(Friday Night History) Episode 28: Mount Aoba, a Short History

Mount Aoba. 203.16 meters in height, its peak has a commanding view of most of modern Sendai. It is home to museums, two major shrines, historic ruins, and some of Sendai city’s old growth forest. Today, much of its significance to Sendai city comes from its history as the site of Aoba Castle, the Date clan’s seat of government and residence during the Edo period. We’ve talked about various aspects of its history over the length of this podcast and its prior history as a Twitter-only thread. It’s to be expected of course, given the Tohoku and Date focus of Friday Night History, but still, it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually tried to sketch out an overall history of Mount Aoba itself. So, let’s try and do that inside of the usual timespan of one of these episodes, shall we? Some of what you’ll hear will be familiar, but some will be new.

So let’s talk Mount Aoba.

Interestingly, the fact that it’s now called Mount Aoba at all only dates to 1602! In that year, the house of Date moved a temple from Mount Shinobu in what’s now Fukushima Prefecture to the slopes of this hill inside the Hirose riverbend. By then, the Date castle there was already under construction, and the stonemasons– who also came up with the Sparrow Dance, as we discovered in the episode on the topic– invited up from Sakai to build the castle’s walls. The temple was called Jakko-ji, but its sango, its mountain name, was Seiyozan. Seiyozan is the on-yomi of the characters otherwise read as Aobayama. And thus, Mount Aoba received its name. Also interestingly, this was not the first temple there, nor was Sendai Castle the first castle, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.

According to Tohoku University’s campus guide, some of the oldest artifacts found onsite are earthware and stoneware dating back to the Jomon period (14000-1000 BCE) at six locations; the artifacts themselves are between 5000-2000 years old. So, its inhabitation by humans goes a long way back.

By the Nara period, this area and points north were being actively colonized by the Yamato state. Northern Honshu’s original people were the Emishi. There is rich archaeological evidence from digs around Kawauchi– the riverbend within which Mount Aoba sits– that suggests that it continued to be a location of both residence as well as places of worship. The region was under the control of the mixed Emishi-Yamato Northern Fujiwara clan in the Heian era, the clan that merged Japanese and non-Japanese sources of political legitimacy in order to justify its semi-independent rule of the northeast in those years. While they were deposed by the attack of Minamoto no Yoritomo during the Bunji War, the region remained semi-independent, far from the imperial center, and Mount Aoba and the Kawauchi area continued to be actively inhabited and used as a site of worship. Tohoku University notes that there are stone monuments there called Itabi– tall, column-like stelae– dating to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), and still located in the botanical gardens there today.

Edo period map of Sendai Castle and Mount Aoba. To the right is the bend of the Hirose River. (image in PD)

While Sendai Castle’s ruins still dominate the peak of Mount Aoba, it wasn’t the only fortification that’s ever been there. There had been a small fortification there before 1600, whose name is deceptively similar to the modern city’s name, but which was written with the kanji that translate as “a thousand generations.” If you’re listening to the podcast, check out the blogpost to see what I mean– 千代 rather than 仙台․ This was a small fort controlled by the Kokubun family, which was a local lordly family during the Muromachi period. As noted in some past episodes, the Kokubun family eventually became mediated– that is, absorbed via intermarriage– into the house of Date. Also on Mount Aoba at the time was a temple to Kokuzo Bosatsu– the bodhisattva Akasagarbha, bodhisattva of space– and one period source says that the bodhisattva as enshrined there had “a thousand forms”– which is another interesting pun on the later city’s name. “Thousand forms” is “Sentai” 千体 — which scans neatly into 千代 and then 仙台․ Again, if you’re listening to the podcast version of this thread, check out the blogpost– these are three different homophones, three different spellings.

It was there on that hill, still not known by its modern name– that Date Masamune chose to build his new castle in late 1600, when he celebrated groundbreaking with a five-part Noh and amended the place’s name to its current spelling of 仙台 (仙臺 in old-form kanji): “Home of the Immortals.” As Masamune was a lover of the Chinese classics, the name should come as no surprise to those who know their Chinese classics– this is the name of the place in Journey to the West where the Monkey King steals the Peaches of Immortality. Relatedly, a common– although spoken rather than written– name for the area of the city until the mid-20th century was Rakuchu. This is still used to refer to Kyoto, but was also used to refer to Sendai starting in those early days. It positions Sendai as a successor to Luoyang (Rakuyo in Japanese), once a capital of the Eastern Han dynasty in ancient China. So in short, Masamune had grand dreams for himself and big plans for his capital.

While Sendai never quite became the sort of capital for which Masamune would have hoped, it remained the capital of Japan’s third largest feudal domain, after Kaga and Satsuma domains. It was, among other things, the birthplace of Russian studies in Japan, as well as the site of Japan’s first miso factory. Sendai Castle and Mount Aoba were the Date clan’s residence, but they were also a military installation and strategic asset, so they were a location that was off limits to people from outside Date lands. Local historian and folklorist Mihara Ryokichi notes that when the house of Date did receive dignitaries from elsewhere in Japan, any reception would happen at the Matsuyama Estate in Sendai’s Katahira district, which was the residence of the Moniwa family, a senior vassal family in service to the Date. As a family with its own income equal to that of a minor independent lord, the Moniwa’s Matsuyama Estate was quite fabulous in its own right.

The castle remained in Date hands through the end of the Boshin War. Some, but not all, of the Date command during the Boshin War, was coordinated from Mount Aoba, though some of it was also nearer to the battlefront at Shiroishi Castle, in the southern end of the domain. At war’s end, it was surrendered to the imperial government, and the domain-turned-prefecture’s administration was relocated across town to Yokendo, the Date domain school, on whose footprint more or less the prefectural government is still located, at Kotodai Park just north of Sendai Station.

Between the end of the Boshin War and the end of the Second World War, Mount Aoba and the Kawauchi area were for the most part a military base, the headquarters of the Sendai Garrison, which became the Imperial Army’s Second Infantry Division. At war’s end, the US Army took possession of the castle site and the outer baileys became home to the US Army’s Camp Sendai, one of the US occupation forces’ 13 bases in the prefecture. After the US withdrew, the area finally passed from military use. Today, parts of it are a botanical garden, parts of it are a park, other parts are residences. And rather prominently, the core of the old US military base is now the campus of Tohoku University’s Kawauchi Campus.

On the peak of Mount Aoba today sits a museum focused on the Date clan’s history, alongside Miyagi Gokoku Shrine. And there near the edge of the walls on a high stone plinth, the equestrian statue of Date Masamune looks out over the city that still bears the mark of those long-ago grand plans for making a second Luoyang. There was an original statue identical to this one that once occupied the same plinth, but which was melted down during the Second World War for use of its metals. The current statue was recast, in the same mold, after the war. I remember standing in its shadow in 2005, the day I first visited Mount Aoba, and thinking “this is a fittingly sized statue for the man’s personality.”

Sendai City Museum. (image in PD)

At the foot of Mount Aoba is the Sendai City Museum, which still preserves many treasures of the city, the region, and the Date clan. Masamune’s famous armor with the crescent-moon helmet crest “lives” there. And I suspect the man would’ve been proud that so much of the hill that his family called home, is still a place of quiet, contemplation, and culture.

