Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Heiliges Römisches Reich Holy Roman Empire

Proceeding in German history I told my language exchange partner about the holy roman empire, which he was eager to learn more about.

The Holy Roman Empire (Of German Nation)
963 (Otto The Great) - 1806 (Francis II)

The Holy Roman Empire Of The German Nation was a union of territories in Central Europe lead by a Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire extended itself over present day Germany, Northern Italy, Burgundy, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Belgium and large parts of France, Souterhn Italy, Poland. Despire the name, the city Rome was not part of the Empire.


The name symbolized the attempt to revive the west roman empire, which ended with Romulus August in 476. Although Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne and his son Louis The Pious as Holy Roman Emperor, the imperial office got never formalized. The actual name changed very often from 962 version Regnum Francorum Orientalium (Kingdom of the East Franks) to 1034 Roman Empire to 1157 Holy Empire to 1254 Holy Roman Empire to its final version in 1512 Holy Roman Empire of German Nation (German Heiliges Römisches Reich deutscher Nation; Latin: Sacrum Romanum Imperium Nationis Germanicæ).

Since not only the name, but also the territories and status constantly changed, historicians had a lot of trouble writing about "Germany". In one example Severinus de Monzambano brings it to the point: "Nihil ergo aliud restat, quam ut dicamus Germaniam esse irregulare aliquod corpus et monstro simile ..." ("We are therefore left with calling Germany a body that conforms to no rule and resembles a monster").


  • Merovingian 428-751
  • Carolingan 751-876
  • Ottonian 919-1024 (aka Saxon Dynasty)
  • Salian 1024-1125 (aka Frankish Dynasty)
  • Hohenstaufen 1138-1254 (aka Swabian Dynasty)
  • Habsburg 1273-1806

Before 962... was custom for kings of the Carolingan dynasty to divide their empire among the sons, which lead to great loss in territories and power. The last king loyal to this custom was the father of Germany and France Charlemagne. However he was survived only by one son, Louis The Pious, and therefore gave his whole emipre to him. Louis however saw the weakness of this tradition and broke with it giving the whole empire only to one son. This however lead to a lot of civil wars and a final partition of Charlemagne's empire in 834. The title and original part was given to Louis eldest son Lothar I, while the split of part became known as Eastern Frankish Kingdom. Henry I the Fowler became the first crowned king of the Eastern Frankish Kingdom and was the first one not of the Carolingan dynasty and founded the Ottonian dynasty naming his son and successor arcordingly Otto I (He was only later called Otto the Great).

Otto was married to the widowed queen of Italy, which effectively added Italy to his empire. 962 signified a turning point in history, when the Pope decided to give his blessing to Otto I of the East Frankish Kingdom, instead of the West Frankish Kingdom acknolowding Otto's rule and power. Because of this blessing Ottonian kings saw themselves as successors to Romulus August and to the Old Roman Empire. However since the East Roman Empire still existed and the real Roman Emperor ruled from Constantinopel, they decided to abide from the name, not to provoke him.

Ottonian Dynasty

At the time of the Ottonian dynasty the empire consisted of a confederation of old Germanic tribes Bavarians, Alemanns, Franks and Saxons, as well as the kingdom of Italy. This confederation was only able to survive because Henry I, Otto the Great and his succession until Henry II were such strong characters, they could hold the empire together. Yet after Henry II died without children the Ottonian dynasty came to an quick end. The confederate states elected 1024 Conrad II as new king and thus started the ...

Salian Dynasty

of the empire. However Conrad II being a less strong character, the dualism and quarrels between the king and the territories constantly increased. When Henry IV came to power the escapade peaked, when the pope declared a ban on Henry the IV. Although this ban was rebuked in 1077 during the Walk To Canossa, it constantly weakend the position of the German king. Because meanwhile the dukes had appointed a new king "Rudlof From Swabia", which waged war against Henry IV. Henry was able to win after 3 years in 1080 but his title and power were weakened from then on. The last Salian emperor was Henry IV son Henry V.

Hohenstaufen Dynasty

With the dynasty so weakened the Hohenstaufer, originally a clan holding high offices under the Salians, overtook their masters and with Conrad III becoming appointed king in 1138 introduced the Hohenstaufen Dynasty, which was able to effectively restore the empire under new conditions in the Concordat Of Worms 1122. The great king Barbarossa (Frederick I) 1152 first called the empire holy. With Barbarossa the idea of the people seeing themselves as successors to the great Romans culminated again. This seemed to be an attempt to justify power independent of the strengthend pope. In this thinking it was also tried to revive Roman Law over the empire. Of course these laws were written for a completely different world, yet it was the first attempt to get a legal constitution (Roncaglia). This was effectively an attempt to bind the stuborn German dukes closer to the empire.

With religion and bishops taken away to maintain power over the dukes (separation from the pope), the Hohenstaufen kings devised a new strategy and intoduced ministerialia (ministers), free service men appointed to server for king and country. Starting from these offices later the kinghts were born, an important factor of imperial rule in the mid ages.

Another attempt to spread power within the empire was the foundation of new cities. For once this was done to account for the population explosion, but also to spread the realm of influence and to cover important strategic points. The same strategy was followed by the king and the dukes the same.

While most Hohenstaufen emperors struggled with each other for the title, mainly Barbarossa and his son Philip of Swabia and Henry the Lion and his son Otto IV, the last king of the Hohenstaufen Frederick II went an entirely different route. He did not struggle for power and ruled from sicily. When he was crowned king he suddenly claimed posesion of Rome, which lead to a ban by the pope. Most surprisingly he successfully lead a crusade in 1228 taking possession of Jerusalem. But he also lead to the empires downfall. For once he focused much of his attention on sicily, where he established a modern state with public services, financing and othe reforms, on the other side he gave great priviliges and powers to the German dukes to bind them to him. Privileges that could never again taken from the central power again, peaking in a ducment of 1232 which officially declared the dukes owner of their lands (domini terrae).

In this time also significant is when Konrad of Masovia invited the Teutonic Knights 1226 to christianize the Prussians. Also because of the long focus on Italy, the German dukes extended their own reamls and power and eventually took possesion of Slavic territories Pommerania and Silesia.

Rise Of The Territories

After Frederick II died in 1250 the Hohenstaufen dynasty ended and the dukes appointed several competing kings. This period is often referred to as Interregnunm and lasted until the election of the king Rudoplh I from Habsburg 1273. In this time much of the imperial power was lost. This struggle evetually lead to an agreement in the Golden Bull 1356, that only certain Kurfuersten (Archdukes) were allowed to cast a vote for the new king. Also all kings after the Hohenstaufen dynasty had to maintain their power differently. Until Frederick II the Emperor had its own lands (Reichsgut) and own cities (Reichsstadt), but during the Interregnum these were taken from the dukes. Instead staring with Rudoplh I from Habsburg, kings started to rely on their own dynasties for support, which were much easier to control.

Habsburg Dynasty

With Rudoplh I from Habsburg the Habsburg dynasty was started and the first to regain control over the empire after the Interregnum. Rudolph I thus gave the territories of Austria and Styria (parts of modern Austria and Slowenia) to his own sons for support. Another change under the Habsburg dynasty was that money increasignly took the role of duties and economic value and gained much in importance. Peasants were increasingly required to pay tributes in money for their lands.

