Joined: 03 Dec 2007
Location: Setagaya, Tokyo
|Posted: Mon Feb 01, 2010 11:15 am Post subject: Marius Jansen's lecture on Sakamoto Ryoma and Modern Japan
|On May 22, 1985, Marius Jansen delivered a lecture which commemorated the 150th anniversary of Sakamoto Ryoma's birth.
The Sakamoto Ryoma memorial museum in Kochi had given me this hand out when I met the folks there last year. I was not familiar with the lecture and it came as quite a surprise as I had not previous heard about it.
The handout does not have any noticeable copyright but the following note is on the front page: "The permission for the reproduction of his lecture was obtained through kind offices of Mr. Junya Nagakuni of Nichibei English School, and the department of public relations of the prefectural office". Since we don't have that official permission, I'll only quote a small portion of the lecture for educational purposes... But a portion that none the less I think you'll find most interesting.
In this portion, Jansen answers the question Why is Sakamoto Ryoma important?
|One might be prepared to agree that Sakamoto was an interesting figure, and that he makes a fine subject for a television serial, but that would not prove that he was important and worth serious study. Let me suggest the reasons I think that he is.
First, one can consider him as a particular type. He showed in his life how quickly revolutionary change worked on an individual life, changing a swordsman into a statesman, a shishi into a seijika, in less than ten years. This sort of thing can happen only in revolutionary situations, of course, but it helps in understanding and evaluating those revolutionary changes.
Second, he shows the courage and initiative that activates people in times like that. He’s still a type, but a particularly effective and interesting example. The courage to leave Tosa as a dappan roshi; the courage to go to work for Katsu at a time when many of his former friends would have preferred to have him kill Katsu; the organization ability and personal magnetism to make it possible to organize a group of friends as the Kaientai; the kind of personal presence he must have had to be able to impress Saigo and Kido, who had much better backing after all; this was no ordinary Tosa goshi. The times were not ordinary, but he had to be extraordinary. No wonder he could write to Otome to contrast the excitement of his present life with the way you had to waste your time under feudal discipline at home.
Probably the best index to his personal qualities of command is to be found in the formal charter for the Kaientai given to him in 1867 and giving him life-and-death control over its members. “Everything regarding the Kaientai will be decided by the chief. Nobody will disobey his orders. If somebody endangers the organization, the chief will decide whether he is to be killed or not.” And in fact we know that the members did bring at least one man to suicide by social pressure. It is the sort of discipline that characterizes revolutionary or terrorist organizations, and the “head” of “chief” had to be somebody of considerable personal presence. Yet at the same time we find Sakamoto in his letters becoming more understanding. More tolerant, more astonished at the range of incompetence and ability that he encountered. One could go one with quotations and examples; but its enough to emphasize that the Sakamoto who emerges from the sources is both likeable and believable; alternately boastful, delighted with the action he is in, and yet cautious and responsible in his dealings with others; - enough so for them to be willing to put their lives on the line for his decisions.
Third, he was talented as a businessman and trader, business plans like trade, commerce, development, mining, immigration, publication and studies were included in the provisions of the Kameyama Shachu and the Kaientai which were all indispensable for new Japan.
Forth and most important, in my view, is the way in which Sakamoto anticipated some of the principal features of the Meiji state for constitutional government in the proposals of his last year. Both the famous eight points (senchu hassaku) and the pamphlet Hanron, which was issued by the Kaientai, have very important things to say about this. Look for a minute at the Eight-point program. It begins, as every bakumatsu proposal for political reorganization did, with a call for centralization with one Imperial Court issuing decrees for the whole country. Every aspect of government in the mid-nineteen century was dominated by awareness of the inadequacy of divided nature of administration under feudalism, and this expression of the need for centralization under the “neutral” governance of the Kyoto court was the logical alternative.
But Sakamoto then goes on to speak of two legislative bodies, an Upper and a Lower house, and the need to establish all government measures on the basis of “General opinion”. This formulation goes onto come out of the Charter Oath (Goka Jo no goseimon) of the next year. Sakamoto next goes on to talk about selection of “men of ability” (jinzai) from among the lords, nobles, and “people at large” as councillors. It is significant that he includes people at large (tenka no jinzai); as we will see, Hanron has more to say about that. He goes on to say that “foreign affairs” should be carried out according to appropriate regulations and on the basis of public opinion (hiroku kogai o tori). Again, the same concern for a broader legitimacy for decisions that affect the country. The other provisions, for army and navy, for starting over again with administrative regulations and laws, and bringing the value of gold and silver into line with their value in other countries, reflect the needs of the Bakumatsu decade and show that this Tosa goshi has learned a good deal about the world he has been living in...
...What might Sakamoto have done if he had lived? Of course it is impossible to know. Sakamoto seems to have dominated the Kaientai, but it contained all sorts of people....
...Sakamoto would probably have entered the Meiji government somewhat higher in status and visibility than Mutsu [Munemitsu]. But Tosa influence, insofar as it reflected Tosa strength and military influence, would have been with Itagaki and not with him. Would he have tried for a Tosa base and sided with the Tosa people who left the government? How deep would his liberalism and preference for constitutional government have been? The Kaientai rules or organization certainly make it clear that he believed in a strong executive. There's not much democracy to be found there.
The truth is probably that it is easier to be against a system that to devise a new system, and that it's easier to plan in general terms for broad participation that it is to work that out in practice. Without such broad participation, of course, Tosa as an area, and Sakamoto as a lowly goshi, would have had little luck. It is unlikely that any personal qualities or charisma could have made up for the superior military and economic force that the Satsuma-Choshu people could bring to bear.