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(Friday Night History) Inō Hanzaemon’s Long Walk

80-yen memorial stamp of Inō Tadataka. (Image PD)

Last week, we looked at Mamiya Rinzō, his surveys of Ezochi– the land we now call Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kurile Islands– and how they aided the Shogunate’s efforts to bolster its control of the march to the north of Honshu. We also learned how this was tied up in the Siebold Incident. Mentioned along the way was Mamiya’s teacher, Inō Tadataka– alias Inō Hanzaemon– and his own epic survey of the Japanese coastline. Unfinished at the time of Inō’s death, Mamiya finished it and saw it to publication. This week, we’re going to explore more of Inō’s story, and round out our appreciation of the man, his career, and his oeuvre. I should note here that last week I kept flubbing his name– it’s Inō, not Ina– this week, I’m getting that right.

Okay, so Inō Hanzaemon was born in Ozeki, a village of Kazusa Province, which today is part of Kujukuri town, in what’s now Chiba Prefecture. He was adopted by a wealthy family of sake brewers and rice dealers of Sawara in nearby Shimosa Province– today part of Katori, Chiba Prefecture– which is how he received the Inō surname. At that level of financial privilege, the distinction between a merchant and a warrior was a lot blurrier than might be assumed, which is important to bear in mind considering that he went on to work for the Shogunate and is often depicted with not one but two swords, which is a well known mark of the warrior caste in Edo period Japan. He was wealthy enough that he was able to use his own funds to provide relief for the local population, which was suffering the brunt of the Tenmei famine, and to have his own wealth not particularly adversely impacted. And, this financial privilege also afforded him the stability and freedom to engage in self-study of calendar making and astronomy.

A word on that point of astronomy. Some of you might remember one of the more popular earlier episodes of Friday Night History– long before it was a podcast– in which I talked about the imperial court’s Ministry of Divination– a sort of real-life Ministry of Magic which existed until 1873. While its purview did indeed center on matters surrounding the occult, it was also the bureau which handled things like calendar making, astronomy, weather forecasts, and more– all of these very real-world sciences were important to how it did its work. So the Shogunate, as with the imperial court, had its own astronomers and calendar makers, who were aware of the work of the Ministry, but had less of an emphasis on the occult. And so at age 49 in 1795 (Kansei 7) Inō went to study with one of them, Takahashi Yoshitoki. Again, it was Inō’s financial privilege that allowed this– he was not only wealthy, but by this point, he’d already retired as a successful businessman, passing on the family headship and business while retaining access to the family’s wealth with which to fund his own studies.

This is the part that I keep getting stuck on, as I research and write this story. The Tenmei Famine killed and impoverished a lot of people, and this was also the era of rice speculators hoarding rice from starving people and triggering the direct action called “smashings” (uchikowashi) where angry, starving people smashed their doors in and carried off the rice. So the thought that Inō had the money to independently do a survey of this magnitude, in a time when so many others were suffering, haunts me.

For better or worse, Inō spent five years furthering his political and scholarly connections in Edo as well as advancing his personal studies. At the end of it, the Shogunate approved his plan to survey the Japanese coastline, and Inō set off on the first of what was eventually a series of ten surveying missions. The Shogunate endorsed the mission, given– as we saw in last week’s episode– the rising threat posed by the Russian Empire’s incursions to the north. It wasn’t long before this, after all, that Russian envoy and military officer Adam Laxman visited Japan in an attempt to negotiate concessions including a trade agreement. But the Shogunate was also dealing with its own recovery from the Tenmei Famine, and I’m sure it was all too glad to let Inō do the survey as long as he picked up the cost himself. These surveys took him and his team around to all the extremes of Japan. Inō surveyed the Japanese coast, as well as much of the coastline of neighboring Ezochi, with surveying instruments of his own invention.

As an example of Inō’s work, let’s take a look at this snippet, which I’ve snapshotted from the maps in the collection of the US Library of Congress. For listeners, check out the blogpost for the image. For reference we’re orienting ourselves with West to the top in the interest of text direction.

Sendai section of the Inō Taizu. (Image PD)

To the top of the image is the spine of the Ōshū Mountains. Below them, along some smaller hills, rise castle walls– Sendai Castle, on Mount Aoba– with the legend “Residence Castle of Lord Matsudaira Masachiyo.” House Date had the right to use the Matsudaira surname, the original name of the Tokugawa clan, as an honorific– Masachiyo was the childhood name of Date Chikamune, the then-lord of Sendai domain.

Below, in a red zigzag, the line of the Ōshū Highway runs left (south) to right (north). Nagamachi at left, Nanakita at right, both part of the modern city of Sendai. The county line between Natori County and Miyagi County is clearly delineated– here, it follows the line of the Hirose River, on the left. Pretty much all of what we see here is part of modern Sendai, and this stretch of the Ōshū Highway roughly overlaps with the line of the Tohoku Shinkansen, the Tohoku bullet train.

Inō’s survey work was so gradual and monumental that along the way, others joined him and even became his students. One of these was Mamiya Rinzō, about whom we talked last week– to get his story, go back and listen to Episode 25: Mamiya Rinzō Goes North. Mamiya came from similar affluent non-warrior roots as Inō, and as we discovered, went north from what’s now Wakkanai with Matsuda Denjūrō in tow to map the coast of Sakhalin, which at the time was thought to be a peninsula connected to the Asian continent, but which thanks to Mamiya’s survey was proven to be an island.

An early pedometer used by Inō. (Image PD)

In 1812 Mamiya returned to Ainu lands to finish the unfinished work of Inō, together with others of the latter’s friends and students. Inō died in 1818, at age 73, which was extremely long-lived for the time. But the work of Mamiya and others made possible the 1821 presentation to the Shogunate– and original publication– of Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu, Inō’s coastal mapping survey. You can check out Inō’s Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu here, digitized and viewable in the collection of the US Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2001620020/ — for the podcast listeners, check out the blogpost and follow the link. It’s big. It’s also apparently one of the most complete surviving collections of the entire series anywhere in the world.

As noted last week, the work of both Mamiya and Inō was crucial to the Tokugawa Shogunate’s development of coast defense nationwide as well as policy on the northern border, in and beyond the march controlled by the house of Matsumae. As such, it was deeemed strategically sensitive information, which is why the Shogunate reacted so severely when in 1828, the Prussian doctor Philip Franz von Siebold, then posted to Dejima in Nagasaki harbor at the Dutch East India Company’s outpost, was found to be in possession of copies of Mamiya and Inō’s maps in what is remembered as the Siebold Incident (Shiiboruto Jiken シーボルト事件). The maps continued to inform Japanese cartography for nearly a century, well into the late Meiji era.

Inō’s former residence is preserved as a museum in what’s now Katori, Chiba Prefecture, where across the street can be found the Inō Tadataka Memorial Museum, which preserves documents as well as some of the surveying equipment from this monumental undertaking. If you’re in the area, or are listening one day when it’s possible to enter Japan again, go and take a look!

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(Friday Night History) Mamiya Rinzo Goes North

Today, Japanese maps (and world maps) take for granted that Hokkaido and Sakhalin are islands. This is not surprising. But there was a time when a common understanding of geography in Japan had it that the islands we now call Hokkaido and Sakhalin were connected to the Asian mainland. This week, we’re going to talk about the survey that changed that understanding with regard to Sakhalin, how it can challenge our assumptions about the Edo period, and how it laid the groundwork for Japan’s current borders.

First and foremost, we need to bear in mind that in the late 18th century, the Shogunate knew about, and was concerned about, the growth of Russian imperial influence to the north. There was an earlier strategic concern in the 17th century of potential Manchu invasion from the north, but by the 18th, the threat had shifted to the Russians, whose ships often appeared there during survey missions and amidst colonial expansion. While the Shogunate’s policy of national seclusion remained in effect, even diehard supporters understood that something needed to be done in order to ensure the security of the northern border.

