In 1859, Hakodate in Japan became one of the first Japanese cities to establish trade relations with foreign nations, with the opening of a Russian Consulate. Fear of Westernisation was high, and Russian missionary Fr Nicholas Kasatkin went there determined to ensure that Christianity would be as authentically Japanase as possible, but for one proud warrior that was not sufficient.
IN 1860, the Russian consul in Japan wrote home to St Petersburg asking for a missionary to come to Hakodate. The man they sent was a newly ordained priest-monk, Nicholas Kasatkin.
Nicholas spent fourteen hours a day mastering Japanese language and culture by listening to storytellers and Buddhist preachers on the streets of Hakodate, and even sat at the back of a school classroom until the exasperated teacher hung up a notice that read: ‘The bearded foreigner is not allowed.’
Living in Hakodate at the same time was Yamamoto Kazuma, a student of Kendo and a skilled swordsman. A case of mistaken identity had forced him to go on the run under the name of Takuma Sawabe, and he had joined a desperate band of radicals dedicated to cleansing Japanese society of foreign people and ideas.
One night in 1865, Takuma worked himself up to a fever of outraged nationalism, and then presented himself, sword in hand, at the home of Nicholas Kasatkin, the bearded foreigner.