Category Archives: Japan

Samurai in San Francisco, 1860

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. 119-121:

The International Hotel stood on the corner of Jackson and Kearney Streets in the center of the city. When the samurai alighted in front of the lobby, their strange appearance attracted crowds of spectators, who must have watched their every move. “One wore a light blue gown and trowsers the colors of the sky at sunset, spangled, starred and barred with gold and crimson,” reported the Daily Evening Bulletin on March 20. Each man displayed on his jacket his family crest in white “circular, oval, or square patches,” which were “of an import quite unknown to us.” And each wore his long and short swords in the polished scabbards at his left hip, “almost horizontally.” One of them “carried a fan [in his right hand], in his left a walking cane… Almost every man wore sandals, generally [made] of grass.”

The Bulletin reported on March 19 that the Japanese “through the interpreters kept up such sort of conversation as they could. Fortunately, [California] Governor [John] Downey happened to be in town, and was early at the door. The Japanese could hardly believe that such a modest, unassuming, quiet little man could be a governor.” “It was necessary for … Brooke to explain repeatedly that this was the real Governor, before they could believe it,” reported the Daily Alta California on the same day. “They surveyed him from head to foot, and looked at the door again and again to see the retinue of attendants whom they thought ought to be following him.”

Katsu Kaishū, for his part, made a grand impression on the San Franciscans, who discerned in him a likeness to the former explorer, Gold Rush millionaire, California senator, Democratic candidate for president of the United States, and one of their greatest heroes. “The Captain of the corvette is a fine looking man, marvelously resembling in stature, form, and features Colonel [John Charles] Fremont, only that his eye is darker, and his mouth less distinctly shows the pluck of its owner,” the Bulletin commented on March 19.

By all accounts, the samurai entourage savored their sojourn of nearly two months in the burgeoning silver metropolis by the bay. Certain scenes come to mind. Katsu Kaishū posing for a tintype portrait at William Shew’s photographic studio on Montgomery Street—the two swords and family crest prominently displayed on his person, the hair tied back, the noble expression complemented by dark, determined eyes. The Japanese touring the waterfront, observing with keen interest a convoy vessel of San Francisco Bay and merchant ships from Panama. Kaishū noting that while the larger merchant ships are commanded by military men, captains of the smaller merchant vessels are civilians. Kaishū and Brooke visiting the “gorgeous redbrick” home of a certain naval officer, “the owner of the largest merchant ship, which he commands.” The samurai entourage visiting the San Francisco Baths on Washington Street, because, as the Daily Alta California reported on March 21, they are “desirous of trying the American style” of bathing. Riding the sand cars on the Market Street Railway, “a sight, which being new to them, they [view] with much interest.” Browsing in Kohler’s spacious piano warerooms and bazaar on Sansome Street, where they observe musical instruments, toys, and opera glasses, and inspecting the sewing machines at the Wheeler and Wilson’s store; Kaishū taking note of the gaslights that illuminated the streets after dark so that one may walk about town without a lantern.

And Kaishū marveled at the industrialization of the town—the clamor of steam-powered windmills from the factories; the mechanical saws; the newspaper printing presses; the San Francisco branch of the United States Mint, comprising a three-story red brick building on Commercial Street; the iron foundries where great hammers and iron plating were manufactured; the gas works on First Street; the “Vulcan works, where,” the Daily Alta reported on March 21, “luckily, castings were being run, and the trip-hammer, planing, and other machines were successfully set in motion.” And if Kaishū was enthralled by modern technology, imagine his astonishment at the sight of a factory worker openly engaged with a prostitute during break time, and his perplexity at being offered “the wife of a Mr. So-and-So for a certain amount per hour.”

Keeping to more practical matters, Kaishū later wrote:

All of this machinery was run on steam power, eliminating the need for manual labor and vastly facilitating [production]. Japan [meanwhile] had shunned foreign commerce. As long as we had the means to produce commodities sufficient for our own domestic consumption, we had no need for [such] machinery, but rather depended on the labor of our highly skilled artisans and craftsmen.

In the spring of 1860, then, as Katsu Kaishū walked the streets of San Francisco, he was poignantly reminded of the urgent need to “conduct international trade,” mechanize Japanese industry, and “change Japan’s antiquated ways.”

