The 49th “Taiga Drama” — the big budget jidai geki period drama put on by Japan’s public broadcasting network NHK every year — has come to an end, culminating in the violent assassination of our hero in the Teradaya inn in Kyoto. Ryoma Sakamoto is one of the most important figures in recent Japanese history, a low-born samurai who happened to be in Edo (present day Tokyo) when Admiral Perry arrived in his famous Black Ships to force Japan to open itself to trade with the United States, and his feeling of shock and powerlessness against the mighty technology of the West mirrored much of Japan during the period. He convinced the rival domains of Tosa and Satsuma to band together against the Tokugawa shogunate, which resulted in the formation of modern government that would “respect the Emperor, and expel the foreign barbarians from Japan” (although once in power they realized they needed Western technology too much to return to the old isolationist policies of the Edo Period). Soon after winning the Abducation of the 15th Tokugawa shogun, Ryoma was assassinated by pro-Tokugawa forces who had lost their livelihoods. Like Date Masamune (who indirectly inspired Darth Vader), Ryoma has become a pop culture icon, appearing in novels, TV shows, anime and video games. A big fan of all things Western, he popularized the wearing of modern boots instead of traditional samurai footwear, and carried a Smith & Wesson six-shooter, as unique a gadget in his day as the iPhone is in ours. The last meal he ate before he was killed has been released in traditional Food Drops form, if you really want to delve into Japanese history….
Ryoma Sakamoto is the George Washington of modern Japan.