Ryoma still a hit in Japan

From Prime Minister Naoto Kan to Sapporo Beer, lawmakers and companies are invoking the image and legacy of Sakamoto Ryoma, the 19th century samurai who helped overhaul Japan’s government and economy.

Kan mentioned Ryoma in a speech June 8, the day he became prime minister, drawing comparisons between his new Cabinet and the militia groups of the samurai era. Facing an economy saddled with falling consumer prices, rising debt and an aging population, Kan pledged to break Japan’s "stasis."

"Ryoma has been exploited over and over again in society, for Japan’s militarism, and his ghost still remains," said Masaaki Noda, a professor at Kwansei Gakuin University. "Japan is suffering from many problems, such as an aging society. We need to seriously think about how to fix the current problems."

Visitors to Ryoma’s birthplace in what is now Kochi Prefecture rose 71 percent to 2.4 million in the first half of this year from a year earlier after NHK started airing the "Ryoma Den" drama in January. Interest in the samurai has added around ¥40 billion to Kochi’s economy, or about 1.8 percent of the surrounding region’s gross regional product, the Bank of Japan said in June.

Read the rest of the story: No end in sight to Ryoma craze.