Japan History: Sakamoto Ryōma

Sakamoto Ryōma (January 3, 1836 - December 10, 1867) is still recognized as one of the most important figures of the Tokugawa Shogunate and one of the greatest heroes of the Edo period.

Sakamoto

photo credits: budojapan.com

Early youth

He was born on the island of Shikoku, in the Tosa Han (toda's Kōchi Prefecture) on the fifteenth day of the eleventh month of Tenpō according to the Japanese calendar. His family was famous for being a great sake producer, thus obtaining the lowest rank of the Samurai category, the Gōshi (Samurai of the countryside). Tosa had a very clear separation between Joshi (high-ranking samurai) and Kashi (low-ranking samurai). Even in Sakamoto Ryōma's generation, the samurai degree of his family remained Kashi. At the age of twelve, Ryōma was enrolled in a private school, but it didn't last long, because his inclination to studies wasn't very strong.

Thanks to his older sister, he then enrolled in the Oguri-Ryu fencing classes when he was 14, after being bullied at school. In adulthood, he was a master swordsman. In 1853 he was allowed by his clan to go to Edo to improve his skills as a swordsman. There he enrolled as a student at Hokushin Ittō-ryū Hyōhō Chiba-Dōjō, where he received his diploma. He then became Shihan at Chiba-Dōjō and taught Kenjutsu to students along with Chiba Jūtarō Kazutane, his close friend. In 1858 he returned to Kōchi. However, four years later the Commodore Perry of the United States arrived with a fleet to force Japan out of its centuries-old policy of national isolation. In the same year, movements against foreigners, anti-Tokugawa movements and in support of the Emperor began to form.

Sakamoto Ryōma

photo credits: jref.com

Sakamoto Ryōma and Takechi Hanpeita

His friend, Takechi Hanpeita (or Takechi Zuizan), organized Tosa's Loyalist Party "Kinnoto". Their political slogan was "Revere the emperor, expel the barbarians". The group consisted of about 2000 samurai, mostly of lower rank, who insisted on the reform of Tosa's government. As the group was not recognized, they began a plot to assassinate Yoshida Toyo, head of the Tosa domain. Ryōma participated in the plot without really supporting it.
Takechi asked for a revolution only for the Tosa clan, and Ryōma thought they would have to do something for all of Japan instead. He decided to leave Tosa and part with Takechi. In those days, no one was allowed to leave their clan without permission, on pain of death. One of Ryōma's sisters committed suicide precisely because of her brother's behavior.

In 1864, when the Tokugawa shogunate began to take a hard line, Ryōma fled to Kagoshima in the Satsuma Domain, under development as the main center for the anti-Tokugawa movement. Ryōma negotiated the secret alliance between the provinces of Chōshū and Satsuma. Satsuma and Chōshū were historically irreconcilable enemies, and Ryōma's position was seen as "neutral outsider".

Sakamoto Ryōma and the West

Ryōma was an admirer of democratic principles and studied the United States Congress and the British Parliament a lot. He loved these concepts so much that he took them as a model for the government of Japan after the Restoration.
Ryōma wrote the "Eight Proposals During the Expedition" while discussing the future model of the Japanese government with Gotō Shōjirō aboard a Tosa ship outside Nagasaki in 1867. Ryōma stressed the need for a democratically elected bicameral legislature and the drafting of a Constitution. Furthermore, he had considered the formation of a national army and fleet together with the regulation of gold and silver exchange rates. It is believed that Ryōma's proposals form the basis for the subsequent parliamentary system implemented after his death.

Sakamoto Ryōma and the Bakumatsu period

Ryōma pushed for national reform and left the domain, targeting Katsu Kaishu, a senior Tokugawa official.

When he finally managed to find his target, the latter calmly asked to be heard before he was killed. Katsu Kaishu then explained his plans to increase Japan's military strength through modernization and westernization. Instead of killing him as the plans were, Ryoma became his assistant. Together they created a naval force to be reckoned with.

Ryōma is often considered the "father of the Japanese Imperial Navy" because under the direction of Katsu Kaishū he worked to create a modern naval force. All this to allow Satsuma and Chōshū to stand comparison with the naval forces of the Tokugawa shogunate. Ryōma founded the private navy and the Kameyama Shachū trading company in the city of Nagasaki with the help of Satsuma.

