Saturday, March 31, 2007

Shitamachi Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo

by Shawn Thir

I wouldn't call it a getaway but I spent a day
wandering around Tokyo.

I hit Ueno and the Shitamachi area.
Ueno Park is really nothing to look at but, boy, the
line up for the zoo was incredible! You'd think
Japanese had never seen animals before.

I recommend
going to the Shitamachi Museum in Ueno Park. The museum
is a replica of a typical Shitamachi neighbourhood
and you are encouraged to take your shoes off, wander
around inside and handle any of the articles/utensiles.
It was great peek at some local history. The museum
also has bilingual pamphlets explaining the exhibit so
there's no need to worry about the language

"The small Shitamachi Museum is located on the edges of the Shinobazu Pond and is fun to visit for both adults and children. Shitamachi was the traditional downtown area of Tokyo but disappeared fast after the rebuilding of Tokyo following the end of the Second World War. In an attempt to preserve some of the spirit of the bygone era, this small museum was created by the people of Taito Ward, in which Ueno is located."

* Address:
2-1 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 110-0007
* Phone: +81 (0)3 3823 7451
* Website:

Near Ueno Station on the Yamanote Line.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Winning the geopolitical game?

Pictured: The boardgame, "Pacific War," by Victory Games


Like many Westerners, I suspect, I was surprised to read in Hisahiko
Okazaki's Feb. 24 column, "Telling the truth at Yasukuni," that "It is
a historical fact Roosevelt induced Japan to carry out a first strike"
against Pearl Harbor. I first dismissed this as historical revisionism
along with the recent denials of wartime atrocities in China and
Korea, but Okazaki's piece inspired me to research this further.

I now concede that there would indeed seem to be a very strong case
that the U.S. government did all it could to induce an attack, in
order to bring the United States into the war. Furthermore there is a
strong argument that the commanders at Pearl Harbor were deliberately
kept in the dark.

This prompts a further question: How far is a government prepared to
go in terms of sacrificing its own people in order to win the
long-term, geopolitical game?

Originally published in The Japan Times.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Big Sized Shoes

Where can I buy big sized shoes? I take size 13!

Yesterday when I was taking the train up to
Tokyo there was an ad for a store that specializes in large size shoes (28—35/5E to 7E). Their closest branch is in Kawasaki. Here’s their website: Check it out!

--from one of our Japan Living members

Friday, March 16, 2007

On the Modern Media in Japan and America

Pictured: Zentokuji Temple, courtesy of the Fuji Film staff

by Kevin Burns

One function of the modern media is to ask questions and bring to account. This of course acts as a counter-balance to overly ambitious
politicians and those who are corrupt. This kind of media is rare in Japan with its` entrenched press club system, and has gone AWOL in America since 9/11.

We now see politicians acting in ways that transgress how the electorate feels. One example was Koizumi`s action of sending the troops to Iraq
despite protest. And his quip that "...sometimes politicians know best," in response to an opinion poll which clearly showed that the vast majority of Japanese were against sending the troops to Iraq.

If the modern media refuses to ask the questions and does not bring the power brokers to account when necessary, the society we live in starts to look startlingly like fascism.

There are many questions that I would like to ask. For Japanese politicians what
proof do you have that the atrocities like the Nanking massacre did not occur?
What about unit 731? Can you prove it did not exist and did not propogate horrible
experiments on the Chinese people and other nationals. There are many more questions.

For the American government I have many questions about 9/11: Why haven`t you released the video of the Boeing 757 hitting the Pentagon? What are the reasons why
this has not been released to the press? Who sold short the shares of the airlines
that supposedly hit the World Trade Center? Where is the wreckage of those planes?
There are many more.

I just cannot understand the media in America these days and their refusal to ask
these and many more questions that have a bearing on all the many young people who
are now loosing life and limb in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you cannot understand this either, I urge you to ask your media to start doing their job, and ask the appropriate questions. Before it is too late.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why Japan Must Keep Apologizing

"...How many more anniversaries of August 15 must pass before Japanese participation is taken for granted in commemorative events at Nanjing, Seoul, Pyongyang, Singapore? Only when it comes to share a common understanding of the past will Japan be able to play a full role, with its neighbours, in building the future of Asia..."

--Gavan McCormick

Tell and Sell Japan -- The Buy & Sell of this Island Nation

Tell and Sell, Japan is for foreigners living in Japan who want to
sell, buy, trade or give away new or gently used merchandise and other
personal items such as:
-Brand new items ordered from overseas, but the size/style/colour was
-Quality clothes for special occasions you have worn only once or
twice, a formal dress, suit, etc.
-Maternity clothes, or outgrown babies' or children's clothes
-Unwanted gift items, unused cosmetics, etc.

So ladies and gents, this is the ideal time to start clearing out your
closets! TELL everyone what you have, then SELL it!

