The 5th Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival in 2017


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This year the event is on a somewhat smaller scale, but there will be a museum talk on September 3rd (in Japanese only) and the lantern walk will be held on November 18th.

For more details in Japanese see the Bakumatsu Festival website:

If you don’t speak Japanese you can still enjoy the lantern walk so come along and enjoy the tour!





The 4th Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival



Commemorating some 150 years since the death of Sakamoto Ryoma, the signing of the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, the ending of the Bakufu government and the beginning of the Meiji era, a huge shift in Japan’s historical narrative, this year the Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival, now in its fourth year, will host a number of events lasting about a month long. In previous years, there has always been one big event held outside the Kyoto City Hall, but this year instead, there will be several individual events spread out from late-October to late-November. Every year the event is organised by the Kyoto Ryoma Society (Kyoto Ryoma-kai) and this year too that organisation will be at the helm. The following is a list of some of the things that will be going on:


1. “Bakumatsu History Talk Show” featuring authors from the Kyoto Ryoma Society newsletter.

A keynote lecture and panel discussion will be held. *Please note that this event will be held in Japanese only. No interpretation services will be provided*.

Themes: One hundred and fifty years since the war between the Bakufu government and the Choshu domain, and the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance

Date & Time: October 29th, 2016, 14:00~17:00
Venue: Ryoshinkan building, Doshisha University
Karasuma-Imadegawa, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto (close to Exit 1 of Imadegawa Station on the subway Karasuma Line)

Fees: 2,000 yen for Kyoto Ryoma Society and members,
3,000 yen for non-society members

In cooperation with the Bocho (Yamaguchi Prefecture) Historical Society


2. A Tour of the Kyoto National Museum “Sakamoto Ryoma Exhibition”

In cooperation with the Osaka Ryoma Society

Date & Time: October 30th, 2016, meet at Keihan Nanajo Station at 14:00
Fees: 3,000 yen for non-society members
2,000 yen for Kyoto and Osaka Ryoma Society members

Tour Route: Shichijo Shinchi (former location of Kyoto’s “yuukaku” brothel area), Hoko-ji Temple, site of the former retirement home of Kawaraya Gorobei (where a number of men from Tosa hid in exile), Chishaku-in temple, Myoho-in temple, Kyoto National Museum tour of the Sakamoto Ryoma exhibition led by museum curator, Miyakawa Teiichi (guided talks given in Japanese only).



3. The 23rd Annual Sakamoto Ryoma Lantern Parade Walk

Date & Time: Saturday, 19th November, 2016; meet at the Kamogawa River Sanjo Bridge riverbank area. Applications to join the parade will begin at 15:30. The parade will set off from Sanjo Bridge riverbank at 16:30; please be on time if you wish to join.
Fees: 3,000 yen for non-society members
Free for Kyoto Ryoma Society members


4. Additional Event: Saturday Lecture at the Kyoto National Museum

Museum curator, Miyakawa Teiichi and chairman of the Kyoto Ryoma Society, Akao Hiroaki will talk about “Hayashi Ichiroemon and Sakamoto Ryoma” 

Venue: Lecture theatre of the Heisei Chishinkan Building within the Kyoto National Museum

Date & Time: 26th November, 2016, 1:30pm-3:00pm, seats are available for 200 people.

It is free to hear the talk but a museum entrance fee will be required.
Numbered tickets will be distributed on a first come, first served basis at the ground floor of the Heisei Chishinkan building from 12pm. Come early to ensure your place.

Please check the official website of the Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival for further details (in Japanese only):

2015 Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival


2015 Bakumatsusai Poster

The Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival will be held again this year from September 14th-20th.

There will be a panel display held at ZEST Oike, the underground shopping mall near Oike Station from September 14th-19th.

The main event with stalls and entertainment will be held outside Kyoto City Hall on Saturday, September 19th.

Then on Sunday September 20th from 1pm there will be a talk (in Japanese only) on Bakumatsu History at Doshisha University of which I will again be a participant. I look forward to seeing you there if you can make it!

  • Eleanor

Lecture on Nakai Hiromu at Sokushu-in Temple


On May 20th, 2012, I had the great honour of giving a talk in Japanese about Nakai Hiromu at the temple where he is buried; Sokushu-in, within the Tofuku-ji Temple complex in the south-east of Kyoto city.

About 20 people came to listen to the talk and I received several questions and comments afterward. One of the listeners was kind enough to send me copies of some photographs he took, and he has given me kind permission to post them here.

Speaking about Nakai at Sokushu-in

Preparing to wash the grave

It was an excellent opportunity to give a talk in Japanese. Earlier in the year, I had been given the wonderful opportunity to talk  to fellow members of the Kyoto Ryoma-kai on the subject of Nakai Hiromu. I’m hoping there will be more such opportunities in the future to introduce the important role that Nakai played in Japanese history.

