Sakamoto Ryoma (1835-67) is one of the most well known revolutionary figures from the bakumatsu era, the end of the long-ruling Tokugawa regime, in Japan through novels and television. This special exhibition, The Age of Sakamoto Ryoma, commemorating the 170th anniversary of his birth, traces his life and time through historical paintings and artifacts from the end of the Tokugawa period (also known as the Edo period, 1616-1867).
In 1931, descendents of Sakamoto Ryoma donated many materials related to him to the Kyoto National Museum, including his correspondence to his family, the genealogy of the Sakamoto clan, records of his shipping company Kaientai, and swords. The Iguchi family─descendants of the owners of Omiya, the soy sauce shop in Kyoto, which Ryoma used as a hideout and where he was assassinated─donated to the museum his kimono with family crest, a standing screen stained with his blood, and his letters. In 1999, these materials were deemed invaluable to understanding the ideas and activities of this historical figure and were designated Important Cultural Properties of Japan.
Sakamoto Ryoma continues to fascinate many even today because of several historically important contributions, the most significant being his role as mediator in the alliance of the powerful Choshu (now Yamaguchi Prefecture) and Satsuma (today Kagoshima) domains, which led to the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogunate and the rise of the Meiji Restoration. In the tenth month of 1867, through his home domain Tosa, Ryoma pushed the Tokugawa regime for and actualized the restoration of Imperial rule. His personal endorsement from this time written on the back of a document from the Kido family, in the collection of the Imperial Household Agency, is a historical monument. His Eight Articles for a New Governmental Platform, which will also be exhibited, is an important document in shaping the policies of a modern nation state in which the framework for the new government─the establishment of a constitution and the inauguration of a national assembly─were designed.
Also of interest is Ryoma's correspondence through which his personality can be seen. His letters to his family─his older sister Otome, his older brother Konpei, and his niece Harui─and to his friends are filled with his candid feelings expressed through playful metaphors and humor. His lucid sentences offer vivid descriptions of his escape from the attack by the Tokugawa authorities at Teradaya inn and of his trip with his wife Oryo to Takachiho Peak in the Kirishima Mountains. Of his over 130 extant missives, more than sixty─approximately half─will be exhibited here.
This exhibition explores Ryoma's ideas, personal feelings, and motives through works by loyalist painters, kawaraban (“roof-tile prints”) news prints and illustrated handscrolls capturing the surprised and curious reactions to the arrival of Commodore Perry and his fleet at Uraga Bay, scenic depictions of Tosa (the domain where Ryoma was born), materials related to the Sakamoto family, illustrations and kawaraban of the various battles between the loyalists and the Tokugawa regime, materials of the naval battle on the Kanmon Straits that Ryoma participated in, as well as various materials related to his associates.