudal lords in the entire nation. He looked at his vassal with amused scorn. "Hanpeita," he snickered, "certainly you can't think that there is anyone in all of Tosa who knows that better than I do." Yodo refused to take Hanpeita seriously. Recently, Yodo had replaced those officials who had been in charge during the heyday of the Tosa Loyalist Party with the disciples of Yoshida Toyo, ordering the latter to investigate the regent's assassination. The shake-up, in fact, left Hanpeita politically powerless.

"Of course not, My Lord." Hanpeita, who was unused to bowing to anyone, bowed his head to the floor. But Hanpeita was certain, albeit mistakenly, that he had won the favor and trust of the retired daimyo, and so felt this a worthy sacrifice. "Nevertheless," he said, "the times compel only the best of us to lead," Hanpeita dared utter.

Yodo avoided a direct answer. "Here, here," he said, holding up the sake flask to pour Hanpeita a drink. "Go ahead, Hanpeita. It will do you good."

Hanpeita hesitated, but unable to refuse his lord's hospitality, held up the empty sake cup. "I humbly receive," he said.

"Ah, but if you really don't want to drink," Yodo taunted, "maybe you'd prefer some sweets." He laughed derisively, and pushed a tray of sweet bean jam cakes toward Hanpeita.

"Thank you very much, My Lord." Hanpeita bowed again, and accepted one of the cakes.

Yodo reached for his paper fan, began waving it slowly in front of his face. "Getting back to your suggestion," he said, "I myself have considered it. But with the times being what they are, we mustn't rush into things. And, as well know, since I'm retired, I'm in no position to make any decisions." This of course, was a lie by which Yodo was biding time, until he could see opportunity to destroy his impudent vassal.

"What are your ideas concerning the problem of expelling the barbarians. Hanpeita asked, erroneously taking for granted that Yodo shared his own xenophobic convictions.

"I certainly don't condone the way the Choshu men have been acting! They're too rash. In fact, in order to ease the Emperor's mind, the best thin we can do is keep our ports open." Realizing that this last remark was a total surprise to Hanpeita, Yodo quickly reiterated, "Of course, if the Imperial Court should issue a decree for Tosa to support Choshu, I would certainly obey," he lied again. Yodo was careful not to betray his true feelings to Hanpeita, lest word reach the radicals in Kyoto who were still in control over the court. When the time for negotiation with the court again presented itself, as Yodo reasoned it inevitably would, he wanted to be considered an Imperial Loyalist, rather than a Tokugawa sympathizer.

"I have never once doubted your true intentions, My Lord." Hanpeita again bowed his head to the floor. "But since I'm ill," Yodo continued to lie, "I would not be of much use." "Then what if our young lord in Kyoto were to handle the matter?" Hanpeita dared suggest.

"Toyonori is too green," Yodo said of his seventeen-year-old heir, the nominal Tosa daimyo. "He could never be as effective as I could." Yodo drained his cup. "The best thing would be for me to take control," he growled, and Hanpeita, despite himself, felt a chill at the pit of his stomach. "But the way things are in Japan at present, I'm going to have to wait. Choshu has me extremely worried," he said, slamming his cup down on the tray in front of him. "It will eventually be up to the leading daimyo, including myself, to straighten things out, but for now all we can do is wait until the time is right." Yodo refilled his cup. "If, however, the Shogun were to disobey an Imperial decree, I, the Drunken Lord of the Sea of Whales, would cut off his head myself."

This last piece of rhetoric, which of course was also a lie, worked; the Drunken Lord of the Sea of Whales completely took his dangerous vassal off guard. Hanpeita, who desperately wanted to believe in his lord, was now convinced that Yodo was indeed the Loyalist he had always claimed to be, despite his reputation as a Tokugawa sympathizer. After all, hadn't Yodo suffered during Ii Naosuke's purge? Hadn't all those who signed in blood the manifesto of the Tosa Loyalist Party sworn to "go through fire and water to...carry out the will of the former daimyo"? And by Yodo's last remark, Hanpeita was reassured that the sympathy of the former daimyo lay with the Imperial Court. As powerful a man as Yamanouchi Yodo, he tragically assumed, could have no reason to lie to his own vassal.

Nakaoka Shintaro visited his mentor's fencing dojo one morning at the end 0f August, around the time that Ryoma had asked Kaishu to urge Yodo to be lenient with the Tosa Loyalists. The air inside the training hall was hot and humid, and the smell of sweat permeated the wood-paneled room where Hanpeita had just finished leading a rigorous practice. He and his men had reason to practice particularly hard this morning; they had just heard the news that Choshu and the seven radical court nobles had been banished from Kyoto.

Nakaoka found Hanpeita alone in the hall. Hanpeita, soaked with sweat, wore his navy blue training robe and hakama, but instead of a wooden practice sword, he held a real blade.

Nakaoka bowed at the entranceway. "I've just heard the news." He had a scowl on his face, anger radiating from his eyes.

"Sit down, Shinta." Hanpeita eyed his prize disciple almost suspiciously, his voice as solemn as his face was grim. "We must talk," he said, and, with one smooth motion, resheathed his sword.

The two men sat on the wooden floor, which was still wet from perspiration, and Nakaoka began speaking heatedly. "We should have taken Kusaka's advice while we were still in Kyoto and fled to Choshu. Coming back here was suicidal. Let's gather all our men and get out of Tosa before it's too late."

Hanpeita raised his right hand in a sign for the excited man to calm down. "You're not losing your nerve, I hope," he said calmly.

""Don't you understand?" the younger man shouted. "We owe it to the Emperor and the nation to get out of Tosa. We surely won't be of any use rotting in jail."