Please see our website for details about participation in this group.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What Really Happened? Pearl Harbor

Pictured: Nara Pagoda, courtesy of Fuji Film staff

by Brent Sutherland

"The first step was to place oil and steel embargoes on Japan, using
Japan's wars on the Asian mainland as a reason. This forced Japan to
consider seizing the oil and mineral rich regions in Indonesia. With
the European powers militarily exhausted by the war in Europe, the
United States was the only power in the Pacific able to stop Japan
from invading the Dutch East Indies, and by moving the Pacific fleet
from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Roosevelt made a pre-emptive
strike on that fleet the mandatory first step in any Japanese plan to
extend it's empire into the "southern resource area."


The more I think about this whole "FDR had specific
foreknowledge of an attack at Pearl Harbor" theory the
more I think it doesn't stand up to reason and logic.
Here's why, in no particular order:

1. FDR's wanted war with Germany, not Japan. There was
no way he could know in advance that Japan's
declaration of war would cause Germany to declare war
on the US. The Tripartite Pact only required that it's
members respond to an attack on another member. Hitler
could quite reasonably say that Japan had attacked the
US first, therefore he was under no obligation to
declare war on the US. That's precisely the reason
Japan did not feel obligated to declare war on the
Soviet Union and UK when Hitler did. Given the way
Hitler had betrayed Stalin, no one could predict
exactly how he would respond to a Japanese attack on
the US.

2. It just wouldn't be possible for FDR to micromanage
naval operations at Pearl Harbour from the White House
in order to create an enticing target. The president
just does not make the decisions concerning which
vessels are in port on any given day, or how aircraft
are parked, etc.

3. The decision to declare war on the US had already
been made by the Japanese cabinet. The Pearl Harbor
attack was just the military expression of the
cabinet's intention to commence hostilities. The idea
that Japan declared war on the US just because Pearl
Harbour was a juicy target does not make sense. There
were larger issues such as the oil embargo that had
nothing to do with the inadequacies of day to day
operations at Pearl.

4. An attack at such long range by carrier was totally
unprecedented. That it was outside the imagination of
USN planners only proves that they didn't have very
broad imaginations.

5. If the USN had of engaged Nagumo's fleet at sea,
the war would have commenced in any case. FDR and the
USN would have looked very good, instead of
incompetent and the declaration of war still would
have been delivered in Washington. I'm pretty sure a
JIN fleet sneaking up on Hawaii would be a good enough
reason for war to suit the average American at the
time in any case.

6. Buy the fall of 1941 isolationist sentiment was
ebbing in the US. The USN had already depth-charged
U-boats in the Atlantic and lend-lease was in full
swing. Therefore US entry into the war in Europe was
already becoming inevitable, regardless of events in
the Pacific.

7. There was no way FDR could be assured of winning a
war with Japan. The idea that FDR would intentionally
seek a two-ocean war does not make sense. In fact, the
momentum in the Pacific war did not shift in favour of
US/Commonwealth forces until the battle of Midway in
June 1942.

8. What if USN patrols or merchant vessels had of
spotted the Nagumo fleet by chance? Did FDR have a
plan where Nagumo would be advised that his cover was
not blown despite, say..that Catalina that flew past?
After all, the Japanese were surprised at just how
lucky they got in avoiding detection. Was every
American fishing boat, etc. operating out of Hawaii in
on the whole scheme?

9. There was no way FDR could have known that the
Strike South faction had won out over the Strike North
faction back in Tokyo. Richard Sorge was well aware of
the situation, but it's very unlikely that Stalin
would have passed on Sorge's intel to the US.

10. A total catastrophe is very bad way to start a war
no matter how much said war is desired. The notion
that the loss of a vessel such as the USS Arizona
could be written just because she was "old" is absurd.
She was 25 years old at the time of her sinking. She
had her systems upgraded over the years and in fact
was undergoing radar installation at the time she was
sunk. The present USS Nimitz is now 32 years old, but
I doubt the USN brush off her loss. FDR was an
intelligent man of good character, so planning to have
the JIN sink a few battleships at Pearl just wouldn't
be his style.

"Roosevelt boxed in Japan just as completely as Crassus had boxed in
Spartacus. Japan needed oil. They had to invade Indonesia to get it,
and to do that they first had to remove the threat of the American
fleet at Pearl Harbor. There never really was any other course open to

This was originally published as a post at our Japan Living Forum.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Japanese Cooking

by Jonathon Hardcastle

Do you love Japanese food? The funny thing about Japanese food is that you either love it or you hate it. There is no in-between. And chances are, if you hate it, you probably haven’t really tasted Japanese food yet or haven’t given yourself a chance to sample it enough. Japanese food is hard to appreciate after only one bite. And sometimes, the idea that you are tasting raw food just won’t escape your mind that you are already predisposed to hating Japanese food even before you actually taste it.

