Sakamoto Ryoma 坂本龍馬
Sakamoto Ryoma is probably the best known samurai hero of the Bakumatsu Period in the 1860s when an alliance of the Satsuma and Choshu domains (present day Kagoshima and Yamaguchi Prefectures) overthrew the Tokugawa regime.
Sakamoto's early and violent death, aged only 31, at an inn in Kyoto has guaranteed his legendary status, particularly among the young, as almost a Japanese Che Guevara.
Born in Kochi on Shikoku to a lowly samurai family, Ryoma supposedly overcame his youthly weakness by training himself to become a master swordsman.
Initially a hot-headed adherent of the sonno-joi ("revere the Emperor; expel the barbarians) faction, Ryoma once vowed he would bring back a foreign head when he heard of Perry's landing in Shimoda in Japan. Later he was involved in a plot (subsequently abandoned) to assassinate Katsu Kaishu, a leading Tokugawa official, who was involved in negotiations with the foreign powers in Japan and a prominent supporter of Japan's westernization. Sakamoto later became a protege and follower of Katsu, although they were nominally on opposite sides of the political fence.
Under Katsu's patronage he was put in charge of a new naval training college in Kobe, from which began his later interest in ships and trade. With the help of Saigo Takamori, a Satsuma leader, Sakamoto set up a small merchant fleet in Nagasaki - the Kameyama shachu - and purchased a steamship from the western businessman Thomas Glover. Sakamoto's small flotilla also doubled as a navy, the Naval Auxiliary Force (or kaientai) for the anti-Tokugawa forces.
Sakamoto Ryoma's greatest achievement is seen as his work in establishing the critical alliance of the powerful Choshu and Satsuma domains, which would provide the backbone of the forces that eventually overthrew the Tokugawa in the brief Boshin War (1868-1869).
Sakamoto was also influential in the debate that lead to the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu stepping aside in 1867, thus paving the way for the restoration of power in the name of the Emperor.
Sakamoto's political writings Senchu Hassaku outline an enlightened blueprint for a more democratic Japan based on equality and regional representation.
Death & Legacy
Sakamoto had already survived one assassination attempt at the Teradaya Inn near Fushimi in south east Kyoto before he was killed in mysterious circumstances together with his companion Nakaoka Shintaro in a raid at the Omiya inn and soy sauce shop in downtown Kyoto.
The airport in Kochi is named after their famous son and several museums in the city celebrate their hero.