Mind you, there was Japanese settlement and even a feudal domain across the Tsugaru strait in what we now call Hokkaido, but this was not part of Japan proper at the time.

Let me say that again.

Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper at the time, and modern Japan– the modern imperial state that wasn’t the patchwork of semi-independent feudatories anymore– didn’t exist yet. Hokkaido wasn’t annexed until 1869.

Okay, I hear you ask, so what was it until then?

Let me introduce you to the concept of a march. A march is a borderland. It’s a concept that’s well established in European history and beyond. In the Edo period, the Matsumae controlled territory of what we now call southern Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper but was a march. Elsewhere in Ezochi, the Shogunate asserted direct control, and had the domains of northern Honshu, most notably Sendai, Aizu, Akita, and Morioka domains, administer territory on its behalf as their people and resources had less of a distance to travel.

In other words, to the Shogunate, the lands where Japanese people lived and where house Matsumae ruled, was a march. And be that as it may, it was still deemed to be at potential danger from Russian incursion. And while the land around the Matsumae territory was pretty well known, points further north were less clearly and reliably surveyed, and the Shogunate wanted to assert better control over those territories. This was especially the case starting in the early 19th century, when encounters with Russian vessels became a little more common, and the house Matsumae proved itself to be less trustworthy than the Shogunate would have desired. So I should take a moment here to do due diligence and say, let’s be real, while national defense was part of the equation here, empire building and colonization was also a motivation. We’ll come back to that in a little more detail later.

One of the most important things for planning an effective defense is knowing the terrain. While there were increasingly accurate maps of the main islands (Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu) and the smaller islands around them, maps of Ezochi– Hokkaido and Sakhalin and the Kuriles– were less accurate. Inō Hanzaemon’s work in mapping the Japanese coastline helped significantly improve that, but his work– unfinished at the time of his death– was completed by Mamiya Rinzō, one of his students, whose work is going to be our focus today.

Mamiya Rinzō. (Image PD)

Mamiya Rinzō (1780-1844) was born into a peasant family in Tsukuba county of Hitachi Province (modern day Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture), but was elevated to warrior caste by adoption, owing in part to his distinction as a student of mathematics and surveying. He was assigned to the Shogunate administrative offices in Hokkaido in 1800, where he became a student of Inō Hanzaemon. Mamiya surveyed Etuworopsir (better known by its Japanese name of Etorofu-tō) in 1806, but in 1808, departed from what’s now the city of Wakkanai with his assistant Matsuda Denjūrō to survey Sakhalin, to the north. They split up at the southernmost point, with Mamiya going up the eastern coast and Matsuda going up the western coast, meeting at the northernmost tip. Though Mamiya had a decent amount of skill in the Ainu language, the further north he traveled, the less people he found who spoke the Ainu he would’ve known– i.e., the Ainu of what’s now Hokkaido– much less any Ainu at all. This is unsurprising, as he would’ve also been encountering Nivkh and Orok people, that far north. At the point they met, and confirmed that Sakhalin was an island, Mamiya and Matsuda erected a marker that read Dai Nihon koku Kokkyo National Boundary of Great Japan.

Yes, this didn’t go unchallenged– Imperial Russia eventually colonized Sakhalin too. Yes, in practical terms, there wasn’t much the Shogunate could do to enforce that kind of mindblowingly bold claim to all of Sakhalin. But again, let’s be clear. This wasn’t exploration for the sake of exploration, and it wasn’t simply a matter of defense. Mamiya worked for the Shogunate, and he was contributing to its expansion of power to the north.

After setting up that marker, Mamiya crossed the strait aboard an Ainu vessel, and went to the mouth of the Amur River, entering its estuary and further confirming that Sakhalin was an island and not part of the continent itself. In 1812 he returned to Ainu lands to finish the unfinished work of Inō, making possible the 1821 publication of Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu, Inō’s survey. You can check out Inō’s Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu here, digitized and viewable in the collection of the US Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2001620020/ — for the podcast listeners, check out the blogpost and follow the link. It’s big.

Hakodate, in what’s now Hokkaido, as mapped by Inō Hanzaemon. (Image in PD, archived by LOC)

Shogunate policy in Hokkaido and points north benefited from both Mamiya and Inō’s work, but oddly enough, Mamiya’s work also became involved in an international incident in fairly short order. Philip Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) is a man who honestly deserves an episode of his own, and I’ll probably do that down the road. But for now, let’s give the brief summary: he was Prussian, in Japan with the Dutch trading mission at Dejima in Nagasaki, where he served as physician and taught Shogunate retainers about Western medicine while conducting observations and some of the first European cataloguings of Japanese flora and fauna. But thanks to his professional contacts with Japanese scholars he also obtained Japanese maps of the northern frontier, including the then-recent work of Mamiya and Inō. von Siebold had planned to smuggle these maps out of the country when he left in the autumn of 1828, but the ship that was to carry him was wrecked in a storm immediately on leaving harbor. von Siebold and the other survivors returned to Dejima, the Dutch enclave and trading post in Nagasaki, and their ship’s cargo was salvaged and inspected by Shogunate authorities, which is when the authorities discovered the map. If von Siebold thought he was homebound at the time, he was sorely mistaken, as the Shogunate confined him to Dejima for the ensuing year while its court case wound its way through. By the end, von Siebold was deported from Japan for having nearly compromised national security, though he was allowed to take his collection of local flora, fauna, and books along with him, first to his residence in Jakarta (which was then called Batavia), and thence to Holland.

Philip Franz von Siebold in older years (image PD)

The Shogunate ordered Mamiya to take part in a number of other projects focused on national security, though closer to home, in the form of coast defense for the waters around Edo. You might recall some of the earlier episodes where we talked about the intentional American missions and accidental British incursions into the waters at the mouth of Edo Bay, in the 19th century– this is some of what concerned the Shogunate at the time. Mamiya died in 1844, 9 years before the Perry mission and the subsequent dramatic shift in Shogunate priorities regarding foreign policy, coastal defense, and national security. Like his mentor, Mamiya is commemorated with a bronze statue, though Mamiya’s is in Wakkanai, where he departed together with Matsuda Denjuro, on his famous trip that confirmed Sakhalin was an island. 

The border between Japan and Russia has often changed since Mamiya’s time, as have the governments of both countries. Hokkaido was, as noted above, annexed in 1869, and has remained Japanese territory ever since. For about 40 years, from the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 to the Soviet invasion just prior to the end of the Second World War in 1945, Sakhalin from the 50th parallel on south was controlled by the Japanese Empire, which also controlled the Kuril Islands. Today, there is a lingering dispute over the Southern Kurils, but Russia administers all of that territory.

And yet, one of the common names for the strait separating Sakhalin from the Asian continent and the Amur River estuary– sometimes called the Strait of Tartary– is still Mamiya-kaikyo. The Mamiya Strait.

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(Friday Night History) “Noh and Noh Accessories”

Kanze Sakon performs the Noh play Okina in 1939. (image PD)

Noh, a traditional form of Japanese theater that derives from an older form called sarugaku, is pretty well known in the world– it’s one of the most recognizable elements of traditional Japanese performing arts. Some people conflate it with kabuki, so let me begin by offering a simple way of remembering which form of traditional Japanese theater or dance is which.

