Work in Japan Advice Board

キービジュアル キービジュアル

Creative Career Path

Renaissance Samurai―Sakamoto Ryoma2010.07.20

    Renaissance samurai refers to one who has mastered both the martial craft of the samurai, and cultivated a broad range of talent, curiosity, and vision to have a renaissance quality. The phrase which sums it up is Bunbu Ryd (文武両道) meaning, Master of Sword and Letters.


    This was an ideal embraced in theory by the Samurai class in the Edo Period (1603-1868), a prolonged period of peace in which culture could thrive in the absence of the wars that had characterized the Sengoku (Warring States) Period which preceded it. Depending on their social status, many Samurai cultivated not only the martial arts, but also the arts of calligraphy, tea ceremony, and Confucian classics.


    At the same time, the Tokugawa Shogunate created a massive bureaucracy with extensive controls, a rigid class structure placing Samurai above Farmers, Craftsmen, and Merchants, in that order. Samurai themselves were divided into an upper class and lower class, and there remained strong rivalry and political intrigue among the clans which had been unified under the superior force of the Tokugawa rule.


    The entire system came unraveled at the end of the Shogunate’s rule (bakumatsu,, triggered by the arrival of Admiral Perry’s Black Ships in 1856, which not only forced an opening of the country, but also catalyzed internal upheaval and bloodshed. This was resolved in the surrender of Edo Castle to Imperial forces which created the Meiji Restoration, and laid the foundations of modern Japan.


    One of the key catalysts in this remarkable period was a renaissance samurai named Sakamoto Ryoma (

    Ryoma’s Cult Hero Status

    Sakamoto Ryoma (1835-1867) was a lower class samurai from Tosa in Shikoku. In the short five years from 1862 when he left the Tosa Clan to become a masterless samurai, he placed his life on the line in a remarkable quest to remake the country, which ended in his assassination in 1867 at the age of 33.


    There isn’t space here to do justice to his achievements, but in this five year period he surpassed his clan, his class, and his country with vision and courage that have made him a cult hero today. Having personally witnessed the awesome power of the Black Ships, and being aware of how other Asian countries had come under colonial domination of the Western powers, he was determined to prevent that same fate for Japan.His plan was to avoid the hopeless path of military conflict, and instead learn Western technology and ideas to modernize the country through trade and political unity. Many inside Japan did not agree, and his renegade actions eventually cost him his life. But not before he was able to catalyze the changes and arrange the alliances which became the foundations for modern Japan.


    Although Ryoma has inspired numerous novels, films, television series, and books, his popularity has reached a fever pitch this year with the NHK Taiga Drama Series Ryomaden (, which airs in Japanese, but is a must for Ryoma fans. The economic impact through the increase in tourism and the Ryoma-effect has been estimated at tens of billions of yen.

    Ryoma was a master negotiator in difficult political circumstances, and also founded the Kaientai, Japan’s first modern corporation and the precursor to the Mitsubishi Conglomerate. Ryoma is not only a popular hero, but also a personal hero of Son Masayoshi, President of Softbank and deal maker extraordinaire, who brought the iPhone and iPad to Japan. Ryoma has inspired dozens of books in Japanese on life lessons and business skills that can be drawn from this renaissance samurai.


    One of the best sources in English about Ryoma is Romulus Hillsborough, and his article Sakamoto Ryoma: The Indispensable Nobody, is well worth reading (

    Follow Ryoma on Foot

    It is worth noting that during the last five years of Ryoma’s life, he walked an incredible 46,000 km (the circumference of the earth at the equator is 40,075 km)! This amounts to an average of 25 km per day, and he obviously did more than just walk. His life is well documented in letters which he wrote, as well as contemporary accounts. He traveled from Shikoku to Edo, to Kyoto to Kyushu, mastered the Hokushin Itto-ryu Sword School, negotiated a difficult but pivotal alliance between the Satsuma and Choshu Clans, and started the first modern naval trading corporation in Japan. His courage, loyalty, and passion are an inspiration.


    Ryoma spend much time in Edo, and left many landmarks. We will be hosting a Ryoma Walk sponsored by JTB on September 18 (Sat), visiting some of those landmarks in Shinagawa, conducted in Japanese with hints on Nanba walking ( Follow Ryoma on foot, and learn how he managed to cover so much ground and accomplish so much.


    William Reed


    WEB TV:





    • このエントリーをはてなブックマークに追加

    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

    Similar Articles