Ryōma

photo credits: visitkochijapan.com

Chōshū's subsequent victory over the Tokugawa army in 1866 and the imminent collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate made Ryōma a precious figure for his former masters in Tosa. In fact, it is precisely in this period that he was recalled to Kōchi with many honors. Tosa's domain was anxious to get a negotiated agreement between the Shogun and the Emperor. This would have prevented Satchō's powerful Alliance from forcibly toppling Tokugawa and thus emerging as a new dominant force in the government of Japan. Ryōma again played a crucial role in the negotiations that led to the voluntary resignation of the Tokugawa Yoshinobu Shogun in 1867. With the arrival of the Meiji Restoration, thanks to Sakamoto Ryoma the Shogunate fell. Thus it was that Japan managed to come out of the 260-year Tokugawa Rule.

Ryōma often used the alias Saitani Umetarō (谷梅太郎) as he was often hunted by Bakufu supporters, like Shinsengumi members.

Sakamoto Ryōma's murder

On the night of December 10, 1867, Sakamoto Ryōma and his friend Nakaoka Shintaro stayed at the Omiya Inn in Kyoto. A group of assassins had gathered outside the inn. When one of them knocked on the door killing Ryōma's bodyguard, the rest of the group reached his room assassinating both him and Nakaoka.

The killers were never identified. However, members of the Shinsengumi and their leader Kondo Isami were accused and executed for the murder. Although the Mimawarigumi, members of the pro-Tokugawa group, confessed to the murder in 1870, no action was ever taken against them.

Sakamoto Ryōma's ultimate goal was not personal, but for the sake of Japan. His actions and beliefs have made him a national hero to this day.

Ryōma was a visionary who dreamed of an independent Japan without feudal traps. He was inspired by the example of the United States where "all men are created equal". He realized that to compete with an industrially and technologically advanced outside world, the Japanese had to modernize. It has also been seen as an intriguing mix of tradition and modernity. In fact, a symbol of these traits was his preference for the samurai dress with western footwear.

Sakamoto Ryōma

photo credits: tokyo2020.jp

Modern times

On 15 November 2003, the Kōchi airport was renamed Kōchi Ryōma Airport in his honor.

There is a Sakamoto Ryōma Memorial Museum (坂本龍馬記念館) south of Kōchi, with a large bronze statue of Ryoma overlooking the sea. The city of Kōchi has a number of Ryōma-themed attractions and places, including the Sakamoto Ryōma Birthplace Memorial. Furthermore, the Sakomoto Ryōma Hometown Museum shows the Kōchi center during Ryōma's childhood, including the relevant aspects that may have influenced his opinions. On November 15, 2009, the Hokkaido Sakamoto Ryōma memorial museum was built in Hakodate, Hokkaido.


Japan History: Torii Suneemon

photo credits: japanworld.info

Torii Suneemon (1540 - 1575) was a Japanese samurai of the Torii family, known for his courage and for the incredible value demonstrated in the battle of Nagashino (1575). Of his youth, it is known that he was an ashigaru soldier who served Okudaira Sadamasa, a vassal of Tokugawa Ieyasu and master of the castle of Nagashino.

On June 17, 1575, after failing to capture Yoshida Castle in Toyohashi, 15,000 of Takeda Katsuyori's samurai attacked Nagashino Castle in modern Shinshiro City, Aichi Prefecture. Nagashino with only 500 men, was built on top of a cliff, where the Ure and the Kansa rivers divided and served as a natural moat. It was a strategically important castle, guarding the Tokugawa against the threat of northern Takeda. Takeda Katsuyori, son of the famous Takeda Shingen, was busy reaching the capital, Kyoto, in an attempt to gain control of the nation.

To get to Kyoto, they first had to conquer Mikawa and Owari, lands held by allies Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga. Nagashino Castle was important as it threatened the supply lines of the Takeda clan.

photo credits: asianartscollection.com

The Takeda forces had surrounded the castle, and the brave Torii volunteered to leave the castle, swim along the river and cut off the nets drawn near the enemy. Later he would have to walk 25 km from Okazaki and call Tokugawa Ieyasu. After warning him and requesting reinforcements, Torii quickly returned to Nagashino where he was captured as he tried to return to the castle.

The story tells of how Torii Suneemon had been tied and crucified with straw ropes in plain sight to his compatriots from Nagashino castle. "Tell them reinforcements will not come, tell them to give up the castle and get out!" one of his captors hissed. Torii looked up at the castle shouting: "Men from the castle of Nagashino... Don't give up! Ieyasu's men are coming! Wait a little longer!" Following his exploit, he was silenced by a spear stuck in the stomach.

