A photographic introduction to items from the collection

Poems by Katsu Kaishu commemorating Okubo Toshimichi

It is common knowledge that Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, who were the best of friends and comrades, ended up parting ways tragically. It is also well known that Katsu Kaishu and Saigo, who confronted each other at the Boshin War as friends and enemies, best understood each other. Then, what was the relationship like between Okubo and Katsu?

After the Meiji Restoration, Katsu asked for Okubo's help for the continuation of the Tokugawa family and held important positions in the Meiji government such as Sangi, the Minister of the Navy, a member of the Genroin, etc. Therefore, he naturally formed a close personal relationship with Okubo. However, from 1875 (Meiji 8) when Katsu resigned from the government post, there were no letters exchanged between them, from which it is believed that Katsu put an end to his relationship with Okubo also because they had opposing political views. In "Boyucho" published by Katsu in 1878 (Meiji 11), the copies of the calligraphic works of his deceased friends including Saigo Takamori are collected, but those of Okubo are not included. One of the reasons was that Okubo was assassinated after this book had been compiled. However, even if Okubo had died earlier, the question still remains on whether Katsu would have added Okubo to his "deceased friends" (Matsuura, Rei. "Katsu Kaishu," 2010, Chikuma Shobo). In his last years, Katsu continued to show his affection toward Saigo by holding a private anniversary service for him, raising a monument to him, taking care of his son, etc. However, Katsu did not show such affection toward Okubo. Katsu described Okubo as the "hero of the time" along with Kido Takayoshi, but he also said that "Okubo is nothing compared to Saigo." ('Kainanroku,' "Complete Works of Katsu Kaishu 11," 1975, Keiso Shobo)

Katsu Kaishu Okubo Toshimichi

Photo 1: Katsu Kaishu (Museum Collection)

Photo 2: Okubo Toshimichi (Museum Collection)

On the other hand, the waka poems by Katsu to commemorate Okubo, which are introduced here, show that he did not harbour only bad feelings toward Okubo. One poem was read at the 15th anniversary memorial service in 1893 (Meiji 26), and the other was read at the 20th anniversary memorial service in 1898 (Meiji 31). They were inherited by the Okubo family and are currently possessed by the National Museum of Japanese History as a bound futano double-width cloth. The 15th anniversary memorial service for Okubo Toshimichi and the commemorative poems by Katsu are mentioned in the following newspaper article ("Choya Shinbun," May 18, 1893 [Meiji 26]).

15th Anniversary of the Death of Okubo, the Minister of the Right
On the last 14, in front of the monument for the Minister of the Right, the 15th anniversary memorial service was held by Toshinaka, the son of Okubo, and Makino, the Vice Minister of Education. The ceremony was magnificent with about 200 people in attendance including ministers such as Ito, Yamada, Saigo, Watanabe, and Hijikata, as well as also gentlemen from Choya Shinbun. On that day, the following poems by Katsu and others were read.

Dear Sir,
This year is the 15th anniversary of the death of your father, and I realize that the time has passed so quickly. Because I have not yet recovered from my illness completely, I am unable to visit his grave. Such being the case, I am sending my photo and poem to express my deep emotion. As soon as I have fully recovered, I will let you know when I will be able to go out.

May 13, Katsu Awa (Katsu Kaishu)

To Okubo Toshinaka, and Makino Nobuaki

To the soul of Okubo Toshimichi at the 15th anniversary memorial service

Mononobe Awa (Katsu Kaishu)

Tawasamishi Tsurukino Tawami Torisiwari Arasoishisae Natsukashikikana
(I remember the good old days of competitive swordsmanship with you.)

(This is followed by the waka poems and Chinese-style poems by Hayami Kenso, Miyamoto Okazu, Miyajima Seiichiro which are omitted here.)

This newspaper article indicates that because of illness, Katsu could not attend the ceremony at the monument to which he was invited, and instead, he sent his photo and poem. His name at that time was not "Awa" but "Yasuyoshi," and his original poem possessed by the Museum also indicates this.

The "commemorative monument for Okubo" was erected in 1888 (Meiji 21). That year, Katsu recorded in his diary that "I sent a messenger to Okubo [bereaved family of Toshimichi] for the 10th anniversary memorial service" (diary of May 13 from "Complete Works of Katsu Kaishu 21," 1973), but he did not mention the 15th and 20th anniversary memorial services in his diary. Katsu was 71 years old at the 15th anniversary memorial service and 76 years old at the 20th anniversary memorial service, and he died the following year in 1899 (Meiji 32).

A poem by Katsu Kaishu at the 15th anniversary memorial service for Okubo Toshimichi A poem by Katsu Kaishu at the 20th anniversary memorial service for Okubo Toshimichi

Photo 3: A poem by Katsu Kaishu at the 15th anniversary memorial service for Okubo Toshimichi (Museum Collection)

Photo 4: A poem by Katsu Kaishu at the 20th anniversary memorial service for Okubo Toshimichi (Museum Collection)

<<Memories of the past at the 20th anniversary memorial service for Toshimichi: This is a poem by Mononobe Yasuyoshi (Katsu Kaishu) recollecting the good old days of competitive swordsmanship with Okubo Toshimichi.>>

The materials introduced here are only a part of the materials related to Okubo Toshimichi possessed by the Museum. However, they are included not in the "Catalog of Materials of the National Museum of Japanese History 2: Catalog of Materials Related to Okubo Toshimichi" (2003) which has already been published, but in about 150 items donated by the Okubo family after the above catalog was published. The donated materials are mostly hanging scrolls with calligraphy, seals, brush washers, candlesticks, etc. which are the belongings of Toshimichi himself, but there are also more than a dozen hanging scrolls with commemorative waka poems, verses, etc. given by others. Other than those by Katsu, there are poems and verses by Tani Tateki, Miyajima Seiichiro, Okamoto Koseki, Katori Motohiko, Iwaya Osamu, Hayami Kenso, Shigeno Yasutsugu, Murata Kokoku, Kanai Yukiyasu (all of them were written in 1893 [Meiji 26]), Chisaka Takamasa (written in 1898 [Meiji 31]) Takasaki Masakaze, Nishimura Sutezo (all of them were written in 1908 [Meiji 41]), Sasaki Takayuki, etc. Among them, other than the waka poems written by Katsu in 1893 (Meiji 26) and Chisaka, all are reprinted and included in "Documents of Okubo Toshimichi 9" edited by the Association of Japanese History Books (1929, reprinted in 1969, University of Tokyo Press). At the 15th anniversary memorial service, a game of go was played after the ceremony in front of the monument, and writing of poems and verses was also performed. Therefore, the handwritings handed down to the Okubo family would be of those who attended the ceremony. It should be noted that in the above book, the poems written at the 15th anniversary memorial service (1893 [Meiji 26]), the 20th anniversary memorial service (1898 [Meiji 31]), and the 30th anniversary memorial service (1908 [Meiji 41]) are included all together with the commentaries which might cause the misunderstanding that all of them were written at the 15th anniversary memorial service.

Chinese-style poem read by Miyajima Seiichiro at the 15th anniversary memorial service for Okubo Toshimichi

Photo 5: Chinese-style poem read by Miyajima Seiichiro at the 15th anniversary memorial service for Okubo Toshimichi (Museum Collection)

Miyajima Seiichiro was a government official and a politician from the Yonezawa Domain. He had a close relationship with both Katsu and Okubo.

Higuchi Takehiko (Japanese Modern History, Research Department)