Culture/History

Ryoma Sakamoto

11/14/2020

Who is Ryoma Sakamoto?

Ryoma Sakamoto was born in Kochi in 1835 as the son of a country samurai of the Kochi Clan. He is one of the most famous historical characters in Japan. He learned swordsmanship and art of the rifle in Edo and later, he joined the Tosa Kinno-to formed by Zuizan Takechi to get involved in politics. In 1862, he left the Tosa clan and became a disciple of Kaishu Katsu and worked hard to construct the Kobe Naval Operations Training School. In 1865, he established Kameyama Shachu (i.e. Kameyama group and later called Kaientai). He contributed to Satsuma-Choshu alliance and Taisei Hokan (i.e. restoration of imperial rule). In 1867, he was killed right before the Meiji restoration. The Meiji restoration began in 1868 and took place during the Bakumatsu period that led to the resotration of imperial rule after centuries of military rule under Shogun (i.e. army commander) and brought modernization and westernization of Japan. Although Ryoma Sakamoto was not able to see the Meiji restoration himself but he definitely paved the way toward the establishment of the Meiji government.

Kameyama Sachu

Supported by Satsuma clan, Kameyama Sachu which is considered the Japan’s first trade company which was established in 1865 and led by Ryoma Sakamoto. The people who worked in the company are mainly from Kobe Naval Operations Training School so most of them were able to leverage their naval operation skills to transport commodities and perform as an intermediary of trades. Especially, the company helped transport the weapons to Choshu clan that was against the military rule under Shogun at that time. Kameyama is the name of the place in Nagasaki where the company was established and Shachu means the group of people with the same spirit.

Kameyama Shachu Memorial in Nagasaki

If you are in Nagasaki, you can visit the Kameyama Shachu’s memorial exhibited by the the city of Nagasaki which replicated the company’s office at the time and atomosphere from the Bakumatsu period.

After a 15-minute bus ride from the Nagasaki station, you get off the bus and walk through the residential area for another 10 or 15 minutes, you will get to this memorial. There is a sign of the company “Kameyama Shachu” right in front of the entrance (see a picture below).

There are some everyday items that Ryoma Sakamoto used in the memorial. One of them is the kimonos with his family crest that he used to wear. Based on the size of the kimono, it is considered that his height was over 175 cm or 5.7 feet.

He was was assassinated together with his close friend Nakaoka Shintaro in 1867 during their stay at an inn in Kyoto. Pro-Tokugawa assailants were believed behind the assassination, but the true killer remains a mystery to this day. The picture below shows a grisly replica of the blood-stained folding screen from the room of his murder in Kyoto.

A lot of Japanese people respect Ryoma Sakamoto as he was innovative and displayed strong leadership that changed the country. His passion and strong beliefs to build a new country is something that still deeply resinates with many Japanese poeple.

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