• Kyodo

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A photograph believed to be that of the wife of Sakamoto Ryoma, a pro-Imperial activist assassinated in 1867, was discovered recently and is expected to revive an old controversy.

This recently found photo is believed to be that of Oryo, the wife of historical figure Sakamoto Ryoma.

The photo believed to be of Oryo, wife of Ryoma (1835- 1867), was found in Tokyo and is being shown at an exhibition on Ryoma running until Sept. 2 at the Kyoto National Museum, along with two other photographs also thought to be of Oryo, museum officials said.

Ryoma is a popular historical figure in Japan. His independent way of life and devotion to the national cause attracted great popularity after writer Ryotaro Shiba made him the hero of a novel he wrote in 1963. Oryo, Ryoma’s beloved wife, has also become a popular character.

The woman in the newly found photograph is identical to one of the previous pictures and is expected to revive the controversy over the earlier photograph, the museum officials said.

Many experts denied the possibility that the woman in the previously found photograph, unearthed 20 years ago at a house belonging to descendants of the owner of the Kyoto inn where Ryoma was assassinated, was Oryo because it was taken at a studio designated for high-ranking government officials.

But some believe the photo shows Oryo in her youth, as it bears the name Oryo written in Chinese characters.

The other old photograph shows Oryo in her old age.

The newly found photo was taken at a studio in Tokyo’s Asakusa district around 1872 and shows a woman in a kimono sitting on a chair. It bears the female name “Tatsu,” which is another reading of the Chinese character for “Ryo.” The new photograph is thought to have been taken at the same studio as the previously discovered photo, as the woman’s face and the kimono in the two pictures are identical, the museum officials said.

Born to a rural samurai family in the castle town of Kochi in the Tosa domain, now Kochi Prefecture, Ryoma became a ronin, or masterless samurai. He was active in the pro-Imperial movement that preceded the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

He was a central figure in negotiations to settle conflicts between several domains in the wake of the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate in the 1860s.

He participated in formulating the proposal that led to the resignation of the last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, and continued to seek a new political structure until he was murdered in 1867 by a member of one of the ronin groups the shogunate organized to maintain public order.

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