"You must have faith, Shinta. As long as Lord Yodo is on our side, we have nothing to worry about. And he is on our side."

"But Sensei," Nakaoka appealed, only to be silenced by a gesture from his mentor.

"Lord Yodo has given me his word," Hanpeita said. He refused to believe that the retired daimyo would betray him; his inflated self-confidence, bordering on megalomania, would not permit it. Besides, as the leader of the Tosa Loyalist Party, Hanpeita would never abandon Tosa Han.

"I am going to Choshu to investigate the situation there," Nakaoka said. "I'll report back to you as soon as possible."
Hanpeita arose, as was his daily custom, at dawn on September 21. He washed his face in a basin of cool well water, put on his riding clothes- black hakama of durable hempen cloth, a black jacket and a short-rimmed military helmet-then told his wife Tomi that he was going for a ride. When he returned about an hour later, he found one of his men waiting in the front garden.

"Sensei," the man exclaimed, "Lord Yodo's men are after us!" He produced a scroll from the breast of his kimono, and handed it to Hanpeita.

"This is a subpoena for me to report to the administrative office immediately for questioning. It's all over. Our only chance is to get out of Tosa right away, this very morning, before they arrest every last one of us."

"Calm down," Hanpeita ordered, his face void of emotion. He looked hard at the front doorway to his house, pounding the dust from his hakama. "Keep your voice down," he said. "Does my wife know about this?"

"Yes. She told me that you'd be home soon. So I thought I should wait..."

"Enough!" Hanpeita said, showing for the first time the slightest bit of emotion. "Has anyone been arrested yet?" "Not to my knowledge."

Hanpeita's eyes took on a sinister glare. "Go immediately to the homes of our chief members." He paused, then in a whisper, "You know who I mean. Make sure that everyone is prepared to give the same testimony in case they are arrested" Hanpeita was referring to the assassination of Yoshida Toyo two years before. "Remember, no matter what happens, we must stick to the same story that we have already agreed upon. They will never be able to prove anything as long as our stories correspond."

The man left immediately, and Hanpeita went into his house. "Tomi, I'll have my breakfast," he said calmly. "What are you going to do?" his wife asked worriedly. "I'm going to have my breakfast. I'm hungry." Although it was now obvious that the coup in Kyoto had drastically influenced affairs in Tosa, Takechi Hanpeita still refused to believe that Yodo would betray him. He was convinced that Yodo's support for a compromise between camp and court was nothing but formality. True, he and his men had assassinated Toyo, but the murder was unavoidable if they were to unite Tosa behind the Emperor. And certainly. Hanpeita believed, Lord Yodo was a Loyalist at heart. "Tomi," be said sharply, giving her a stem look, "even if I should be arrested, there is nothing to worry about I will be released soon after." Such was the erroneous self-confidence of a megalomaniac.

While Hanpeita was still eating breakfast, several samurai appeared at his front door, one of them carrying a warrant for his arrest "I'm having my breakfast," be said calmly. "Wait until I've finished."

Hanpeita bid his wife good-bye as she stood misty-eyed at the front door. "No matter what happens, you are not to try to sec me until I return," he told bar. Tomi nodded stoically, as Hanpeita held her hand firmly, lovingly. Despite all of the time be had spent with his comrades in the pleasure quarters of Kyoto, he had never once touched another woman. Hanpeita released his wile's hand and walked ahead of his escorts with the perfect composure of a warrior, through the small garden to the road in front of the house. After be climbed into the sedan which was waiting to bring him to jail, he looked across the garden at Tomi, smiling from his heart Although his great ego still did not permit him to believe that he, Master Zuizan, would remain long in jail, he felt * pang deep inside, such as he had never felt before, as be had a premonition that be would never see his wife again.

In September, Kaishu secured two warships from the Tokugawa fleet, shortly after which he and Ryoma returned to the naval academy in Kobe. One balmy morning in mid-September the navy commissioner led his crew of over one hundred men aboard the Kanko Mont, a tripled-masted square-rigged sailing corvette equipped with steam-powered side paddle-wheels, which the Bakufu had received as a gift from the King of the Netherlands. just 216 feet long and 42 feet wide, the Kanko Marti was smaller than the Jundo Marti, aboard which Ryoma had already gotten a considerable amoi of training over the past ten months. The red rising sun flew atop the mainmast, over 100 feet above the planked deck of the black wooden ship, as Ryoma admired the six black cannon mounted along both gunwales.

As Ryoma was the leader of the academy, he was the captain of the ship. His crew sailed for days at a time in the waters around Osaka Bay, practicing navigational techniques they had been taught at the academy. Then, when the news of the arrest of the Tosa Loyalists reached Kobe headquarters at the end of September, Ryoma and his men became more determined than ever to master the art of navigation.

While his comrades wore gloomy faces for weeks after hearing of the arrests, Ryoma overcame his anxiety with hard work. His ability to dedicate himself so completely to his training seemed odd, even to his closest friends. One day on the deck of the Kanko Mam, after Ryoma and several others bad finished hoisting the sails, Yonosuke said, "Sakamoto-san, aren't you concerned about the others back in Tosa?"

Ryoma gave Yonosuke a hard look, leaned against the side railing, and spit into the dark blue sea. "Hanpeita wouldn't listen," he said with a scowl. He looked up at the sails which fluttered in a gusty wind, his eyes squinted, right hand tucked into his kimono, a worried look on his tanned face. "And the same goes for the Choshu men," be said. "They refused to wait for the right time." As Ryoma finished speaking, he slammed his list on the hard wooden railing, as if frustration had gotten the better of him on for one brief moment.

