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IMAGE: Sakamoto Ryōma
Sakamoto Ryōma (坂本龍馬, 3 January 1836 – 10 December 1867) was a Japanese samurai and influential figure of the Bakumatsu and establishment of the Empire of Japan in the late Edo period. He was a low-ranking samurai from the Tosa Domain on Shikoku and became an active opponent of the Tokugawa Shogunate after the end of Japan's sakoku isolationist policy. Ryōma under the alias Saitani Umetarō worked against the Bakufu, the government of the Tokugawa shogunate, and was often hunted by their supporters and the Shinsengumi. Ryōma advocated for democracy, Japanese nationalism, return of power to the Imperial Court, abolition of feudalism, and moderate modernization and industrialization of Japan. Ryōma successfully negotiated the Satchō Alliance between the powerful rival Chōshū and Satsuma domains and united them against the Bakufu. Ryōma was assassinated in December 1867 with his companion Nakaoka Shintarō, shortly before the Boshin War and the Meiji Restoration.
Sakamoto Ryōma was born on 3 January 1836 in Kōchi in the han (domain) of Tosa, located in Tosa Province (present-day Kōchi Prefecture) on the island of Shikoku. By the Japanese calendar, Ryōma was born on the 15th day of the 11th month, of the sixth year of Tenpō. The Sakamoto family held the rank of country samurai or Gōshi, the lowest rank in the samurai hierarchy, which previous generations had purchased by acquiring enough wealth as sake brewers. Unlike other Japanese domains, Tosa had a strictly-enforced separation between the joshi (high-ranking samurai) and kashi (low-ranking samurai). The ranks were treated unequally and residential areas were segregated; even in Sakamoto Ryōma's generation (the third in the Sakamoto family), his family's samurai rank remained kashi.
At the age of twelve, Ryōma was enrolled in a private school, but this was a brief episode in his life as he showed little scholarly inclination. Ryōma's older sister subsequently enrolled him in fencing classes of the Oguri-ryū when he was 14, after he was bullied at school. By the time Ryōma reached adulthood, he was by all accounts a master swordsman. In 1853, Ryōma was allowed by his clan to travel to Edo, the seat of the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and the de facto capital of Japan, to train and polish his skills as a swordsman. Ryōma enrolled as a student at the famous Hokushin Ittō-ryū Hyōhō Chiba-Dōjō, which was led by its first Headmaster Chiba Sadakichi Masamichi at that time. Ryōma received the scroll from the school that declared his mastery. Ryōma became a shihan at the Chiba-Dōjō and taught Kenjutsu to the students together with Chiba Jūtarō Kazutane, in whom he found a close friend.