No.172 (9/24/10)

Ryoma Sakamoto, A Popular Figure in Japanese History

By Keiko H. Johnson
Staff Writer

Sakamoto Ryoma is the most popular person from the Japanese history. He lived his life during the intricate time in Japan's history and dedicated his life to mold his nation into a new era without regard for self benefits. Ryomafs popularity had grown larger since the NHK Taiga drama gryoma-denh started in January this year. His uniquely strong personality and affectionate nature had mesmerized many others that his life has often been depicted as a hero in contemporary Japanese culture and a figure in numerous novels and popular movies.

Ryoma was born in 1832 in Tosa (Kyushu) domain to a family of Sake merchant. At age 28, he moved to Edo (Tokyo) and was introduced to anti-shogunate activists, and involved in a Tosa loyal group, which was dedicated to overthrow Tokugawa Shogunate.

During his time in Edo, Ryoma witnessed the arrival of Perry's Black ships at saga Bay. Ryoma later was introduced to the western culture, which opened his eyes with ideological view of freedom and modernization for his nation.

Soon after Ryoma met Katsu Kaishu, who was Ryoma's mentor and a shogunate naval commissioner, and he fell under the influence of Kaishu's political views. Kaishu was a supporter of Shogunate, yet he also believed in an idea that Japan needed to modernize and westernize from within. Following their common ideology, Katsu Kaishu and Sakamoto Ryoma worked together in building a strong navy force in Japan.

While Katsu Kaishu believed in modernizing Japan from within the shogunate, Ryoma became increasingly convinced that Japan would not be strong under the influence of the shogunate. A few years later, Ryoma established one of Japan's first international trading companies in Nagasaki with the support of prominent leader of Satsuma clan (Kagoshima), Saigo Takamori. The company was running guns to Satsuma and Choshu clans, two powerful clans at that time. These two clans later contribute to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. Ryomafs negotiated the alliance between two powerful clans, Satsuma Clan and Choshu clan, and initiated Meiji restoration to free Japan from the shackles of feudalism of Tokugawa Shogunate.

Ryoma's position in Japan's transformation during the fragmented feudal era credited to his large popularity. His dream of modernizing and freeing Japan from feudal government was put into a form of 8-point plan calling for the surrender of Shogunate and establishing the democratic government, consisting of lower and upper houses of councilors to formulate policy by interpreting the will of people. Sakamoto Ryoma, however, was brutally assassinated by the slayer of shogunate at his home in Kyoto at age 33. His 8-point plan to reestablish the government is still respected and uttered especially among politicians and students of Japan that Ryomafs effort and strong sprit as Samurai is respected and considered as a true hero to this day.

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