"What exactly do you mean?" Yonosuke asked.

"Let me put it this way. Say you have • boil on your neck. No matter how much you jab it with a needle, it won't burst until it's good and swollen."

"What you're saying, then, is that the Bakufu isn't swollen enough to burst yet"

Gnat's right Too much jabbing now will only aggravate things. That's what Hanpeita did in Tosa. That's what Choshu did in Kyoto. And took what s happened to them." Ryoma again spit into the sea. "It's such a waste. Hanpeita fating in a stinking jail cell. Of all the damn..," Ryoma stopped himself short, and regained control of his emotions. "But give those potato-heads in Edit a mtle more time." he laughed sardonically, "and the Bakufu will be so full of puss, even the slightest jab will cause it to burst wide open."

In late autumn Ryoma again sailed to Edo with Kaishu aboard the Jundo Mam. Then, one afternoon in the first week of December, a Tosa samurai appeared in front of the Chiba bouse.

"I've come on official business from Tosa headquarters," the man informed Jutaro. "I'm looking for Sakamoto Ryoma." Jutaro could tell by the man's dress and swords that he was of the upper echelons of Tosa society. His long nose and narrow face seemed to assert his aristocratic disposition. Indeed, unlike Ryoma. Hanpcita and the other Tosa samurai whom Jutaro knew, the man's demeanor betrayed a privileged upbringing. "What business?" Jutaro said coldly.

"I've come for Sakamoto Ryoma," the man said. "We have reason to believe he's staying here."

"What if I am?" Ryoma called out from the front entranceway of the house. "Are you Sakamoto Ryoma?" the man asked.

"You know I am. Who are you?" Ryoma growled, stepping outside into the garden, a hellish expression on his face. "Tosa samurai Inui Taisuke," the man identified himself. Ryoma had heard the name. Inui Taisuke was the eldest son of an elite family of upper-samurai, and former disciple of Yoshida Toyo. He, along with several other Yoshida disciples, had been chosen earlier in the year by Lord Yodo to suppress the Loyalists and find evidence to convict Hanpcita for plotting Yoshida'* murder. Inui gave Ryoma a hard look. "You and all other Tosa men are ordered to return to Kochi immediately," he said. "That includes the seven other outlaws from Tosa who are hiding in Kobe. Here's your notice." Inui held out a sealed scroll.

Without taking the document, Ryoma said through a diabolic grin, "If 1 were you, Inui, I'd watch what I was saying, unless you mean to imply that Katsu Kaishu is harboring outlaws." Ryoma knew that Kaishu's friendship with Lord Yodo was highly valued among the Tosa elite. Then, changing his grin to a look of contempt, "What's become of Takechi Hanpeita?" he demanded "Just what he deserves," Inui said bitterly. "What does he deserve?" Ryoma said sarcastically. "Punishment for the murder of Yoshida Toyo,"

"There's not a man alive who cares more about Tosa Han, or your lousy daimyo, than Takechi Hanpeita." "Hold your tongue!" Inui yetted, reaching for his sword. Ryoma checked Inui with his eyes, controlled him with his will. "What about the others?" Ryoma asked. "What others?"

"The Tosa Loyalists that your deceitful daimyo has locked up in his slinking jail." "Impudence!" Inui exploded, reaching for his sword with both hands "Stop!" Ryoma roared- "Or you die! And even if I don't cut you here on the spot, you must know it's a crime to draw your sword on another Tosa samurai outside of the hem, unless, of course, you have proper reason. And you don't have proper reason."

"How dare you threaten me." Inui shouted indignantly. "I'm an upper-samurai, and you're a lower-samurai."

"Inui," Ryoma said, slowly shaking his head, "when are you and those other idiots in Tosa going to get it through your stubborn stone-heads that you can no longer afford to be concerned with who is an upper-samurai and who is a lower-samurai. The foreigners are about to eat Japan alive, and you idiots are still running around with your thumbs up your asses, worrying about petty things."

Inui was furious. "As a representative of the Lord of Tosa, I am in charge of punishing all criminals from Tosa."

"So what!" Ryoma sneered. "I'm Sakamoto Ryoma, dedicated to freedom, the rights of man and the unification of our great nation." Then realizing he was letting his anger get the best of him, Ryoma intentionally broke out into mocking laughter. "Ah, ha, ha! You can't really think that any of us are going to return to Tosa just because you've given me that notice. Because if so, you're out of your mind."

Inui stared hard at Ryoma, too vexed to speak.

Ryoma continued mockingly. "If I told you to bare your scrawny neck so that I could cut off your useless head, would you do it? I doubt it, no matter how stupid you are."

"Say what you will. Sakamoto," Inui sneered "You've been duly notified," be added, handed Ryoma the summons and left through the front gate of the Chiba house.

Shortly after, Ryoma reported to Kaishu's house. "It looks like it's finally happened," he said. "I've just been presented with this." Ryoma showed the summons to Kaishu.

Kaishu unrolled the document, and, with a vexed look, said, "1’11 be damned if I'm going to let my best men return to Kochi without knowing what's going to happen to them. I'm not about to let you go."

"Don't worry," Ryoma said. "I for one am not about to run back to Tosa to join others in jail. I'm in no hurry to die, and beside, there are too many things 1 have to do first"

"If worse comes to worst," Kaishu said, "You'll have to become a ronin again. But, if possible, it would be best for all concerned if you could avoid that."

"How?" Ryoma asked.

“I'll write a letter immediately to the authorities at Tosa headquarters here in Edo, asking them to give all of you a little more time before returning to Kochi."