Although some attempts to make a constitution were made over time (Roman Law, Golden Bull), it was still largely unsettled at the beginning of the 15th century. It therefore proved fatar when the two consecutive kings Sigismund of Luxemburg and Frederick III of Habsburg neglected the old core lands and only concentrated on their own lands. Without the presence of the king the old institution of the Hoftag (an assemply of the empire's leading men) deteriorated. This lead to quarrels and even wars of dukes against each other within the empire.

On the other side also the church was into a great crisis. Two competing popes were appointed and when this struggle was finally resolved in the Council of Constance 1419 a new Christian belief challenged the old Catholic rule with the Hussits, which postulated much attention from the church to be fought.

This conflicts were overcome when Frederick III needed the support of the dukes for a war against hungrary. As a response to that the dukes and electors called for an assemply of all the electors and dukes which was later called Reichstag (a succession to the Hofstag, later also joined by imperial free cities). While Frederick III was afraid to loose power and refused to go to such a meeting, his son Maximilian I prooved more wise and participated the Reichstag for the first time at Worms in 1495. At this meeting king and dukes agreed on four bills called Reichsreform (Imperial Reform), which gave the empire back some structure: e.g. Reichskammergericht (Imperial Court), Reichskreise (Imperial Circle Estates, for common defense and taxes). This changes took until 1512 to be finalized, the same year the empire got its new and final name: Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation ("Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation")


In 1517 Martin Luther initiated the Reformation and started a fire leading to the partition of the old Catholic Christianity in Catholic And Evangelists (Protestant). This changes going along with a political struggle for more power of the dukes, since the power of Emperor Charles V was declining, lead to the parition of the empire with North / East becoming protestant and South / West remained catholic. However while in Europe several wars were lead because of this new faith, Germany remained relatively quite from the peace of Augsburg 1555 until the Defenestyration of Prague 1618 leading to the thirty years war.

The Thirty Years War

This became the worst German war until the world wars, where 1/3 of the German population was killed. The main conflict was waged on religious reasons, but of course the true motifs were the hunger for more power of the dukes. What made this war so bad was the intervention of foreign powers like France and Sweden who supported several dukes against the imperial rule, while taking large chunks of the empire for themselves. This war devasted Germany to an incredible extent, which it was never able to recover from. It never found back to its former strength.

The Long Decline

The actual end of the empire came gradually in several steps:

  • The Peace Of Westphalia 1648 which ended the 30 years war gave the territories almost complete sovereignity.
  • The Habsburg Emperors became powerless figures, a name only and therefore concentrated only on their own estates in Austria and elsewhere.
  • The Swiss Confederation (which existed since 1499) broke off completely and became independent.
  • The Northern Netherlands left the empire and formed the modern Netherlands / Holland.
  • The rise of Louis XIV the sun king.
  • The dualism between Austrian and Prussia that dominated the history of the empire since 1740.
  • The French revolution 1789.
  • The conquest of Napoleon
At this time Habsburg emperors were completely dependent on the archdukes of Austria to counter the rise of Prussia. Throught the 18th century Habsburg emperors were used in various European confilcts as the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Polish Succession, the War of the Austrian Succession and so on.

The empire was formally disolved 1806, after it was first tuckled by the revolution france followed by a military defeat against Napoleon. The last Austrian Emperor was Francis II, who abdicted 1804.

Successors of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation

Francis' dynasty was able to maintain control over Austrian and Hungary until the Habsburg empire was completley disovled after World War II in 1918. Napolean turned the empire into several confederations he took control of. Later his rule was replaced by the German Confederation lead by Prussia which eventually developed into the German Empire. Liechtenstein claims to be the last surviving remnant of the Holy Roman Empire still having a Habsburh dynasty monarch ruling over the country.

戦国時代 第二 The Warring States Period II

Although I am back in Germany, there is some material left from my language exchange in Japan, which I will present you now.

Last time we talked about the three big 大名 daimyo (feudal lords), who influenced the period the most ruling over most and eventually all of Japan. But there were more brilliant warlords involved in this time, who if not for misfortune might have taken the rule in their stead. Two of them I'd like to present to you: 武田信玄 Takeda Shingen and 上杉謙信 Uesugi Kenshin. The are most famous for their romanticized rivalry.

武田信玄 Takeda Shingen

Shingen was the first born son of the Takeda clan leader Takeda Nobutora. In his younger years he shone as poet and as military asset to the clan, but once he reached adulthood (after the coming of age ceremony) he started to rebel against his father. It is thought that the reason was the plan of his father to name his second son Nobushige successor of the clan. However at the age of 21 Shingen succeeded over his father and took control over the clan.

With a firm grip over the clan, he started to expand the clan's territory and aimed for Shinano province. With his strategic genius, though unexperienced he was able to score victory after victory and eventually took Shinano from the Murakami clan who fled and sought aid from the neighbouring Uesugi clan.

With this move Shingen faced his next enemy: Uesugi Kenshin. The rivalry between both became legendary and romanticized in many stories. It was the clash between tiger and dragon, since Shingen's nickname was the Tiger Of Kai and Kenshin was called the Dragon Of Echigo. The clash happened in five chapters, where both men's forces met each other. While the first three were mere skirmishes, the fourth became an all or nothing battle, where both men lost a good deal of their troops. It is also this battle where Shingen is supposed to have met Kenshin, who was fighting through Shingen's troop with his cavalry eventually facing him personally. Kenshin aimed for Shingen's head and stroke with his sword, but Shingen quickly lifted his war-fan and was able to block the hit.

After this battle Shingen had to recover his forces, which was made more difficult by how own clan, since two people including his own son, desired his power and tried to assassinate him. He uncovered their plots and threw his son into prison, but was weakened and only scored small scale victories, taking some area from Uesugi clan.

After he had recovered he had to realize that next to Uesugi Kenshin, another warlord had emerged and threatened to conquer all of Japan: Oda Nobunaga and his ally Tokugawa Ieyasu. Kenshin realized that he was the only one with enough abilities to stop Oda reaching his goal and thus challenged Ieyasu's forces in Futamata. Realizing the strength of their enemy Tokugawa and Nobunaga stood united against Takeda at the battle of Mikatagahara facing Takeda. Despite of the power of the alliance, Takeda could win the battle even if not decisive.
Preparing to face them again in Mikatagahara Takeda died of illness in his camp.

He was succeeded by his forth son Katsuyori, who was ambitious but not as brilliant as his father. After he could steal some castles from Tokugawa, Ieyasu and Oda united against Takeda and destroyed the clan's forces in the battle of Nagashino.

上杉謙信 Uesugi Kenshin

Takeda Shingen's rival Uesugi Kenshin's father Nagao Tamekage was an successful warlord in Echigo. However he was forced to face the Ikko-Ikki and Echigo's power dwindled under their pressure. Eventually Tamekage gathered all his forces and marched westwards, where Ikko-Ikki's forces ambushed and destroyed him.

The death of Tamekage resulted in a struggle for power among his son's, which cost the life of the second son. Kenshin, who was only 7 years at that time, was given to a temple for receiving education and for being out of the line for power politics. There he spent the next 7 years by studying.

At the age of 14 some of his father's followers sought him to claim power over the clan, as his ruling brother proved incompetent. First reluctant to face his brother, he was later convinced it was for the greater good of the whole clan. With the support of the clan leaders he was then quickly able to overthrow his brother and take control.

His first move as daimyo was to strengthen his position in Echigo and bolster his forces. However soon leaders from the Murakami (and other) clans came to him requesting help against the advancing powerful warlord Takeda Shingen. Soon he saw Shingen come close to the borders of Echigo and decided to stand his ground against this enemy.

