THE REAL LAST SAMURAI

WITH AN EMPEROR, ASSASSINS, AND THE LAST SHOGUN ON EARTH

 

WARNING : EVERY PICTURE IS CLICKABLE WARNING!

 

It didn't start with the sudden landing of the American fleet under Commodore Matthew Perry in July 1853. The Meiji Restoration was a historical necessity, it would have happened anyway eventually. Perry and his 'Black Ships' was only a catalyst; or he precipitated the conclusion of the process that had started long way back before he showed up at the Japanese shore out of the blue.

 

The 'Black Ship'

Commodore Perry's 'Black Ship' in July 1853.

Perry took the Mississippi, Susquehanna, Saratoga and Plymouth in this first landing. Japanese moms in Yokohama told their kids not to make a scene or get messy around the house lest the 'Black Ship' came to devour them to the last byte.

Why did it shake Japan so? Hadn't they seen ships before?

That's the simple question that fans of today's anime series Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X) keep on asking.

The answer is, no, they hadn't.

Not for their entire lives.

Not their fathers and mothers, either.
Not their grandpas and grandmas.
Not their great-grandparents.
Not even their great-great grandfathers and grandmothers.

Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu closed all Japanese ports from foreign vessels since the end of 1630's. And he set the limit of tonnage for ship-building; the permissible standard was such that none of it could be used to cross any ocean.

 

Commodore Perry

Commodore Matthew Perry
-- one of his official portraits
in 1850's.

Commodore Perry

This is how the Japanese saw him.
Still wonder why the moms of 1853 used him
to scare kids?

 

THE REAL-LIFE LAST SAMURAI WHO FOUGHT AGAINST EMPEROR MEIJI'S ARMY

click here

 

Emperor Meiji

Emperor Mutsuhito (Meiji)
agreed with his advisors
that the era of the swords
must end. He was only 15 when
ascending the throne.
(That's his original official snapshot).

 

Meiji samurai

The Tokugawa samurai of the same era
fought to the last for the feudal regime
that they knew so well, risking to get
branded as 'enemies of the State'.
(They're for real. That's an original photo.)

 

The Imperial insignia
The imperial insignia:
whosoever fought
against an army
whose banner
showed this
golden chrysant,
was a rebel against
the Empire itself.
The
Shinsengumi
risked it for a while,
with a great loss.

 

Satsuma warrior, 1888

A real-life Satsuma warrior in 1870
Satsuma warrior, 1888

Real-life Tokugawa samurai in 1890

 

ALL EMPERORS, EMPRESSES, SHOGUNS, AND RULERS OF JAPAN SINCE 660 B.C.E UNTIL TODAY

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Former warlords

Real-life warlords -- after the Emperor obliged them to get rid of 'the Old ways'.
The snapshot was taken in 1878, a decade after the Emperor's victory.
The new administration went so far to strip these people off everything they had,
that warlords' castles that should have been some national assets were put on sale.

CLICK HERE FOR THE WARLORDS IN MEIJI WAR

The warlords in the Meiji War were not so simply divided into 2 factions.
Some of them took to Emperor Meiji's side, some were fighting for the Tokugawa shogunate,
some were neutral, and some were fighting against both the Emperor and the Shogun at once.

 

Click here for complete history and pictures of Japanese social classes since 1185 until 1868

 

Japan Industrial Expo 1877

Japan caught up quickly; the Industrial Expo of 1877 was presentable.
For the first time, there was lavish gaslight in the country.

 

Meiji Memorial Park, 2005

The Meiji legacy in 2005 includes this awesome imperial garden (but it is a public space)

 

Empress Meiji

The Meiji Empress was the start of nationwide sociocultural transformation, although it was only in 2004 that a Japanese Prince decided to marry a commoner.

 

MEIJI WAR MOVIES

 

 EMPEROR MEIJI'S
REAL WAR
Click here

 

 

Sakamoto Ryoma
Sakamoto Ryoma

If you must name just ONE man responsible for the Japanese 'modernism' of Emperor Meiji's years, say 'Sakamoto'. He was nothing but an ordinary samurai of the unmentionable rank as far as Tokugawa feudalism was concerned, yet in the heat of revolution, in 1867, he was the one who managed to talk the last of the Minamoto-Tokugawa rulers out to abdicate. And he didn't have time to see himself being canonized by history; barely 30 days after that he was assassinated. What usually makes the Meiji Restoration impenetrable to outsiders is the fact that it was no simple biz of either This or That. Loyalty was flimsy, and no one stood against the Emperor no matter what they did. So it's darn hard to nail down a hero of the day. Sakamoto, Saigo, Okubo, the Shinsengumi, the hardcore "Kick the Barbarians' A**!" flock, the "Viva the Emperor!" crowd, the "Great Japan for Samurai!" bunch -- in short, the various points of view and deeds to those ends -- all might have deserved credits. The Japanese animation moviemakers love Sakamoto Ryoma; he was the main character in Oi! Ryoma! (1992), directed by Sasakawa Hiroshi & Kagawa Yutaka. Also in Armored Chronicle Hio (Karakuri Den Hio Senki, 2000), by Amino Tetsuro, Drifting Clouds (Ukigumo, 1982), by Masaki Mamoru.

