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Ryōtarō Shiba (司馬 遼太郎 , Shiba Ryōtarō, born on August 7, 1923 – February 12, 1996), was a Japanese novelist, non-fiction writer and critic. His real name is Teiichi Fukuda (福田 定一, Fukuda Teiichi), and the origin of his pseudonym is from a historian named Sima Qian. He is best known for his novels about historical events in Japan and on the Northeast Asian sub-continent, as well as his historical and cultural essays pertaining to Japan and its relationship to the rest of the world.

Shiba was a highly influential figure in Hayao Miyazaki's life.[1] He co-authored a collection of essays along with Yoshie Hotta and Shiba, which were collected in Jidai no Kazene (時代の風音 , Wind Sound of the Times) and Taidan-shū Nihonjin e no Uuigon (対談集 日本人への遺言 , Dialogues Wills to Japanese).[2] Their essays discussed a wide range of topics, including reminiscing about the 20th century, the future of Japan, land issues, internationalization, spiritual climate, civilization and nature, and foreign countries.

When Shiba passed away in 1996, Miyazaki sent Asahi newspaper a statement of mourning which was filled his characteristically pure feelings. It is said that Miyazaki wept uncontrollably during his funeral.[3]

In 2011, Joe Hisaishi composed the score for the NHK war drama Saka no Ue no Kumo (坂の上の雲 , Clouds Above the Hill), a series that based on Shiba's novels of the same name that were published from 1968 to 1972.

Shiba's essays were also collected in the MOOK Weekly Ryotaro Shiba, 週刊 司馬遼太郎 , Shūkan Shiba Ryōtarō), published by Asahi Shimbun Publishing. Shiba was also a fan of Miyazaki's work, and the two had a conversation which was transcribed on this magazine the year before he died.

A literary award called Shima Ri~yotaro Prize (司馬遼太郎獎 , Sima Ryotaro Award) was named after him. In commemoration of the late author Ryotaro Shiba's passing, a memorial hall designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando was built adjacent to the writer's house in Higashi-Osaka, Osaka.[4]


Shiba worked as a journalist and historical writer.

Shiba took his pen name from Sima Qian, the great Han dynasty historian (Shiba is the Japanese rendition of Sima). He studied Mongolian at the Osaka School of Foreign Languages (now the School of Foreign Studies at Osaka University) and began his career as a journalist with the Sankei Shimbun, one of Japan's major newspapers.[citation needed] After the Second World War, Shiba began writing historical novels. The magazine Shukan Asahi (ja:週刊朝日) printed Shiba's articles about his travels within Japan in a series that ran for 1,146 installments. Shiba received the Naoki Prize for the 1959 novel Fukurō no Shiro ("Castle of Owls"). In 1993 Shiba received the Government's Order of Cultural Merit.

The covers of Jidai no Kazene and Taidan-shū Nihonjin e no Uuigon, which featured essays of Shiba and Hayao Miyazaki.

Shiba's novels became extremely popular in Japan. He was a prolific author, frequently writing about the dramatic change Japan went through during the late Edo and early Meiji periods. His most monumental works include Kunitori Monogatari, Ryoma ga Yuku (see below), Moeyo Ken, and Saka no Ue no Kumo, all of which have spawned dramatizations, most notably Taiga dramas aired in hour-long segments over a full year on NHK television. He also wrote numerous essays that were published in collections, one of which—Kaidō wo Yuku—is a multi-volume journal-like work covering his travels across Japan and around the world. Shiba is widely appreciated for the originality of his analyses of historical events, and many people in Japan have read at least one of his works.[citation needed]

Issues of the Weekly Ryōtarō Shiba, which featured many of his essays about the war.

Shiba married for the first time in 1952 and divorced two years later. His son from that marriage was cared for by his parents’ family. In 1959, he married Matsumi Midori. His only hobby, apart from continual study and writing, was a bandana collection which he started during his military days; he was often seen wearing a bandana loosely tied around his neck.[5]

Shiba died on February 12, 1996, two days after suffering from internal bleeding and lapsing into a coma.

