Jade Dragon Online Title Bar
B o o k   R e v i e w

Samurai History and Culture:
Featured Books by Romulus Hillsborough

RYOMA - Life of a Renaissance Samurai
First Literary Biography of Japan's Most Remarkable Samurai

The founder of Japan's first modern corporation was a swaggering swordsman who packed a Smith and Wesson, an outlaw who led a band of stalwart samurai to overthrow the shogun and one of the most colorful figures in Japanese history. His name was Ryoma, which is the title of his first biography in story form to appear in the English language.

"A magnificent book and painstaking achievement," said late Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in praise of RYOMA - Life of a Renaissance Samurai, by Romulus Hillsborough (Ridgeback Press, 1999).

The historical importance of Ryoma upon modern Japan, and indeed the rest of Asia, cannot be overlooked. "Without this genius Japan would have lost its independence over a century ago, and been colonized by a European nation," says Tsutomu Ohshima, Chief Instructor of Shotokan Karate of America, the oldest karate organization in the United States.

"It is a cultural loss that an historical figure of such magnificent stature could have failed to gain the full attention of the Western world for nearly a century and a half," says Hillsborough. "It is a tragedy that the general public's sources of information about the era of the samurai have, for the most part, been travesties of Japanese history and culture in the forms of popular fiction and movies." Through his new book, Hillsborough has rectified this situation.

"Of the many heroes who lived and died during the turbulent years leading up to and following the Meiji Restoration, Ryoma was the most deserving of the appellation a man for all nations," says Saichiro Miyaji, Japan's most distinguished biographer of Sakamoto Ryoma. "I am very pleased to see the ideas and magnificent human stature of Ryoma presented in English to the entire world on the eve of the 21st century."

Mid-19th century Japan was a cauldron of political upheaval and intrigue, bloody inner-fighting among samurai, and the end of three centuries of feudalism under shogun rule. This most enthralling age in the annals of Japan brought forth some of the most fascinating men in that nation's history. These men modernized Japan and laid the foundation for the militarism of World War II and the economic powerhouse of today. This close look into the hearts and minds of these two-sworded men provides a deep insight into the political, cultural, and psychological roots of modern Japan.

Hillsborough spent 16 years in Japan, studying the language, history and culture. His extensive research includes forty books about his subject's life, historical period and prominent contemporaries, all of Ryoma's extant letters, of which there are over 120 in publication, numerous other letters written to him by his peers, and articles and other pieces from Japanese history journals. The author traveled to those areas in Japan where Ryoma was most active, including the historical cities of Kyoto, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Hagi, Ryoma's native Kochi, and the picturesque fishing village of Tomo-no-Ura on the Inland Sea.

"In the present age of economical, political and social turmoil, Japan desperately needs a farsighted leader of Ryoma's caliber," says Tae Moriyama, principal of the prestigious Modern Japanese Language School in Tokyo and author of several books on Japanese language and local Japanese history and culture. "Hillsborough has woven the elaborate story of Ryoma with pinpoint accuracy and a profound insight into the most exciting period in Japanese history. The author's infatuation with the life of this leader of men is alive on each page of this truly captivating book."

Samurai Sketches
First English Portrayal of Famous Samurai Heroes

Samurai Sketches Book Cover Art

The overthrow of the Shogun in 1867 was one of the great events in Asian history. As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, Sakamoto Ryoma, a leader of the revolution, is the idol of the financial and governmental elite in today's Japan. Ryoma and his contemporaries are the substance of Samurai Sketches, a new book by Romulus Hillsborough (publication date: November 2000).

The final years of the samurai were an age of unprecedented turmoil and bloodletting in Japan. They heralded the end of nearly three centuries of rule under the Shogun. The rule of law was deteriorating, assassination and murder were rampant, and inner fighting among the samurai embroiled the nation.

Samurai Sketches are, to quote the author, "accurate portrayals of the heart and soul of the samurai, the social and political systems of whom have, like the Japanese sword, become relics of a distant age, but the likes of whose nobility shall never again be seen in this world." The book is a collection of historical sketches from the bloody final years of the Shogun, never before depicted in English.

"While these sketches are indeed authentic accounts of historical figures and events, Hillsborough has written them in a literary style similar to the short story," writes distinguished Japanese historian Kiyoharu Omino in the Introduction to Samurai Sketches. "Accordingly, the reader's perception of them will greatly depend on his or her imagination and each reader will certainly perceive these sketches differently, depending on the subtle intricacies of his or her mind's eye. Similarly, just as the world created by Akira Kurosawa belongs distinctly to that famous director of samurai films, the world depicted by the author of Samurai Sketches is uniquely his own."

In recounting what he terms "the great epic which was the dawn of modern Japan," Hillsborough applies his long years of research and keen perception of things Japanese to delve deeply into the psyche of the men of the samurai class. Brought to life are not merely warriors of a distant age and culture, but also "human beings, both good and bad, who suffer the same pangs of body and mind as all of us." Sketches is Hillsborough's sequel to RYOMA - Life of a Renaissance Samurai (Ridgeback Press, 1999), the only literary biography of Sakamoto Ryoma in English.

Hillsborough spent 16 years in Japan, studying the language, history and culture. His extensive research includes 80 books about this period of Japanese history. He has traveled extensively in those areas of Japan where the revolution unfolded, including the historical cities of Kyoto, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Kochi, and the picturesque fishing village of Tomo-no-Ura on the Inland Sea.

For more information on Samurai Sketches and RYOMA - Life of a Renaissance Samurai, visit:

Samurai Sketches Book Cover Art
Samurai Sketches
First English Portrayal of Famous Samurai Heroes


Archive List   Jade Dragon   About Us   Contact Us   Table of Contents   Home