Sorimachi Takashi
Sakamoto Ryoma in the movie titled by his name,
starring Sorimachi Takashi.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu
THE LAST SHOGUN ON EARTH :
TOKUGAWA YOSHINOBU (1827-1913)

Just like the history of the last emperor of the Manchunese dynasty Pu Yi in early Republican days of China, the end of the Tokugawa shogunate does look kind of saddening today. In 1867 Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. of A insisted on handing his formal dox to "the ruler of Japan", and they got a teacher from today's Tokyo instead of anyone from the Imperial Palace of Kyoto. This teacher who's only known as 'Hayashi' was sent as a temporary envoy by Tokugawa, representing the Shogun. Back from the meeting, he hauled official presents from President Millard Fillmore to the Tokugawan Castle of Tokyo. Those gifts, addressed to 'His Majesty the Sovereign of Japan', stayed unopened in their packages for years, moved the way they came in when Tokugawa had given back political power to Emperor Mutsuhito and got to evacuate the castle that was now a property of the State. The Emperor might not have intended to fling an irony, but he let Tokugawa to keep the presents. You wouldn't like a single sec of being in his shoes whenever he looked at them.

Tokugawa Yoshinobu
Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last of the Tokugawas,
in a movie titled the same (1998),
starring Masahiro Motoki

 

Saigo Takamori
Saigo Takamori
Lord of Satsuma
Hijikata
Hijikata
leader of Shinsengumi
Ito Hirobumi
Ito Hirobumi
Meiji General
Okubo Toshimichi
Okubo Toshimichi
Minister of Interior


Those are all original photographs of the real persons. Lord
Saigo Takamori of Kagoshima was the leader of the anti-Restoration movement, after he helped the Emperor to end the Tokugawa shogunate. It wasn't that he loved the Tokugawa shogunate, or he was loyal to Yoshinobu, or something; he fought the regime as hard as he did the new order -- when he found his ideals evaporated in the wind of change and from there all he saw was a point of no return. Tom Cruise's movie The Last Samurai was loosely based on this remarkable man's bio. Great swordsman Hijikata as a leader of the Shinsengumi left Kyoto to fight the Restoration army in remote provinces. It was a mere job for the pack. The Shinsengumi lost too many men in the battles against the Imperial Army. Worse, by keeping on fighting they would have been branded as enemies of the State, and that was the ultimate disgrace for a samurai. Ito Hirobumi led the pro-Restoration movement, thinking that if civil war was navoidable then at least they'd know friends from foes.
Okubo Toshimichi as the pivotal personality in the turbulent era lost his life assassinated by anti-Restoration band of samurai, allegedly what remained of the Satsuma warriors. Manga artist Watsuki Nobuhiro features this VIP of the Meiji era in his series Rurouni Kenshin, Meiji Kenkaku Romantan, as Okubo was in real life -- a central, commanding figure behind all the sociopolitical upheaval that ushered Japan into the so-called modern age.

Click the pictures for detailed accounts, stories, pictures, and related pages.

CLICK HERE FOR THE WARLORDS IN MEIJI WAR

 

THE EMPEROR'S ARMY VERSUS THE REAL-LIFE LAST SAMURAI : THE LAST BATTLE

click here

 

For the entire atmophere around the real-life last samurai of Japan, see the anime movie A Tree in the Sun (Hidamari no Ki, 2000), directed by Sugii Gisaburo and Mizuno Rei. It's based on the comic book made by none other than 'the Christ' of the Japanese manga and animation movies, Tezuka Osamu, inspired by the bio of his own great-grandfather who was a Western-educated physician of the Meiji era. And if you haven't even seen what Hollywood has made out of this same history of Japan, click here.

 

Hidamari no Ki

Meiji era's conflict between the old & the new is explored in Hidamari no Ki (in the pic: 'Westernized' doc versus old-school samurai, the same contrast is featured in Mibu Gishiden)

 

The Last Samurai

Tom Cruise's movie The Last Samurai, 2003, picks up the same theme (in the pic: a country samurai versus a bunch of Tokyo cops). Click the pic to see movie scenes.

Click here for the chronology of events that led to the Meiji War 1863-1891

 

STORY & PICTURES OF THE 'WOLVES OF MIBU', DEFENDERS OF THE SHOGUN

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