Personally, I love Japanese food. There really is no other cuisine like it in the world in terms of its unique taste and presentation. Who would believe that something so raw could be so delicious? For those of you who have not yet discovered the pleasures of Japanese food, allow me to present the following primer.

The standard Japanese meal always involves a bowl of white rice as well as soup and side dishes such as pickles, vegetables, meat and fish. Japanese food is classified by the number of viands or “okazu” that are served with the rice, soup and side dishes. A meal with one okazu is called ichiju-issai and a prime example of this is the traditional Japanese breakfast which consists of miso soup, rice, grilled fish and one pickled vegetable.

The regular Japanese meal usually involves three okazu to go along with the soup, rice and pickles. Traditionally, each of these three okazu are cooked in a different way from the others. They can either be served raw or grilled, simmered, steamed or deep fried.

Another hallmark of Japanese food is seafood, which is the most popular and most widely consumed food in Japan. The most popular dishes include all types of fish as well as shellfish, squid and octopus. Crab is another favorite delicacy and so are whale and seaweed. Despite the fact that Japanese are not heavy meat eaters, you will hardly find any vegetarians among them either probably owing to their deep fashion for seafood. Beef and chicken are also popular among the Japanese.

About The Author
Jonathon Hardcastle writes articles for - In addition, Jonathon also writes articles for and

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sakamoto Ryoma: The Indispensable "Nobody"

Sakamoto Ryoma, one of the most beloved men in Japanese history, was a key player in the overthrow ofthe Tokugawa Shogunate in 1867.(key words and phrases)Japanese historysamuraisamurai historySakamoto RyomaRyomaMeiji RestorationTokugawa ShogunateshogunshogunatebakufuTokugawaJapanese military historymilitary historyhistorybushidokendoJapanese sword

Sakamoto Ryoma

The Indispensable "Nobody"

by Romulus Hillsborough

In June 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy led a squadron of four heavily armedwarships into Sagami Bay, to the Port of Uraga, just south of the shogun's capital at Edo. What the Americans found was a technologically backward, though intricately complicated, island nation, under therule of the House of Tokugawa, that had been isolated from the rest of the world for two and a half centuries.

Whether or not the Americans realized the far-reaching effects of their gunboat diplomacy, they now set into motion a coup de theatre which fifteen years hence would transform the conglomerate of some 260feudal domains into a single, unified country. When the fifteenth and last shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa, abdicated his rule and restored the emperor to his ancient seat of power in November 1867, Japan waswell on its way to becoming an industrialized nation, rapidly modernizing and Westernizing in a unique Japanese sense.

Quite a transformation in just fifteen years, and much of the credit goes to a lower ranking samurai fromthe Tosa domain named Sakamoto Ryoma. When Ryoma fled his native Tosa in spring 1862, he was a"nobody." Although he was a renowned swordsman who had served as head of an elite fencing academyin Edo, and was also a leader of the young samurai in Tosa who advocated the radical slogans Expelling the Barbarians, Imperial Reverence and Toppling the Shogunate, in the eyes of the power that were hewas a "nobody." He had never held an official post, and he never would. When in the following Octoberthe "nobody" met Katsu Kaishu, the enlightened commissioners of the shogun's navy, it might have beenwith intent to assassinate him. But, of course, Ryoma did not kill Kaishu. Instead, this champion of samurai who would overthrow the shogunate and expel the barbarians became the devoted follower of the eliteshogunal official. Kaishu opened Ryoma's eyes to the futility of trying to defend against a foreign onslaught without first developing a powerful navy; and to this end Japan desperately needed Western technology and expertise. Ryoma now worked with Kaishu, whom he called "the greatest man in Japan,"to establish a naval academy in Kobe, where he and his comrades studied the naval arts and sciences under their revered mentor. But certain of his hotheaded comrades called Ryoma a turncoat for siding withthe enemy, which, of course, was not true. As if to belie the false accusation, in the following June Ryoma vowed, in a letter to his sister, to "clean up Japan once and for all." What he was talking about was overthrowing the military government, which Kaishu loyally served. Earlier in the same month, ships of the United States and France had shelled the radical Choshu domain in retaliation for Choshu's havingrecently fired upon foreign ships passing through Shimonoseki Strait. News of the attack deeply troubled Ryoma, who was concerned about possible designs among the Western powers, particularly France and England, to colonize Japan as the latter had China. When Ryoma learned that the foreign ships that had bombarded Choshu were subsequently repaired at a Tokugawa shipyard in Edo, he was fighting mad. "It is really too bad that Choshu started a war last month by shelling foreign ships," he wrote his sister. "This does not benefit Japan at all. But what really disgusts me is that the ships they shot up in Choshu arebeing repaired at Edo, and when they're fixed will head right back to Choshu to fight again. This is all because corrupt officials in Edo are in league with the barbarians." But, now, through the good offices ofKatsu Kaishu, Ryoma too was in league with some very powerful men. "Although those corrupt shogunalofficials have a great deal of power now, I'm going to get the help of two or three daimyo and enlist likeminded men so we can start thinking more about the good of Japan, and not only the Imperial Court.Then, I'll get together with my friends in Edo (you know, Tokugawa retainers, daimyo and so on) to goafter those wicked officials and cut them down."

