April 17, 2005
by Takashi Murachi; Yusuke Shimizu
& His Environs
Do you know the story of the young rebel samurai who died a hero, ambushed at an inn in Kyoto?
Of the many samurai who devoted themselves to helping our country before Japan was Westernized, there was one famous national samurai hero, named Sakamoto Ryoma. Most Japanese people know his name well, and how he made a great contribution to Japan’s rapid modernization.
In the 1860’s, Ryoma was keen to work all around Japan to reform the national political and economic system so that it would be similar to Western countries which had great power. To overthrow the bakufu (Japan’s ruling military government, or shogunate) he decided to try to bring together the two greatest anti-bakufu power clans, Satsuma and Choshu. As a result of Ryoma’s efforts, an alliance was finally formed in secret between Satsuma and Choshu, called the “Sacho Domei,” in 1866.
The next year, in 1867, he introduced an Eight-Point Program that was a guideline for the new government and cabinet system of Japan. The administrative system Japan uses at present was derived from his fundamental guideline.
Sakamoto Ryoma’s Chronological Story
|1836||1||・January 3, born in central Tosa (Kochi Pref.) as the youngest son of a low-ranking samurai family.|
|1848||14||・Began to practice kendo, the way of the sword, and later acquired excellent skills and confidence from his hard training.|
|1853||19||・Completed his first swordsmanship training and received his certificate.
・Sent to Edo (Tokyo) to improve his kendo skills in Chiba dojo, one of the most famous samurai sword technical schools, and became the strongest master in this school.
・Saw the arrival of the Commander Perry’s U.S ships, visiting Edo Bay, Japan, demanding that Japan’s markets be opened to trade.
|1854||20||・Completed his Edo swordsmanship training and returned to Tosa.
・Met Kawada Shoryu, who was very knowledgeable about Western ways.
|1858||24||・Returned to Edo to receive a swordsmanship license at the Chiba dojo and returned to Tosa.|
|1861||27||・Joined the Tosa Loyalist Party (led by Takechi Zuizan) to overthrow the bakufu.|
|1862||28||・Fled Tosa, where he left his home clan without official permission.
・Tried to assassinate Katsu Kaishu, a high-ranking officer in the bakufu; however, he became a follower of Katsu.
|1863||29||・Katsu persuaded the shogun to establish a naval school in Kobe. Katsu placed Ryoma in charge of this school as head officer.|
|1864||30||・Two strongest clans in Japan, Satsuma and Choshu, were attacked by the Western allied forces and realized the need of Western power.|
|1865||31||・Established Kameyama-shachu in Nagasaki, Japan’s first trading company, assisted by Saigo.|
|1866||32||・Satsuma-Choshu alliance worked out in secret, with Ryoma as a mediator between Saigo (Satsuma) and Katsura (Choshu).
・Kameyama-shachu’s ship sank in a storm.
|1867||33||・Formulated the Eight-Point Program, a political guideline for the new government and cabinet.
・Returned to Tosa to sell rifles to the Tosa clan and saw his own family for the first time in five years.
・A written memorial of returning power to the throne, based on Ryoma’s Eight-Point Program, was presented to the bakufu.
・Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the final shogun, accepted Ryouma’s plan to return his authorities to the emperor in Ocober.・On November 15, assassinated at the Teradaya Inn in Kyoto, where he had been were staying.・December 5, Meiji Restoration announced.
|1868||—||”Charter Oath” restated the main features of Ryoma’s Eight-Point Program.|
Kyoto Ryozen Gokoku Shrine
|Address||1 Ryozan-cho, Seikanji, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0861|
|Access||From JR Kyoto, Keihan-Shijo, or Hankyu-Kawaramachi 20 mins. walking.|
City Bus to Gion Nos. 80, 202, 206. Special service buses 206, 207, then 10 mins. on foot from Higashiyama Yasui bus stop
Keihan bus to Gion Nos. 83, 83A, 85, 85A , then 10 min walking from Higashiyama Yasui bus stopEntry fee250 yen. Groups (30+): 150 yen. Disabled people: 200 yen. Children under six years: admitted freeTelephone number075-561-7124 Free dial 0120-559038
Not just an old-style Japanese inn, Teradaya is where Ryoma was ambushed and killed at the age of 33 on the 10th of December,1867. Teradaya is a well-known place where many historical incidents took place at the end of the Edo era.
Ryoma only had a short life and died only a month prior to The Meiji Restoration, before he could see a dramatically changed Japan. It is believed that Ryoma was attacked by Shinsen-gumi but it’s still not clear who actually killed him.
Teradaya was a very popular inn for samurai at the end of the Edo era, and especially, for samurai of the Satsuma feudal clan, who often stayed there. On the second floor is the Ume no ma “Plum Room” where Ryoma Sakamoto often stayed.
You can still visit or even stay in this room to see the marks of swords and pistols in the pillars from when Ryoma was also attacked and wounded in the Teradaya Incident on the 23rd of January. You can also see the stairs next to the Plum Room which Oryo, Ryoma’s girlfriend, used in order to alert (but he survived) him to the attack (she rushed out of her bath and went upstairs, still naked). It is said that Ryoma and Oryo later had the first honeymoon in Japan, as he needed the time to treat his wounded hands with the help and permission of Saigo Takamori. You can see where Oryo used to use the bath tub.
If you want to stay in this dreamlike inn where you can soak in Ryoma’s life, you have to follow some rules. Check-in is 5:00 pm, and curfew is 8:00 pm; check-out is 9:00 am. The price for one night, per person: adult, ￥9,000; child, ￥6,400 (including breakfast, Japanese snacks, and sightseeing). Tel: 075-752-0227. Teradaya is open to visitors from all over the world! Why don’t you stay in this historical place? You might feel something in the Plum Room and even meet Ryoma while you’re dreaming.
Access: From JR Kyoto Station, transfer to JR Nara line, stopping at Tofukuji Station, and transfer to the Keihan train line, stopping at Nakashoshima Station, and finally walk 5 mins. from there.
It is said that low-ranking samurai warriors completely changed Japan from a hellish society to a modernized nation. Ryoma was the only person who thought about equality and freedom during that time. It is said that he never killed anyone and always had great ambitions and a clear future vision of Japan.
Nowadays, in order to remind us of Ryoma, his samurai story is introduced on TV, in newspapers and magazines and even in manga, and he is loved by a wide range of ages, from teenagers and senior citizens. This is why: Ryoma was also loved in this way even in his own time.