I just knocked of another book. The Last Shogun by Ryotaro Shiba. It is about the life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last Shogun in Japanese history. I enjoyed it. It really showed that impossible situation that he was in trying to save the Tokugawa Shogunate and why he eventually abdicated.
I have conflicted feelings about Yoshinobu. On one hand I understand why he chose not to fight aggresively against his enemies. His situation was bleak and he wanted to avoid civil war and ultimatelty he did not want to be branded as an imperial enemy.
On the other hand, I also feel that he gave up too easily and the final days of his rule are dominated by what would seem to be cowardice. His loyal followers were desparate to fight back to preserve the shogunate but what did Yoshinobu do? He snuck out the back of Osaka Castle abandoning his loyal samurai who were prepared to fight to the death for him. He fled back to Edo (Tokyo).
Yoshinobu's enemies, mainly the domains of Satsuma and Choshu, knew this about him. They knew that he was terrified of being branded as a traitor to the Emperor. They knew that he did not what to be placed in history alongside the Ashikaga shoguns of the 14th century who overthrew the Emperor Go-Daigo and were forever branded as traitors to the emperor.
Satsuma and Choshu were bitter enemies of the Tokugawa shogunate ever since their defeat in 1600 at the famous battle of Sekigahara. They held that grudge for over 250 years. Finally they had their chance. They took control of the imperial court and therefore the new young emperor Meiji. They moved to have the court declare the Tokugawa and Yoshinobu as enemies of the emperor.
The final deciding battle between the Tokugawa forces and the armies of Satsuma and Choshu occurred at Tobu-Fushimi just south of Kyoto in 1868. The Tokugawa forces suffered a bitter defeat. But Yoshinobu's loyal followers still felt they could counterattack and be victorious. They were seething for battle. And they might have been right. The Tokugawa army still had thousands of soldiers in reserve in Osaka and vastly outnumbered the Satsuma and Choshu forces.
But Yoshinobu tricked his followers. He told them that, "Yes!" "We will fight". However, he snuck out the back of Osaka Castle and fled home to Edo. Without their leader, the Tokugawa forces disintigrated. When Yoshinobu finally arived in Edo, he was met by Katsu Kaishu, the former Tokugawa commissioner of warships. Yoshinobu, with tears in his eyes, said to Katsu "They carried the brocade banner."
The brocade banner. The banner of the Imperial House. It was carried by the armies of Satsuma and Choshu at the battle of Tobu-Fushimi announcing that they were now the Imperial Army. The first time in 800 years that the brocade banner was carried by an Army.
Yoshinobu's biggest fear had happened. He was a traitor to the Emperor. This he could not accept so he fled. He fled to Edo where he eventually agreed to a complete surrender to the Imperial forces. Yoshinobu was eventually pardoned by the new Imperial government. Many give credit to Yoshinobu for not dragging out a bloody civil war which would have weakened Japan and probably led to subjugation by the Western Powers.
Yoshinobu lived out a quiet life from that point. He died in 1913, the last Shogun of Japan.