Ryoma was not opposed to boasting, and he had a big ego, declaring to his sister: "It's a shame that there aren't more men like me around the country." For all his boasting, however, Ryoma was also a realist. "Idon't expect that I'll be around too long. But I'm not about to die like any average person either. I'm onlyprepared to die when big changes finally come, when even if I continue to live I will no longer be of anyuse to the country. But since I'm fairly shifty, I'm not likely to die so easily. But seriously, although I wasborn a mere potato digger in Tosa, a nobody, I'm destined to bring about great changes in the nation. But I'm definitely not going to get puffed up about it. Quite the contrary! I'm going to keep my nose to theground, like a clam in the mud. So don't worry about me!"

It seems that Ryoma was also an incredible visionary who foresaw his own destination. Four years later the "nobody" from Tosa forced the peaceful abdication of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, and the restoration of the emperor to power - the event that historians call the Meiji Restoration.

But how could Ryoma - who had plunged from the status of "nobody," to that of outlaw, and one of the most wanted men on a long list of Tokugawa enemies - be of sufficient consequence to force the abdication of the generalissimo of the 267-year-old samurai government? And what were his reasons fordoing so, even at the risk of his own life? To answer the second question first, and to put it quite simply,Ryoma was a lover of freedom - the freedom to act, the freedom to think, and the freedom to be. Thesewere the ideals that drove Ryoma on his dangerous quest for freedom - which, of course, was nothing less than the salvation of Japan. But the greatest obstacle to this freedom, and to the salvation of Japan from foreign subjugation, was the antiquated Tokugawa system, with its hundreds of feudal domains andsuppressive class structure, which men like Katsu Kaishu and Sakamoto Ryoma meant to replace with arepresentative form of government styled after the great Western powers, and based on a free-classsociety and open commerce with the rest of the world.

While Ryoma was painfully aware of the necessity to eliminate the shogunate, the means for revolution eluded him. Having abandoned Tosa, he was a ronin, an outlaw samurai - a status which at once aided and confounded him. Unlike his comrades-in-arms from Choshu, Satsuma and other samurai clans, hewas not bound to the service of feudal lord and clan. On the other hand he did not enjoy the financial support and protection of a powerful feudal domain. After much trial and tribulation, and as his first giant step toward realizing his great objective, Ryoma devised a preposterous plan of convincing Satsuma and Choshu to join forces with one another as the only means to topple the shogunate. But Satsuma andChoshu were bitter enemies whose hate for one another surpassed even that hate which they had historically harbored toward the Tokugawa. What's more, the braggart Ryoma had a reputation for exaggerating. When he told his friends of his plan, some initially dismissed it as so much "hot air," while others simply thought he was crazy. But in addition to many other talents, Ryoma, a truly Renaissance man, was endowed with an uncanny power of persuasion. After a year of planning and negotiation, inJanuary 1866, Ryoma, now an indispensable "nobody," successfully brokered a military alliance betweenSatsuma and Choshu, which more than anything else hastened the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Although the shogunate had not yet learned of the secret alliance, Tokugawa police agents strongly suspected that Ryoma was up to no good. On the night after the alliance was sealed in Kyoto, Ryoma was ambushed by a Tokugawa police squad, as he and a samurai of Choshu, who had been assigned asRyoma's bodyguard, celebrated their great success in a second-story room at Ryoma's favorite inn, theTeradaya, on the outskirts of the Imperial capital. A young maid servant at the inn, named Oryo, had been soaking in a hot bath when she heard the assailants break into the house. Oryo immediately ran from thebathroom stark naked up the dark staircase to warn the two men upstairs. The scene is a very famous one, as is the ensuing battle, during which Ryoma wielded a Smith & Wesson revolver, his bodyguard alethal spear, to fend off their assailants and escape through the backdoor. Equally famous is the wedding between Ryoma and Oryo, which took place soon after, and their subsequent trip to the hot-spring baths in the Kirishima mountains of Satsuma, which was supposedly the first honeymoon in Japan.

In spring 1867, Ryoma established his Kaientai, Japan's first modern corporation and the precursor to the Mitsubishi. Based in the international port-city of Nagasaki, the Kaientai was a private navy and shippingfirm through which Ryoma and his men ran guns for the Choshu and Satsuma revolutionaries.