Sokushu-in itself is a beautiful temple. It is not usually open to the general public, except for a brief time each year during the red leaves season. The main complex of Tofuku-ji Temple is well-known for it’s red leaves and receives thousands of visitors each year.

Sokushu-in is the Shimazu clan (Feudal Lords of Satsuma) temple in Kyoto and it has seen many illustrious guests in its time. The great ‘Saigo-don’ (Saigo Takamori, 1828-1877) is known to have been here for secret meetings. Also, there are several monuments commemorating those who were lost in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. The grave of Narahara Kizaemon (1831-1865) (famous for attacking the British merchant, Charles Lennox Richardson, in the Namamugi Incident of 1862) is also here, near to the Nakai/Yokoyama family grave compound.

The grave of Narahara Kizaemon

I enjoyed this opportunity to again wear the kimono given to me for the occasion of my doctoral graduation ceremony. Here in Aichi, unfortunately I don’t see many people wearing kimono, so coming back from Kyoto on the Shinkansen, I probably stuck out like a sore thumb (even more than I do anyway, I mean). Still, it was all good fun!

Thank you to the organizers, and the most attentive audience, at Sokushu-in. I had a lovely day; albeit a very nervous one!

Exceptional Females in Bakumatsu/Meiji Japan?


Curator at the Kyoto National Museum, Miyakawa Teiichi, spoke recently about Chiba Shusaku and his younger brother Chiba Teikichi (Sadakichi?) at a lecture arranged by the Kyoto Ryoma-kai. The two Chiba brothers were both kendo masters and it was at the Chiba dojo run by Teikichi in Edo that Sakamoto Ryoma spent time honing his own kendo skills. Chiba Teikichi’s son Jutaro became very close friends with Ryoma, and Jutaro’s sister, Sana, became Ryoma’s girlfriend, for a time. This was before he met Oryo whom he eventually married. Very little is known about the Chiba kendo school and Miyakawa-sensei is currently following several leads to discover more about it. He is particularly interested in the life of Chiba Sana and the depictions of her in nishiki-e prints and other media. In some of these Sana has been mistaken for a man because she was very competent with a naginata, a wooden pole with a curved blade on the end. Some believe that women like Sana were not very common in her time. Fighting does not seem to have been considered very lady-like, I suppose. In the same way,  Ryoma’s wife, Oryo, is believed to have been an unconventional type of woman. In Meiji period media she was often depicted carrying a western style umbrella with books under her arm. Ryoma had told her she ought to read more, apparently. This line of thought leads me to recall the class I took back in Sheffield about Tsuda Umeko (1864-1929). I learned that at the age of six, Tsuda travelled as the youngest member of the Iwakura Mission to the United States where she received her education. She did not return to Japan until 1882, and had forgotten much of her native language. Later on, she went on to establish the Tsuda College, which is still in existence today.

I have never much been interested in women’s studies or gender studies in particular. I have spent most of my time investigating “samurai dudes”, and that it should be surprising for a woman to do anything other than fit into the narrow-minded stereotype of wife/mother seems fairly irrelevent to me, if only because I don’t fit the stereotype myself and not many of my female friends do either, but that is perhaps the subject of another kind of blog.

My field, especially in Japan perhaps, is dominated by male figures, but I have never questioned, or found need to question that. It was only because the character of Chiba Sana was questioned that the issue of exceptional females in history was brought to my attention. My immediate reaction, however, was to ask whether she really was all that uncommon in her time?

I’ll wait for the next lecture from Miyakawa-sensei to find out more.

Nakai Hiromu and the Iguchi Albums


Again, it has been some time since I wrote last.

I have since updated my “About the Author” page, and if I am honest, lately I have been feeling the pinch of not having more published papers out by now.

My only excuses for not keeping up with this blog are that now I am working full-time as an administrator at Doshisha Business School where a new Global MBA Programme has starting this autumn.  My doctoral thesis is still not complete, and I have  been hit by health troubles.

I am also working on several other projects too. Although, I am beginning to wonder when any of them will be completed! “A woman’s work is never done”, and all that.

Amongst the chaos of everyday life, recently I attended a lecture at Campus Plaza Kyoto hosted by the Kyoto Ryoma-kai. Curator of the Kyoto National Museum and author of Ryoma wo Yomu Tanoshisa (Rinsen Sensho, 2003), Miyakawa Teiichi, gave a talk about the photographs of Sakamoto Ryoma’s wife, Oryo. It was a fascinating lecture. One of these photographs of Oryo in particular  is a relevant artifact for my own research because the photograph album of which it is a part is said to have been put together by none other than the star of my own thesis, Nakai Hiromu.

Unfortunately, there is no direct physical evidence that states the album, which is one of a set of two, was put together by Nakai Hiromu. There is no signature written by Nakai himself, for example. There is not even a photograph of Nakai included in the collection. The only evidence we have is word of mouth.