You already know how this battles turned out, so let me add that both lords were what we would call gentlemen. Outside the battlefield they honored their enemy and even exchanged gifts. And not petty gifts but the most precious and dearest items they had, like a magical sword. When Shingen suddenly died Kenshin is said to have wept one night long uttering never again to meet again an enemy so worthy like Takeda Shingen. More than that, he vowed not to attack Takeda lands in honour to his fallen rival.

Kenshin was also seen as a highly religious man, which might be caused by his visits to the Shogun in Kyoto, where he always visited many shrines and temples. His next enemy after Takeda clan was to be the Hojo clan, which took control over the Kanto area. Although powerful, Kenshin was able to take many castles from them only failing in taking down the powerful Odawara castle, although all the surrounding lands were already conquered by him. Eventually he had to break the siege for his supplied were running low and retreat to Echigo.

Apart from Kanto, he successfully first mediated then intervened in a conflict of two daimyo in Etchu province, which he then took for himself. When daimyo Noto died, he also quickly took the lands of the weakened clan and had a considerable empire to rule upon.

At this time, he had to consider the threat of the ever rising Oda Nobunaga. With Takea Shingen and Hojo Ujiyasu (the powerful ruler over the Kanto area) dead, Kenshin was the only one able to oppose Oda Nobunaga.
Coming to the same conclusion and remembering the defeat they had when opposing Kenshin's euqal rival, Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu gathered almost 40.000 men, the largest contingent, which has fought on Japanese ground then.
But despite their enormously overwhelming numbers, Uesugi not only defeated them, but was able to score a solid victory and Nobunaga had to retreat and fall back to Omi province.

After this encounter he met the same fate as his rival. He was unbeaten on the field, but stroke with a horrid sickness which tore his health apart and eventually killed him.

When Oda Nobunaga heard about Uesugi's death, he just said:
Now the empire is mine.
And it proved true, when Kenshin's successors fought a clan internal struggle weakening the clan enough for Nobunaga to easily take it over.

You see that though Oda Nobunaga with Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi proved victorious, there were two men, which they never could have defeated on the battle field. Who knows how the Sengoku Period would have turned out, if not for the death of the two.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Die Franken The Franks

As it was custom during our fairy tale exchange, I prepared a counter lecture on German history for Nakamura-san. He first wanted an overview of German history until the German Empire. So I started at the beginning, where instead of a country we had many clans, one of them was called

Die Franken The Francs


from ancient Germanic frankon (= javelin). Germanic tribes were often called by their weapon of choice. Compare to Saxons who were using a weapon called seax (= long dagger). The francisca (throwing axe) is another weapon called after the franks, since they used this weapon too.

a seax

Origins & Mythology

the religion of the franks was Germanic Polytheism. When the Roman empire started to intrude in Germanic territory, the pantheon was supplemented by the Roman Gods. Also once the franks learned Roman lore, they found themselves ancestors in the Sicambri and Trojans.

Liber Historiae Francorum

This was written down in the history book ``Liber Historiae Francorum'' (history book of the Franks), where 12.000 Trojans led by Priam and Antenor moved to the Don river (Donau), settled in Pannonia and founded a city called Sicambria.


Unification Of The Tribes

Scholars think the Franks developed as a multi tribe entity out of many smaller earlier tribes.

Earliest written records are to be found 260 due to the first Roman invasion into Frankish territory.

100 years later in 356 the first Frankish king (Salian Dynasty) enters Roman territory stays there and is acknowledged king by the Romans.

By the end of the 5th century the Franks greatly expanded their territory now including the Netherlands south of the Rhine, Belgium and northern France. All the people living in these territories were merged into the Frankish tribe. This development gave rise to the Merovingian Dynasty.

outline of the Frankish empire from 481 to 814
(click to enlarge)

Merovingian Dynasty (481–751)

In 509 Clovis was the first to call himself King of the Franks (lat. rex francorum). Clovis' empire covered most of northern central Europe (Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands). However he divided his empire into four parts and passed them on to his four sons and successors. These sons again divided their part and passed it on to their sons splitting the empire into smaller and smaller regions.

The successors of the sons however would sooner or later wage war against each other and try to conquer territories of the other. In this period three distinct powers emerged: Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy.

In 613 Clothar II was able to reunite the whole empire and bound the power to his person by cutting corruption and power among the nobles of the empire. His son and successor Dagobert I was still militarily successful but after him the royal authority of the Merovingian Dyntasy started to diminish.

Finally in 751 Pipin the Short with the approval of the pope in Rome disposed of the last Merovingian king Childeric III, had himself crowned instead and thus started the Carolingian Dynasty.

Carolingian Dynasty (751–843)

The Carolingian kings started to unite central and western Europe under what was knows as the Carolingian Renaissance. Despite all the wars and different ethnics, Frankish rule and Christianity proved a good mean to control such a large area. The culture in the Frankish empire developed quite differently depending on the region and their rulers and their aims. Although these aims were often different the same basic belief system and loyalty bound all of them to the Carolingian Dynasty. These ideas and culture were basically a mixture of ancient Germanic and Roman ideas.


Germanic people are known to have served in Roman armies since the days of Julius Caesar. However the Franks also kept invading Rome, which lead to confrontations of having Franks on both sides. After a successful invasion, it was only due to a tribe of Franks loyal to the Romans, that power could be restored. From that day own Franks in the Roman army were promoted to high ranks.

Therefore Frankish at this time and later were organized just like the renown Roman army, while merging in German customs and bringing some innovations. Also serving in the Roman army showed the Franks that in order to gain power they must stop fighting as one tribe, and start fighting as one conglomerate of many tribes with equal rights but under their rule.

Early Days

Roman Procopius wrote about the Franks in 539:

At this time the Franks, hearing that both the Goths and Romans had suffered severely by the war . . . forgetting for the moment their oaths and treaties . . . (for this nation in matters of trust is the most treacherous in the world), they straightway gathered to the number of one hundred thousand under the leadership of Theudebert and marched into Italy: they had a small body of cavalry about their leader, and these were the only ones armed with spears, while all the rest were foot soldiers having neither bows nor spears, but each man carried a sword and shield and one axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides, while the wooden handles was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first charge and thus to shatters the shields of the enemy and kill the men.
and his contemporary Agathias wrote:
The military equipment of this people [the Franks] is very simple. . . . They do not know the use of the coat of mail or greaves and the majority leave the head uncovered, only a few wear the helmet. They have their chests bare and backs naked to the loins, they cover their thighs with either leather or linen. They do not serve on horseback except in very rare cases. Fighting on foot is both habitual and a national custom and they are proficient in this. At the hip they wear a sword and on the left side their shield is attached. They have neither bows nor slings, no missile weapons except the double edged axe and the angon which they use most often. The angons are spears which are neither very short nor very long they can be used, if necessary, for throwing like a javelin, and also in hand to hand combat.
Merovingian Dynasty

Under the Merovingian Dynasty the Franks strongly adapted Roman organization and ideas of military and warfare. They even started/continued to wear Roman coats of arms and symbols. This is especially significant since it lead the army to not only consist out of Franks, but of many tribes like the Saxons, Alans, Taifals, Alemanni and later Burgundy.

Under the king were the leudes, sworn followers of the king. The king had an elite bodyguard called truste (trusties). For day-to-day business he also had a normal bodyguard the puen. Later a new unit called levy was introduced. A levy consisted of men able to fight from a district and were a kind of early military service to the king (Origin of the English expression ``To levy troops'').