In the previous June, Ryoma had commanded a warship in a sea-battle off Shimonoseki, in which heaided Choshu's Extraordinary Corps, Japan's first modern militia, comprising both samurai and peasants,in a rout of Tokugawa naval forces. While Ryoma's anti-Tokugawa comrades from Satsuma and Choshuprepared to crush the shogunate by military might, the "nobody" from Tosa devised a plan to avoid bloodycivil war and foreign intervention. Ryoma's "Great Plan at Sea," an eight-point plan which he wrote aboardship, called for the shogun to return the reins of government to the Imperial Court; for the establishment of Upper and Lower Houses of government; for all government measures to be based on public opinion, anddecided by councilors comprised of the most able feudal lords, court nobles and the Japanese people atlarge. Rather than merely saying that Ryoma was once again "blowing hot air," or that he was "crazy,"there were now some among his comrades who felt betrayed. These men advocated complete annihilation of the shogunate to assure it would never rise again, and felt that Ryoma was a traitor. But Ryoma convinced one of his more level-headed friends, Goto Shojiro, who was a close aide to Yamanouchi Yodo, the influential Lord of Tosa, to urge Yodo to endorse the plan. Meanwhile, Ryoma continued to run guns for the revolutionaries, because he knew that the only way to convince the shogunto abdicate would be to demonstrate that his only alternative was military annihilation, which, of course, was no alternative at all. Lord Yodo took Goto's advice and sent Ryoma's plan to the shogun, as if it werehis own brainchild. Eleven days later, on October 14, 1867, in the Grand Hall of Nijo Castle in Kyoto, asSatsuma and Choshu hastened their final war plans, the shogun announced his abdication before his adversaries had the chance to strike.

With the overthrow of the corrupt and decrepit Tokugawa regime, the "nobody" from Tosa had made goodon his vow to "clean up Japan" - although, unfortunately for his country, he would pay for it with his life. Sakamoto Ryoma was assassinated one month later, on November 15, his thirty-second birthday, in the second-story room in the house of a wealthy soy dealer in Kyoto which he used as a hideout.

Equally unfortunate for Ryoma's country was that cleaning up Japan "once and for all" proved to be too long a period of time, even for a genius like Ryoma. This is why, amidst the rampant corruption in Japanese business circles today, many people in Japan have expressed their wish that a leader of Ryoma's caliber would somehow miraculously emerge. A couple years ago executives of 200 Japanese corporations were asked by Asahi Shimbun, an national daily newspaper, the question: "Who from the past millennium of world history would be most useful in overcoming Japan's current financial crisis?" Sakamoto Ryoma received more mention than any other historical figure, topping such giants as Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, Saigo Takamori, Oda Nobunaga and the founders of NEC and Honda. Evidently many Japanese people today think their country needs a good scrubbing once again.

Copyright(c)2002 Romulus Hillsborough

Romulus Hillsborough is the author of RYOMA - Life of a Renaissance Samurai (Ridgeback Press, 1999)and Samurai Sketches: From the Bloody Final Years of the Shogun (Ridgeback Press, 2001) RYOMA isthe only biographical novel of Sakamoto Ryoma in the English language. Samurai Sketches is a collectionof historical sketches, never before presented in English, depicting men and events during therevolutionary years of mid-19th century Japan. Reviews and more information about these books areavailable at

Katsu Kaishu: The Man Who Saved Early Modern Japan

Pictured: A bridge in Hakone, Kanagawa

by Romulus Hillsborough

Katsu Kaishu ‹consummate samurai, streetwise denizen of Downtown Edo, founder of the Japanese navy, statesman par excellence and always the outsider, historian and prolific writer, faithful retainer of the Tokugawa Shogun and mentor of men who would overthrowhim ­ was among the most remarkable of the numerous heroes of the Meiji Restoration.

