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Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011

Sakamoto Ryoma introduced to U.S. students


NEW YORK — The Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum run by Kochi Prefecture held a forum Friday in New York to introduce its namesake to a group of U.S. high school students.

The forum, cohosted by the New York-based Japan Society, followed a similar event Oct. 11 in Honolulu to honor Ryoma (1835-1867), a visionary who played a leading role in the movement that brought about the 1868 Meiji Restoration.

Also featured at the event were Katsu Kaishu (1823-1899), widely seen as the founding father of the Japanese navy, and Nakahama Manjiro (1827-1898), better known as John Manjiro, the first Japanese known to have studied in the United States, after his fishing boat was wrecked and he was rescued by a U.S. whaling ship.

About 250 people attended the forum, including visitors from Japan as well as local students and teachers.

A descendant of Ryoma's older brother, Noboru Sakamoto, 74, resides in Tokyo and took part in the forum as a panelist.

"Coming to the United States was Ryoma's lifelong dream," Sakamoto said, adding Ryoma was assassinated before he could achieve his dream. Sakamoto said Ryoma treasured human life and was firmly opposed to the Japanese caste system that enabled samurai to have unchecked power against ordinary citizens.

Minako Koyama, 49, a freelance writer and a descendant of Kaishu, told the forum her forebear, born into a samurai family of low standing, suffered discrimination, no matter how hard he worked. "He wholeheartedly knew the importance of fairness," she said. Ryoma regarded Kaishu as his mentor.

Junji Kitadai, 79, an expert on Manjiro, said the most important message Manjiro wanted to convey to Japan from his time in the United States was "e pluribus unum," a Latin phrase on the seal of the United States that means "out of many, one." Kitadai said this inspired Ryoma, who envisioned a united Japan at a time when the country was still ruled by different warlords.

Born into a samurai family in the castle town of Kochi in the Tosa domain, Ryoma was a key figure in talks to settle conflicts among domains after the Tokugawa shogunate collapsed in the 1860s. The shogun's ronin killed him in 1867.

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