Carolingian Dynasty

Frankish military outfit in the later Carolingian dynasty


the language of the Franks was Old Frankish. But not many words of this language are still known. It evolved into Old Dutch in the low countries and was later replaced by Old German and Old French.



Frankish paganism was most probably very similar to German paganism showing many rituals and daily activities around the multiple deities. Their gods were worldly and had relations to things in this world, unlike the transcending Christianity.


The first conversions to Christianity were in the late 5th century with Clovis I in 496 being the first king to do so after marrying a woman from Burgundy. Along with him probably around 3000 of his soldiers converted. Also with the Frankish lacking aristocracy and gaining in power this development made them a good friend of the church and the pope in Rome.

Although many of Clovis' successors also converted to Christianity it took as much as 200 years for the Franks to convert as a whole. Resisting pagans true to their faith were persecuted and executed.

Baptism Of Clovis I

Art & Architecture


very little is preserved of the Merovingian Dynasty regarding architecture and art. But there are some small baptisteries in South France, which are still standing.

Apart from architecture some few pieces of art like jewelry or ornate weapons were found as burial gifts to the Merovingian kings.

Merovingian Goblet


with the Carolingian Renaissance came a great boost in art and architecture. One reason was that Charlemagne encouraged the arts and even imported foreign artists to promote the art of his empire.

One example for the peak of Carolingian architecture is the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, Germany.

Palatine Chapel

戦国時代 第一 The Warring States Period I

Did you notice that there were no more new fairy tales told in my Blog?
This is because me and my language exchange partner changed the topic of our meetings from fairy tales to history, after we both noticed the others interest in history. I would narrate about German history and Nakamura-san about the Japanese. For the Japanese history we did not start at the beginning but in the middle in the 戦国時代 Sengoku Period (The Warring States Period).

戦国時代 Sengoku Period

The Sengoku Period is the struggle for predominance over all of Japan from the middle of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century. In this time Japan was basically in a civil war where power hungry 大名 Daimyou (Japanese feudal lords) tried to expand their territory of influence, where hungry peasants rebelled against paying taxes to a far away government, when their families are starving and fast developing trade and agricultural techniques and the trade with money instead of rice made the people postulate more autonomy. A war, whose outcome would form Japan until the 明治時代 Meiji Period, when an elected government replaced the rule of the Shogun.

時期 Beginning Of The Civil War

Before the Sengoku Period was the 室町時代 Muromachi Period (The Sengoku Period can also be considered the last chapter of the Muromachi Period). In this Period the rule over the land was in the hands of the 足利幕府 Ashikaga Shogunate. However over the years the power of the Ashikaga was dwindling and it escalated in the 応仁の乱 Ounin War over the succession of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who had no children. This war gave the Ashikaga the final blow and many other influential clans started to act independently.

In the Muromachi Period Provinces were lead by a 守護 Shugo, a military governor appointed by the Shogunate in Kyoto. When the war of succession weakened the Shogunate, other forces took over the provinces, who's rule was legitimated by military power and real estate, rather than government appointment. These men were referred to as 大名 Daimyou (feudal lord). Another reason for the dwindling power of the Ashikaga was that more and more regions started to rebel against unfair taxes and trading restrictions, when they were suffering under bad harvests. This cut the budget of the Ashikaga heavily and they found themselves unable to pay their subjects.

As it was great men who sought independence and an extension of their clan's territory, the tale of the Sengoku Period is best told by telling about its three most successful Daimyo. Those were Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu.

織田信長 Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582)

Oda Nobunaga lived a life of conquest resulting in one third of Japan being in his hands at the time of his death.
Nobunaga was born in Nagoya and was known to play with kids of lower social rank and not giving much to social rank. He also annoyed people with bizarre behavior when he was a kid. He even acted insane at the funeral of his father, which ashamed his brother so much, that he committed Seppuku to preserve the family honor.

This lead to a fight for the succession, also Nobunaga was basically the legitimate heir. Many fractions tried to seize power over Oda clan, but Nobunaga proofed cleverer than they thought and was able to grasp control over the clan and thus over Owari Province. All disputes of his rule were forgotten, when he won the battle of Okehazama when his 2000 men were able to defeat 20.000 - 40.000 due to superior military stratagem and superior equipment (helmets and spears, sneak attacks, landscape well known to the Oda Clan, enemy weakened by alcohol (they thought their victory is assured and started to drink before the fight)).

In 1561 he secured an alliance with an upcoming war lord called Tokugawa Ieyasu and they defeated the Saito Clan together in Mino. As a token of his power he renamed Mino Province to today's name 岐阜 Gifu (岐山 Qi is a legendary mountain in China and 阜 Zhou was a powerful dynasty in China). After this victory he went with the slogan 天下武士 Tenkabushi (militarism to the world).

He continued to score victories and defeated the Rokkaku Clan. At this time finally a new man was established as Shogun: Ashikaga Yoshiaki. He started his military rule by realizing the threat of Oda Nobunaga and forming an alliance against Oda and Tokugawa winning the Asakura and Azai Clans for his side. His enemies increased when he raided an ancient temple of 僧兵 Souhei (warrior monks) and killed 4500 monks along with one of the highest regarded heritages of Japan. He did not stop with monks and raided many towns and villages killing more then 10.000 civilians uninvolved in any wars.

僧兵 Souhei Warrior Monk

In the years following 1572 he continuously clashed with the very successful Takeda Clan with no side being able to score a distinctive victory. However on the other front he could severely weaken the Asakura Azai Alliance. He developed a new strategy for using the new slow loading but powerful rifles (arabesque) by forming three lines of people. The first lines shoots, the second lines aims and the third lines reload. Lines in front of back lines will duck in the case of shooting. With this strategy many victories were won.

In 1577 he lost a battle against Uesugi Kenshin, but then won against Takeda Shingen (ironically Uesugi Kenshin's archenemy, in 1577. In 1582 his clan scored a decisive victory and conquered Osaka. However at the verge of victory they called for his help, maybe to give him the honor of winning the fight, maybe to let him be the first to enter Osaka Castle, maybe to show off that he is not needed or maybe even as an attempt to usurp his power. No matter the reason Oda Nobunaga set out for Osaka and knowing the region to be his territory he traveled light without many people to guard him. When he made halt at Honnoji temple to pray for military success he was ambushed by an assassination party. He fought them bravely, but lost and was allowed to commit Seppuku to preserve his honor...

Japan after Oda Nobunaga's rule
(click to enlarge)

In his lifetime he modernized Japan's army significantly both in equipment, as well as in warfare strategy and organization combining pikes, firearms, iron lead ships and castle fortifications. The army was now organized by skill and ability rather than social rank, which increased its efficiency enormously. Also he gave measured and gave land by rice output and allowed for a rather free economy system called 楽死楽座 Rakushirakuza, the people rebelling to the Ashikaga Shogunate has wished for. He benefited more from it, because with that the economy was thriving and produced much more output. Under his rule also arts like the tea ceremony, gardening, theater and architecture blossomed. He also allowed for Jesuit missionaries in his territories, with brought a lot of knowledge and trading goods, apart from the Christian religion.

豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536 - 1598)

Succeeding Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi was the first Daimyo who unified Japan under his rule. He is seen as the second great unifier of all Japan.
Against the plans of his parents he choose a life of adventure over temple life. He is reported to have had a rare defection which gave him two thumbs on the right hand. Born in Nagoya he served under Oda Nobunaga in the Oda Clan in Owari Province.

