Kyoto Time Travel: Ryoma Sakamoto and the Late Edo Patriots
“This is the dawn of Japan.” It is the words of Ryoma Sakamoto, the patriot of Bakumatsu (the end of the Edo Period, 1853~1869) who has many fans even abroad.
Being a hero of the troubled times at the end of the Edo Period, Ryoma Sakamoto worried about Japan, schemed and strove. Born in Tosa Domain (present day Kochi Prefecture, Shikoku), he traveled around Japan, including Edo (Tokyo), Fukui, Nagasaki and Satsuma (Kagoshima). Kyoto is one such place and many traces of the Bakumatsu patriots including Ryoma remain today.
This time I would like to share my experience of visiting historical places associated with Ryoma Sakamoto and other Bakumatsu patriots.
Statue of Kogoro Katsura & Location of Choshu Domain Office
The first place I visited was the statue of Kogoro Katsura, which is located on the premises of Kyoto Hotel Okura. Kogoro Katsura is a patriot from Choshu Domain (present day Yamaguchi Prefecture), and together with Ryoma, they coursed through Kyoto, using their political influence to shape history.
This place is also the location where the Choshu Domain Office once was, but no trace is left today and only a stone monument is built in its place. The statue appears to be gently watching over Kyoto. Map
Traces of Bakumatsu Patriots’ Residences
When I went straight south from the statue of Kogoro Katsura, I found marks here and there that were reminiscent of the patriots’ personal lives, not just political aspect of their lives.
Here is Suya. This is the timber merchant that hid Ryoma and his comrades from enemies, and the business is still operating today, dealing with woodwork. I cannot help getting excited just by imagining how Ryoma was living here dodging his pursuers. Map
When I walked a minute or two from Suya, I came to a location, where a Japanese restaurant used to be. Zuizan Takechi, another patriot, used the restaurant as his temporary living quarter.
Takechi formed Tosa Kinno-to (Tosa Loyalist Party) and many people respected him and called him Takechi-sensei. Ryoma was in the party for a short while, but left it because he disagreed with Takechi’s ideas. It is said that Ryoma ended direct connection between the two after he left Tosa Domain, however two of them were living within such a short distance. They must have felt each other’s presence on and off, even when they did not meet each other. Map
Takechi’s temporary living quarter is located by the Takase River. This is the stage of Ogai Mori’s novel “Takasebune”, and a national historical site. Willow trees are reminiscent of the old days and chic boutiques and cafés line up along the river.
When I went further south along the Takase River, I came to another interesting place once again.
What in the World Is This Place!?
I was instinctively drawn by a bright red door that was set back from the street. A sign said “Ryoma Information Crossroad where You Can Drink”. Apparently it was the office of “Kyoto Ryoma Association”, a non-profit organization. I bet lively discussion on various aspects of Ryoma’s life were unfolding inside.
Any fan of Ryoma should notice the color scheme of red and white. It was as if I were looking at the flag of “Kaientai”, which is the organization that Ryoma founded. Map
And right beside the office of the Kyoto Ryoma Association, there was a stone monument indicating that Ryoma’s wife, “Oryo”, was living here before she was married.
I have introduced this time the places that related to Ryoma, the statue of Kogoro Katsura, Suya timber merchant, the place Zuizan Takechi lived a while, and the place Ryoma’s wife lived when she was single (the office of Kyoto Ryoma Association). When you look at a map, these places all fit within a radius of 450m, thus they are all neighbors.
Japan was in unstable and turbulent times back then, and perhaps people were not in the mood to enjoy leisurely relationship with neighbors. However, I like looking back on history and enjoy it from such an angle, too.