Several of Shiba's works have been translated into English, including Drunk as a Lord: Samurai Stories (2001), his fictionalized biographies of Kukai (Kukai the Universal: Scenes from His Life, 2003) and Tokugawa Yoshinobu (The Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, 2004), as well as The Tatar Whirlwind: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century East Asia (2007) and Clouds Above the Hill (2012, 2013, 2014).

Ryōma Goes His Way

A set of Ryōma Goes His Way.

One of Shiba's best known works, Ryōma Goes His Way (竜馬がゆく, Ryōma ga Yuku), is a historical novel about Sakamoto Ryōma, a samurai who was instrumental in bringing about Japan's Meiji Restoration, after which values and elements from Western culture were introduced into the country, sparking dramatic change. The late Edo period was a very confused time when the country split into two factions. Japan had banned international trade for over two hundred years and isolated itself from the rest of the world. During the Edo period, the Japanese government, which was led by the Tokugawa clan, had agreed to open the country to trade with the United States and several European countries. However, many people were against this and they started a movement called Sonnō-Jōi (revere the emperor and expel the barbarians). They believed that they should stand up and fight the foreigners to protect the country from outside domination. The Tokugawa had usurped political power from the emperor, but he was still considered by many to be the sacred symbol of Japan. To protect the country, the Sonnō-Jōi faction sought to restore the emperor's political authority by overthrowing the Tokugawa shogunate. Partisans of these two political institutions caused civil war-like confusion, and assassinations were frequent.

In Ryōma ga Yuku, Sakamoto Ryōma, the protagonist, starts out as a member of the Sonnō-Jōi faction but gradually realizes that people need to realize how much stronger other countries have grown during Japan's two centuries of national seclusion. Japan was almost powerless in the face of the technology and well-developed industry of the contemporary Western powers. He believed that Japan needed to adopt elements of Western culture to develop into a country that could stand equally among nations.

Kaidō wo Yuku

Shiba's travel essays which were originally published in Shūkan Asahi.

Sakamoto Ryōma was not well known in Japan prior to the publication of Ryōma ga Yuku. Ryōma ga Yuku is Shiba's best selling work in Japanese, with 21,250,000 copies sold.

Kaidō wo Yuku (街道をゆく, "On the Highway") is a series of travel essays initially published in Shūkan Asahi, a weekly magazine, from 1971 until 1996. Shiba wrote the series with an intercultural perspective, making observations about the history, geography, and people of the places he visited. Though mostly about different areas of Japan, the series includes several volumes on foreign lands as well—China, Korea, the Namban countries (Spain and Portugal), Ireland, the Netherlands, Mongolia, Taiwan, and New York.

The work, now available in multi-volume book form, was also developed into documentary series and broadcast on NHK, Japan's public television broadcaster.

Clouds Above the Hill

Cover for Saka no Ue no Kumo.

Another well-known work, Clouds Above the Hill (坂の上の雲, Saka no Ue no Kumo), is a historical epic centering on the careers of two ambitious brothers who work their way up from a rural backwater to positions of eminence in the new post-1868 Meiji period. In it, the Akiyama brothers strive to build a Japanese military capable of holding its own in an unstable region and the Russo-Japanese War becomes the central stage for their involvement in the frenzied modernisation and ascendancy of Japan in the region and subsequently, the world. It is Shiba's second best selling work in Japanese, with 14,750,000 copies sold.


Clouds Above the Hill

In 2011, while preparing to compose the score for the NHK drama Saka no Ue no Kumo (坂の上の雲 , Clouds Above the Hill), Joe Hisaishi gave his thoughts on when he first encountered Shiba's works.

"I think it was around 1996 that I thoroughly read Mr. Shiba's work. When director Hayao Miyazaki was planning the movie Princess Mononoke, the story of Mr. Shiba and the novelist Yoshie Hotta was popular with us. Mr. Miyazaki was worried about what would happen to Japan in the future. I think I wanted to do something socially meaningful.