He rose in ranks and helped to win the fateful battle of Okehazama for Oda Nobunaga. Afterwards he had his own army under his control and in order to secure borders with Sunomata, he initiated repairs to a border castle. According to legend, he even built another castle in between the riverbed separating Sunomata from Owari over night, which allowed him to attack and conquer Sunomata. He also proved to be an excellent negotiator and bribed many important characters from the Saito Clan to change sides.

After his next victory at Inabayama Castle, he was promoted to General over Oda's army. After that he and Oda Nobunaga joined forces with Tokugawa Ieyasu and won the Battle of Anegawa 1570. In reaction to the alliance between Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga, an Ashikaga Shogun alliance consisting out of the Azai and Asakura Clans was formed. However 1573 Toyotomi Hideyoshi lead a successful campaign against both clans and was rewarded with becoming the Daimyo of Omi Province. He used his own region to produce modern firearms, upgrading existing factories.

1582 Toyotomi succeeded in the Battle of Akechi and took Osaka. However when he sent for Oda Nobunaga, Nobunaga was assassinated on the way to Osaka (see above). A war for the succession of the Oda Clan broke out. Toyotomi first supported Nobunaga's youngest son, while provoking the elder ones. This escalated in a battle, where he was able to defeat them and seize control over the Oda Clan.
A the height of his power, he now decided to become official Shogun, but the Tenno did not give in and rejected his pleadings. In 1587 he continued his conquest conquering Shikoku, Etchu and Kyushu, seizing most of Japan. After his victories he began to reduce the armament of the people declaring that only Samurai are allowed to carry weapons. He also banned Christian Missionaries, who his predecessor supported, fearing their influence.

1590 he found a peaceful way to end peasant revolts by gathering their weapons but melting the iron and using it to build a big Buddha statue for their protection. After the peasants calmed down he continued his conquest and sieged Odawara Castle, bringing an end to the Civil War.

Starting in 1591, when he achieved the unification of Japan, he probably went insane or mentally ill and continuously felt really horrible bad decisions: the first was to force the highly regarded master of tea ceremony Sen No Rikyuu, who revolutionized the ceremony, to commit Seppuku. In the same year his only son died away, leaving him without heir and his dynasty in doubt. He quickly adopted the child of his brother, when he died one year later and named him his heir.

Although he was physically falling ill, he decided to continue his conquest following dreams of Oda Nobunaga. Since Japan was conquered he planned to conquer Ming China and started with invading Korea. From 1591 - 1598 he thus waged an insane and brutal war against Korea. When Seoul was occupied, Korea allied with Ming China, which feared to fall to the invasion after Korea would have fallen. Together Korea and China could drive Toyotomi back until he finally had to give up the war in 1598. However no one has won this war, China and Japan lost the biggest part of their army, while Korea lay devastated in ruins. One third of the entire population had been killed or fallen victim to the upcoming food shortages, since Toyotomi's army burned everything to the ground. It was the worst war for Korea in history, much worse even then the occupation during world war 2.

When Toyotomi gave birth to another son in 1593, he feared for his succession, since he named his adopted nephew heir. Going along with his increasing insanity he killed one third of his own family clan including his adopted nephew in a blood rage. With his insane commands and actions increasing and the war in Korea lost and the Oda Clan's army shattered and broken, the power of Japan could easily taken by someone who was laying in wait to grasp it all the time: Tokugawa Ieyasu.

However his rule brought Japan much progress: He gave some peace to the country by forbidding arms, except for Samurai. He increased the power of his army, by refraining Samurai from menial labor and supporting them with real estate. He made the first census in Japanese history to see how many men and women he had in his country. Following this knowledge he could develop an effective powerful taxation system, with which he could eventually finance his insane war against Korea and China. He also banned slavery to get more capable man and, before he had fallen insane, made a big impact in the tea ceremony and let it prosper.

徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 - 1616)

The last of the three great Sengoku Daimyo, which ended the Sengoku time for good and established a stable Shogunate, which was able to last for 250 years.

His birthplace and home is the province Mikawa. He was born as son and heir of the Matsurada Clan's Daimyo. However when he was only six years old the Matsurada Clan split into two fractions, one in favor of allying with the rising Oda Clan and the other in favor of the powerful Imagawa Clan. When Oda Clan invaded Mikawa, Ieyasu's father asked the Imagawa Clan for help. They agreed, but required him to send his son as hostage, as was custom. Oda Nobuhide (Oda Nobunaga's father) heard of this plan and kidnapped Ieyasu first. He then threatened Matsuradai Clan with killing Ieyasu if he would not switch allegiance to Oda Clan. Ieyasu's father refused and sacrificed his son to Oda in order to proof loyalty with Imagawa Clan. Despite that act, Nobuhide decided to keep Ieyasu alive for now.

Suddenly both Ieyasu's father and Nobuhide died of sickness (epidemic), and Imagawa Clan saw its chances in a weak Oda Clan and lay siege to their castle in Owari Province. Oda Nobunaga, Nobuhide's second son, offered Ieyasu in exchange for an end of the siege. Imagawa seeing in Ieyasu a future allied leader of the Matsurada Clan accepted and ended the siege. Thus Ieyasu grew up within Imagawa Clan being trained for leading Matsurada Clan.

When he came of age in 1556, he was allowed to return to Mikawa and take control over his clan. Imagawa turned Matsurada's army over to Tokugawa and told him "go out and fight Oda Clan". He won his first battle in Terabe and won valuable supplied for his troops.
1560 Oda Clan's dispute for leadership ended with Oda Nobunaga seizing control over the clan. Nobunaga was a brilliant stratagem and saw immediately the threat of the powerful Imagawa Clan and started a campaign to defeat the clan. It peaked in the Battle Of Okehazama where a mere 2000 men of his were defeated 20.000 of Imagawa Clan's men, by superior tactics and equipment. During the battle Ieyasu held a castle at the border to Owari province and was not involved. After this battle Tokugawa Ieyasu saw Oda Nobunaga's incredible military skills and decided to secretly ally with him. Secrecy was necessary, because his wife and son were held prisoner in Imagawa Clan's castle.

Thus his first act as Nobunaga ally was to siege the weakened Imagawa Clan's castle and easily get back his wife and son in exchange for the wife and daughter of the Imagawa Daimyo, which he captured. His next step was to fortify his position in Mikawa and prepare his troops. supplying them with new weapons and training them with new tactics. He also strengthened his position in Mikawa province by giving castles and real estate to key vassals of his trust (e.g. Hattori Hanzo).

In the years following 1568, while remaining loyal to Oda Nobunaga and supporting his wars, he also expanded his own territory of influence having built up a small but powerful army. He longed for the still weakened Imagawa Clan's territory and allied with another brilliant stratagem Takeda Shingen,leader of Takeda Clan. Together they were able to defeat the remaining Imagawa Clan and split their territory among themselves.

However 1570 Ieyasu longing for the whole territory, ended the alliance with Takeda Shingen and established an alliance with Takeda Shingen's eternal rival Uesugi Kenshin, a just as brilliant military leader. However knowing Shingen's capability he did not attack right away but help his ally Oda Nobunga in fighting Asakura and Azai Clans, which formed an Anti-Oda alliance around the weak Ashikaga Shogun.