The forces of the Tokugawa clan and the Oda allies eventually arrived on the scene a week later with 38,000 soldiers, creating an important turning point in the history of Japan and the samurai war, the battle of Nagashino and Shitaragahara.

It is interesting to know that a Takeda Samurai, Ochiai Michihisa, was so impressed with Torii's loyalty and courage that in a battle he displayed a flag with the image of the crucified Samurai. That flag is now kept in the Tokyo University library.

The martyr Torii was promoted posthumously to the samurai class and his family continued to serve the Okudaira clan until the end of the Edo period. He entered the history books as one of the most courageous and faithful Samurai.

photo credits: japanworld.info

A curiosity: on the Lida line a railway station was opened bearing the name of the brave Samurai, a place not far from where he was crucified.


Japan Tradition: Sanja Matsuri

photo credits: Yoshikazu TAKADA

The festival of the three temples

The Sanja Matsuri (三社祭) is one of the most famous festivals, largest and "wildest" festivals in Tokyo dedicated to the Shinto religion. The festival is held in honor of Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo, the three men who founded the Sensō-ji temple.

The Sanja Matsuri is held on the third weekend of May at the Asakusa temple and the sumptuous parade involves three mikoshi (portable temples), dances, traditional music and lasts about three days.

Like most Japanese festivals, the Sanja matsuri is also a religious celebration dedicated to the spirits of the three men, founders of the temple. This festival seems to have been born in the 7th century and is also known as "Kannon Matsuri" and "Asakusa Matsuri" and with a different shape than today.
The modalities in which today's Sanja Matsuri is organized were established during the Edo period when in 1649 the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu commissioned the construction of the Asakusa temple.

If you happen to be around Asakusa during the festival days, you can feel an atmosphere full of energy. People flock to the streets surrounding the Sensō-ji temple to the sound of flutes, whistles and taiko (traditional Japanese percussion).

photo credits: Atsushi Ebara, Yoshikazu TAKADA

The Mikoshi

The main attraction of this festival is the three mokoshi belonging to the Asakusa temple. These three elaborate temples in black lacquered wood have the function of being a miniature and a portable version of the Asakusa Temple. Decorated with sculptures and golden leaves, they weigh about a ton and are transported by long poles held together by ropes. For each mikoshi there is a need for about 40 people for safe transport and during the day, around 500 people participate in the transport of each temple.

The "parade" of these mikoshi is perhaps the most important moment of the day and the streets are crowded as they pass. As they are also transported, they are agitated and made to bounce strongly, because it is said that this leads to intensifying the power of the Kami inside and that it helps to increase luck in the respective neighborhoods.

While the three main mikoshi are the most important objects in the streets during the Sanja Matsuri, there are about 100 other smaller mikoshi scattered in the neighborhood on Saturday. Many of these temples are also transported by women or children.

photo credits: KMrT, Leo U

Day after day

The Sanja matsuri, is a festival that lasts several days and begins on Thursday with an important religious ceremony. This function requires the priest responsible for the temple to perform a ritual that makes the Kami of the three founders of the temple move from within into the three mikoshi. The latter will then be the protagonists of the parade that will last all weekend in Asakusa.

By opening the three small doors of the mikoshi the three spirits are invited to enter the miniature temples where they will stay for the duration of the festival. The interior of these mikoshi is also concealed from the public by a thin cotton curtain.

photo credits: Yoshikazu TAKADA

But the actual parade begins on Friday, known as Daigyōretsu (大 行列) which literally means "great parade".
The famous procession goes down via Yanagi Street and continues to the Nakamise-dōri up to the Asakusa temple. This festival is also well known for the sumptuous costumes of the participants, but also for the geishas and city officials who wear hakama, traditional Japanese clothes.
In the evening, six mikoshi from the most central neighborhoods are sent in procession on the shoulders of several dozen people.

photo credits: Hong Seongwan, Yoshikazu TAKADA

The following day, Saturday, about 100 mikoshi belonging to the 44 districts of Asakusa gather at the Kaminarimon and then leave on parade via the Nakamise-dōri in the direction of Hōzōmon. Once here they pay their respects to Kannon, the goddess of Mercy. Later, the mikoshi are taken to the Asakusa temple where the Shinto priest blesses them and purifies them for the coming year. Once the ceremony is completed, these small portable temples are transported back to their respective neighborhoods.