Collectively these two albums are known as the Iguchi Albums, as they were donated to the museum in Autumn 2000 by Iguchi Shinsuke, a descendant of the same Iguchi Shinsuke who ran a Soy sauce shop in Kawaramachi Street where Sakamoto Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro were assasinated in 1867. When Shinsuke, the younger, donated the albums to the museum, he informed them that they had been given to the Iguchi family by Nakai Hiromu. Iguchi Shinsuke, the elder, had been a good friend of Nakai Hiromu during the Bakumatsu/Meiji years as he had to many of the samurai heroes of the time.

How a soy sauce shop owner became friends with a prefectural governor is an interesting story…

According to the story by Miyakawa-sensei in his book Ryoma wo Yomu Tanoshisa (p.166), Nakai met Iguchi when the former had collapsed from hunger near the Takoyakushi Bridge over the Takasegawa river after having run away from his domain, Satsuma. Iguchi Shinsuke and his wife Sumi took Nakai in, fed him and looked after him until he regained his strength. Then some years later in 1884, Nakai Hiromu became the governor of Shiga prefecture and he called Iguchi to the prefectural office to thank him. Iguchi is said to have wondered what the governor of Shiga would want with him, until of course, he got there and realised who it was.

Another version I could have sworn I’d heard somewhere, but could well have confused it with something else, was that Nakai had collapsed near the bridge in Kiyamachi after a fairly hard night of drinking, and had been taken in by Iguchi. Some days after that Iguchi was called to the Shiga Prefectural government offices where he was surprised to find the governor Nakai wanting to thank him… Personally, I quite like this second story. It paints a picture of a typical scene that might be still seen in Kiyamachi today after a wild weekend of partying! 🙂

Upon the death of Nakai Hiromu, Iguchi Shinsuke was entrusted with several of Nakai’s items, including the two photograph albums. Also in the collection, which was given to the Kyoto National Museum, were a number of scrolls with letters to Nakai from several illustrious Bakumatsu and Meiji period notables as well as a medal given to Nakai by the Meiji government.

Along with the letters housed in the Kyoto National Museum and the Reimeikan Museum in Kagoshima, these two photograph albums give an excellent idea of the sort of connections and famous friends that Nakai had. Although throughout the recording of history thus far Nakai himself has been a background figure, there is evidence enough to show that through these many connections, he was able to make not the smallest amount of influence on the history of his time.

A Stone Marks the Spot


Stone marker

Stone marker

On March 29th 2009, the unveiling ceremony was held for the stone established by the Kyoto Ryoma Club to show where Sakamoto Ryoma’s wife Oryo lived in her days before marrying Ryoma as well as where Nakai Hiromu lived during the end years of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

I attended the ceremony which was led by Akao Hiroaki, head of the Kyoto Ryoma Club and I helped out with the unveiling. Nakamura Takeo, a Geographical Historian who teaches at Kyoto Women’s College gave a brief speech about Oryo to the crowd that had gathered to come and see the event.

I was suddenly also asked to speak a little about Nakai Hiromu, but unfortunately became incredibly tongue-tied and perhaps didn’t make much sense to the listeners; whereupon I was rescued by Miyakawa Teiichi, a curator at the Kyoto National Museum, who also spoke a little about Nakai. I regret not having been better prepared to say something (a lesson for any similar future scenarios!) but I had no idea I would be asked to say something. The day then continued with a mini tour of Kyoto led by Nakamura-sensei who took us round some of the places related to Oryo’s life and times.

Finally, in the evening there was a celebration to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the opening of the Ryoma Bar in Kiyamachi Street, Kyoto; after which we all ‘piled in’ to the Ryoma Bar and lots of karaoke was enjoyed.

My only other regret was not having prepared some handouts about Nakai Hiromu to give to the crowd. What with having to write a doctoral thesis and everything else that is going on I didn’t really have the time to make something up. Nakai Hiromu is still not very well known so I have to get word out as soon as possible. Time is always something I wish I had more of these days.

One of Nakai Hiromu’s descendents is currently in the process of publishing a biography in Japanese about his great ancestor so that will be a big step forward (one I am looking forward to). Once the thesis is out of the way, my plan is to get to work on an English version of a biography.

Nakai Hiromu saved the life of the British ambassador to Japan, Harry Parkes, in March 1868 at the Nawate Incident in Kyoto (when  Parkes was on his way to an audience with the Emperor Meiji) so he is an extremely key figure for the history of Anglo-Japanese relations history.

The “What if?” concept within historical studies has been utilised much in recent years and I for one think it is a very important concept to consider. What if ambassador Harry Parkes, or those that accompanied him: the famous Japanophile and diplomat Ernest Satow, or grandfather of the famous Mitford sisters and later Lord Redesdale, Algernon B. Mitford, had been killed that day? I believe that Anglo-Japanese relations would have developed in a considerably different manner. In what way different? Maybe Robert Cowley will do some more “What If?” books and he’ll let me ‘sling in’ a few of my ideas?