  • Kabuki has facepaint and lots of acrobatics and slapstick. Its orchestra includes shamisen.
  • Bunraku has similar musical accompaniment to kabuki but features puppets and a chanter.
  • Kagura is the ritual dance associated with Shinto shrines.
  • Kyōgen is comedic, has some slapstick and no masks, and is performed on Noh stages in between the longer, more serious Noh plays.
  • Noh has masks, a lot of slow movements and chanting, and its musical accompaniment is flute and drum.

We cool? Good.

The thing is, Noh wasn’t just a performing art for the sake of a performing art. It was also possessed of spiritual significance, as it was one way of performing rites that would pacify restless spirits. It had any number of occasions where it might be performed, as it does today. In that regard it sometimes overlaps with what we’d consider to be kagura today. At any rate, keep that in mind– it’s important to what we’re going to be talking about in this episode.

Alright. So. Noh in the Edo period was overwhelmingly the domain of the warrior caste and its hangers-on. It was expensive even at the time, so this isn’t too surprising– your average Taro the farmer is going to be more likely involved in kagura at the local shrine, rather than putting on a Noh play. While not everyone was trained enough to be able to perform the dances, as Nishiyama Matsunosuke points out, “a large warrior-class population learned the chants and instrumental accompaniments.” And for our case study, we’re going to look at Noh in the house of Date, and not only because that’s our usual purview.

House Date, which was the fourth wealthiest power in Japan after the Shogunate, house Maeda of Kaga domain, and house Shimazu of Satsuma domain, was one of Edo Japan’s most preeminent patrons of Noh. Just how preeminent do I mean? Think back for a moment to our episode about daimyo. In that episode, we learned that the general definition of a daimyo, despite how conditional it often was in practice, included in theory anyone with yearly income rated at over 10,000 koku. The Date income was about 625,400 koku, and of that, they spent about 10,000 a year on Noh alone. That should offer some sense of scale here, in terms of how extravagant was their patronage. They spent a lot on Noh, from the beginning of the Edo period through the end, but house Date was interested in Noh for quite a long time even prior to that.

Date interest in Noh is believed to date roughly to the mid Muromachi era. By the late 16th century, Date Masamune himself was so skilled with the drum that he himself appeared in Noh performances, attended by other daimyo and sometimes even the shogun. While Masamune and his descendants pursued instruction by the heirs of the major lineages of Noh– most notably Okura, Kanze, Konparu, Hōshō, and Kita– what they also did was send their own retainers to go study and pursue licensure from those schools of acting, music, propmaking, and set design. In doing so, house Date ensured that it had a cadre of professionals who were already on the rolls of their vassal-band, who could be easily and reliably called upon for the staging of different performances wherever there was need of a play or a series of plays.

In fact, Noh was there at the founding of the Sendai castle town. The groundbreaking ceremony for the new and expanded Sendai Castle on Mount Aoba included the now famous poetry writing where Date Masamune gave the city its current name. But there was more that was part of the festivities. In the orthodox history of the clan, Date Chike Kiroku Volume 2, 18th century historian Tanabe Marekata writes:

12/24 (Keichō 5 [1/28/1601]), Hour of the Dragon. His Lordship went to the groundbreaking at Sendai Castle. He changed the castle’s name spelling to 仙臺 (wizard’s platform). Once there had been a Thousand-form Buddha beside this castle, thus it was [originally] spelled 千體 (thousand forms). Later the spelling was changed to 千代 (thousand generations). This castle was said to be the ancestral residence of the former Kokubun lord, Sir Noto-no-kami Moriuji. That evening, there was a party for the groundbreaking. Five Noh were performed: Takasago, Tamura, Nonomiya, Yōrō, and Jōjō.

Clearly, it had an official role to play in the domain’s life.

A particularly noted example of a Date retainer who became a Noh expert and founded a lineage is that of Sakurai Hachiemon (alias Sakurai Yasuaki), one of Masamune’s pages who was sent to study with Okura Ujinori (1590-1665), the third son of Azuchi-Momoyama era Noh master Konparu Yasuteru (1549-1621) who was famous for having taught Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hachiemon was trained and licensed by Okura Ujinori, and Hachiemon’s descendants became a lineage of Noh masters. Interestingly, the Sakurai line became one where every successive generation was an adoptee selected for mastery of the family Noh tradition– inasmuch as adoption to continue a lineage was common in the Edo period, a line composed entirely of adoptees was uncommon. Hakugoku Zenbe’e (alias Hakugoku Kototsugu) and Kō Gorōjirō, contemporaries of Hachiemon, specialized in the taiko drum. Meanwhile, Hiraiwa Kanshichi became certified in fue, the bamboo flute that is a central part of the musical accompaniment to any Noh performance. Hakugoku, Kō, and Hiraiwa, like Sakurai, started out as pages in service to Masamune.

This cadre of performers and other specialists was divided between three geographic centers– Edo, Nara (actually some in Nara, some in Kyoto), and Sendai– putting it in easy reach of the Shogun’s capital, the imperial capital, and the capital of the Date domains. Owing to the Date domain’s decentralized organization, the family’s cadet branches, which formed the highest tier of Date vassals, also sponsored Noh actors and performances of their own. This multicentric arrangement of house Date’s Noh personnel and assets had an impact on other fiefdoms’ Noh as well as on modern Noh.

These people were, of course, paid stipends by the domain. But as with all retainer stipends in the Edo period, these tended not to rise for anything, even for cost of living. So to fill that gap, some of these Noh specialized Sendai vassals took students from other domains. This not only helped make ends meet but also spread Date Noh influence, and it positioned these families for adapting to the changes wrought by the coming of the Meiji era and the abolition of the feudal domains.

Just before that abolition, Sendai domain under the Date was defeated during the Boshin civil war of 1868-1869. As part of the punishment which the Empire imposed, two thirds of Sendai domain’s landholding was confiscated, which thus affected the domain’s income, and so the clan had to radically slash and reorganize its expenses. People like Noh actors were not justifiable expenses in this new regime. Those of the Noh professionals who were based in Sendai, whose work mostly involved other Date retainers, were shit out of luck. But those based in Edo or Nara, who already derived most of their income from private students, stayed in the Noh business. And as it turns out, some of them still exist today or existed well into the modern era. The Hiraiwa school of fue flute, for instance, was one such tradition that had once been in service of house Date; it existed until the mid-Meiji period and the death of its last inheritor. Other traditions once associated with house Date survive to this day.

In modern Sendai, Noh and Noh performances continue thanks to an organized group of devoted performers and their supporters. When I lived there in 2005, I remember seeing advertisements for free public performances of Noh, though I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend them. If you’re in Sendai, or can manage to go there one day once it’s allowed to enter Japan again, you can find more information from the homepage of what’s now called the Sendai City Association for the Promotion of Noh (Sendai-shi Nōgaku Shinkō Kyōkai) at https://sendai-nogaku.org

Sources

(Translations) the Naoe Letter

This is the Naoe Letter, named for its author, Naoe Kanetsugu (1559-1620), who was a senior vassal in service to Uesugi Kagekatsu (1556-1623). It was written 421 years ago tomorrow, as I type this!

17th century portrait of Naoe Kanetsugu. (Image in PD)

He wrote it in response to a letter sent to Kagekatsu from Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) via the monk Seishō Jōtai (1548-1607). This was in the lead-up to the Battle of Sekigahara, where Ieyasu was at the center of one faction and his rival Ishida Mitsunari (1559-1600) centered a different faction.