Kaishu¹s protégé was Sakamoto Ryoma, a key player in the overthrow of the TokugawaShogunate. Surely Ryoma would agree that he owes his historical greatness to Kaishu,whom Ryoma considered ³the greatest man in Japan.² Ryoma was an outlaw and leader of a band of young rebels. Kaishu was the commissioner of the shogun¹s navy, who took the young rebels under his wing at his private naval academy in Kobe, teaching them the navalsciences and maritime skills required to build a modern navy. Kaishu also imparted to Ryoma his extensive knowledge of the Western world, including American democracy, the Bill of Rights, and the workings of the joint stock corporation. Kaishu was one of the most enlightened men of his time, not only in Japan but in theworld. The American educator E. Warren Clark, a great admirer of Kaishu who knew him personally, called Kaishu ³the Bismark of Japan,² for his role in unifying the Japanesenation in the dangerous aftermath of the fall of the Tokugawa. Like Ryoma, Kaishu was an adept swordsman who never drew his blade on an adversary, despite numerous attemptson his life. Indeed the two men lived in dangerous times. ³I¹ve been shot at by an enemyabout twenty times in all,² Kaishu once said. ³I have one scar on my leg, one on my head,and two on my side.² Kaishu¹s defiance of death sprung from his reverence for life. ³Idespise killing, and have never killed a man. I used to keep [my sword] tied so tightly to thescabbard, that I couldn¹t draw the blade even if I wanted to.² Katsu Kaishu, who would become the most powerful man in the Tokugawa Shogunate,was born in Edo in January 1823, the only son of an impoverished petty samurai. The Tokugawa had ruled Japan peacefully for over two centuries. To ensure their supremacyover some 260 feudal domains, the Tokugawa had strictly enforced a policy of nationalisolation since 1635. But the end of the halcyon era was fast approaching, as the social,political and economic structures of the outside world were undergoing major changes. The nineteenth century heralded the age of European and North American capitalism, and with it rapid developments in science, industry and technology. The development of the steamship in the early part of the century served the expansionist purposes of the Western powers. Colonization of Asian countries by European powers surged. In 1818 Great Britainsubjugated much of India. Through the Treaty of Nanking, which ended the first Opium War in 1842, the British acquired Hong Kong. The Western encroachment reached Japanin 1853,when Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy led a squadron ofheavily armed warships into the bay off the shogun¹s capital, forcing an end to Japaneseisolation and inciting fifteen years of bloody turmoil across the island nation.Until Perry¹s arrival, pursuers of foreign knowledge existed outside the mainstream of Japanese society. Kaishu was an outsider, both by nature and circumstance. But when hissword master urged him to discontinue fencing to devote himself to the study of Dutch,with the objective to learn Western military science, the young outsider balked. That it wasfrowned upon for a direct retainer of the shogun to study Dutch had little, if any, impact onKaishu. He was innately inquisitive of things strange to him. He was also filled with a burgeoning self-confidence. But the idea of learning a foreign language seemed to him preposterous. He had never been exposed to foreign culture, except Chinese literature. It wasn¹t until age eighteen that he first saw a map of the world. ³I was wonderstruck,² herecalled decades later, adding that he had now determined to travel the globe. Kaishu¹s wonderment was perfectly natural. His entire world still consisted of a small,isolated island nation. But his determination to travel abroad was strengthened by his discovery of strange script engraved on the barrel of a cannon in the compounds of Edo Castle. The cannon had been presented to Edo by the Netherlands, and Kaishu correctly surmised that the engraving was in Dutch. Thus far he had only heard about ³those foreigners, the Dutch,² who lived in a small, confined community in the distant Nagasaki.³Those foreigners² had occasionally fluttered through his mind as mere phantasm, the stuff of youthful imagination. But now, for the first time, he saw in his mind¹s eye, howevervaguely, the people who had manufactured the cannon, and who had engraved in their own language the inscription upon its barrel. Those undecipherable letters of the alphabet,written horizontally rather than vertically, served as cold evidence of the actual existence ofpeople who communicated in a language completely different from his own, but who until now had only existed as so much hearsay. Since these foreigners were human beings likehimself, why shouldn¹t he be able to learn their language? And once he had learned theirlanguage, he would be able to read their books, learn how to manufacture and operate their cannon and realize his aspiration to travel the world.

