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The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life

My 50 years with Comets

Part 31: Ryoma's fate

     It was in 1929 when Sakamoto Ryoma's huge bronze statue was erected on Katsurahama beach. On the back of the base of the statue was written: "Erected by Kochi Youth Group."Ryoma's way of life from the end of the Shogunate rules to Meiji Restoration has been adored by young people of any times. Ryoma's statue looking in the distance over the eastern ocean from the famous Katsurahama has been exposed to the elements for many decades and required repairs many times. The statue is still popular today with tourists visiting Katsurahama. Why, then, is Ryoma still enjoying popularity?
     In closed Japan near the end of the Shogunate rules, Ryoma had been advocating for a long time the opening of Japanese ports to foreign ships and wishing for exchanges with other countries. He had foresight and thoughts far ahead of his times. He was an important behind-the-scene figure to bring about the return of political power of the Shogunate to the Emperor without war in 1867. A thing like this may be a reason for his popularity. His magnanimous and candid nature is likely to be another reason why many people still love him. I may add that he was a fully accredited swordsman of the famous Hokushin Ittoryu School. This probably adds to his popularity.
     Ryoma was born on November 15, 1835, the day when Halley's Comet was the closest to the earth after passing perihelion. There is a memorial to mark the site of his birthplace, about 3 minutes' walk from my home. The school where he trained for swordsmanship in his youth is not far from there. When you are walking along the streets lined with old traditional houses, you will have an illusion that you hear the sound of practicing sword fights.
     Ryoma was assassinated around 9 o'clock at night on November 15, 1867 by Shogunate supporters. It was on Ryoma's birthday, a striking coincidence. It must have been not the way he wanted to face his death. His servant Fujikichi was killed first at the stairway. Noticing the commotion, but not knowing what was happening, Ryoma shouted, "Quiet!" Since Ryoma and his comrade Nakaoka sitting with him had been targeted by Shogunate supporters, they should have always been fully aware of the danger. And, if the enemies had kicked in the sliding doors and rushed into the room, they might have found Ryoma holding his glinting sword ready to deliver a deadly blow giving them no chance for the first strike. This is the popular image of the master swordsman Ryoma. But the reality is Ryoma was in the middle of a secret talk with Nakaoka with his legs crossed and his sword lying beyond his reach. Where was his favorite dagger? For master swordsmen, both were incredibly defenceless and easily cut down by enemy swords.
     My professional story teller grandfather told me that his grandfather saw Ryoma in streets. It was rumored that Ryoma often did not show up at the time he was supposed to meet and that, after visiting someone, he would urinate at trees in the host's garden and was disliked by the host's wife.
"Nonchalance" seems to have been one of his attributes as other heroic characters tend to show a similar personal trait.
     Ryoma was born in the year when Halley's Comet passed perihelion. Therefore, he didn't see the comet. I told you previously that Ryoma's mother Sachi named her new son "Ryoma (a flying horse climbing like a dragon)" after witnessing magnificent Halley's Comet flying through the sky. It was after Ryoma had turned into a bronze statue erected on Katsurahama beach that he actually "encountered" Halley's Comet in 1986. People often talked about what Ryoma's statue was gazing at. That he was looking toward America beyond the expanse of the ocean was becoming a general consensus. If "the flying horse climbing like a dragon in the clouds" appearing in his mother's dream at the time of his birth was actually Halley's Comet, then his statue must be looking in the direction where Halley's Comet was coming. After all, this comet gave him the name Ryoma. In fact, Halley's Comet appeared in the southeast over the sea after perihelion in 1910, exactly in the direction Ryoma's statue is looking. Ryoma's dreams continue to live on the land, in the ocean, and the universe.

Copyright (C) 2019 Tsutomu Seki.