Historic portrait of Seishō Jōtai. (Image in PD)

I see the Naoe Letter as Kanetsugu throwing down the gauntlet pretty hard. Unfortunately for him, the Uesugi clan lost in the Sekigahara Campaign, during which they were faced and contained by the armies of the house of Date, at the Battle of Hasedō.

* * *

I have this day received your letter of the first of the fourth month, which arrived yesterday, the 13th. I was most pleased to receive and to read it.

ITEM: Regarding our province, there are many false rumors circulating at present. So there isn’t much we can do about the Interior Minister (Ieyasu) holding reservations. Furthermore, as these rumors are now spreading it Kyoto and Fushimi, there isn’t anything that can be done. Aizu is a distant country, and my lord Kagekatsu is young, so naturally he is the target of rumor . We aren’t worried, so please be reassured.

ITEM: Regarding why Kagekatsu will not come to Kyoto, all manner of things are being said. Barely two years ago our fief was transferred, and in no time we went up to Kyoto, returning only on the 9th month of last year. Even so in this years first month we were again ordered to report to Kyoto. When can we be expected to care for our own lands’ affairs? This land is snow country, so from the 10th to the 3rd months nothing can be done. If you ask anyone who knows this land, they’ll understand. So given our request to delay our trip to Kyoto, you’ll understand that the rumors that Kagekatsu is traitorous are misunderstandings.

ITEM: You’ve said that if Kagekatsu harbors no traitorous motives then he should submit a vow affirming this. We have sent several written pledges since the Taikō’s death, but they’ve all been ignored. So sending in another document is pointless.

ITEM: Since [his service to] the Taikō, Kagekatsu has been known as an upstanding person- this has not changed. This is contrary to the world’s fickle ways.

ITEM: Kagektasu is absolutely not harboring ulterior motives. If you do not investigate and expose these evil words of strangers, and assume that he is treacherous, then it can’t be helped., Otherwise we would ask to have the chance to face our accusers and ascertain the truth of the matter. If not, then the Interior Minister is being dishonest.

ITEM: As regards Lord Hizen-no-kami of Kaga (Maeda Toshinaga), things have been settled between him and the Interior Minister. We assume this is because of the Interior Minister’s influence.

ITEM: As for Mashita Nagamori and Ōtani Yoshitsugu’s promotions, we’ve heard about it in detail. It is truly most felicitous. Sakakibara Yasumasa has acted as official go-between. And even if Kagekatsu’s stance of opposition was public, hearing opposing viewpoints is part of what’s right as a warrior. This would also serve the Interior Minister. It is better if it is known whether or not somebody is a loyal or treacherous vassal.

ITEM: First, as the matter concerns baseless rumors, we refuse to come to Kyoto. Our reasons are as stated above.

ITEM: Second, It’s been said of our gathering of weapons and materiel that we’re preparing for rebellion. These actions are the same as when warriors of central Japan gather tea implements, charcoal scuttles, and gourds. Please consider we backcountry warriors gathering spears, guns, bows and arrows as simply a difference of culture.  Even if he was planning action, what could someone in Kagekatsu’s position do? Isn’t making this into a problem a judgment that is unbecoming for the realm?

ITEM: Third, regarding roads and bridges, this is to make travel more convenient. It is the duty of one who rules a province. When Kagekatsu ruled Echigo he did the same; those bridges and roads are still extant. Here in Aizu we already built roads that go to Kōzuke, Shimotsuke, Iwaki, Sōma, Masamune’s territory, Mogami, Yuri, and Senboku, and nobody on the other side of those borders said anything. Incidentally, only the Lord Kenmotsu, Hori Naomasa, has feared this construction and spread various lies that betray a lack of understanding of what befits a warrior. The fact that only Hori Kenmotsu has made an issue of this road construction shows that he is a thoughtless person who knows nothing of the warrior’s way. If Kagekatsu had any evil intent, then Hori would’ve run into border security and adequately prepared defenses. If you doubt this, send messengers to check our border crossings from other provinces, and I believe you will understand.

ITEM: The third month of this year was the requiem for Lord Kenshin. Kagekatsu planned to come to Kyoto after that, in the summer. As he readied his arms and administered his lands’ business of government, messengers came from Ōtani and Mashita, relaying the Interior Minister’s demands that if Kagekatsu had no treacherous aims then he should come to Kyoto. But as you’ve relayed these false charges to us, if you look closely then you’ll know we harbor no deception.

Yet even though we’ve said that Kagekatsu has no traitorous intent, to receive the retort of “if you don’t, then come to Kyoto” is to be treated like a child. This world, where one who until yesterday was a traitor can, feigning ignorance, go to Kyoto and receive a reward, does not suit Kagekatsu. Though the rumors are baseless, if Kagekatsu entered Kyoto in the midst of all these lies about his intent, we would lose all honor earned by generations of Uesugi arms.

So  because you will not confront the people spreading these rumors, then we cannot come to Kyoto.

Kagekatsu is unmistakably right on this matter. We are especially aware that in the middle of the 7th month, Kagekatsu’s vassal Fujita Noto-no-kami left this clan for Edo and then went on to Kyoto. Is Kagekatsu wrong or is Ieyasu dishonest? We will leave it to the world to decide.

ITEM: Many words are unnecessary: Kagekatsu has not a whit of rebellious intent. But we are being set up so as to be unable come to Kyoto, and only be able to come by the Interior Minister’s determination. To remain at home would violate the Taikō’s will, and our pledges have already been ignored. What’s more, it would betray our young master Hideyori. Even if we were to raise our forces and make Kagekatsu ruler of the realm, we would not be able to escape the stigma of being evil men. It would be a shame for all time. Could anyone rebel withour reservations? Rest at ease. But if you believe the words of evil men as being true, then oaths and promises are pointless.

ITEM: Rumors are circulating that Kagekatsu is traitorous. They also claim that he is sending troops to garrison castles, and preparing provisions. These are the baseless words of strangers, so there is no need to heed them.

ITEM: Sending messengers to explain things to the Interior Minister is called for. Incidentally, on both the lies of evil people from beyond our borders, and Uesugi vassal Fujita Noto-no-kami’s betrayal, because Kagekatsu is suspected of treachery, there isn’t anything that can be done. If what I’ve explained above doesn’t clarify things, then there’s nothing more to be said.

ITEM: No matter what, our land is far away, so as you might surmise, the truth about us becomes like lies. It should be needless to say so, but I have written things plainly for your eyes to see.

You know the right and wrong of the world, so I have written this simply. I have voiced most humbly my reservations. To gain your will, I have spoken without concern for any rudeness. Please convey my words.

With reverent esteem.

Keichō 5, 14th of the 4th Month

[26 May 1600]

Naoe Yamashiro no kami
Kanetsugu

(to) Seishō Jōtai of Hōkō-ji

(Friday Night History) Ogata Kōan, Connector

This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!

There’s a kind of person in history you might have encountered before. They’re the sort of person who seems to know everyone, seems to connect lots and lots of people who you didn’t realize had that connection, and thereby makes currents of influence, communication, inspiration a lot clearer. The history of late Edo Japan has its share of people like this, so tonight, let’s talk about Ogata Kōan, a famous Osaka based doctor and polymath.

Detail of a 1901 painting of Ogata Kōan.