However, the most important event of the Sanja Matsuri takes place on Sunday. It is in this day in fact that we can see the parade of the three mikoshi belonging to the Asakusa Shrine. They march along the Nakamise-dōri to arrive at the Kaminarimon on Sunday morning. These three mikoshi enclose the three spirits of the three founding men of the Sensō-ji temple and, during the final day of this festival, they come to visit and bring blessings to the 44 districts of Asakusa.
When evening arrives, the three mikoshi find their way back to the Asakusa temple creating another great procession that lasts until late at night.

photo credits: ageless foto, Yoshikazu TAKADA

Yakuza Show

This festival of monumental size, also allows to mix fringes of the population that usually remain very detached. It is indeed common to find the Yakuza performing in fundoshi, without shame or fear, proudly showing their tattoos. In the eyes of a westerner, not accustomed to Japanese culture, this could almost seem like a comic scene. However, don't dare to laugh if you don't want bad luck to hit you!

photo credits: Hong Seongwan, syasya_akemi


Japan Tradition: Kanda Matsuri

The festival held on odd-numbered years

photo credits: dydo-matsuri.com

In the middle of May on every odd-numbered year, the Kanda Matsuri (神田祭) takes place in Tokyo’s Kanda. Together with the Sanno Matsuri and the Fukagawa Matsuri, Kanda Matsuri is one of the three most important Shinto festivals being held in Tokyo. It is also one of the three largest festivals of Japan together with Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri and Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri.

The origin of Kanda Matsuri dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled over Edo, now modern day Tokyo. It is for this reason that Kanda Matsuri is also sometimes known as Tenka Matsuri (Tenka meaning shogun).
The celebration of this festival also doubled as a demonstration of prosperity under the new regime.

photo credits: xin beitou, Atsushi Ebara

At the same time, the Sanno Matsuri took place to celebrate the new political center and its rulers. Because of the long and extravagant preparations, competition between the two festivals grew, and eventually, it was decided to celebrate them in alternate years. Under this new rule, Kanda Matsuri was to be celebrated in the middle of May on odd numbered years , while the Sanno Matsuri would be celebrated in the middle of June on even numbered years.

Today, Kanda Matsuri is celebrated in honour of the gods residing in the Shinto shrine called Kanda Myojin that can be found nestled among modern buildings in one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in Tokyo, Chiyoda ward. The shrine is dedicated to 3 deities: Daikokuten, the god of good harvest and matrimony, Ebisu, the god of fishermen and businessmen and Taira no Masakado, a revered samurai of the 10th century who was deified.

photo credits: rove.me, bill ben

Celebrating prosperity and good fortune

Like most other festivals, shinto rites are an essential part of the preparations. On the eve of the main procession, the kami (gods) of the shrine are invited to enter the three finely decorated mikoshi (portable shrines) through these rituals. At 8 a.m. on the day of the festival, these mikoshi are paraded through the streets of Kanda, continuing down to Nihonbashi, followed by Otemachi, and finally Akihabara, before returning to the temple at around 7 p.m. This procession is typically accompanied by an immense crowd of people, along with musicians, priests riding on horseback and many other participants wearing colorful, traditional clothes.

photo credits: nlgwest , Kemy Shibata

At the same time, there is a smaller three-hour long secondary procession being held. This is attended by men on horseback dressed as samurai, characters from folk stories, musicians, and dancers who depart from Arima Elementary School in the early afternoon and proceed north towards the Kanda Myojin shrine.

The next day following the festival is dedicated to the procession of mikoshi from various neighbourhoods in the Kanda and Nihonbashi district. Each of them contains an ujigami, guardian deities who, on this occasion, are housed in mikoshi to bless the residents of the area as they are paraded through the streets.

photo credits: Eugene Kaspersky

Many small curiosities

Those who were born and raised in Edo were called “Edokko”. Edokko had a peculiar personality and they were said to be very open and cheerful people. All these characteristics were, and still are, reflected in the Kanda Matsuri, a festival full of energy.

