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):


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!

Updates – rough notes


Sunday, 27th September 2009

I attended another lecture  hosted by the Kyoto Ryoma Club. This time the speaker was Machida Akihiro of Meiji Gakuin University. He spoke about Shimazu Hisamitsu, younger brother to one of the great lords of Satsuma, Shimazu Nariakira, and the father of that lord’s successor, Shimazu Shigehisa.

Although Machida-sensei did not really touch upon the subject in his talk, what interests me about Hisamitsu is his role in the famous Namamugi Incident, or as it is sometimes known, the Richardson Affair, in which the British merchant Richardson was murdered by Satsuma men.  The incident led to the Anglo-Satsuma War, which in turn led to much cooperation between Britain and Satsuma and to the sending of Satsuma students to Britain in 1865 (a subject I have touched upon in a previous post).  The British residents in Yokohama were in uproar over the Namamugi Incident and were initially baying for the swift arrest of Shimazu Hisamitsu, however he managed to get away and was not pursued further. I’d like to delve into this topic further in a future blog; will keep you posted.

Saturday, 10th October 2009

Today was the 115th anniversary of Nakai Hiromu’s death. In the morning I visited his grave at Sokushû-in within the precincts of Tofukuji Temple.

This was the second time for me to visit on the anniversary of his death. Last year I was joined by two Kyoto Ryoma Club members, but this year I went on my own. I washed the grave, placed flowers and lit incense as an offering before paying my respects with a prayer. I felt somewhat guilty about not having my completed my doctoral thesis yet, and could only report that I am STILL working on it. My only excuse is not having the time as I currently work a full-time job now. There was a young priest cleaning up the temple gardens after the recent typhoon. There were leaves and twigs all over the place so he really had his work cut out for him; still he had some time to chat to me briefly. I spoke to the mother of the house too. She told me how Hiromu’s descendent, Nakai Hiroko used to often come and visit the grave all the way from her home at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Nakai Hiroko is one of the ladies who established the Nakai Hiromu statue that now stands in Kyoto’s Maruyama Park in 1964. According to the mother at Sokushû-in, Hiroko is an elderly lady now who can’t really get to visit the grave these days. I gave her a copy of one of my papers and she said she would pass it on to Hiroko-san. The first time I met one of Nakai Hiromu’s descendents, I felt the reality for the first time. Until that point, Hiromu had just been an historical figure from dusty history books. On meeting one of his descendents the realism hit me. I’ll never forget that feeling. Hiromu is somebody’s grandfather, great-grandfather…

Saturday, 17th October 2009

I attended Day One of the Japan Writers Conference (JWC) at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts (DWCLA). It had been my intention to go and listen to Juliet Winters Carpenter speak about the translation project she is now involved in, that of Shiba Ryôtarô’s Saka no ue no Kumo. There are eight books in the series and Prof. Carpenter will be team translating them. She informed us she will be doing three of the books over the next two years!

Whn I lived in Aomori (1999-2002) I bought a copy of her translation of Shiba’s Saigo no Shôgun, or The Last Shogun. It was from this publication that I first learned of Prof. Carpenter. Shiba’s books are well-known as fairly difficult to read and with all the historical references his books must be terribly difficult to translate. As Prof. Carpenter herself said however, Shiba is one of, if not the most influential authors in Japan. Some might even argue that to understand the Japanese mindset it is essential to know Shiba’s work. However, to my knowledge, despite the tremendous amount of works that he has written, only The Last Shogun, translated by Prof Carpenter, The Tatar Whirlwind: A Novel of Seventeenth Century East Asia translated by Joshua A Vogel, and Kukai the Universal: Scenes from His Life, translated by Akiko Takemoto have been translated and published in English. It has always been one of my dreams to translate Ryôma ga Yuku; that too is eight volumes long, so if I am going to do it, I had better get started….

Some recent occurrances


March 25th, 2009, Cloudy and windy.

