If you asked someone in the know to list the top 5 heroes of Japanese history, Sakamoto Ryoma would most definitely be on that list. You can't travel far in Japan without finding tourist attractions dedicated to him, even in places with which he only had a passing connection. His popularity peaked a few years ago when the historical drama, Ryomaden, aired in Japan.
What made Ryoma a hero? I think the thing that captured people's hearts was his ability to bring people together. He started life as the typical son of a samurai family, but apparently was a bit of a sissy-boy. You can see the drawing in the collage above of him as a bed wetting kid. His older sister, quite a character herself, taught him to man up and he made quite a name for himself in kendo, traveling to Edo (Tokyo) to study more - quite an arduous journey as well as a huge honor.
One of his biggest achievement was working to get the enemy Han (states) of Satsuma and Choshu to join forces to peacefully overthrow the Shogunate. Using his incredible charisma and statesmenship, Ryoma convinced the two Han to work together then asked the Shogun to step down peacefully rather than fight a war. That's a very simplified summary of the fascinating life of Sakamoto Ryoma - it's definitely worth reading more or watching the drama if you are at all interested in Japanese history.
Interesting facts about Ryoma:
- When he fled from his home town of Kochi, he asked the family of one of his retainers for a loan to tide him over. He never repaid that money but the family still have the promissory note he gave them - that must be worth a small fortune today.
- Ryoma was apparently married to the daughter of his kendo teacher in Edo yet later married another woman (with whom he had the first "honeymoon" in Japan).
- Ryoma was one of the first samurai to carry a gun. Every museum dedicated to him (and there are a lot - 4-5 in his hometown and others throughout the country) has a replicator of that gun but no one can tell me where the original is.
I'm sure that not all of the noble deeds attributed to Ryoma were done by him. History creates heroes and then assigns deeds of ordinary men to him. Still he's an interesting man that broke free of the bonds of a very tightly controlled society and changed his country forever.
Want to know when my next book is coming out -- and other fun stuff? Join my totally non-spammy mailing list. http://bit.ly/15OYBj2