"A little more time?"

"Don't worry. It's just for the sake of formality. I'll tell them that all of you are working for me, and that I couldn't consider letting you go now."

From Ezo to Nagasaki
Kaishu's request was refused, leaving Ryoma and the other Tosa men with no choice but to become ronin again, just ten months after most of them had been pardoned. But the status of ronin--in this case, political refugee-suited the Dragon. The freedom that was an integral part of nonconformity far outweighed the danger of arrest.

Ryoma had been able to avoid the whirlwind of political change which spelled disaster for his comrades in Tosa and Choshti by establishing a private naval academy under the navy commissioner. He had created for himself and his men a new type of political space, independent of both the clam and the Bakufu, a foundation for a new Japan, based on the economic and military might of a modern navy.

Ryoma had learned much from the "Croup of Four," as Katsu Kaishu labeled the clique which included himself. Lord Shungaku. Yokoi Shonan and Okubo Ichio. These men, among the most enlightened of their time, were bound together by a common foresight which was not displayed elsewhere, neither in Bakufu nor Imperial circles, nor in any of the han. The knowledge Ryoma had gained from them not only changed the course of his life, but would continue to Influence his actions until his death. The Group of Four criticized the archaic feudal system upon which Japanese society was founded. Instead, they advocated that Japan be united into one republic, after the fashion of the Western democracies, founded on social equality and free international trade to enrich the nation. They professed that a new government should be represented by a House of Lords, consisting of men from the Bakufu and the great feudal domains, and that it be dedicated to the welfare of all Japanese people. They called for Japan to import more warships and to man them with men of ability from throughout the country, regardless of social lineage or han. They stressed that, since Japan was an island nation, a navy would be essential for national security and free trade. And it was under the wing of the bold navy commissioner that Ryoma and his outlaw compatriots were more than ever determined to establish such a navy.
The first year of the Era of Genji, 1864, had come, and it would prove to be the most turbulent year of this most turbulent period in Japanese history. One cold afternoon in mid-January, as Ryoma sat alone in his room at Kobe headquarters studying a copy of Kaishu's navigational diary, a Tosa Loyalists by the name of Kitazoe Kitsuma called at the front door. At Ryoma's bidding, Kitsuma had just returned from a three-month expedition to Japan's remote northern territory. As a result of the coup in Kyoto in the previous August, the hundreds of Loyalists from various han who had gathered in the Imperial capital found themselves stranded, without money or, in many cases, shelter. The Bakufu police no longer tried to arrest ronin in the Imperial capital; rather, now that Edo had regained the support of the court it was the Bakufu’s intention to kill every Loyalist in the city, a was fof (hj' n that Ryoma had recently devised a plan whereby these Loyalists could be sent to the northern territory of Ezo, to settle that wilderness and protect it from the Russians, whom it was feared might invade at any time. By so doing, Ryoma had reasoned, these men could avoid being killed by Tokugawa death squads, and when the time was right, return to Kyoto and Edo to fight on the side of the Imperial Loyalists to finally topple the Bakufu. Through the good offices of the Group of Four, Ryoma expected to convince the Bakufu to finance his plan. After all, Edo was at odds with itself trying to control the hundreds of renegades still hiding in Kyoto. Ryoma would offer the Bakufu a way to clear every last one of them out of the city, and put them to use developing and protecting the mineral-rich northern territory. The cost to Edo would be minimal: food, lodging and weapons for two or three hundred men.

"What was Ezo like?" was the first thing Ryoma asked Kitsuma.

"There's a lot more to Ezo than just bear shit and snow," Kitsuma bellowed. "There's more open land up there than you've ever dreamed of. But I'll say it again, Ryoma. I won't do it. I won't lead a group of men to settle Ezo. It would defeat our purpose."

"What purpose? To stay around Kyoto waiting to get killed?"

"I have to stay in Kyoto," Kitsuma insisted. "I owe it to Zuizan-sensei and the other Tosa Loyalists."

"You owe it to them to do the very best you can for Japan. And settling Ezo is the best thing you could do right now."

"I have to remain in Kyoto," Kitsuma stubbornly insisted.

"Why?" Ryoma asked, although be knew the answer. Kitsuma, like every other ronin still in Kyoto, was waiting for Choshu to strike back. Since the previous August, the Loyalists had been planning another attempt to occupy the Imperial Court, after which they would burn the city, attack the headquarters of the Protector of Kyoto (Lord of Aizu). then declare a new Imperial government independent of the Bakufu.

But Ryoma was sure that Choshu would fail. "Kitsuma," he pleaded, "listen to reason. Hanpeita and the others wouldn't, and look what's happened to them. Satsuma and Aizu have joined forces. They cannot be defeated just now. The timing isn't right. The instant Choshu tries anything, Satsuma and Aizu, with Imperial decree in hand, will squash them like insects." Ryoma paused, a sardonic expression on his face. "And since Choshu has nearly been branded an 'Imperial Enemy,' he continued, "the Bakufu will get all the support it needs from han throughout Japan to destroy Choshu."

"You don't believe that Choshu is actually an enemy of the Emperor," Kitsuma objected violently. To Kitsuma, and literally every Loyalist in Japan, Choshu represented all that was pure and holy, the epitome of Imperial loyalism. "You can't believe even for a second that Choshu is anything but completely dedicated to the Emperor."