Born in Ashimori (in modern day Okayama Prefecture), he was born into the samurai caste, but chose to focus his efforts on scholarship and medicine, especially Dutch medicine. Studying during the 1830s first in Edo with Japanese teachers and then in Nagasaki with a visiting Dutch physician, by 1838 he began his own career as a teacher. Ogata set up his school, Tekijuku 適塾, in Osaka.


Osaka, then as now, was one of Japan’s major cities, and was also a city under the direct control of the Tokugawa Shogunate. This was not the Shogun’s capital, but it was the nearest thing in western Japan, and the myriad feudal domains of Japan maintained some measure of presence there. A primary reason for this was that this was one of the main centers of rice brokers in Japan. Why does this matter? Because the wealth of feudal domains was measured primarily in their agricultural output in rice, but you can’t buy necessities with rice and nothing else, and a bale of rice is a pain in the ass to make change out of, don’t you think? So, the feudal domains would bring their rice to Osaka, and exchange it for paper bills. Osaka brokers significantly grew their own political power this way, too– so much so that Masuya Heiemon (Masuhei for short), the broker with whom the Date of Sendai domain were contracted, once bragged “Masuhei is Sendai!”
This meant that Osaka was a major transportation hub and a place where many people from very different places and statuses of origin had a chance of crossing paths amidst the pursuit of official or mercantile business. So it was a good place for Ogata to set up his school. And this choice of location at the crossroads of so many people from so many domains is exactly why even though his school might not necessarily be a household name, many of his students went on to very prominent roles in the fields of military leadership, government, education, literature, and more.


Some of Tekijuku’s most notable alumni include Sano Tsunetami, Ōmura Masujirō, Fukuzawa Yūkichi, Hashimoto Sanai, Ōtori Keisuke, Nagayo Sensai, Tezuka Ryōsen, Mitsukuri Shūhei, Takamatsu Ryōun, and many others. Several of these names are people who have appeared in earlier weeks’ installments of Friday Night History. We’ve heard about Sano for the past few weeks because he went on to be a key leader in the Saga domain under the leadership of Nabeshima Naomasa, in which role he later met Samuel Pellman Boyer, the topic of last week’s post. Otori Keisuke was a Shogunate Army general and later a diplomat in the Meiji government. Takamatsu Ryōun was a key figure in the founding of the Japan Red Cross. Fukuzawa Yūkichi was a journalist, entrepreneur, and educator who founded Keio University. Tezuka Ryōsen in particular is the ancestor of legendary mangaka Tezuka Osamu, whose manga about his ancestor’s life, Hidamari no Ki included scenes in the Ogata school.

I encourage you to look up each of these names and see what you can find out abut them on your own. All told, quite a lot of important people in the development of Japan from the 1850s onward.
Tekijuku’s focus was Dutch studies– Ogata was a doctor, after all. But Dutch studies encompassed more than medicine, and there was a range of topics in what we’d now call STEM that were all taught there, along with instruction on the Dutch language itself, for many of the books from which Ogata taught were not translated. Not everyone who went to Tekijuku became a doctor, but the education available at Tekijiku became instrumental in setting Ogata’s students up for later success. But learning about that shared educational experience, in what was a very small private school, can help us appreciate how he, like Osaka itself, connected people.


Ogata Kōan’s work extended beyond instruction, of course. He was still a practicing doctor, and some of his fame to this day is also in his work on inoculations against smallpox. Again, we’ve covered this in prior weeks– Nabeshima Naomasa and Ogata Kōan’s circles had significant overlap for many years. He was also a translator of Dutch works into Japanese, and an author of original works including the first Japanese book on pathology, Byōgaku Tsūron. If you’re able to read kanbun, the National Diet Library has a scanned copy here: https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/995413 Near the end of his life, he even became an official physician to Tokugawa Iemochi, 14th shogun, as well as serving as official physician of the Shogunate Army’s infantry barracks in Edo. Ogata’s career was cut short upon his death from tuberculosis in 1863, but his impact on Japan, through his students, continued for many decades.

Tekijuku as it stands today.

Oh, and the old building of Tekijuku, the Ogata school, is still in Osaka today. But the school grew into something much bigger: it is a forerunner of today’s Osaka University, which maintains an archive of documents and other materials pertaining to Tekijuku: https://www.tekijuku.osaka-u.ac.jp/ja

I’m Nyri and this has been a connective #FridayNightHistory!

Now– questions?

Sources

  • Fukuzawa Yukichi. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa. Translated by Eiichi Kiyooka. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966).
  • Ann Bowman Jannetta. The Vaccinators: Smallpox, Medical Knowledge, and the ‘Opening’ of Japan. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007).
  • “Koan Ogata 1901.” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Koan_Ogata_1901.jpg Accecssed 17 December 2020.
  • Marius Jansen. Sakamoto Ryoma in the Meiji Restoration. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994) p. 18. 
  • Miyagi Kenshi Vol. 2 (Sendai: Hōbundō, 1966), p. 674.
  • Miyoshi Masao. As We Saw Them. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2005.
  • “Shozo Shiryo no Shokai” 所蔵資料の紹介 Osaka Daigaku Tekijuku Kinen Sentaa https://www.tekijuku.osaka-u.ac.jp/ja/center/introduction Accessed 17 December 2020
  • “Tekijuku no Gaikan” 適塾の外観 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tekijuku_06.jpg Accessed 17 December 2020

(Friday Night History) The Long and Surprising Afterlife of Edo Period Robots

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So there’s this word automata, or in singular, automaton: “a mechanism that is relatively self-operating,” says Merriam-Webster. Not the computerized robots of today, but can the word “robot” be applied? Yes. The equivalent term in Japanese is karakuri ningyō. Karakuri is an old term that refers to a mechanism, especially involving pneumatics or clockwork, while ningyō is the word for puppet. Robots are ubiquitous in industry today, including in Japan, but these karakuri ningyō were some of the earliest of Japanese robots.

Tanaka Hisashige, born in Kurume on the island of Kyushu in 1799, was one of the foremost builders of karakuri ningyō in the late Edo period. Kurume was a castle town, the capital of the eponymous Kurume domain, ruled by the house of Arima. Bear in mind that Hisashige wasn’t the inventor of this type of automata, but merely one of its greatest engineers before the modern era. Why am I telling you this? Because it’s more relevant than you might think it is, to something you might take for granted as (for lack of a better term) “brand name background noise,” part of life in the modern world. Edo period robots have a long and surprising afterlife.

Hisashige in old age

Hisashige’s family were artisans, whose hereditary trade was in tortoiseshell craftsmanship, but he himself was more interested in the karakuri ningyō he saw in places like shrine festivals, and by his 20s, was making his own. Moving to the Kyoto-Osaka area in the 1830s (first to Osaka and then to Kyoto) he studied Dutch studies, as well as astronomy under the courtly Tsuchimikado family, who ran the court’s Ministry of Divination. Throughout this time, he constantly sought to improve his technical skill and broaden his scientific knowledge, and put these to work in technological innovation. Far from just working in automata, Hisashige was also the builder of clocks, compact lanterns, and even Japan’s first steam-engine train in 1853. But in the wake of the Perry mission of 1853-1854, there was a rising tide of violent xenophobia, and so Sano Tsunetami, vassal to Nabeshima Naomasa of Saga domain, invited Hisashige relocate to Saga for safety, and to come work for his lord, who was a proponent of western military and other technologies. Interestingly, considering this, Nabeshima Naomasa was later also one of the first feudal lords to pursue and accept western-style medical intervention, being treated by the US Navy doctor Samuel Pellman Boyer, who was also therefore the first American to enter Kyoto, visiting Naomasa in the latter’s official estate in Kyoto. But that visit and treatment wasn’t for several further years, so let’s stay on task with Hisashige and the invitation to come apply his broad technical and scientific learning in service to the forward-thinking house of Nabeshima. 