Ieyasu was clever not to attack Takeda Shingen, but his switching alliance to Uesugi Kenshin angered Takeda Shingen and now he attacked Ieyasu 1571. Despite of sending for and receiving help from Oda Nobunaga, Takeda Shingen's military genius was able to destroy Tokugawa's entire army down to six men, including Tokugawa himself. It took Tokugawa four years to build up a new army, but when he was able to wage war again, luck stoke him, when Takeda Shingen died in a siege 1573 and was succeeded by his less genius son Katsuyori. Still his army was still trained and used to fight with Shingen's tactics and seeing Tokugawa's new army, Takeda Clan stroke again. This time Oda Nobunaga, worrying about his loyal ally came himself with 30.000 men and crushed Takeda Clan down to a small size. Now Tokugawa's small army matched Takeda's and they dealt each other many fierce but indecisive blows for seven years.

1582 Oda Nobunaga decided to put an end to the quarrelsome Takeda Clan and for a third time an Oda/Tokugawa force attacked Takeda Clan and this time annihilating the entire clan forcing Katsuyori and his family to Seppuku, conquering Kai province. After this victory Oda returned to Osaka to see another victory of his army, but he was assassinated on the way and a struggle for the succession of the Oda Clan started. Oda Mitsuhide saw Tokugawa as the biggest threat for the succession and decided to assassinated him, yet by clever disguise and much luck Tokugawa managed to flee from Kai Province back to his fortress in Mikawa. When he gathered his forces and prepared to march to Osaka, kill Mitsuhide and seize control of Oda Clan, he saw that he was too late. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Oda Nobunaga's most capable generals, already did the job for him.

With Nobunaga's death, some of the provinces ruled by new vassals of him were very disputed. Tokugawa grasped the chance and moved his gathered army back to Kai instead of Osaka and seized control of the province. However with the powerful Takeda Clan gone, another powerful Clan became interested in Kai and attacked Tokugawa newly established rule: The Hojo Clan from Kanto region. Realizing his chances against the huge army, Tokugawa avoided battle and fought back with diplomacy. He succeeded in ending up in an agreement that left him both with Kai and Shinano Province, while Hojo Clan took Kazusa.

1584 Having his east borders secured by a contract with the powerful Hojo clan, he turned his eyes back westwards to Osaka, Owari and the Oda Clan. The struggle for succession was not decided yet and Tokugawa decided to throw in his lot with Nobunaga's eldest son Nobukatsu. A mistake since right after that Toyotomi Hideyoshi seized control of the entire clan annihilating Nobukatsu and almost Tokugawa. This is the only time when two of the three great warlords battled each other. At the first stage Tokugawa scored a victory against Owari castle, but then months of fruitless skirmishes followed, until he had to recede to diplomacy and a truce and alliance was called at the cost of giving his second son to Toyotomi for adoption. (He had to kill his wife and his first son, after they were accused of being involved with the assassination of Oda Nobunaga). Being left with only his third son, he named Hidetada his heir.

After that five years of deep understandable mistrust between Toyotomi and Ieyasu kept both apart from each other, meaning that Tokugawa was not involved in Toyotomi conquering Shikoku and Kyushu. With Kyushu, Shikoku and Kansai under Toyotomi's control, only the eastern Hojo Clan was left to oppose his rule over entire Japan. 1590 after the five years, Toyotomi was able to trust Tokugawa again and both of them prepared for the final battle attacking and sieging many of Hojo's castle with 160.000 + 30.000 men. When the Hojo main castle in Odawara lay under siege, the Daimyo saw that he had no chance winning against an army that large and surrendered committing Seppuku. Right before the end of the final battle Toyotomi still being afraid of Ieyasu challenged him with a powerful proposal: Tokugawa would obtain all of Hojo's eight provinces in Kanto, but needed to give up all his six established provinces including his home province Mikawa. Tokugawa accepted.

This was a courageous move, since it meant Tokugawa had to leave most of his trusted people and familiar places behind to move into enemy Hojo territory and hope to the loyalty of a clan he betrayed and then helped getting defeated. However his courage bore fruits, because he soon was able to win the Hojo Samurai's favor and improved Kanto's economy and infrastructure significantly. The most important fact was that Kanto was naturally isolated from Japan and hardly accessible. This left Tokugawa with almost complete independence of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. A Japanese proverb goes like this: "Tokugawa Ieyasu won the country by retreating".

1592 having conquered Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi went megalomaniac and planned to conquer Ming China. As a first step in his mad plan he invaded Korea with his entire force. One year later he summoned Ieyasu to Kyushu to serve as military advisor, but Ieyasu kept his Kanto region out of this insane war and successfully relied on his sons and trusted vassals to further improve Kanto region during his absence.

1598 with Korea burned to ashes and his troops reduced, demolished and retreating Toyotomi's health was also dwindling. He saw his end coming and feared for his succession, since he killed a third of his family in an insanity outrage, which left his five year old son Hideyori as the only heir. Thus he summoned the five most powerful Daimyo of Japan to his bed and formed the Council of the five elders, who should rule for his son, until he would have grown older and take control himself. The five elders were: Maeda Toshii, Mori Terumoto, Ukita Hidei, Uesugi Kagehatsu and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Then he died.

With Toyotomi Hideyoshi dead and his army crushed Tokugawa started to look at Kansai again. But he also established first diplomatic relations to Mexico and New Spain. Now he started to make alliances with various Daimyo around Japan, especially picking those who had no love for the deceased Hideyoshi. The he waited for a chance.

1599 One year later the chance came with Maeda Toshii died naturally and leaving a power leak. Tokugawa reacted quickly and seized Fushimi and little Hideyori in Osaka castle. The three remaining elders were outraged and prepared for war. The powerful Daimyo Ishida Mitsunari, while not being an elder, longed for Tokugawa's position and planned an assassination. However Tokugawa's generals spies got message of the attempt and stopped him almost killing him. In the last moment he was saved by Tokugawa Ieyasu, how ordered his generals to let him go. This decision is highly disputed and the best explanation is that Ieyasu foresaw that Mitsunari would lead the enemy army against him and he realized that he was an incapable stratagem and thus wished him to lead the enemy army. Foreseen or not, that is what happened: Mitsunari gathered the three remaining elders and formed a huge army in the pro Mitsunari Fraction, while Tokugawa's alliances bore fruits and an anti Mitsunari Fraction formed around Tokugawa, Date, Mogami, Satake and Maeda Clans.

1600 Tokugawa succeeded in defeating Uesugi Clan, while Mitsunari took Kyoto and Fushimi from Tokugawa. The war peaked in Japan's biggest battle: The Battle Of Sekigahara with 160.000 men clashing into each other. Tokugawa's assumption proved right and with Mitsunari leading the enemy army, Tokugawa could score a complete victory over Mitsunari's Fraction crushing the entire western block of Japan and ending up being the ruler of entire Japan. His first action was to execute important western Daimyo like Mitsunari and the the remaining two elders, replacing them with his own vassals.

depiction of the battle of Sekigahara

1603 Tokugawa officially received the title Shogun from Tenno Go-Yozei starting the 250 years lasting Tokugawa Shogunate. In the end he outlasted all the great men of his time: Oda Nobunaga, Takeda Shingen, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Uesugi Kenshin and established the third of the three great Shogunates after Minamoto and Ashikaga.

1605 Tokugawa officially gave the title of Shogun to his son Hidetada, but in fact remained in power until his death. As retired Shogun, Ieyasu became 大御所 Ogosho Ieyasu (Cloistered Shogun). Remaining in power her supervised the construction of Edo castle, Japan's biggest castle ever, retired to Sunpu and established trading relations to the Netherlands and Spain. He also employed the English pilot Adam Williams for forming international relations with Spain and the Catholic Church.

