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Sakamoto Ryōma ( 1836 – 1867) was a prominent figure in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate during the Bakumatsu period in Japan

Totsugeki Atto Home (突撃!アッとホーム) airs every Saturday at 8:00pm. Each week the family-themed show revolves around several households across Japan and the small, intimate inner workings that make them function. One of the segments is called “Family Treasure Hunting,” a sort-of-reverse Antiques Roadshow in which hosts randomly go up to strangers and ask them what their household’s most prized possession is. The show’s producers were expecting to find small mementos of deceased family members, but they ended up finding much more than what they bargained for.

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“A letter by Ryoma Sakamoto,” replied Hata when asked if she owned any treasures

A Lost Letter

On last week’s episode the comedy duo Viking were interviewing residents in Yanaka, a neighborhood just north of central Tokyo, asking people to share their family’s treasure. “I have a letter from Sakamoto Ryoma,” offered Yuko Hata, a middle-aged Japanese woman. Laughter ensued from both the show’s hosts and Hata herself as no one truly believed that such a valuable historical artifact – from a major figure in Japan’s transformation from feudal military rule in the 1860’s – was lying around someone’s home in Tokyo. And lying around it was. Upon visiting Hata at her home, the comedic due found that the document in question was haphazardly stored away in a box underneath the family’s coffee table.

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Hata removing the box from underneath a cluttered coffee table. Inside the box is thought to be an authentic letter written by Ryoma Sakamoto.

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The letter, in the form of a scroll. Sakamoto’s unique style of radically shifting character sizes was observed.

An Incredible Discovery

With Hata’s permission, the show’s staff whisked away the letter to have it officially verified, first at the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum. “I’m extremely surprised,” said head curator Natsuki Miura, confirming the letter’s authenticity. There are about 140 letters written by Sakamoto in known existence and “each year we get several inquiries regarding letters, but rarely have any turned out to be real,” added Miura. Upon closer observation, scholars discovered that the letter was written to Shojiro Goto, a samurai and politician, and detailed Sakamoto’s visit to Echizen Province (currently Northern-Fukui) to recruit Hachiro Mitsuoka into their new government. The letter, it turns out, was written just 10 days before Sakamoto’s assassination in 1867 and may be the last known letter before his death.


At the Shimonoseki Museum, which houses 11 authentic letter – the most in all Japan – by Ryoma Sakamoto, the show’s producers received additional confirmation. A side-by-side comparison revealed identical strokes and tendencies in characters.


Proceeding with caution, the show’s producers finally delivered the document to researchers at the Kyoto National Museum. “It’s almost a miracle,” exclaimed researcher Teiichi Miyakawa. “Discoveries likes this happen only once every hundred years.” Not only did the letter back up various speculative historic claims but it also detailed Sakamoto’s hopes and expectations for a new government.

From Trash To Treasure

According to Hata, the letter was purchased by her father roughly 30 years ago. He paid 1000 yen (~$10) for it at an antique shop. The show’s producers asked appraiser Masaji Yagi how much he thought the letter was worth. He assigned a value of 15 million yen (~$150,000).

And just like that, in incredible discovery. And all they had to do was ask. The letter is currently on loan, from Hata, at the Sakamoto Ryoma Memorial Museum for all to see.

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the letter in its entirety

Note: all quotes translated from Japanese to English by the author