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Not exactly Emperor vs. Shogun

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. 92-94:

The Imperial Loyalists hailed from samurai clans throughout the country. Most prominent among them were Mito in the east, Fukui in the west, and Satsuma, Chōshū, Tosa, and Kumamoto in the outlying southwestern regions. Many of them were low-ranking samurai from the bottom rungs of their respective clans—and therein lay their superiority as leaders and as men. Generally, the lower-samurai did not have a voice in the policies of their han. They had to struggle, and often risk their lives, just to be heard. As a result, they were naturally more capable than the spoiled, privileged, and, more often than not, inept sons of the upper-samurai—a fact of which Katsu Kaishū was acutely aware. During times of tranquility and peace, the lower-samurai had been willing to accept their humble positions; but after Perry they demanded attention. Some left their han without permission to band together with Loyalists from feudal domains throughout Japan. In thus abandoning their han they became rōnin. (The term rōnin was used interchangeably with the less derogatory rōshi. The of both terms means “wave”—the gist being “wandering aimlessly.” The nin of rōnin simply means “person,” while the shi of rōshi means “samurai.”)

In former times, rōnin were merely lordless samurai—men of the warrior class who had become separated from feudal lord and clan. But after Perry, the term rōnin took on a much different connotation. Most of the latter-day rōnin were renegade samurai, political outlaws, who had intentionally quit the service of their lord and clan. Far greater in number than their predecessors, these men did not necessarily derive from the samurai caste. Some hailed from peasant households, and some from merchant families. And some samurai who technically became rōnin did not really abandon their daimyo; rather they quit their lord’s service in order to protect him from being associated with their own seditious activities. Imperial Loyalism encompassed a wide sphere extending beyond the anti-Bakufu and anti-foreign parties, and even the samurai class itself. Morals in Japanese society were based, in part, on the relationship between the sovereign and his subjects. The Emperor was sovereign. His ancestors had ruled in ancient times, long before the advent of the shōguns or, for that matter, any of the feudal lords. The people were the Emperor’s subjects—and counted among the Imperial subjects was the shōgun himself, who had merely been commissioned by the Emperor to rule.

The coming revolution, then, would not simply be a struggle between Imperial Loyalists on one side and the Bakufu and its supporters on the other. As already noted, most of the people who supported the Bakufu also revered the Emperor, and among those who swore absolute loyalty to the Emperor were some of the most devout Bakufu supporters. This dichotomy existed among individuals and groups alike.

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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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Origins of Japanese POW Reeducation

From The Enemy Within Never Did Without: German and Japanese Prisoners of War At Camp Huntsville, Texas, 1942-1945, by Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford (Texas Review Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. 1284-1310:

Despite the terrifying power of America’s military campaign in the Pacific, few people in the U.S. government believed that the war against Japan would be over in a matter of months. In fact, Japanese soldiers and civilians had regularly fought to the death or committed suicide rather than surrender to American forces. At Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, for instance, only eight of 2,600 Japanese soldiers had survived the U.S. attack. Then, later, on Saipan in the Mariana Islands, hundreds of Japanese civilians had jumped from cliffs to kill themselves in acts of desperation to avoid capture by American forces. This tragic tactic was also embraced by more than 1,900 kamikaze pilots who sacrificed themselves in suicide attacks against the American fleet off Okinawa in May 1945, seeking to halt the U.S. effort there. Although this strategy ultimately failed, it confirmed the widely-held American belief that Japanese soldiers and civilians would stop at nothing to defend their honor and homeland. More ominously, it also demonstrated how arduous and costly an American invasion of the Japanese home islands was likely to be.

As American military leaders planned the final stages of the war against Japan, a variety of U.S. diplomatic and academic experts analyzed the enemy’s behavior in an attempt to coordinate both the end of the war and the planning of the post-war era. Following the lead of influential thinkers, like Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, and Ruth Benedict, anthropologists of the period encouraged policy makers to reject commonly held American stereotypes that portrayed the Japanese as mindless drones following their god-emperor, and to instead view them as devoted warriors who were products of their own educational, political, and cultural surroundings. This new interpretation of the Japanese, historian John Dower has written, provided that their national character was not racially fixed or permanent, but was, like the American character, open to change based upon new experiences and educational opportunities.