In the face of Perry¹s demands, the shogunate conducted a national survey, calling forsolutions to the foreign threat. The shogunate received hundreds of responses, themajority of which, broadly speaking, represented either of two conflicting viewpoints. Onone side were those who proposed opening the country to foreigners. Their opponentsadvocated preserving the centuries-old policy of exclusionism. But neither side offered aconstructive means for realizing their proposals. In contrast, the memorial submitted by one unknown samurai was clear, brilliant, progressive, and included concrete advice for the future of Japan. In his memorial Kaishu pointed out that Perry had been able to enter Edo Bay unimpeded only because Japan did not have a navy to defend itself. He urged theshogunate to recruit men for a navy. He dared to propose that the military government break age-old tradition and go beyond birthright to recruit men of ability, rather than the sons of the social elite ‹ and certainly there was nobody in all of Edo more poignantlyaware of this necessity than this impoverished, brilliant young man from the lower echelons of samurai society. Kaishu advised that the shogunate lift its ban on the construction ofwarships needed for national defense; that it manufacture Western-style cannon and rifles; that it reform the military according to modern Western standards, and establish militaryacademies. Pointing out the great technological advances being achieved in Europe and the Untied States, Kaishu challenged the narrow-minded traditionalists who opposed the adoption of Western military technology and systems. Within the first few years after the arrival of Perry, all of Kaishu¹s proposals were adopted by the shogunate. In January 1855, Kaishu was recruited into government service. InJapanese chronology this corresponded to the second year of the Era of Stable Government, to which purpose Kaishu dedicated the remaining forty-four years of his life. In September, Kaishu sailed to Nagasaki, as one of a select group of thirty-sevenTokugawa retainers to study at the new Nagasaki Naval Academy, where he remained fortwo and a half years.In January 1860 Katsu Kaishu commanded the famed Kanrin Maru, a tiny triple-masted schooner, on the first authorized overseas voyage in the history of the TokugawaShogunate. Captain Katsu and Company were bound for San Francisco. They preceded the Japanese delegation dispatched to Washington aboard the U.S. steam frigatePowhattan to ratify Japan¹s first commercial treaty. After the arrival of the Powhattan, they would return to Japan to report the safe arrival of the delegation. But more significantly for Captain Katsu and Company was the opportunity to demonstrate the maritime skills theyhad acquired under their Dutch instructors at Nagasaki, ³for,² as Kaishu emphasized, ³theglory of the Japanese Navy.²Kaishu remained in San Francisco for nearly two months, observing American society,culture and technology. He contrasted American society to that of feudal Japan, where a person was born into one of four castes ­ warrior, peasant, artisan, merchant ­ and, for the most part, remained in that caste for life. Of particular interest to Kaishu, who was determined to modernize and indeed democratize his own nation, were certain aspects of American democracy. ³There is no distinction between soldier, peasant, artisan or merchant. Any man can be engaged in commerce,² he observed. ³Even a high-ranking officer is free to set up business once he resigns or retires. ²Generally, the samurai, who received a stipend from their feudal lord, looked down upon the men of the merchant class, and considered business for monetary profit a base occupation. ³Usually people walking through town do not wear swords, regardless of whether they are soldiers, merchants or government officials,² while in Japan it was a samurai¹s strict obligation to be armed at all times. Kaishu also observed the peculiar relationship between men and women in American society. ³A man accompanied by his wife will always hold her hand as he walks.² The immense cultural and social gaps notwithstanding, Kaishu, the outsider among his countrymen, was pleased with the Americans. ³I had not expected the Americans to express such delight at our arrival to San Francisco, nor for all the people of the city, from the government officials on down, to make such great efforts to treat us so well.²In 1862, Kaishu was appointed vice-commissioner of the Tokugawa Navy. He establishedhis naval academy in Kobe in 1863, with the help of his right-hand man, Sakamoto Ryoma.The following year Kaishu was promoted to the post of navy commissioner, and receivedthe honorary title Awa-no-Kami, Protector of the Province of Awa. In October 1864, Kaishu,who had thus far enjoyed the ear of the shogun, was recalled to Edo, dismissed from hispost and placed under house arrest for harboring known enemies of the Tokugawa. Hisnaval academy was closed down, and his generous stipend reduced to a bare minimum. In 1866 the shogun¹s forces suffered a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the revolutionary Choshu Army. Kaishu was subsequently reinstated to his former post by Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Head of the House of Tokugawa, who in the following December would become the fifteenth and last Tokugawa Shogun. Lord Yoshinobu did not like Kaishu, just as Kaishu did not like Lord Yoshinobu. Kaishu was a maverick within the government, who had broken age-old tradition and even law by imparting his expertise toenemies of the shogunate; who openly criticized his less talented colleagues at Edo fortheir inability, if not blind refusal, to realize that the years, and perhaps even days, ofTokugawa rule were numbered; who in the Grand Hall at Edo Castle had bravedpunishment and even death by advising then-Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi to abdicate; andwho was now recalled to service because Yoshinobu and his aides knew that Kaishu was the only man in all of Edo who wielded both the respect and trust of the revolutionaries. In August 1866, Navy Commissioner Katsu Kaishu was dispatched to Miyajima ­ Island ofthe Shrine ­ in the domain of Hiroshima to meet representatives of Choshu. Before departing he told Lord Yoshinobu, ³I¹ll have things settled with the Choshu men within one month. If I¹m not back by then, you can assume that they¹ve cut off my head.² Kaishu was aware of the grave danger to his life as an emissary of the Tokugawa, but nevertheless traveled alone, without a single bodyguard. Shortly after successfully negotiating a peace with Choshu, the outsider resigned his post, due to irreconcilable differences with thepowers that were, and returned to his home in Edo.In October 1867, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu announced his abdication and therestoration of power to the emperor. But diehard oppositionists within the Tokugawa campwere determined to fight the forces of the new imperial government. The leaders of the newimperial government were equally determined to annihilate the remnants of the Tokugawa,to ensure that it would never rise again. Civil war broke out near Kyoto in January 1868.Although the imperial forces, led by Saigo Kichinosuke of Satsuma, were greatly outnumbered, they routed the army of the former shogun in just three days. The newgovernment¹s leaders now demanded that Yoshinobu commit ritual suicide, and set March 15 as the date fifty thousand imperial troops would lay siege to Edo Castle, and, in sodoing, subject the entire city to the flames of war.The services of Katsu Kaishu were once again indispensable to the Tokugawa. Kaishu desperately wanted to avoid a civil war, which he feared would incite foreign agression. Buthe was nevertheless bound by his duty as a direct retainer of the Tokugawa to serve in thebest interest of his liege lord, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. In March 1868, with a formidable fleet of twelve warships at his disposal, this son of a petty samurai was the most powerful manin Edo. And as head of the Tokugawa army, he was determined to burn Edo Castle rather than relinquish it in battle, and to wage a bloody civil war against Saigo¹s forces. When Kaishu was informed of the imperial government¹s plans for imminent attack, he immediately sent a letter to Saigo. In this letter Kaishu wrote that the retainers of the Tokugawa were an inseparable part of the new Japanese nation. Instead of fighting withone another, those of the new government and the old must cooperate in order to deal withthe very real threat of the foreign powers, whose legations in Japan anxiously watched thegreat revolution which had consumed the Japanese nation for these past fifteen years.Saigo replied with a set of conditions, including the peaceful surrender of Edo Castle,which must be met if the House of Tokugawa was to be allowed to survive, Yoshinobu¹s lifespared, and war avoided. At an historic meeting with Saigo on March 14, one day beforethe planned attack, Kaishu accepted Saigo¹s conditions, and went down in history as theman who not only saved the lives and property of Edo¹s one million inhabitants, but alsothe entire Japanese nation.

