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"Ryoma" is suspense and history rapped up into one book

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-04-02

If you are a student or admirer of Japanese history, you may want to include a new book published by Ridgeback Press to your personal library. The book, titled "Ryoma - Life of a Renaissance Samurai", covers the life of Sakamoto Ryoma, one of Japan's most influential figures leading up to the Meiji Restoration. Written by Romulus Hillsborough, it is the first biography on Ryoma in English. Hillsborough's historical account of Ryoma's life brings to light the importance of the warrior's contributions to modernization and political reform in Japan. Many historians attribute Japan's rise in both economic and military power during the early part of the twentieth century to Ryoma's foresight. His courage guided other revolutionaries towards toppling the shogun, while at the same time dismantling a feudal system that was hindering the development of Japan. Despite the old beliefs held by many samurai during the middle of the nineteenth century, Ryoma outright contested their views, calling for imports of western technology to guarantee Japan's survival. The author points out the fact that many of Japan's academics and business leaders of today feel that if it were not for Ryoma, Japan most likely would have fallen victim to western colonization. Hillsborough's work takes you back to the time of Commodore Perry's landing in 1853, when warships opened Japan up to the western world after centuries of isolation. The event, which was witnessed by Ryoma while he was still a young man, helped to change his ideology about Japan's future. Born in 1835 in the town of Kochi in Shikoku, Ryoma left for the capital of Edo at an early age to study the ways of the samurai warrior. He was quickly convinced, however, of the need for his country to catch up with the rest of the modern world, and in 1861 Ryoma set his sights on overthrowing the shogun. He befriended Naval Commissioner Katsu Kaishu, who influenced Ryoma and helped him to achieve his goal. As an outlaw he secretly plotted his attack, and supplied his men with foreign guns. The book then gives an in-depth account of how Ryoma changes his strategy from weapons to diplomacy. Fearing intervention by the West, Ryoma wrote the groundwork for Japan's modern government, which called for the unification of feudal clans. The document was sent to the shogun to settle the problem peacefully. Although assassins made sure Ryoma did not see the outcome to his plan, his commitment and influence on the future of Japan had already been set. The author spent sixteen years living in Japan, where he read numerous books on Ryoma's life. He examined and read hundreds of letters written by Ryoma and also those who surrounded him. To further get a feel for Ryoma's life, Hillsborough visited many of the same places Ryoma did, including his hometown. Ridgeback Press feels that the book is significant and of great importance. It introduces to the western world the life of this very important samurai. If you would like to order a copy, you can do so by contacting Ridge Back Press, PO Box 27901-790N, San Francisco, California 94127, or by calling (415) 841-0508. The cover price is listed at $40 and carries a $4 charge for overseas shipping. You can also order a hardback copy via e-mail at: ridgebak@dnai.com.

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