A long-time disciple of this view, John Emmerson of the U.S. State Department, spent the period from October to December 1944, in the new communist capital of China, Yan’an, in support of the U.S. Army’s Observation Group (or Dixie Mission), which was gathering intelligence and making connections with the revolutionary leaders of China. After meeting the top communists leaders, including Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, and General Chu Teh, Emmerson spent most of his time in the area with Chinese and Japanese communists who were re-educating Japanese POWs. Chief among the Japanese leaders in Yan’an was Nosaka Sanzo, a native of Yamaguchi prefecture, who had been orphaned at 14, before becoming an outspoken critic of the Japanese oligarchy and its apparent disregard for the concerns of the working people. As a young man, Sanzo attended Tokyo’s Keio University and the London School of Economics, and he became a cosmopolitan Marxist theorist, who served as a founding member of both the Japanese Communist Party and the Japanese People’s Emancipation League. The later organization ran a Workers and Peasants School in the caves of Yan’an to transform Japanese POWs into good communists. It was this school—with its enlightened procedures and successful indoctrination—that Emmerson hoped to emulate with Japanese POWs in the United States. Based on his first-hand experience at the school, Emmerson began to devise a plan that called for the American government to select the most compliant of the 5,000 Japanese POWs in the U.S., teach them about western-style democracy, and then persuade them to help shape the “pacification” effort and post-war “political orientation” of a democratic Japan.

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Japanese Hamhung, 1930s

From On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle, by Hampton Sides (Doubleday, 2018), Kindle pp. 83-84:

This was the boomtown atmosphere in which Lee Bae-suk had grown up. Throughout the 1930s, Hamhung quickly became, in many respects, a Japanese city—organized, industrialized, modernized, militarized. Korea was living under what came to be called “the black umbrella” of absolute Japanese rule. The occupiers humiliated and exploited Hamhung’s citizens, often brutally, but they also sought to assimilate them—that is, to make them Japanese subjects, slowly eradicating all vestiges of Korean consciousness. As a boy in Hamhung, Lee was taught to bow toward the east, in the direction of the emperor. He prayed to Shinto gods, at Shinto shrines, kneeling in the shadow of red torii gates. At school, he and his classmates were required to recite the Pledge of the Imperial Subjects, promising to “serve the Emperor with united hearts.” Lee, like all citizens, had to forsake his Korean name and adopt a Japanese one. He learned the Japanese language and was forbidden to study Korean in school. The Korean anthem was not to be sung, the Korean flag not to be unfurled, traditional white Korean clothing not to be worn. People were even expected to give up Korean hairstyles, cutting off their braids and topknots.

Everywhere Lee looked, he saw examples of Japanese authority and expertise: Japanese teachers, Japanese civil servants, Japanese soldiers and tax collectors and cops. The mayor was Japanese. So was the provincial governor. Even the city itself was given a Japanese name: Hamhung became Kanko. The Japanese Kempeitai, which many Koreans came to call the “thought police,” tightened its hold on the city, stamping out dissent or expressions of Korean identity. The police organized the citizens into neighborhood associations, each one composed of ten families. These cells, designed to enforce compliance of Japanese laws, had a chilling effect on community relations, effectively turning Korean against Korean, requiring neighbors to spy on one another.

During the late 1930s, the industrial complex of greater Hamhung became an arsenal and a forge for Japan’s deepening war against China. Enormous quantities of explosives were manufactured there. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, operations at Hamhung expanded exponentially. Among other secret projects, Japanese physicists made early attempts to build an atomic weapon. Using uranium reportedly mined from the mountains around the Chosin Reservoir, they constructed a crude cyclotron, produced heavy water, and even began to develop a primitive atomic device.

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Modernizing Hamhung, 1920s

From On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle, by Hampton Sides (Doubleday, 2018), Kindle pp. 82-83:

When Japan took formal possession of Korea, in 1910, Hamhung was a medieval city steeped in just these sorts of myths and folk traditions. But in the mid-1920s, as the Japanese tightened their grip on the country, modernity began to arrive. A team of Japanese engineers struck upon an ambitious idea: They would build roads into the mountains northwest of Hamhung and harness the might of the Changjin River—Chosin in Japanese—an important tributary that flowed north toward the Yalu. In the highlands, some seventy road miles from Hamhung, the engineers would construct a large dam that would flood the valley floor. The Changjin waters would rise, swallowing the wrinkled country, and the resulting reservoir, with all its scallops and appendages, would extend southward for more than forty miles. It would be a deep lake splayed out in the mountains, practically on the rooftop of Korea.