1611 he visited the coronation of the new Tenno Go-Mizunoo and forced him to rebuild his palace in Kyoto. Later he composed the Kuge Shohatto, a document which weakened the Daimyo by forcing them to annually reporting to Edo leaving their estates for at least two months and loosing a lot of money for the march to Edo and back (since they had to take a huge force with them, both for protection and for showing off).

Having relations both to protestant and catholic countries Japan was falling into the Protestant Catholic war raging in Europe without doing anything. Tokugawa reacted outraged to this religious nonsense and expelled all Christians and foreigners from Japan banning Christianity and closing the country to the world starting the 鎖国 Sakoku (closed country) Period. Most of the Japanese Christians fled to the Philippines and build communities there.

1614-1615 the last battle of the Sengoku Period was fought, when Hideyori, Toyotomi Hideyoshi's heir reached adulthood and posed the last threat to Tokugawa's undisputed rule over Japan. When it became clear that Tokugawa wanted to dispose of Hideyori all the Samurai disloyal to Tokugawa or hating him and his rule gathered around Osaka castle around Hideyori. When the Tokugawas ordered Hideyori to leave Osaka Castle and he refused, they went into war what was known as the Winter Siege of Osaka. A peace treaty was signed and the siege ended, but before Tokugawa's troops retreated they quickly filled the castle moats with sand. When Ogosho Ieyasu returned to Sunpu he sent another eviction order to Hideyori in Osaka castle, when his refused again he and Hidetada rallied 160.000 men and sieged Osaka in the Summer Siege. With the moats being filled with sand the Tokugawa troops could seize the castle and executed everyone inside including Hideyori.

1616 Ogosho Ieyasu died of syphilis (or cancer). After his dead he was deified as 東照大権現 the great Gongen, light of the east, a Kami / Buddha, which came down to earth to enlighten all sentient beings. His shrine and mausoleum was erected in Nikko.

Tokugawa Ieyasu was a remarkable character at times both careful and bold. At most time he was able to determine the strength of his enemies and avoided battles he might loose. He always allied with the most intelligent capable leaders and only failed twice: Ending his alliance with Takeda Shingen and placing his hoped on Nobunaga Nobukatsu instead of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In the end he waited almost his entire life for his chance to take control and the fortune let him outlast all the other four equally capable men, so that his chance finally came and now he could take the rule in his own hands. Not repeating the mistakes of his predecessors he worked his entire rest of his life as Shogun and Ogosho to secure the rule of his Shogunate and bring Japan on a path without further civil wars.

Monday, 25 August 2008

レビュー:おーい竜馬 Review: Oi! Ryouma

In recent posts I told you more and more about the Japanese Revolution (明治維新) also referred to as Bakumatsu Period (幕末時代), which translates to "end of the Shogunate". You might think that I have studied the time from history books, but in fact I got most of my knowledge from a very excellent Manga, which I'd like to introduce today together with its main character:

坂本龍馬 Sakamoto Ryouma

The Manga features one of the revolution's main characters, without whom the revolution could not have taken place: Sakamoto Ryouma 坂本龍馬.

(I quoted the following text from my 長崎 Nagasaki post)

Sakamoto Ryouma was born 1835 in 土佐藩 Tosa Province (now 高知県 Kouchi Prefecture) on the island of 四国 Shikoku. In Tosa Province a couple of 上司 Joushi (upper class samurai) ruled with iron hand and Ryouma had to experience many cruelties during his youth. He was the son of a family of 郷士 Goushi (lower class samurai), which became wealthy in the Sake business. He was known around town for bed wetting until his adolescence, his bad writing and slow learning and was generally considered an idiot.

When he witnessed how the 大名 Daimyou (feudal lord) or Tosa killed friends of him, because of showing improper politeness when he was crossing a bridge, his life changed. He sought for a way to have an influence in the world and change it and what he found was swordsmanship. His simple childish plan was to become the best swordsman of Japan and by that gain influence. And so he did, with the burning passion and motivation of dreams behind him. Also 乙女 Otome his bigger sister played an important role, always seeing a great man in him and personally teaching him sword fighting lessons.

his big sister 乙女

When his skill reached a high level he joined tournaments in Edo (now Tokyo), which he was able to win. By that he made important contacts and friends in Edo. When he returned to Tosa, childhood friends of him created a local branch of the 尊皇攘夷 Sonnoujoui (a league to expel foreign dominance and influence on Japan and restore the power to the Tenno). At this time he met 吉田松陰 Yoshida Shouin and his students and was inspired by his teachings.
He initially joined for a certain time until they started to kill important leading figures of the feudal political structure of Tosa and Japan using the slogan 天誅 Tenchuu (heavenly punishment). At some point he got himself into an assassination mission of an important navy instructor in Edo called 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishuu. When he was about to kill him, he asked him to listen to him first and then decide whether to kill him or not.

吉田松陰 Yoshida Shouin

勝海舟 Katsu Kaishu

Katsu Kaishuu was on of the visionaries of the time and foresaw that a nation wide Civil War would weaken Japan to such a high extent that foreign powers could easily turn it into a colony of slaved. He saw the only way out in learning western science and building war ships like they do, building relations and find a peaceful way to change Japan into a strong modern country. Ryouma was immediately able to see the wisdom in his words and shared the passion of his dreams and thus in spite of killing his target, he became his 弟子 Deshi (disciple).

Together they worked on improving Japan's navy and acquired skills in how to operate steam powered war ships. They built a navy academy in Kobe, which became a place for free thinking, philosophy and dreams. The same as around Yoshida Shouin, the Kobe Naval Instruction Facility became a magnet for 志士 (shishi free thinkers and revolutionaries) from all over the country. At this time Ryouma was a 脱藩者 Dappansha (a person leaving a province without allowance by the feudal lord, a crime punished by 切腹 seppuku). Along with him many other people commit ed 脱藩 Dappan and joined Ryouma at the Naval Academy.

Although Ryouma was nor formally working for the Shogun he was still in good terms with the 尊皇攘夷 Sonnoujoui and other 志士 Shishi. When he met 吉田松陰 Yoshida Shouin, he also formed strong bonds of friendship with 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku, and 木戸孝允 Kido Takayoshi, which would influence the outcome of the revolution. When he was visiting 京都 Kyoto together with his 先生 Sensei, he also eye witnessed the 御門事変 Gomon Incident and at this time also made friends with 西郷隆盛 Saigo Takamori. Because of these connections he was later able to convince the two hostile provinces of 長州 Choshu and 薩摩 Satsuma to form an alliance the famous 薩長同盟 Sacchou Alliance to revolutionize the country.

西郷隆盛 Saigo Takamori from 薩摩藩 Satsuma Province

and 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku

and 木戸孝允 Kido Takayoshi from 長州藩 Choshu Province

After his protegee Katsu Kaishuu had to return to Edo and abandon the Naval Training Center in Kobe, Ryouma was on its own again. However by that he and most of the 志士 Shishi became targets of feudal lords again and had to flee. The found refugee in the 薩摩藩邸 Satsuma province feudal lord villa (like an embassy) where Saigo Takamori was residing. Having time to think about the future he decided to follow the ideals of his Sensei and form a company, Japan's first company, independent of political power. For that he had to move to 長崎 Nagasaki, the only city with an open port.