I read about sixty books of Mr. Shiba in a year, thinking that there might be some hints in Mr. Shiba's work. The most shocking of all was Clouds Above the Hill. I understood well how Japan as a modern nation has risen since the end of the Edo period. At that time, imperial Russia was angry with the world. I didn't expect a small country like Japan to win a war with Russia. (read more about the Russo-Japanese War) It fought saying what it should say even though it had no military funds. Most of the foreign countries supported Japan. Due to the domestic situation in Russia, I happened to win. Japan misunderstands it and rushes into the Pacific War. At first, Mr. Shiba thought that he would try to draw the subsequent Nomonhan incident (also known as the Battles of Khalkhin Gol).

It was a long time ago that I was asked by the director of an acquaintance of NHK to be in charge of music for Clouds Above the Hill. It's my favorite work and I definitely wanted to do it. It is the third year of airing in 2011. Mr. Shiba is familiar with other works, but like Yoshifuru Akiyama and the Saneyuki brothers, it is very good to shed light on 2nd and 3rd rather than the true elite. The first part was decided to be adolescents, and the third part was decided to be the battle of the two highlands and the Battle of Tsushima, so I was a little worried about the second part, but it went well by focusing on Shiki's death. .. It went well with Ken Watanabe's narration. The theme song "Standalone" that plays at the end of the program includes Sarah Brightman's scat in the first part, Maki Mori's song in the second part, and chorus in the third part. The third part is "Music of Relief". The theme is music with hope.[6]


  • Fukurō no Shiro (1959)
  • Zeeroku Bushido (上方武士道, 1960)
  • Kaze no Bushi (1961)
  • Senun no yume (戦雲の夢, 1961)
  • Fujin no mon (風神の門, 1962)
  • Ryoma ga Yuku (竜馬がゆく, 1963–66)
  • Moeyo Ken (1964)
  • Shirikurae Magoichi (尻啖え孫市, 1964)
  • Komyo ga tsuji (功名が辻, 1965)
  • Shiro wo toru hanashi (城をとる話, 1965)
  • Kunitori monogatari (国盗り物語, 1965)
  • Yotte soro (酔って候, 1965), published in English as Drunk as a Lord
  • Hokuto no hito (北斗の人, 1966)
  • Niwaka Naniwa yukyoden (俄 浪華遊侠伝, 1966)
  • Sekigahara (関ヶ原, 1966)
  • Jūichibanme no shishi (十一番目の志士, 1967)
  • Saigo no Shōgun (最後の将軍, 1967), translated into English as The Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu , (ISBN 1568363567) about Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
  • Junshi (殉死, 1967)
  • Natsukusa no fu (夏草の賦, 1968)
  • Shinshi taikoki (新史太閤記, 1968)
  • Yoshitsune (義経, 1968)
  • Touge (峠, 1968)
  • Musashi (武蔵, 1968)
  • Saka no ue no kumo (1969), translated into English as Clouds Above the Hill (ISBN 1138911968), a work of historical fiction about the Russo-Japanese War.
  • Yōkai (妖怪, 1969)
  • Daitōzenshi (大盗禅師, 1969)
  • Saigetsu (歳月, 1969)
  • Yoni sumu hibi (世に棲む日日, 1971)
  • Jousai (城塞, 1971–72)
  • Kashin (花神, 1972)
  • Haō no ie (覇王の家, 1973)
  • Harimanada monogatari (播磨灘物語, 1975)
  • Tobu ga gotoku (翔ぶが如く, 1975–76)
  • Kūkai no fukei (空海の風景, 1975), translated into English as Kukai the Universal: Scenes from his Life (ISBN 4925080474) about the great Japanese monk Kukai who founded the Shingon school and is said to have invented the Japanese kana writing system.
  • Kochō no yume (胡蝶の夢, 1979)
  • Kouu to Ryūhō (項羽と劉邦, 1980)
  • Hitobito no ashioto (ひとびとの跫音, 1981)
  • Nanohana no oki (菜の花の沖, 1982)
  • Hakone no saka (箱根の坂, 1984)
  • Dattan shippuroku (韃靼疾風録, 1987), translated into English as The Tatar Whirlwind: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century East Asia (ISBN 1891640461), about the decline of the Ming dynasty, the rise of the Manchus and the interplay of these two periods in China's history with Tokugawa Japan.


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