Sakamoto Ryoma seems to exert an endless fascination on the Japanese public, and I have to admit that he seems one of the more likable characters of the Bakumatsu period. Recently a discovery was made which adds a little more historical evidence to his story – a mokuroku from the Hokushin Itto ryu which attests to his skill in naginata. It does not seem to be a particularly high level qualification, but that does not, in itself, mean very much – other records could easily have been lost following his death. Before leaving Tosa for Edo, he studied the Oguri ryu under Hineno Benji, and documentation for this is held by the Kyoto National Museum.
Sakamoto swordsmanship scroll declared authentic
NOV 9, 2015
KYOTO – A swordsmanship scroll issued to legendary samurai Sakamoto Ryoma has been declared authentic by an expert at the Kyoto National Museum, confirming he was indeed a master swordsman.
Despite Sakamoto’s deadly reputation, his true prowess with the sword had often been debated by experts.
Born in 1836 (1835 on the Julian calendar) in what is known today as Kochi Prefecture, Sakamoto played a prominent role in modernizing the national government in the turbulent 1860s. He is often portrayed in novels and TV dramas and is considered a national hero.
The scroll, measuring roughly 18 cm wide and 2.7 meters long, recognizes the mastery of “the art of war using a long-handled sword in the Hokushin Itto-ryu style” and is dated the first month of Ansei 5, which may mean January 1858. It states that it was issued to Sakamoto by his master, Chiba Sadakichi.
Teiichi Miyakawa, head of the registration and image archives department at Kyoto National Museum and an expert in Sakamoto lore, confirmed the scroll’s authenticity, noting the presence of a Big Dipper, the school’s symbol, and its striking similarity to other images of the constellation on other scrolls issued by the school, then based in Edo, the old name for Tokyo.
“It is a document representing Sakamoto’s swordsmanship studies in Edo and proves the high skills of Sakamoto, who was known as a great swordsman,” Miyakawa said at a news conference Saturday at the Kyoto National Museum.
The roll, owned by the Actland history theme park in Konan, Kochi Prefecture, describes 21 types of swordfighting techniques and has a list of names that includes Chiba Shusaku, founder of Hokushin Itto-ryu, and Chiba Jutaro, a son of master Sadakichi.
Also on the list is Chiba Sana, a daughter of Sadakichi who was rumored to have been in love with Sakamoto during his stint at the Hokushin Itto-ryu dojo.
Actland Director Akio Kitamura said the scroll will be put on display at the museum starting Friday.Japan Times
The Big Dipper (Hokuto Shichisei) was an emblem of the school. The Hokushin or North Star, from which the school's name derived, was the emblem of the Chiba Clan, and represented the Myoken Bosatsu, who is associated with both the Big Dipper and the North Star.
As mentioned in the article, Ryoma was enrolled at the dojo of Chiba Sadakichi, the brother of Chiba Shusaku (who founded the style) and father of Jutaro, with whom Ryoma was apparently good friends, and Sano, to whom Ryoma was engaged (in a matrimonial sense). Although he later married Oryu, who saved his life in Kyoto, alerting him to the attack on the Teradaya and so allowing him enough time to prepare to repel the attackers and escape(for a first hand account, see here).
Ryoma was pragmatic when it came to his sword skills (and much else, it seems). He favored a short sword as being easier to wield in the close fighting that was common in those days, he also carried a Smith and Wesson revolver. This sword, made by Mutsu no kami Yoshiyuki, will shortly be on display at Kyoto National Museum as part of an exhibition of swords. As you can see from the picture below, it has very little curve, as was common in the swords of that period.
He also owned several other swords, including a short sword which is currently on display (for the first time in 86 years) in the Ryoma Museum in Kochi.
Ryoma to be shown for first time in 86 years
October 18, 2015
By NAOMI NISHIMURA/ Staff Writer
KOCHI--Long out of the public eye, a “wakizashi” (short Japanese sword) that belonged to renowned mid-19th century samurai Sakamoto Ryoma will be displayed here for the first time since being shown in Tokyo in 1929.
The sword, whose blade is 52.3 centimeters long, will be featured at the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum here from Nov. 1 to Jan. 3 as part of an exhibition now under way.
Ryoma (1835-1867) played a key role in the transfer of power from the Tokugawa Shogunate to the Meiji government in the closing years of the Edo Period (1603-1867). The wakizashi was said to be a favorite of the fabled samurai.
After Ryoma's assassination in Kyoto in 1867, the sword was passed down to the Sakamoto family’s seventh head, Yataro. Yataro's third son, who is currently living in Hokkaido, has kept possession of it over the years. However, among the public, its whereabouts was unknown for many years though its existence was known through photos and other means.
In June this year, a member of the Sakamoto family living in Kochi donated a collection of materials to the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum. In the materials, Yukie Maeda, 57, a senior curator, discovered the list of exhibits Yataro wrote to present the 1929 exhibition. Part of the program read, “This sword is one that Ryoma particularly loved.”
The sword was also shown at an exhibition in Kyoto in 1916. The program for the exhibition read, “This sword was carried by an infant.”
“The process in which this sword reached Ryoma is unknown. But there is a possibility that he always had the sword with him since his childhood,” Maeda said.
The sword contains the kanji characters of “Katsumitsu,” “Munemitsu” and “Eishoninen Hachigatsu Kichijitsu” in its “nakago” portion, which is the inside of the hilt. Katsumitsu and Munemitsu are names of talented sword craftsmen of Bizenosafune (current Okayama Prefecture), a major production area of Japanese swords in medieval Japan. Eishoninen Hachigatsu Kichijitsu implies “a lucky day in August 1505.”
The ongoing exhibition, which includes about 80 items, is titled, “Ryoma no Yoki Rikaisha ‘Sakamotoke-Kazoku no Kizuna’ ” (Bond of Sakamoto family that understands Ryoma well).http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201510180031