The procession with all its main elements also recalls the celebrations for Tokugawa's victory in the battle of Sekigahara, which cleared the path to the shogunate that led to a long period of peace and prosperity in Japan. Originally, townspeople would dress up and give thanks to the shrine through lavish performances of Noh theater.

photo credits: tokyoexcess.blogspot.it, xin beitou

During the Edo period, the parade with its beautiful decorations would pass by Edo Castle, giving common people a rare chance to enter its grounds.
Most of the original floats, which had been used since the early days of the festival, were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and in the bombing of WWII.

photo credits: viajejet.com, fastjapan.com


Japan Tradition: Aoi Matsuri

The Hollyhock Festival

photo credits: mutabi.wordpress.com

One of Kyoto’s three most well-known festivals, Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) takes place every year on the 15th of May. The name of this festival derives from the hollyhock leaves that participants in the festival’s parade carry with them as they walk down the designated route. In Japanese, “Aoi” (葵) refers to the “alcea rosea” or, as the namesake of this festival, the “hollyhock”. This plant produces brilliant colours and beautiful flowers, and its leaves are believed to have the power to prevent natural disasters.

The main attraction of this festival is a grand parade that involves more than 500 people dressing up in the aristocratic styles of the Heian period (794 - 1185 CE).
This annual parade starts from the Imperial Palace, and the participants will walk down the road until they arrive at Kamo Shrine. This name refers to the shinto sanctuary complex that consists of Kamigamo shrine and Shimogamo shrine.

photo credits: amanohashidate.jp, Nobuhiro Suhara

The Origins

The festival first started during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (539 - 571CE), when a period of heavy rains ruined the harvest and an epidemic spread through the country.

It was believed that these tragedies came about because the Kamo deities wanted to punish the people. Thus, the emperor sent a messenger to the temple with offerings and to perform various rituals in order to appease these deities. Part of these rituals also required the riding of a galloping horse.

photo credit: Alex Hurst, Clement Koh

This became an annual event with the intention of preventing further disasters. However, during the reign of Emperor Monmu (697 - 707CE), it was suspended due to the huge amount of people joining to watch the rituals. In the 19° century, Emperor Kanmu established the seat of the imperial throne in Kyoto and this represented the beginning of the Heian period in Japanese history. The emperor recognised the Kamo deities as protectors of the capital and reestablished the Aoi Matsuri as an annual imperial event. The festival was sometimes discontinued in some periods of Japanese history, especially during World War II, but it was actively resumed in 1953. The Saiō-Dai tradition in this festival was also initiated in 1956.

photo credits: regex.info

The characters of the Festival

There are two main characters in the Aoi Matsuri: the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger.
The Saiō-Dai is a woman chosen from the sisters and daughters of the emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo Shrine. The role of the Saiō-Dai is to maintain spiritual purity and represent the Emperor at the festival. Today the Saiō-Dai is chosen from all unmarried women of Kyoto. She wears twelve layers of silk robes (jūnihitoe), finely colored in the traditional style of the Heian court. To maintain ritual purity the Saiō-Dai has to go through several ceremonies of purification before the festival’s parade.

photo credit: Hong Seongwan

The Imperial Messenger, on the other hand, conducts the procession of the festival by riding a horse. During the Heian period, he would be a Fifth-Rank courtier holding office of middle or lesser capitan. He was also typically a man destined for high office. His role was to read the imperial edict and present the emperor’s offerings. During the Heian period, the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger would be accompanied by ten dancers and twelve musicians.

photo credits: Hisanori

Celebrations Today

The parade starts at 10:30 a.m. on May 15th at Kyoto’s Imperial Palace. It then slowly departs for two important stops: the Shimogamo Shrine, where the procession should arrive at 11:15 a.m., and the Kamigamo Shrine, where they will arrive at 3:30 p.m. The Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger perform their rituals at these stops. The Saiō-Dai pays her respects to the deities, while the Imperial Messenger intones the imperial rescript, praising the deities and requesting their continued favor.

photo credits: Slugicide, find-your-jpn.com


Japan History: Sanada Yukimura

photo credits: wikipedia.org

Sanada (Yukimura) Nobushige was one of the greatest samurai of the Sengoku period. Second child of Sanada Masayuki and younger brother of Sanada Nobuyuki, he was never called "Yukimura" during his lifetime, since his real name was Nobushige. It seems that Yukimura was obtained at the end of the Edo period. Known as "Crimson Demon of War" for his blood-red banners and red armor, he was also recognized as "the greatest warrior of Japan" and even "The last Sengoku hero" by his peers.

As a young man, he was sent by his father as a hostage to the Uesugi clan in exchange for Uesugi's support against the Tokugawa. The father who later sided with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, as Uesugi had done, allowed him to return home to Ueda.