A depiction of Ryofu-maru underway.

While in Saga service, Hisashige attended the Shogunate Naval Academy at Dejima, in nearby Nagasaki. The academy was shuttered and relocated following a realignment of Shogunate priorities in 1859, but the learning acquired at the academy from mostly Dutch and some American instructors (including the famed John M. Brooke, later famous for his role in the construction of CSS Virginia) would stand Saga domain in general and Tanaka Hisashige in particular, in good stead. As the major domain in the area, some of the academy’s assets were sold or otherwise handed over to Saga control when the shogunate moved its naval education to Tsukiji, in Edo.

After the academy’s closure, Hisashige worked at the Saga domain’s shipyard at Naval Station Mietsu (in modern-day Saga City). One of the station’s most notable ships was Ryōfu-maru, whose keel was laid in 1863 and which was completed in 1865. It wasn’t the first western-style warship in Japanese service, nor was it the first steamship in Japanese service, but it was one of the first Japanese-built steam warships. The rivets used in its construction were a small but important advancement in Japanese technological capability, and some are still unearthed on the site of the old shipyard.

Hisashige also had a hand in casting cutting-edge cannons for Saga domain. Saga put this technological edge in naval power and artillery to practical use several years later, when its troops were part of the imperial forces during the Boshin War of 1868-1869. Saga artillery batteries rather notably saw action against the forces of the Northern Alliance, including at the siege of Aizu late that autumn.

Period photo of a Saga domain artillery piece used during the Boshin War.

Moving to Tokyo– now the imperial capital– in 1871, Hisashige founded a company in 1875 to continue work on technological innovation, especially in producing and refining telegraph instruments. He  died in 1881 in Tokyo, and his adopted son Tanaka Daikichi– who changed his name to Tanaka Hisashige II– took over the family business. The younger Hisashige would move the company’s facility to Shibaura to a 10,000 square meter site in 1882. Shibaura is part of present-day Minato, Tokyo.

But like I said at the beginning of our story this week, independent of steam warships or automata, there’s a part of this story that may surprise you, something that’s a part of the background of life in the 21st century.

Hisashige’s company, after a later merger with Tokyo Electric, still exists.

With the “To” from one and the “Shiba” from the other combined, it’s called Toshiba.

I’m Nyri and this has been #FridayNightHistory.

Now, questions?

Sources

(Friday Night History) The Moustache of Destiny

This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!

Muttonchops.

They’re a variant of sideburns, and one of the quintessential forms of 19th century masculine facial hair grooming. Most famously worn by people like General Ambrose Burnside (from whom comes the term “sideburns”), they remain very visually distinctive. They used to be very common in some places, alongside facial hair in general– for example, in the 19th century US Navy, it was more uncommon to see naval officers without facial hair. After the Boshin War (1868-1869) and the birth of the modern Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, this sort of splendiferous facial hair also spread in popularity among officers, who had studied alongside Prussians, French, and Americans who sported similar grooming styles.

Muttonchops usually had limits.

Which brings me to this man.

Nagaoka Gaishi (1858-1933) isn’t exactly one of the best known Japanese military figures of the last 150 years.  Born in 1858 in Choshu domain, one of the victorious clans of the Boshin War, he was well positioned to take advantage of the prosperity and success enjoyed by former Choshu clansmen in the Imperial Army after the war. He saw service in the First Sino-Japanese War at the battlefront and as Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Russo-Japanese War. He was also commander of a couple of infantry divisions over the course of his career, most notably the 13th, based in Niigata on the Sea of Japan coast.  After ending active service and transferring to reserve status, he also served a stint in the House of Representatives, and was ennobled as a count  (hakushaku). Nagaoka died in April 1933.

Okay, so what’s the deal with the Muttonchops of Destiny here?

Nagaoka might be termed the father of Japanese aviation, particularly military aviation. He was a senior Army officer when airplanes were brand new, and after seeing their application in war during the First World War, understood their importance to the future of military operations. He headed the Imperial Aviation Association, was active as judge in early Japanese aviation competitions, spent time in Europe taking notes on military aircraft and aviation from British and French pilots, oversaw the reception of foreign aviators like the American pilot Art Smith (pictured below), and even offered his own residence as a temporary office for the Tokyo-Osaka airmail service following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

As a proponent of a very new technology and a highly visible public figure involved in them, Nagaoka also sought to spread the word as broadly as possible. Part of this involved writing books and pamphlets meant to spread the word about aviation. Some of them can be found in digitized form in the National Diet Library’s collection. The 1918 Nihon Hikō Seisaku (Japanese Aviation Policy) https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/924020 and the 1923 Hikōki to Teitō Fukkō (Aircraft and the Imperial Capital’s Revitalization)  https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/922671 were written as arguments for national- and capital-level policy and public planning as related to aviation, while the richly illustrated 1928 Hikōki no Hanashi (A Story About Aircraft) can be found here:  https://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/1717318 was written for school-aged readers. But there was a much more practical way he could spread the word about aviation: he grew out his muttonchops, already long during later days of his Army career, in the shape of a propeller. According to a website run by his descendants, Nagaoka’s moustache was 70cm at its longest!

I mean really. I think this is a case of “message received,” don’t you:

Nagaoka and his muttonchops are commemorated in a bronze bust in Joetsu, Niigata, on the site of the old 13th Division commander’s residence.

I’m Nyri and this has been #FridayNightHistory.

Now– questions?

Sources

(Friday Night History) The Shove Heard ‘Round the World, Part 2

This is “The Shove Heard ‘Round the World,” Part 2 of an extarordinary story (here’s part 1) of an American naval officer who thought he could “wing it” in international diplomacy with isolationist Japan. Last week, in the summer of 1846, having scored an unequal treaty with China, and hearing of the outbreak of war with Mexico, Commodore James Biddle thought he could go to Japan (and go straight to Edo to avoid attracting the ire from the Dutch), snag a different treaty with Japan, and then smoothly pivot and head across the Pacific to join the war. Easy, right?

Well, no.

(Pictured: USS Vincennes and USS Columbus in Japan, July 1846. Print by John Eastley. PD)

Here’s the thing: Japan was no stranger to the increasing presence of international ships in its waters, especially whalers. With the development and expansion of steam vessels, this only increased: Dutch, French, British, Russian, and American vessels all wound up in Japanese waters with increasing frequency. The isolation policy hadn’t fundamentally changed since the 17th century, although there had been some relaxing of restrictions pertaining to the import of European books. Even if they came from the countries whose entry into Japan was barred, the knowledge within was still of use. This became the backbone of what was called rangaku, Dutch studies– although despite the name, “Dutch Studies” could refer to the study of any European language, technology, medicine, or discipline.

All the same, by the early to mid 19th century, the ships weren’t going away, and there were a range of opinions as to how to deal with them. Some, like the powerful Mito domain of eastern Japan, advocated for the armed repulsion of any foreign vessel on sight. Others, like the Ōtsuki family– powerful scholars and doctors serving the house of Date in northern Japan– argued for a limited opening of Japan to foreign trade, particularly in the north, with an eye toward better understanding Russia. Indeed, eventually, Sendai under the house of Date became the first clan in Japan to include a Russian studies curriculum in its domain school, the school where its samurai were trained.

