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Customer reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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4.0 out of 5 stars

on 29 November 2013
Firstly, if you are at all interested in the life and achievements of Sakamoto Ryoma, you must read this book.
Secondly, if you have seen any of the TV dramatizations of his life, then it's a must.
Where Mr. Jensen scores highest, is his desire to present a true account without any reliance to hearsay or unsubstantiated stories that circulate in the public domain.

This is a real academic tome, written in 1961, before the modern rush of publications in Japan and then later slightly updated.

Mr. Jensen understands the Japanese people and with help from local scholars was able to access many contemporary accounts, often written or collected by friends of Ryoma and published in the early 20th Century in Japan.

These accounts are always cited when used and gives this book its academic strength. Yes, at times it is difficult to follow. To a modern eye, the language is slightly old fashioned but I loved it. It reminded me of history textbooks from the 1970's, a time before dumbing down was commonplace in schools.

However tough a read it can be, it is worth it. This is a study that doesn't focus too much on Ryoma or the political tension at the time; the balance is pretty good. Yes, I would have like more tales of Ryoma but without proper citation, the book would not have been so reliable.

All of the contemporary Japanese accounts are taken from letters between Ryoma and his family or colleagues and other participants.

Where the book scores well, is its re-balancing of history. Ryoma was a real character and as such, has taken the major glory in this story but there were others that also worked alongside him in his quest and without them, much of this would never have taken place.

The most notable is Nakaoka Shintaro, a friend from Ryoma's younger days, who like Ryoma, ran away from his Han, (home area) and became a Samurai on the run, (dappan Ronin). Nakaoka spent much of his time in Choshu, working toward the same goal as Ryoma and without both of their efforts, there would never have been an alliance between Choshu and Satstuma, enabling stability and the eventual overthrow of the Shogunate leadership.

This re-balancing is essential to historical accuracy and as their friend Tanaka Koken wrote after their deaths, "Nakaoka was a sage, Sakamoto a real hero".

This is key to understanding how a dappan ronin such as Ryoma could become such a central figure in the Meiji restoration. Ryoma was a fun person, gregarious and driven. A man who made contacts easily and could always be trusted. All of these many contacts gave their opinions to Ryoma and his real skill was to collate all of this information and distill it into his eight point plan for the future of Japan.

Without Ryoma, Japan would have probably descended into civil war but without all of his contacts, Ryoma would never have dreamed this beautiful future for his Country.

So, a real joy of a book, enjoy the historical accuracy and revel in the most exciting story but don't be disappointed when there are no references to teenage sweethearts, possible engagements to dojo mistresses or dalliances with Geisha.

There are references to his marriage but what interested me, was how the many TV and film versions of his life often change the order of events or take words from one person and place them in the mouth of another; why oh why!

I reccomend this book wholeheartedly and as one of only two written in the English language, it's essential.

The other is Romulus Hillsborough's Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai. This will be my next read and I will review it once done.

What a journey!
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on 29 November 2013
Firstly, if you are at all interested in the life and achievements of Sakamoto Ryoma, you must read this book.
Secondly, if you have seen any of the TV dramatizations of his life, then it's a must.
Where Mr. Jensen scores highest, is his desire to present a true account without any reliance to hearsay or unsubstantiated stories that circulate in the public domain.

This is a real academic tome, written in 1961, before the modern rush of publications in Japan and then later slightly updated.

Mr. Jensen understands the Japanese people and with help from local scholars was able to access many contemporary accounts, often written or collected by friends of Ryoma and published in the early 20th Century in Japan.

These accounts are always cited when used and gives this book its academic strength. Yes, at times it is difficult to follow. To a modern eye, the language is slightly old fashioned but I loved it. It reminded me of history textbooks from the 1970's, a time before dumbing down was commonplace in schools.

However tough a read it can be, it is worth it. This is a study that doesn't focus too much on Ryoma or the political tension at the time; the balance is pretty good. Yes, I would have like more tales of Ryoma but without proper citation, the book would not have been so reliable.

All of the contemporary Japanese accounts are taken from letters between Ryoma and his family or colleagues and other participants.

Where the book scores well, is its re-balancing of history. Ryoma was a real character and as such, has taken the major glory in this story but there were others that also worked alongside him in his quest and without them, much of this would never have taken place.

The most notable is Nakaoka Shintaro, a friend from Ryoma's younger days, who like Ryoma, ran away from his Han, (home area) and became a Samurai on the run, (dappan Ronin). Nakaoka spent much of his time in Choshu, working toward the same goal as Ryoma and without both of their efforts, there would never have been an alliance between Choshu and Satstuma, enabling stability and the eventual overthrow of the Shogunate leadership.

This re-balancing is essential to historical accuracy and as their friend Tanaka Koken wrote after their deaths, "Nakaoka was a sage, Sakamoto a real hero".

This is key to understanding how a dappan ronin such as Ryoma could become such a central figure in the Meiji restoration. Ryoma was a fun person, gregarious and driven. A man who made contacts easily and could always be trusted. All of these many contacts gave their opinions to Ryoma and his real skill was to collate all of this information and distill it into his eight point plan for the future of Japan.

Without Ryoma, Japan would have probably descended into civil war but without all of his contacts, Ryoma would never have dreamed this beautiful future for his Country.

So, a real joy of a book, enjoy the historical accuracy and revel in the most exciting story but don't be disappointed when there are no references to teenage sweethearts, possible engagements to dojo mistresses or dalliances with Geisha.

There are references to his marriage but what interested me, was how the many TV and film versions of his life often change the order of events or take words from one person and place them in the mouth of another; why oh why!

I reccomend this book wholeheartedly and as one of only two written in the English language, it's essential.

The other is Romulus Hillsborough's Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai. This will be my next read and I will review it once done.

What a journey!
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse


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