"You don't understand," Ryoma groaned "It doesn't matter what I believe. What matters right now is that Choshu has been banished from Kyoto, ft doesn't matter that Aizu and Satsuma were behind the plot Throughout Japanese history, the Imperial Court has always taken the strongest side. When Kusaka and Hanpeita were running things in Kyoto, Choshu had never known such prestige at court. But after the coup last August," Ryoma snapped his fingers, "their prestige disappeared just like that. He paused to take a deep breath. "You can't tell me that I'm wrong. Unable to disagree, Kitsuma remained silent.

"And so," Ryoma pounded his fist into his palm, "go and settle Ezo. Right now that's the most important thing you can do. I'll sail to Edo right away and see what 1 can do about raising money to finance the expedition." "What are talking about, Ryoma?"

"I'm going to convince the Bakufu to put up the money you'll need."

"I wouldn't touch their filthy money," Kitsuma shouted.

"Don't be stupid," Ryoma said. "The Bakufu's money comes from the sweat of peasants throughout Japan. It's no more the Bakufu's money than it is ours. If we can put it to use for the welfare of Japan, then that's what we should do." Ryoma paused. "No," he corrected himself, "that's what we must do."

Not only was Ryoma anxious to exploit the mineral-rich northern territory, but the prospects of developing a trading network, linking Kyushu in the far south to Ezo in the far north, fascinated him. Needless to say, he had no qualms about using Tokugawa money to realize this.

But Kitsuma was as adamant as Ryoma. "No, I just can't," he persisted. "I must take part in the revolution that will happen in Kyoto. If I were to be away in Ezo when the coup took place, I'd never be able to forgive myself."

"Promise me one thing, Kitsuma. If I can raise enough money, promise me you'll reconsider."

Kitsuma stared hard at Ryoma. "How much money are you talking about?"

"About three or four thousand ryo."

“Three or four thousand ryo”, Kitsuma gasped. The sum was tremendous. But not only was Kitsuma tired of arguing, he was also aware of Ryoma s reputation as a big talker. "Alright, if you can actually raise mat much money, I'd do it," Kitsuma agreed, certain, however, that Ryoma would never be able to raise such an amount.

• " *

In the second week of February Kaishu returned from Osaka to Kobe head quarters with some very disturbing news: France, England, America and Holland were planning a joint-bombardment of Shimonoseki. While the

British bombardment of Kagoshima had taught Satsuma the futility of fighting with the West, their enemies in Choshu continued even now to insist on expelling the foreigners. This is not to say that Choshu still believed exclusion possible; rathi hoshu's intention was to humiliate the Bakufu, while continuing to show to complete dedication to the xenophobic Emperor, although he had banished that hem from Kyoto. After the first bombardment of Shimonoseki. Choshu had rebuilt its batteries, and constructed new ones, where it mounted all the guns it could accumulate. Since this made it impossible for foreign vessels to cross Shimonoseki Strait-which was situated along the main shipping route between Nagasaki and Yokohama-the four Western powers, whose fleets were now in port at Nagasaki, decided to take affirmative action by punishing Choshu. The logic of the Westerners is summed up in the words of the Briton Ernest Satow: "We had, it might be said, conquered the goodwill of Satsuma, and a similar process applied to the other principal head of the anti-foreign party might well be expected to produce an equally wholesome effect."

"It makes me sick," Ryoma said, as he stood with Kaishu on the beach in front of headquarters, staring out at the ocean, his right hand tucked into his kimono. He couldn't help but sympathize with Choshu. Although intellectually he supported Kaishu's call to fully open Japan, emotionally he respected Choshu for the selfless courage ft had shown trying to expel the foreigners. "It may be true that Choshu acted drastically," he said. "But the Bakufu's treachery is too much to bear. Having repaired the foreign ships which shelled Shimonoseki, it's now obvious that there are many officials in Edo who are sitting by anxiously waiting for the foreigners to get back down there and blow Choshu right off the map."

"You're absolutely right," Kaishu agreed. "And frankly, I'm very worried about the possibility of the foreigners using this whole thing as an excuse to occupy Japanese soil. So, I'm going down to Nagasaki in order to convince them to abandon their plan for a second bombardment, or at least postpone it."

"If there were only more men in the Bakufu like you," Ryoma groaned.

"Yes," Kaishu said. "At any rate, I want you to come with me to Nagasaki." Although mere would be nothing in particular for Ryoma to do on the trip. Kaishu wanted to expose him to this unique open port city. "And one i: ihing," Kaishu lowered his voice. "Just between you and me, the Bakufu cannot last much longer," he said, stunning Ryoma. "And so, while we're in Nagasaki, I intend to sail across the strait to Tsushima, to investigate the state of affairs in Korea." The Tsushima island group, located in the strait between the Korean Peninsula and Kyushu, was the closest Japanese point to Korea. Out" plans for a triple alliance between China, Korea and Japan!" Ryoma exclaimed, then stooped down to grab a handful of sand.

"Exactly! We're getting closer to receiving permission from Edo to establish an official naval academy here. I plan to operate it right along with our private academy. But now, in addition to exclusive use of two Bakufu warships, we'll have shipbuilding facilities moved here from Nagasaki, an iron foundry, and access to the nearby mining works. After that, I would like to begin negotiations with the Chinese to establish strategic naval points in the Ports of Shanghai and Tientsin, then with the Koreans to link up with one of their key ports, maybe Pusan."

Ryoma listened silently, savoring the cold salt air, an anxious expression on his tanned face. His long-awaited dream for a navy was in the midst of finally being realized, and his mind raced at the possibilities which lay ahead. "Why don't we establish a base in Nagasaki as well?" he asked.

"You read my mind.'" exclaimed the navy commissioner. "With the international trade that's going on there, Nagasaki is certainly a city of the future."

