Ii Naosuke, de facto ruler of Japan, and architect of the shogunate's recent resurge in power, was leaving Edo castle through the Sakura gate on a snowy March morning. He had been warned his enemies sought his death, but he had a retinue of 26 swordsmen, followed by 40 foot-soldiers.
Outside the gate the procession was ambushed by 18 pro-emperor lordless samurai. In the ensuing melee most of Ii's men were slaughtered. Ii was stabbed through his palanquin; and his head was cut off and displayed on the point of a katana by his assassin, Arimura Jizaemon, a young samurai from what is now Kagoshima.
Yasuhito Sekine is a member of a new generation of mild-mannered, sensitive Japanese men known as "herbivores." His eyebrows are perfectly groomed. He works for an Internet service provider and operates Sweets Club, an online group for men who like desserts. Set up in January last year, it already has over 1,000 members who congregate - online and inperson - to debate the virtues of different brands of strawberry shortcake.