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
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
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.