On the morning of February 14, Ryoma and several of his men boarded the Kanko Maru with Katsu Kaishu, and sailed out of the Port of Kobe. Heading west through the Inland Sea between the islands of Shikoku and Honshu, they passed the domain of Choshu to the north, then continued on through the Strait of Bungo to Kyushu, landing on that island at the province of Bungo on the following day. From here Kaishu returned the Kanko Maru to Osaka with the rest of the crew, as only he and Ryoma continued on foot southwest toward Nagasaki, on the opposite side of Kyushu.

The early spring brought clear blue skies and mild temperatures, and the plum trees lining the narrow highway were blooming in creamy whites and soft pinks. The navy commissioner and the outlaw traveled by day, staying at inns along the way as guests of the Outside Lord of Kumamoto, one of the wealthiest in all of Japan. They spent a week crossing Kyushu, and in the late afternoon of February 22 they boarded another Tokugawa steamer from the Kumamoto coast on the western side of the island, reaching the Port of Nagasaki on the following morning.

Ryoma stood with Kaishu on the deck of the ship, not a cloud in the crystal blue sky, the calm water of Nagasaki Bay a rich sapphire. European-style houses, the likes of which Ryoma had never seen before, stood along the east coast of the bay and atop the green hills rising above. "This is the westernmost point of Japan, and the closest to China," Kaishu said.

Ryoma shook his head in awe, then squinted to get a better look at the strange foreign houses.

"Those are the 'Dutch Slopes’" Kaishu said. "But it never ceases to amaze me that we Japanese consider all Westerners alike. The so-called 'Dutch Slopes' are a perfect example. Although there have been people of different nationalities living up there for several years, the people of Nagasaki, who admittedly have for the past two centuries known no other Westerners than the Dutch, insist on referring to all Caucasians as Dutch. With that kind of logic, the Westerners could just as easily consider all Asians the same. Imagine, for instance, not being able to distinguish between Japanese and Chinese!"

"Preposterous," Ryoma said, squinting at the awesome spectacle of the foreign fleets anchored in the harbor. "And look at all those warships," he groaned. The British, American, French and Dutch fleets were waiting for orders from their respective consulates to attack Choshu, just a short run from Nagasaki. "Yes," Kaishu said glumly, "their combined fleets have enough firepower to annihilate the coast of Choshu, and continue straight up along Honshu to Osaka, Edo and anywhere else they might feel inclined to destroy. But I wouldn't get myself too riled up about it, Ryoma. That's why I'm here. It seems I'm the only one in the Bakufu who knows how to reason with the foreigners. Anyway, they don't want to fight with us, just trade with us."

Upon landing, the two men walked uphill over the cobblestone streets toward the office of the Magistrate of Nagasaki, the Tokugawa official in charge of overseeing the city. Kaishu was anxious to begin negotiations with the foreign naval commanders as soon as possible, but he first wanted to see the magistrate to hear the latest word concerning the foreign fleets. Soon they reached the magistrate's headquarters, on the western edge of the city, atop a hill overlooking the harbor. It was an imposing mansion built in the traditional Japanese style-a dark wooden building with a black tile roof, surrounded by a high white earthen wall.

As the Tokugawa Navy Commissioner and the outlaw passed through the outer gate of the magistrate's headquarters, an enormous brass-studded wooden structure, they were met by the magistrate himself. He had already received word of Kaishu's arrival, but was curious, if not a bit disconcerted, about the unsavory looking character with him. "Katsu-sensei, I've been expecting you," he said, casting a suspicious glance at Ryoma. As magistrate of the Tokugawa-run port, it was his duty to oversee the city's management, administration, police force, courts, trade, foreign relations and military affairs.

"Don't mind him," Kaishu said amusedly, patting Ryoma on the back. "He won't bite."

"Who is he?" the magistrate asked.

"Sakamoto Ryoma, a ronin from Tosa, and my top man in Kobe. This is his first time in Nagasaki, so I'd appreciate any courtesy you might show him during his stay."

The magistrate forced a smile, obviously dumbfounded by the situation. "Ah, of course," he said, unable to conceal his true feelings. "Please come into my office, Katsu-sensei." Then after a brief pause the befuddled man cleared his throat and, casting a worried glance at Ryoma, added, "And you too."

In a spacious oak-paneled room, with three armed guards posted just outside the door, the magistrate gave Kaishu a disconcerted look. "According to a report my office has received, we estimate that there are two thousand infantrymen aboard the British fleet, and eight hundred troops on the Dutch ships," he said.

"Have you sent word of this to Edo yet?" Kaishu asked.

"No. I've just now received the report, and haven't had time to verify it yet."

"We must inform Edo immediately." Kaishu’s eyes flashed

"By the way," Ryoma said nonchalantly, his arms folded in front, "how much gold do you have stored here?" The magistrate, surprised by the sudden question, answered in no uncertain terms, "One hundred thousand ryo. Why do you ask?"

"Just curious." Ryoma answered.

Later that day in their lodgings at a Buddhist temple near the center of the city. Kaishu asked Ryoma about "that unusual question you proposed to the magistrate."

"I was just wondering." Ryoma said. "You never know when we might be needing the money in case a war should break out." Ryoma was already planning for a day in the future when he and his men might raid the magistrate's office, take the gold and use it to procure guns and warships to overthrow the Bakufu.

Kaishu spent the next month and a naif negotiating daily with the consuls of the United States. Britain and the Netherlands, and the commanding officers of their respective fleets. "We don't want war," the foreigners assured him, "just safety for our ships passing through Shimonoseki Strait Unless your government can stop Choshu from attacking, we will be compelled to use military force to stop them." In short, the foreigners blamed the Bakufu for its inability to control Choshu.

