Takayoshi Kido aka Kido Koin (1833-1877) is my favorite protagonist from the Bakamatsu Period of Japanese history when the Tokugawa regime came crashing down after over 250 years in power, to be replaced by the modernizing and westernizing though extremely conservative Meiji government of 1868.
I got to know Kido through his excellent diaries, which recall a by-gone life of late Edo Period Japan. Kido relates a typical day leisurely sailing down the river from Kyoto to Osaka, enjoying sake all the way, spending the evening flirting with geisha in Sakai, before taking a Western ship to Edo - all in the midst of a violent revolution! What calmness under pressure! What elan!
Kido was the son of a Choshu clan doctor but was adopted by the Katsura family when he was seven years old and was called Katsura Kogoro at this time. As a youth, Kido was a student of Yoshida Shoin in Hagi.
Kido's early life in both Edo and Kyoto was eventful and full of political intrigue and danger as he conspired with Choshu activists in the struggle against the Tokugawa. While in hiding from the feared Shinsengumi swordsmen in Kyoto, Kido sought refuge in a geisha house and was later to marry one of the geisha working there.
Kido also supervised the construction of Choshu's first Western-style ship in Hagi in his role of advisor to the Choshu daimyo.
After the Restoration in 1868, Kido was instrumental in drafting the Five Charter Oath and the legislation that would lead to the abolition of the han (domain) system and the subsequent beginnings of a centralized government. Kido was also part of the Iwakura Mission that toured the USA and Europe in 1871 to study the political and economic institutions of the west.
Kido's residence is preserved in Hagi's Horiuchi quarter and is a simple Japanese-style house with tatami floors in lots of small rooms. There are two entrances: one for family members and the other for guests.
Kido died early after a long illness, possibly TB and beri-beri, exacerbated by the prodigious amounts of sake he seems to have drunk throughout his life.
"I drank more than I should have tonight, and I dreamed endlessly. At times the moon shone brightly, then again it was hidden behind a cloud. My two acquaintances have died, so I do not record their names; but I grieve for them."
Excerpt from Kido's diary August 6, 1868
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010
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