Sakamoto Ryoma (1835-1867) was a major troublemaker for the Bakufu government authorities. It was because of him and his fellow Tosa samurai, Nakaoka Shintarô (1838-1867), that the domains of Satsuma (present-day Kagoshima prefecture) and Choshu (present-day Yamaguchi prefecture) were able to form the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance in order to work together against the Bakufu authorities. The Bakufu knew about Ryoma’s activities and he was therefore on their “wanted” list.
The year was 1866 (Keio 2). The Satsuma-Choshu Alliance had finally been consolidated on March 7th (Gregorian calendar) and two days later on March 9th Sakamoto Ryoma and the Choshu samurai Miyoshi Shinzô (1831-1901) were staying the night at the Teradaya Inn in Fushimi to the south of Kyoto.
Ryoma had just gotten out of the bath and was only half dressed when he and Shinzô were attacked at 3am on the morning of the 10th. Ryoma fired a few shots with his Smith & Weston, but one of the attackers came at him with a sword and sliced at Ryoma’s gun-welding hand cutting him across his thumb.
Ryoma shouted to Shinzô telling him to escape and the two of them dashed through the back of the house smashing into the house behind and out into the road on the other side. They ran to a log store house on the banks of the nearby canal. There they waited until dawn discussing their options, even considering committing suicide before falling into enemy hands. But Ryoma told Shinzô that he should make a run for it and try to get to the Satsuma domain house which was only a few blocks away. Shinzô agreed and off he went to get help. Ryoma’s hand was badly injured. He also happened to be suffering from a cold. Wearing only his undergarments in the freezing cold night air he did not have enough strength to run for it, so he waited at the log storehouse for Shinzô’s return.
Shinzô managed to get to the Satsuma house where he found Oryo, Ryoma’s wife had already arrived (she too had had to escape from Teradaya where she worked). Too weak to take the Satsuma men to where Ryoma was Shinzô told them of Ryoma’s whereabouts and Oryo went with a couple of men to find Ryoma and take him back to the safety of the Satsuma house.
On the evening of March 9th, I took the last train to Fushimi-Momoyama just after midnight. I had a few hours wait until the 3am rendevous outside the Teradaya Inn, so I dropped into a nice little cafe, which just happened to be open until 3am. Nice! I sat in the cafe reading about the Satsuma students who went to Britain in 1865 while I sipped a hot coffee to keep me awake until it was time to go.
There were six of us. Nakamura Takeo sensei guided us from Teradaya Inn and we followed the escape route of Ryoma and Shinzô. We got to the canal. It was pretty cold and I guess it must have been colder in Ryoma’s day because global warming wasn’t such an issue then; plus, I was fully dressed and only suffering with a bit of hayfever unlike Ryoma who was just in his underwear and bleeding profusely from his cut hand. I tried to imagine how it must have been for Ryoma while he waited for some of the Satsuma men to come to his rescue. From the canal we followed the route that Shinzô was said to have taken. Nakamura-sensei had given us photocopies of an old map from the Tenpo period (1830-1844) which showed how the roads had been. Some parts were different of course; most notably the section of road which had never existed in Ryoma’s time where later in 1895 Japan’s first electric tramway was installed.
We had a wonderful guide. It was a fairly cold night, but the moon was looking glorious, and I wondered if Ryoma had been able to see such a glorious moon that night too. Nakamura-sensei reminded me that Ryoma probably hadn’t been much in the mood for gazing at the moon; he had more critical things on his mind at the time! Actually going to see the places where history happened is always a moving thing, but going there on the exact day at the exact time (albeit another year) is even more exciting! Thanks to Nakamura-sensei and the Ryoma Company team for organising such a fun event. Despite feeling very sleepy all the following day, on the 10th (in fact I think I still haven’t quite recovered!) I had a very enjoyable and learning experience!