In the late and the end of Edo period when Ryoma lived, the centralized administrative framework of the Tokugawa Shogunate (Bakufu) began to collapse as it mismanaged domestic politics. It was bogged down with how to deal with foreign countries seeking for their diplomatic channel with Japan which was stuck to a policy of isolation. Meanwhile, some powerful local governments called Yuhan, including Satsuma and Choshu domains, got to meddle in the central government’s politics.
In Tosa (now Kochi Pref.), the new lord of Yamauchi clan and its followers (superior warriors) took the helm of the administration from generation to generation after the former lord of Chosogabe clan was defeated at the decisive battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Chosogabe’s followers and their descendants (inferior warriors) were not since allowed to enter the center of power in Kochi after the defeat.
The confrontation between the two classes rose increasingly after the assassination of Toyo Yoshida (1816-1862), a superior warrior and a chief retainer of the Tosa Domain, by inferior warriors who were opposed to his political reform. The leader of lower samurais, Hanpeita Takechi, was taken to jail and eventually ordered seppuku, a ritual form of suicide as a punishment. Ryoma from the lower class fled the Tosa Domain shortly before Yoshida was killed.
It was after 1862, the year of his escape, that Ryoma presented himself on center stage of Japanese history. He spent almost all his last five years before his assassination away from his motherland in places such as Kyoto and Nagasaki. His destiny might have changed if the land of Kochi at that time had been comfortable for inferior warriors to live in.
Taken from vol.33 PDF