It was a warm evening at the beginning of April. Katsu, Ryoma and two young women dressed in brightly colored kimono sat on chairs around a small round marble-topped table. They were drinking French red wine in the "Chinese Room" at the House of the Flower Moon, a brothel in Nagasaki's Maruyama pleasure quarter. The red earthen walls and ceiling of the room were paneled with dark Japanese cypress, and the floor was of brown tile; a French lamp hung at the center of the room, above the table; Chinese lanterns stood at all four corners; sliding glass doors with dark wooden frames opened up to a spacious garden.

Ryoma had never seen anything like it. "I feel like I'm in a foreign country," he repeated the phrase he had so often used over the past several weeks, then took a sip of wine.

"Why don't you play something on the moon guitar," Kaishu suggested to one of the girls. The girl stood up, adjusted her kimono, went to the adjacent room, sat down on the tatami floor and began playing the four-stringed instrument. Kaishu took a sip of wine, and sighed deeply. 'Tomorrow we'll be on the road again, so we'd better relax tonight." "Will you be returning to Edo?" Ryoma asked,

"No. I'm going to Osaka to report to the Shogun," Kaishu said in a low voice. "On your way back to Kobe, I want you to stop at Kumamoto to see Yokoi. I'm sure he must be quite down and out since that unfortunate incident last year, and I know how good you can be at cheering someone up. Also, I have some money I want you to give him. You know, his stipend has been confiscated."

Yokoi Shonan had recently been recalled from his post in Fukui as chief political advisor to Lord Shungaku, and confined to his house in the countryside of his native Kumamoto for "behavior unbecoming of a samurai." While in Edo at the end of the previous year he was attacked by anti-foreign extremists, but instead of defending himself in the manner expected of a samurai, the fifty-five-year-old scholar fled, leaving his swords behind
*I’ll do my best," Ryoma said, shaking his head slowly. "How can a daimyo punish his best man over a petty incident?" Ryoma muttered, then drained an entire glass of wine. "It will be interesting to hear what Yokoi has to say about the problem of Choshu."

Ryoma had read his mentor's true intentions. Just as Kaishu had arranged for Ryoma to meet on various occasions with Lord Shungaku of Fukui and Foreign Affairs Commissioner Okubo Ichio, he wanted also to expose him as much as possible to this fourth member of the Group of Four. Yokoi Shonan, Kaishu judged, had as good a grasp on Japan's relationship to the rest of the world as he himself did, and "an intellect unequaled by anyone in Japan." By now, nearly everyone who supported Opening the Country blindly supported the Bakufu; and those who called for Expelling the Barbarians were fanatic in their Imperial Loyalism. Not so, however, for Kaishu's unique clique, which espoused Imperial Reverence and Opening the Country, They were realists who revered the Emperor because, among other reasons, they could see that the Bakufu had reached its final days, but at the same time they knew that Japan must be open to foreign trade and culture if it were to survive in the modern world. It was through contact with the Group of Four that Ryoma-and, by association, his men at Kaishu's private naval academy-were able to perceive things from a different perspective than most of the other Loyalists from Tosa, Choshu and Satsuma.

"'The two most frightening men I have ever met," Kaishu once said, "were Yokoi Shonan and Saiga Takamori (the great Satsuma commander also known as Saigo Kichinosuke). "Yokoi didn’t know that much about the West; in fact, I even taught him a thing or two on the subject. But when it came to pure intellect, he was way above my level. Although Yokoi was not very good at actually getting things accomplished on his own, once a man of action got together with him the two of them could do some incredibly great things."

Kaishu was sending his "man of action" to meet again with Yokoi Shonan. He believed in Ryoma's character, and was confident that his would be an important role in the modernization of Japan.

"I'll make arrangements for you to sail aboard a Bakufu steamer leaving for Kumamoto in the morning," Kaishu said.

“I’ll drink to that," Ryoma exclaimed, draining his wine glass.

Kaishu refilled Ryoma's glass. "Very congenial of them, don't you think?" I he said derisively.

"Of who?"

"The British. Their consulate had this wine delivered to me after our final meeting today." From his kimono he produced a cloth pouch. "They also gave me some of these," he said, taking out two cigars and a small box of matches, the likes of which Ryoma had never seen before. "Here." he offered one to Ryoma, lighting it.

Ryoma inhaled, and began coughing. "I only wish the British would have given us more time, instead of these foul things," he said.

Kaishu laughed. "These are what gentlemen smoke in America and Europe, but I'm not very fond of them cither." Kaishu slowly shook his head and a dark expression covered his Face. "But I agree with you about needing more time," he said. "I'm very worried."

"How long did the foreigners give us?" Ryoma asked.

"They wouldn 't say for sure, but I estimate only a few months. If we can't do something about Choshu by then, I'm afraid they will."

"We must work fast," Ryoma said. "I can feel it in my blood. The boil is almost ready to burst wide open."

"What?" Kaishu gave Ryoma a strange look.

"The Bakufu," Ryoma exclaimed, his face flush from wine, his dark brown eyes flashing. "Things are coming to a head, and all it's going to take is a little jab and that'll be that." Ryoma laughed loudly. "But I understand your position, Sensei. So, leave it me. I'm just a ronin. I'm expendable. If I can die to clean up Japan, I'll be satisfied."

"I'd prefer to have you around after you've finished jabbing and cleaning up," Kaishu said grinning. "So, don't be in such a hurry to die."