Sanada Nobushige served Hideyoshi directly. His first wife, Aki-hime, was the daughter of Otani Yoshitsugu even though adopted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Nobushige had seven daughters and three children with four wives, the last was born two months after his father's death.


photo credits: samurai-world.com

Ueda Castle, built in 1583, was the home of the Sanada clan. The fact that it was well built was first tested in 1583 when the castle resisted the attack of a numerically superior Tokugawa force. The defeat would have been embarrassing for the Tokugawa in the future. Another similar siege of Ueda Castle in the 1600s at the time of the Battle of Sekigahara also saw Tokugawa Hidetada, son and heir of Ieyasu, who led his army along Nakasendo, strategically important. Along the way, he stopped and besieged Ueda Castle. Although there was a great distance from the battlefield of Sekigahara, events at Ueda Castle would have almost destroyed the intentions of the Tokugawa legions. The Sanada resisted long enough for Hidetada to arrive late to the battle itself, depriving Tokugawa of about 38,000 men. Nobushige commanded only 2,000 men inside the castle.

Sanada Masayuki and his son Nobushige kept Ueda's castle as an ally of Western forces, however, Sanada Nobuyuki, was fighting for the Tokugawa. This ensured that at least one member of the Sanada family would be among the winners, regardless of the outcome. This was clearly a plan to preserve the family name. Following Sekigahara, Nobushige and his father were deprived of their domain and exiled to the holy mountain, Koya.

Photo Credits: tozandoshop.com

14 years after Sanada's father and son were sent into exile, Nobushige would rebel against the Tokugawa again during the winter siege of Osaka, and again the following year in the summer campaign. Nobushige had built a crescent-shaped fortress in the southwestern corner of Osaka Castle, known as Sanada Maru. The fortified outpost was surrounded by a wide, deep and dry moat. The earth of the moat was piled up inside, and along the top of this embankment, there was a simple two-story wooden wall, with platforms at regular intervals. Apparently, the Sanada Maru was armed with cannons along the walls. Sanada Nobushige and about 7,000 men repeatedly repulsed around 25,000 Tokugawa allies. Sometimes the Sanada samurai left the borders of the Sanada Maru to counter the enemy troops.

The following year, during the summer siege of Osaka, Sanada Nobushige commanded the right flank of Toyotomi's forces. On June 3, despite being completely exhausted from the battle against Date Masamune's forces, Nobushige and his men had returned to Osaka Castle to find the 150,000 Tokugawa men preparing to make one final assault. Hoping to catch them off guard and destroy their formations, Nobushige sent his son, Daisuke, to instruct Hideyori to look for opportunities to get out of the castle and attack the Tokugawa.

photo credits: pinterest.it

However, at the time of the attack, Hideyori appears to have lost control and failed to launch a counterattack that could have reversed the siege. The Sanada troops were overwhelmed. Seriously wounded in the fierce battle against Matsudaira Tadanao who had pledged him for most of this day, from 12 to 17, Nobushige sat under a pine tree in the Yasui Shrine grounds, unable to continue. When the wave of enemy forces approached, he calmly said his name, and saying that he was too tired to continue fighting, he allowed a Tokugawa samurai named Nishio Nizaemon to take his head. Sanada Nobushige was 47 years old. The news of his death spread rapidly and the morale of Osaka's troops fell.

The name Yukimura was known throughout Japan due to its fearless fighting.
Shimazu Iehisa of Satsuma praised Yukimura, writing "Sanada was the greatest warrior in Japan, stronger than any warrior in the stories of ancient times. The Tokugawa army was half defeated. I say this only in general."

A statue of the weary warrior is now found under the second-generation pine tree in the ground of the sanctuary.

photo credits: samurai-world.com


Japan Modern Culture: 令和 ReiWa, the new Era

令和: ReiWa, the new Era

Exactly one month ahead of Prince Naruhito's accession to the throne, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the beginning of the new Era for Japan.

