Daily Archives: 9 November 2018

Founders of the Nagasaki Naval Academy

From Samurai Revolution: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen Through the Eyes of the Shogun’s Last Samurai, by Romulus Hillsborough (Tuttle, 2014), Kindle pp. 68-69:

“Defend the country” would soon become a byword among samurai throughout Japan—for it was around this time that Perry arrived. While the Bakufu ranks were filled with men of mediocre ability who had inherited their positions—a fundamental flaw of Tokugawa feudalism which Katsu Kaishū openly resented—such was not the case for the entire Edo elite. And fortunately for Kaishū, and indeed the future of the country, the extraordinary talents of the still relatively obscure scholar of Dutch studies caught the attention of Ōkubo Tadahiro (better known by his later name, Ōkubo Ichiō), one of the most progressive Bakufu officials in those most critical of times.

Ōkubo was born in Bunka 14 (1817), six years before Kaishū. While both men were vassals of the shōgun, their social standings, and the opportunities presented them in early life, were worlds apart. Kaishū came into this world with “no expectations in life”; Ōkubo was the eldest son of an old illustrious samurai family whose service to the House of Tokugawa was older than the Bakufu itself. From childhood he “applied himself diligently to literature and martial arts,” Kaishū later wrote of Ōkubo. At age fourteen he served at Edo Castle as a page to Shōgun Iénari, the same year that he was conferred with the honorary title Shima-no-Kami. A staunch advocate of Open the Country, he was brought into the higher echelons of the Bakufu hierarchy in Ansei 1 (1854), soon after Perry’s second visit. In the Fifth Month of that year Senior Councilor Abé Masahiro appointed him to the post of metsuké in charge of coastal defense. During the final years of Tokugawa rule, Ōkubo would serve in a number of other high posts, including chief of the Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books, Nagasaki magistrate, Kyōto magistrate, ōmetsuké, commissioner of foreign affairs, attendant (and advisor) to Shōgun Iémochi, chief of the Kōbusho military academy, and commissioner of finance.

Ōkubo was a connoisseur of fine tea, tobacco, swords, horses, calligraphy, and Japanese literature. He was a Japanese classicist and poet, whose collection of waka (31-syllable odes) and other writings would be published posthumously by Katsu Kaishū. Ōkubo clashed with the “numerous insignificants [around him],” Kaishū wrote. A physically small man, he possessed some of the most venerated qualities among samurai. Kaishū praised him for his frugality and high moral character, though he was sometimes “too stern for his own good.” When asked in the 1890s to name the most insightful scholar during the final years of the Bakufu, Kaishū designated Ōkubo with that distinction. Even if Ōkubo tended to be “too honest,” he was “sincere and a deep thinker.” That the highborn Ōkubo was quick to acknowledge the extraordinary abilities of the son of Katsu Kokichi is testimony that Kaishū’s evaluation of his patron was as sound as their lifelong friendship, which would prove indispensable in maintaining order in Edo when the Bakufu collapsed thirteen years later.

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