Copyright©2002 Romulus HillsboroughThis article originally appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Tokyo Journal.

(Romulus Hillsborough is the author of RYOMA - Life of a Renaissance Samurai (Ridgeback Press, 1999) and Samurai Sketches: From the Bloody Final Years of the Shogun (Ridgeback Press, 2001). RYOMA is the only biographical novel ofSakamoto Ryoma in the English language. Samurai Sketches is a collection of historical sketches, never before presented in English, depicting men and events during the revolutionary years of mid-19th century Japan. Reviews and more information about these books are available at

Romulus Hillsborough is the author of: Ryoma ­ Life of a Renaissance Samurai &
Samurai Sketches

The Pearl Harbor Ruse?

Pictured: The boardgame, Pacific War by Victory Games

by Kevin Burns

So often in Japan, I hear opinions that are totally divergent from what I have grown up hearing at school and elsewhere. One that I have sometimes heard and heard again recently from two very intelligent and well-informed Japanese, was that Japan was set-up by America in World War II. The Americans deliberately left Pearl Harbor largely undefended in order to allure the Japanese into attacking.

The ultimatum, was late getting to Washington due to an American plot. Presumably to make the Japanese look bad or to go along with thePearl Harbor ruse.

Some have declared that China asked Japan to come and help to put down some rebellions in China. I know the people of Nanking would disagree with this account of history. Many Japanese feel however, than Nankingnever happened.They say there is no evidence for it. Sounds familiar? Many neo-Nazisclaim there is no evidence of the holocaust too. It can be a challenge to discern the truth at times, but there are cases in Japan for example, where the truth is deliberately hidden, exaggerated, and changed. Movements to disseminate the truth are brought down or stymied by a coalition of right wingers and politicians and officials who fear it would damage Japan.

Back to Pearl Harbor: Sometimes what we grow up learning is later proved to be wrong as classified documents become unclassified, and this is true in all nations.Indeed, the bulk of the American carriers were luckily absent from the harbor, was this just a coincidence? The Twilight Zone music kicks in.

One of my students said last night that Japan should apologize to every country they fought with except America. When I pressed him on this he brought up the subject of the Pearl Harbor ruse. Is there any validity to this opinion or is it another myth?

Will later declassified documents prove our predominant opinion of a Japanese surprise attack wrong? I have my doubts, but when I hear well-read Japanese talk like this and back it up with quotes from the NHK, Iagain start to doubt what I have learned. Does the victor indeed write history and is always right?

I have often been angered by the Japanese claims of passivity andtheir claims of being victims due to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What about Pearl Harbor I want to scream at them! If you are going to talk about the atomic bombings surely you should mention the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, Nanking, the Death March and others, but they don't see it that way. I think they should. You cannot look at the events of WW2in isolation they were all tragedies and should be atoned for.

Hosokawa was the only Prime Minister of Japan to have the guts to acknowledge and apologize for what Japan had done to Asian nations during World War 2. Then predictably, he was shouted down and forced to quit the government bythose elements in Japan who want to gloss over and hide the past. Hosokawa couldn't keep his rebellious coalition together after that.

That again, was another tragedy, and helped to smear Japan's international prestige even more. Fifty-five years after the end of World War II, Japan is still an international pariah state to many, many people.

Recently, right wingers in Japan are fearful. They had thought that after more than sixty years people would forget. However, there is a growing movement to make Japan acknowledge the past and say a sincere sorry. Stay tuned, it will happen.