I got all excited today because I found some photographs of Nakai Hiromu on the Internet that I had not known about previously. The photographs are in the “Izeki collection”, and can be viewed here:

Nakai photos in the Izeki Collection (Photo no. 20, 104, and 105)

Seeing Nakai in Japanese dress (photo no. 20) was nice because he is more usually portrayed in western dress. He is the one in the middle at the back . Also in the picture is Yamaguchi Naoyoshi (1839-1894), a samurai from the domain of Saga who joined the famous Iwakura Mission on a tour around the world. Tanaka Moriaki (1843-?) is second from the left, and he is one of the Satsuma students who travelled secretly to Britain in 1865. Ueno Kagenori (1845-1888) is second on the right. He was a well-known scholar of English from Satsuma and became the Japanese minister for Britain. Finally, on the far-right is Komatsu Tatewaki (1835-1870) the famous samurai from Satsuma who is recently gaining much attention in Japan after the airing of the NHK period drama Atsuhime. Also, the picture of Nakai Hiromu sat next to a women (photo no. 104) was intriguing. She looks very stern; I wonder, who she could be? The description at the bottom tells us the picture was taken in London in Meiji 2 (1869) after he had finished working for the Foreign Department, so it was taken on his second visit to London.  I think however, that he looks his most “dashing” in photo no. 105, again which was taken in London.

March 26th, 2009, glorious Spring weather!

I had a little bit of time in between tasks today so I cycled into Kiyamachi as the weather gave me my first real feeling of Spring of the year. The blossoms have just started to come out a little along Kiyamachi. My reason for going there was to take a photograph of the pre-unveiled stone I mentioned in my last blog entry that informs passers-by that Nakai Hiromu and Sakamoto Ryoma’s wife Oryo lived around that area. Here’s the picture (the stone and plaque are still covered up in white tape waiting for the unveiling on the 29th):

An as yet veiled stone

A still covered stone

Attack on Ryoma at Teradaya


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!

Monument of Satsuma Students


I’m not getting obsessed about statues or anything honestly, but I want to write about the monument for the Satsuma students in Kagoshima today. I’m reading the novel by Hayashi Nozomu called Satsuma Students, Go West! (Kôbunsha, 2007) at the moment and enjoying it immensely. The Kagoshima dialect that comes across in the book was a little difficult for me to grasp at first, but I’m gradually getting used to it. The book is about the adventures of the 19 students who secretly travelled to Britain in 1865; secretly of course, because at the time it was still against the Bakufu government’s laws for any Japanese to leave Japan without government consent. The history has been well covered even in English thanks to the work of Dr. Andrew Cobbing and his publication entitled The Satsuma Students in Britain (Japan Library, 2000).

So, in Kagoshima city there is a monument dedicated to these Satsuma students, which controversially does not include two of the men, Takami Yaichi from Tosa (Kochi prefecture) and Hori Takayuki from Nagasaki because they were not born in Satsuma (Kagoshima). There had been efforts to amend this but unfortunately so far the city of Kagoshima has deemed it too difficult a task to carry out.

Monument of the Satsuma students in Kagoshima City

Monument of the Satsuma students in Kagoshima City

When I originally set out on my studies of Nakai Hiromu I wondered why a statue of Nakai Hiromu had not been included in this monument either. Nakai Hiromu was in Britain when the other Satsuma students were there and indeed, the Satsuma students get frequent mention in Nakai’s travel journal Kôkai Shinsetsu, however, Nakai had not travelled with the Satsuma students. In fact, he had gone to Britain with the support of the Tosa domain and he had gone with the Tosa samurai Yûki Yukiyasu. Nakai had already run away from and abandoned Satsuma several years before at the tender age of 16, so it perhaps makes sense that he would not be included in the Satsuma students’ Monument. Having said that, it amazes me that even now there is still no statue of Nakai Hiromu in his hometown of Kagoshima. When I went to Kagoshima in 2005, I spoke with one of the curators of the Reimeikan Museum and was told that because Nakai ran away from Satsuma he was, to all intent and purpose, considered to be a traitor! It was almost unbelievable for me to hear that. Nakai Hiromu put his life on the line doing his duty for his country when he saved the British ambassador, Harry Parkes, in 1868. He could perhaps be said to be one of the earliest cases of karôshi (death from overwork) because he died of a brain haemorrhage whilst working on several huge projects to help make Japan a “strong and wealthy nation” as Prefectural Governor of Kyoto. It makes no sense at all that he is not more respected in both his hometown of Kagoshima and indeed, in the whole of Japan.

I think the two lads who joined the other Satsuma students, Takami Yaichi and Hori Takayuki, need a place on the Satsuma Students’ Monument, but perhaps more than that, Nakai Hiromu needs a statue in Kagoshima. And, the statue of him in Kyoto needs to be better looked after.