This scheme alone was considered a nearly impossible feat, but then the engineers envisioned something bolder: They would effectively reverse the course of the river by building a network of pipes near where it entered the lake on its south end. The pipes would snake along, often underground, carrying cold lake water from the mountains to the coast. Thus, a river that had once flowed north would flow south, through man-made conduits. Working with gravity, these tubes of racing water would feed into a series of hydroelectric plants down on the plain that would supply Hamhung and its neighboring port city of Hungnam with enough power to transform the area into a military-industrial center, perhaps the largest in Korea. Some said it was quixotic.

Some said the engineers were tempting fate, manipulating sacrosanct forces of nature. But the immense project worked as planned. The Chosin Reservoir was completed in 1929, the year Lee was born, and, with dizzying speed, Hamhung-Hungnam underwent a metamorphosis, much of it under the direction of the Noguchi Corporation, a Japanese conglomerate founded by a chemical engineering mogul named Jun Noguchi, who was said to be the “entrepreneurial king of the peninsula.” A nitrogen fertilizer plant, the largest in the Far East, was quickly constructed, and the area became one of the world’s largest producers of ammonium sulfate. Then came oil refineries, chemical concerns, textile mills, metal foundries, munitions works. They produced dynamite and mercury oxide powder and high-octane aviation fuel. It was a grinding, stinking, spewing complex of industries designed to fuel Japan’s expansionist aims across Asia.

Thousands of peasants, many of them displaced by the new lake, moved down from the mountains to work in the factories. Schools sprang up, a train station, a city hall, suburbs, all of it stitched together with streetcars and underground sewer systems and electricity and telegraph wire. It was a modern marvel of civil planning and central design—at least that was how the authorities portrayed the region’s transformation. Through Japanese ingenuity and Korean sweat, men had built a lake that built a city.

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African & Japanese Mercenaries in Asia, 4

The following is part 3 of a condensed version (with footnotes omitted) of “African and Japanese Mercenaries in Southern China and Southeast Asia, c. 1550-1650” by Richard Bradshaw, in Kokujin Kenkyu 76 (April 2007), published by the Japan Black Studies Association.

Chinese and Sino-Japanese merchant-pirates also recruited Japanese and African mercenaries. In the early Zheng Zhilong (or Nicholas Iquan), father of the famous Coxinga, recruited about 500 African soldiers from Macao to form his “Black Guard”. Zheng Zhilong and his raider-traders were a multicultural military force that included numerous Japanese, but he trusted his African troops more than any of his other soldiers and used them as his bodyguards.

After the Manchus took Beijing in 1644, Zheng Zhilong and his son Coxinga became staunch supporters of the Ming loyalist resistance in southern China. Zheng Zhilong was eventually convinced to join the Manchus and took 300 of his African mercenaries with him. These African soldiers were soon incorporated into the Manchu army and fought as a separate unit against Ming loyalists who Zheng Zhilong’s son Coxinga continued to support. Coxinga’s mother was Japanese, his bodyguards were African and Indian, and his chief envoy was an Italian missionary. Among his ‘Chinese’ loyalist troops were German and Dutch defectors as well as Japanese and Sino-Japanese soldiers.

In 1661 Coxinga attacked the Dutch fort at Zeelandia in Taiwan. Dutch commander Frederick Coyett complained about Coxinga’s elite musketeer ‘black-boys,’ some of whom he suspected of being recruited from among former slaves of the Dutch. Once again, these African mercenaries fought alongside Coxinga’s multicultural force of Japanese as well as Indian and Malay soldiers. The Dutch were defeated and forced to leave Taiwan and to this day Coxinga is considered a national hero by both mainland and Taiwanese Chinese because he is regarded as the first to defeat European imperialists. He did so with the help of Japanese, African and European mercenaries.

Evidence of encounters between Japanese and Africans in many other locations in Asia during the early modern period can undoubtedly be uncovered. In c. 1600, the Captain of Malacca had a Japanese bodyguard, for example.

The study of encounters between Japanese and Africans on land and at sea between Africa and Japan can add to our knowledge of African and Japanese diasporas as well as to the history of Japanese-African relations. This brief account of a few encounters between Japanese and African mercenaries in southern China and Southeast Asia during the early modern period will hopefully stimulate more research on this topic.

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