In 長崎 Nagasaki he formed the company and named it 亀山社中 Kameyama Company. With some initial support from Satsuma the trading company prospered and brought Japanese goods as silk, green tea, spices and pottery to the western world in return for weapons and later war ships. Later he realized the significance of his position, and part of his success in forming the 薩長同盟 Sacchou Alliance was to promise to supply the Choshuu army with fire arms, while Satsuma would get rice from Choshuu to supply their troops after a bad harvest. After that he continued supporting the revolution by making his company buy war ships for the revolutionaries. Therefore at this point he decided that his organizations needed a new name and he renamed it to 海援隊 Kaientai (sea support troop)...

the flag of the 亀山社中 Kameyama Company

So far the quote from Nagasaki, but of course Ryouma's story didn't end in Nagasaki, directly after he founded it, he gave the Kameyama comapany into the custody of his fellow Shishi and returned to the political tables of the period. Although the Sacchou Alliance was agreed upon, the revolution was only at its beginning. Throughout the political games, his foremost goal was always to avoid a civil war and any bloodshed at all. As long as he lived he successfully found means and convinced parties to unbloody compromises.

On a boat trip, all by himself he wrote down 8 paragraphs that would secure Japan's future as an independent country and a fair democracy. He presented the plan to the Tenno, who accepted it.

一策 天下の政権を朝廷に奉還せしめ政令よろしく朝廷より出づべき事
二策 上下議政局を設け議員を置きて万機を参替せしめ 万機よろしく公議に決すべき事
三策 有材の公卿×諸候×および天下の人材を顧問に備え官爵を賜い
四策 外国の交際×広く公議を採り新に至等の規約を立つべきこと
五策 古来の律令を折衷し新に無窮の大典を選定すべき事
六策 海軍よろしく拡張すべき事
七策 御新兵を置き、帝都を守護せしむべき事
八策 金銀物価よろしく外国と平均の法を設くべき事

1. Political power should be restored to the Imperial Court and all decrees should be issued by the Court.
2. Both upper and lower legislative houses should be created and government policies should be decided by this legislative body.
3. "Men of ability" from the former daimyo, nobles and general population should be appointed councilors. Traditional posts of power that existed under the Shogunate system should be abolished.
4. Foreign affairs should be conducted in accordance with regulations agreed upon on the basis of general consensus.
5. Rules and regulations created during Japan’s feudal days should be abolished and a new, modern legal code should be created.
6. Naval forces should be enlarged.
7. An Imperial Guard should be established for the purpose of defending the capital.
8. The value of goods and silver should be aligned with the going rates in foreign countries.

He also proved very wise and clever. His goal was to establish a democracy with equal rights for all humans, and a equal distribution of power. However if the two alliance leaders Satsuma and Choushuu would fight and win the revolution, they would take the greatest share of the power and thus prevent a real democracy from happening. Thus Ryouma cleverly introduced his home province Tosa as a third party to the alliance. The alliance gladly welcomed them, but they did not know about the good relations to the Shogun. Ryouma and Tosa's representative used these relations to convince the Shogun to return the political power to the Tenno (as it was goal of the revolutionaries). With this move a civil war was avoided, but the Shogun remained as a fourth political power in the game and the Tenno entered as a fifth. Thus Ryouma always tried hard to keep a power equilibrium, while fostering the revolution.

Eventually he moved from one political leader to the next and presented a sketch for a first democratic government to all of them. All five parties: Tenno, Shogun, Satsuma, Choushuu and Tosa would send representatives and build a common government. Although it was hard to convince Satsuma, Choushuu and the Tenno to give a big part of the power to the Shogun, they eventually accepted his scheme.

Sakamoto was assassinated along with his life long companion and friend

岡 慎太郎 Nakaoka Shintaro

Alas Ryouma was assassinated under unclear circumstances at last, when the revolution already seemed as good as done and the cities were safe again. After his death, probably due to his missing guidance, a small war broke out despite all his efforts. Shogun Yoshinobu decided to challenge the alliance, and fought with what was left of his forces. However with the political power having been given to the alliance the new formed national army, equipped with the newest weapons and versed in the newest battle tactics quickly won over the Shogun's forces. When Sakamoto's sensei Katsu Kaishu over that surrendered Edo to the alliance, the Shogun retreated with some remainder of his force and some unhappy Samurai to Hakodate in Hokkaido forming a counter nation called the "Republic of Ezo". However even this resistance was broken by the fast moving national army in the 戊辰戦争 Boushin War.

戊辰戦争 Boushin War in 函館 Hakodate

坂本龍馬僕の英雄 Sakamoto Ryouma My Hero

He truly has become my hero and inspiration.
As an independent person, never belonging to any of the five forces, he always managed to negotiate between all of them and thus find peacful solutions to what looked like certain war. Also despite the objections of his fellow Shishi he never recommened himself as carrier of any political office in the new government, although nobody would have earned this honor more than him. Also the other forces, when he was representing the scheme, asked him to also take some office for his hard work, but he answered "All I wish is to sail across the oceans and visit far away lands, knowing that my home is safe".

More than that he took more sacrifices than anyone at his time could imagine. His two best childhood friends Izo and Takeshi were captured and tortured for weeks in Tosa, until finally being executed or forced to Seppuku. Along with them all of the first Shishi of the 尊王攘夷 Sonnou Joui league, which came from Tosa, were also tortured and killed. All of this for the maintaining of an unfair social class system of 上司 Joushi (high samurai) and 郷士 Goushi (low samurai). The Shishi staying with him and running the Kameyama Shachu, his big sister, Takeshi's wife, and many more friends always grieved after their friends and longed for revenge and justice/satisfaction/revenge. Sakamoto deeply shared their grief and anguish and tried to support them as best as he could. However in the end, he saw taking exactly the Tosa leaders who were responsible for all the cruelty, injustice and bloodshed into the alliance and the new government, because it was the only way to secure a balance of power and secure a safe development for the future after revolutionary Japan. With this decision, which hurt himself more than anything else, he also procured the hatred of all his friends left on this world. To be capable of taking such a road, you need to be a hero.

僕の道 My Road

I myself am also thinking about how to bring the world closer to peace of more far away from war, how to distribute the world's wealth more equally among the people and abolish racism, class systems and discrimination. So goals very similar to those of Ryouma and he has become my inspiration and hope for taking the right paths at crossroads. To always take a path that does not lead to war and bloodshed and seek a path that does not give advantage to someone. But also to keep yourself humble and away from power, always smiling and happy and a good friend everybody can trust on. Thus is my road the same as his, let's see where it leads, and hope he will be a guiding star...

おーい龍馬 Oi! Ryouma

The Manga covers Ryouma really well and tells his entire life, starting from his childhood, where he was known to have been a coward, a cry baby and bedwetter unable to do anything properly, to his final days where his independent position enabled him to forge alliances and compromised between Japan's greatest leaders allowing his country to a bright future.

Sakamoto Ryouma with Takasugi Shinsaku and Kido Takayoshi
compare with the originals above

The drawing style is simple, as is common for Manga, but shows a good variety of emotions in the characters faces. The characters are well worked out and quickly come to live in the readers mind. But they are also not ficitional and so close to the real persons, that you will notice them immediately when you see their real photographs. The Manga has a very good humor, that it probably shared with the historic Ryouma, and often made me laugh heartily. But it also did not fail to show the dramatic events that lead to Ryouma seeking a new world and a revolution strong enough to make me cry and grief myself.

reading example, click to enlarge

Finally the biggest merit to the author is the amazing research he has done on Sakamoto Ryouma. The Manga can as well be called an excellent biography, as well as an excellent history book on the Bakumatsu Period. But in contrast to history books and biographies, it can do one more thing, it can bring Sakamoto Ryouma and his dreams, as well as the time he lived in back to life, which is so much more important that knowing some facts about history...

You don't learn from history by knowing times and events, you learn from history by living through it.