Reiwa, formed by the kanji 令 (rei) "auspicious", "ordered" and 和 wa "harmony", "peace", reflects the spiritual unity of the Japanese people, because "culture is born and nourished when people take care of each other lovingly" explained Prime Minister Shinzo Abe immediately after the announcement.

photo credits: asia.nikkei.com

Time passes following the Era of the Emperor

In the Japanese culture, the periods of time throughout history are subdivided according to the system of "eras", gengō (元号): it involves the use of two kanji that represent the hopes, ideals and good intentions for the period to come, followed by the number from the year of the emperor's mandate. According to this system, from 1989 the current era is Heisei 31 (平成31), or the 31st year of the Heisei Era (31 years of "achieving peace" under the guidance of Emperor Akihito). From May 1st, 2019 we will be officially in the Reiwa Era (令和1 - Reiwa 1).

photo credits: tg24.sky.it

The roots of Reiwa

Unlike all previous eras whose names were inspired by Chinese literature, Reiwa has its roots in Man'yōshū, 万集 "The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves", the oldest collection of Japanese poetry that has survived till today. The authors belong to all walks of life: members of the imperial family, peasants, soldiers, artisans and monks. This choice breaks an over 1300 years old tradition and has a highly symbolic value for Modern Japan. We are wishing for an era of hope and unity and, above all, an era aimed at the preservation of nature. Reiwa will face a path aimed at harmony and to give strength to a nation that in the course of history has always raised up with pride in every adversity and that has never been pulled back.

But how was this name decided?

The choice was made between a list of 30 proposals prepared by Japanese and Chinese literature and history experts appointed by the government for this important task. The traditional procedure requires the Government to make the final choice in a cabinet session, after which the chosen name is revealed to the Emperor in office and he prepares the decree for the proclamation of the new Era.

photo credits: kelo.com

Naruhito, Emperor of the Throne of Chrysanthemum

First born of the current Emperor of Japan Akihito and Empress Michiko, Naruhito (皇太子徳仁親王) became the crown prince to the throne following the death of his grandfather, Emperor Hirohito in 1989. Known for his countless charitable works and a series of absolved imperial functions, he will become the 126th Emperor of the Throne of Chrysanthemum (the oldest ever interrupted monarchy in the world) on May 1st, 2019 following the abdication of his father on April 30th, 2019.

The blank pages of a new beginning

The word Reiwa is so full of serenity, even in its pronunciation! The harmony, the peace, the balance that characterize a the people of a nation like that of the Rising Sun thus finds its fulfillment. Just a few days ago, I had a fixed idea in my mind: "a new beginning", I even wrote a thought entitled "Start of a new chapter", and having woken up with the announcement of this new Era, shook me positively. Furthermore, after hearing Prime Minister Abe's speech, my heart was filled with hope. I like the proposal for greater openness to work for those coming from abroad and I believe that this can bring a prosperous future for Japan worldwide.
The spirit of cohesion, solidarity and peace may seem an utopia, but it must start from the small things, from us and then spread like the waves produced by a pebble falling into the water.


Japan Tradition: Saigō Takamori

photo credits: jpninfo.com

Saigō Takamori (1828-1877) is remembered both for his important role in the Meiji Restoration which overthrew the shogunate in 1868 and for his failed rebellion against the new government less than a decade later. Although he died a renegade, a government pardon rehabilitated his reputation and 150 years after the Meiji restoration, the spotlight is again on the last samurai.

Saigō's rise to power began in 1854 when he was recruited by Shimazu Nariakira, the daimyo of the Satsuma domain (now Kagoshima prefecture), to accompany him to the capital of Edo (now Tokyo). As a low-ranking official, Saigō was involved in bridge construction projects and roads. He managed to capture Nariakira's attention with a series of memoranda on the agricultural administration that he submitted to the provincial government. Officially he was employed in Edo as a gardener, but his duties went beyond plants. While in the capital, Saigō made contact with the main personalities who opposed the shogunate. The outdoor work offered a comfortable cover for Nariakira and Saigō to meet and talk, avoiding the obstacles they would face due to their large difference in rank.

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Saigō quickly built a network of loyalists from Mito (now Ibaraki Prefecture) and other domains. He won the trust of Nariakira with his simple and emotional nature, and over time the daimyo came to look for the opinions of the younger people. However, the situation began to change from 1857 when Abe Masahiro died. He elderly shogunate adviser who had helped ensure the succession of his close friend Nariakira as Satsuma daimyo. Nariakira himself died the following year and the power in Satsuma passed to his younger brother Shimazu Hisamitsu. Meanwhile, the conservative politician Naosuke had taken effective control of the shogunate, launching an important crackdown on the reformists.

Suffering from the loss of Nariakira and facing difficult political prospects, Saigō was determined to follow his teacher to the grave but was persuaded by Gessho, the chief priest of a Kyoto temple, to flee with Satsuma. However, once there, they threw themselves into the sea in Kagoshima Bay and Gessho drowned, but Saigō miraculously survived.