"Don't worry," Ryoma said. "But it's unfortunate that we couldn't get to Tsushima. I was looking forward to that." While in Nagasaki, Kaishu had received an Imperial decree forbidding him from crossing over to Tsushima islands to investigate the neighboring Korean Peninsula.

"Enough of such talk for tonight," Kaishu said, slapping his palm on the marble tabletop. "Instead, let's listen to the beautiful music, enjoy this fine French wine, and savor the lovely ladies. A man must occasionally relax to perform to full capacity."

* * *

The former chief political advisor to one of the most powerful men in Japan was delighted when the outlaw appeared at his home in the Kumamoto countryside on the balmy evening of April 6. Since being recalled from Fukui, Yokoi Shonan had been confined to his house in his tiny native village of Nuyamazu, surrounded by green rice paddies and open fields speckled with mustard flowers, spreading out for miles in each direction. In the distance to the northeast were the five volcanic peaks of Mount Aso, and across the strait to the west, on the Shimabara Peninsula, the majestic Onsendake mountain. On one side of Yokoi's house was a bamboo grove, directly in front the Nuyamazu River, which flowed by the village into a nearby lake.

"I've brought a small gift from Katsu Kaishu," Ryoma said, after greeting Yokoi in front of the small, dilapidated house. Yokoi gratefully accepted a small pouch of gold coins. "Ryoma," he said, a faint smile on his dark, heavily lined face, his hair streaked with gray, "the last time we met in Fukui Castletown, I never thought our next meeting would be here in the Kumamoto countryside." He paused, a look of vexation replaced his smile. "It's an awful fate to be confined to one's home when there is so much at stake for the nation." "Sensei," Ryoma smiled consolingly, "what you've already given to the nation is enough for a thousand years. Please don't worry yourself, not when there arc men like Katsu Kaishu and myself around to take care of things."

Yokoi roared with laughter, then invited Ryoma into the house. "I used to think that there wasn't another man in the world with as much self-confidence as Katsu," he said. "But you've proved me wrong."

Yokoi's home betrayed the great man's poverty. His study, one of three small rooms, was only large enough to lay out six badly worn tatami mats; the walls were in need of repair, and instead of wooden shutters an old straw mat hung from the eaves to keep out the wind and rain.

Presently, a young samurai appeared. "This is my nephew," Yokoi said. "When I received word from Kaishu telling me you'd be coming, I took the liberty of calling him here because I thought that he might join your naval academy."

The three men spent the rest of the afternoon and much of the evening imbibing the traditional drink of the Kumamoto countryside-a potent white liquor made of distilled potatoes-and discussing national affairs. "We must have democracy in Japan," Ryoma declared after finishing his first cupful of liquor. "An American form of government," he said with conviction, "whereby everyone is equal, regardless of birth or wealth, and whereby all the people have the right to elect a president. Many people nowadays insist that after the Bakufu has been overthrown the Emperor must be in a position to govern. But I'm afraid that would be a big mistake."

"Sakamoto-san," Yokoi's nephew said indignantly, "certainly you're not saying that you don't revere his Imperial Highness."

"I'm not saying that. But the Emperor is not a politician. The Chrysanthemum Throne should not be concerned with matters of state. The Japanese people should decide such things for themselves."

"The Japanese people?" the younger man asked blankly. "Of which han?"

"I'm not talking about any of the han," Ryoma said, his dark eyes expanding. 'Take America, for instance. From what I hear, the Americans have never had such things as han, samurai, daimyo, Bakufu or Shogun. America is one nation, a union of individual states, the United States of America where all people are equal. That's what we need in Japan, a union of the individual han to form one strong, central government."

Yokoi's nephew was dumbfounded. He had heard his uncle speak of centralized government representative of the people, to replace the Tokugawa hegemony. The notion excited him. But the idea of a union of individual han was as preposterous as the concept of all people, regardless of birthright, being equal. "How can you talk of a union of the han?" he asked, "when there are such bitter rivalries as the one between Satsuma and Choshu?"

"That's hist it," Ryoma said, pounding the floor. "If Satsuma and Choshu were to unite there would be nothing that could stop them from toppling the Bakufu,"

"If all the han were to unite," the younger man said, "which of the daimyo would become Shogun?"

"There would be no daimyo? Ryoma answered bluntly. "And there would be no Shogun."

"Continue," Yokoi urged, refilling Ryoma's cup.

The people would elect a president to govern them," Ryoma said.

"The people?" the younger man asked. "What people?"

"You and I and everyone else," Yokoi interrupted. "The Japanese people should have the freedom, the inalienable right, to determine their own destiny. And the first step toward this is the establishment of a central government which would represent the people, with a president as its head who has been elected by the people and who is answerable only to the people." Yokoi paused to take a deep breath. "But," be added with severe calm, "the sovereign of any form of Japanese government must be His Imperial Highness, who is answerable to nobody”.

"Sensei," Ryoma interrupted, "I beg to differ. The people must be sovereign, and the Emperor must be answerable to the people, otherwise the Emperor would be no better than the Shogun or the daimyo"

Yokoi breathed deeply, then took a firm hold of Ryoma's wrist. "I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have said until now. But," he took a gulp of the strong white liquor, "never compare the Emperor with other men." For all his progressive thought, Yokoi Shonan revered the Emperor as a god. "And I would like to take this opportunity to offer you some important advice, Ryoma. Watch what you say over the next few years. There are a lot of people who aren't ready for such radical ideas, and I don't want to see anything happen to you."

Ryoma nodded silently, his mind too occupied with what they had been discussing, particularly his own idea of a Satsuma-Choshu alliance, to heed the wise man's good advice.

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