Over the next five years, Saigō suffered periods of exile on the islands of Amami Ōshima and Okinoerabujima. On Amami he was given some freedom and married a local woman. However, After a brief respite on his return from Amami, he was again exiled to an island after angering Hisamitsu. This period of imprisonment became an opportunity for serious reflection on his life and shaped his personality as a caring man of firm principles.

Iechika Yoshiki, Saigō’s biographer and researcher, argues that, unlike most people, he was not afraid of death. Having lost many people he loved and respected, including his parents, Nariakira and Gessho, he was not terrified of dying and saw it as a way to be reunited with his loved ones.

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Iechika says that Saigō believed that heaven had spared his life for a reason and that he would live to complete his divine call. This philosophy is linked to his famous motto “keiten aijin”, which means "Respect the sky and love people". According to Saigō, the questions of life and death were above human consideration and had to be left entirely to fate.

In 1864 Saigō reconciled with Hisamitsu and returned to the Kyoto political center as commander of the Satsuma army. After rejecting the anti-shogunate forces from the Chōshū domain (now Yamaguchi Prefecture) while attempting to enter the city, he was promoted to the rank of high officer. The event, known as the Hamaguri Gomon incident, was Saigō's first battle experience with an army. The same year, he became chief of staff of the shogunate army sent to punish Chōshū. In 1866, however, Satsuma and Chōshū entered an alliance mediated by Sakamoto Ryōma. Saigō took charge of the opposition forces that would eventually become soldiers of the new Meiji government.

In 1864 Saigō reconciled with Hisamitsu and returned to the Kyoto political center as commander of the Satsuma army. After rejecting the anti-shogunate forces from the Chōshū domain (now Yamaguchi Prefecture) while attempting to enter the city, he was promoted to the rank of high officer. The event, known as the Hamaguri Gomon incident, was Saigō's first battle experience with an army. The same year, he became chief of staff of the shogunate army sent to punish Chōshū. In 1866, however, Satsuma and Chōshū entered an alliance mediated by Sakamoto Ryōma. Saigō took charge of the opposition forces that would eventually become soldiers of the new Meiji government.

In January 1868, the imperial loyalists led by Satsuma and Chōshū proclaimed the restoration of power from the shogun to the emperor. The resistance of the shogunate supporters triggered the Boshin war later in that month. Although the conflict dragged on until the following year, a key victory for the Meiji troops came with the surrendering of Edo Castle in the spring of 1868. With the city and nation in danger and fighting in Edo, Saigō entered the stronghold of the shogunate with only a handful of followers, wanting to try negotiation. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, he faced the prospect of murder. The discussion and cooperation between Saigō and the leader of the shogunate Katsu Kaishū led to the peaceful delivery of the castle, as a "bloodless delivery".

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In Japan, Saigō Takamori, Ōkubo Toshimichi and Kido Takayoshi are considered the three great figures of the Meiji Restoration. However, according to Iechika, Saigō's success at Edo Castle was something the other two members of the trio could never have achieved. He claims that without Saigō, the Meiji Restoration would never have happened and that people today see the event favorably because of this. On the contrary, if the movement had caused a bloody civil war, it is likely that public sentiment would have been very different. Although Saigō was not the astute politician that Ōkubo was, he had a love and a spirit that the other could not match.

In 1871 Saigō joined the Meiji government and in 1873 he became an army general. However, he resigns a few later after losing a debate about his support for a military expedition to Korea. He returned to his home in the prefecture of Kagoshima, where he spent his time cultivating and hunting. However, In 1877, he was convinced to lead an army of dissatisfied Samurai in the Satsuma rebellion. Driven by government forces in the battles on Kyūshū, the army reached the last position at Shiroyama in Kagoshima. Saigō committed suicide after his soldiers were defeated. He was 49 years old.

Saigō is the likely inspiration for Katsumoto Moritsugu - played by Watanabe Ken in the 2003 film The Last Samurai. The film complains of the passage of bushidō (the way of the Samurai) through Katsumoto, as noted by the Civil War veteran Tom Cruise, Nathan Algren (the character has no direct historical equivalent).

Saigo's association with traditional values in a modernized Japan is why he was called "the last Samurai". Just 12 years after his failed rebellion, he was pardoned by the Meiji government and in 1898 a statue of Saigō and his dog was erected in Tokyo's Ueno Park. Almost a century and a half after his death, it remains a popular historical and cultural icon.

photo credits: madmonarchist.blogspot.com