Commodore James Biddle. Image in PD.

So with all of this understood, what it boils down to is that foreign vessels, foreign ideas, foreign weapons of the 1840s were not strange otherworldy magical things to Japan. And this informed how the Shogunate responded, shortly after Biddle’s little flotilla– the warships Columbus and Vincennes– arrived at Uraga, at the entrance of what’s now Tokyo Bay, on 20 July 1846.
And by “shortly,” I mean they saw these ships coming, and there was an officer who came aboard before the American warships even reached their anchorage.

As Biddle reported to SECNAV Bancroft:

“Before reaching the anchorage an officer, with a Dutch interpreter, came on board. He inquired what was my object in coming to Japan. I answered that I came as a friend, to ascertain whether Japan had, like China, opened her ports to foreign trade and, if she had, to fix by treaty the conditions on which American vessels should trade with Japan. He requested me to commit this answer to writing, and I gave him a written paper, a copy of which is herewith transmitted. He informed me that any supplies I might require would be furnished by the Government. To my inquiry whether I would be allowed to go on shore, he replied in the negative. He objected to our boats passing between this ship and the Vincennes; but, as I insisted upon it, he yielded.”

Quite the entrance.


The week that followed saw the American sailors receiving Japanese visitors aboard both vessels. Both crews took soundings of the waters around their anchorage, and passed unrestricted from one ship to the other, but were shadowed by Shogunate patrol craft that kept a tight cordon, as well as troops of Oshi and Kawagoe domains, which kept watch from the adjoining shoreline.

Both Biddle’s official report and Charles Nordhoff’s later memoir note that quite a few Japanese regularly visited the two American warships, and that the interactions were on the whole, amicable. Shogunate officials also regularly visited, continuing discussions with Biddle while the latter’s letter traveled up Shogunate channels; despite their firm refusal to let the Americans actually land, they were amenable to supplying the ships with fresh water and other needed provisions.


On the 27th, an answer finally arrived from what Biddle calls “the Emperor,” but was in fact the Shogun. The emissary came with an entourage of eight people including an interpreter. Initially, he wanted them to come aboard, but eventually agreed to come aboard the Shogunate vessel that had drawn up alongside Columbus. But on trying to board, one of the guards on the Japanese vessel misinterpreted Biddle’s intentions, and shoved him back into the Columbus’ launch , drawing his own sword.

A short, sharp crisis ensued. Biddle returned to Columbus, calling for the man to be punished. Japanese officials followed, working out the nature of the misunderstanding and how to punish the man who’d drawn his sword. Ultimately, the problem at its root was exacerbated by neither side having a language in common other than a mutually tenuous grasp of Dutch. With this in mind, Ranald MacDonald’s work in English language instruction had an outsized influence in smoothing future US-Japanese diplomatic interactions.

The shove aside, the Shogunate’s message (as quoted by Biddle) was this:

“According to the Japanese laws, the Japanese may not trade, except with the Dutch and Chinese. It will not be allowed that America make a treaty with Japan or trade with her, as the same is not allowed with any other nation. Concerning strange lands, all things are fixed at Nagasaki, but not here in the bay; therefore you must depart as quick as possible and not come any more in Japan.”

Chastened, Biddle told the Shogunate officials that having ascertained that Japan was not interested in trade, he would withdraw as soon as he could make sail. So, having taken on fresh provisions, and with a tow from Japanese rowboats, the flotilla sailed from Edo Bay on the 29th. Charles Nordhoff recollects that

“Accordingly the anchor was weighed, the sails set, and two long hawsers passed over the bows to the waiting boatmen, who, fastening to these, and to each others’ craft when the hawsers would no longer reach them, soon towed us to the entrance of the bay, when, taking the breeze, the boats cast off, and, amid waving of fans and hats, we bade good-by to Japan.”

Vincennes remained on station in East Asia with Columbus, with Biddle aboard, headed east to join the war. There was no treaty, but there were plenty of reports, first of which was Biddle’s official account sent to Secretary of the Navy Bancroft is dated 31 July. Accounts of this abortive, slapdash attempt at gunboat diplomacy that ended with a shove would influence later US attempts: I talked recently about James Glynn’s 1849 mission to Japan, and the 1853 mission of Matthew C. Perry is renowned worldwide, for better and worse. Both men benefited from the unlikely influenece of Ranald MacDonald, and both were aware of the events of the Biddle mission, seeking to scrupulously avoid the same mistakes (neither commander let himself be in a position where he could get shoved), and especially by use of increasing amounts of naval firepower to compel compliance.

USS Vincennes and an American officer as depicted by a Japanese artist. Image in PD.


But Biddle’s visit had an impact in Japan, too, in ways he likely didn’t anticipate. And for that, you’ll have to wait until next week’s episode.

I’m Nyri and this has been #FridayNightHistory. Now– questions?


This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!

Sources

(Friday Night History) The Shove Heard ‘Round the World, Part 1

(Pictured: USS Vincennes and USS Columbus in Japan, July 1846. Print by John Eastley. PD)

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the mission of Captain James Glynn and the USS Preble, as it factored into the Japanese sojourn of Ranald MacDonald. Glynn’s mission was ostensibly to rescue castaways in Japanese custody but also to press the issue of initiating US-Japan trade and diplomatic relations. This was in 1849, and was the imediate antecedent to the Perry mission of 1853-1854. Glynn, however, was not the first US naval officer to attempt to singlehandedly open US-Japanese relations before Commodore Perry. Enter the mission of the lesser known Commodore James Biddle (1783-1848). He’s certainly not as well known as Perry or Glynn, but his visit to Japan has an important place in history all the same, particularly with regard to the growth of Japanese naval technology.

Commodore James Biddle. Image in PD.

Now, speaking as a Philadelphian, I sighed knowingly when I first encountered his name. Biddle, like Logan, Callowhill, Bond, Norris, and Sellers, is a very old Philadelphia family. That a Biddle was a commodore in the antebellum Navy does not come as a surprise to me at all. He was the nephew of Captain Nicholas Biddle, one of the first five captains in the US Navy, and the younger Biddle had a very eventful career, both as a naval officer as well as a diplomat. During the War against the Barbary Pirates (1801-1805) he was assigned to USS Philadelphia under the command of Captain William Bainbridge when the crew was captured following the ship’s running aground off Tripoli Harbor. He spent the war in captivity in Tripoli. Later, he took part in the War of 1812.

Later still, served on various American fleets throughout the world, in both a military and a diplomatic capacity. Biddle was in the Mediterranean in 1830 when he and consul David Offly negotiated and concluded a treaty with the Sublime Porte (the government of the Ottoman sultan) which established trade relations with the Ottoman Empire and guaranteed American extraterritoriality in the Empire. Long story short, by the time he was commander of the East India Squadron (the US Navy’s main formation operating in East Asian waters) he was an accomplished commander and diplomat.

Shortly after his arrival in China, Biddle added another success to that lengthy career when he exchanged ratifications of the Treaty of Wangxia in December of 1845, the first treaty signed between the US and the Qing Dynasty. China under the Qing had recently been defeated by the United Kingdom, and the other Euro-American powers were quickly lining up to make their own unequal treaties with the vanquished empire. But Biddle and the American diplomats in China were also aware that Japan was nearby and might, at this juncture, also be militarily unable to resist overtures by a western power. Indeed, Biddle carried a letter from then-Secretary of State John C. Calhoun which authorized Caleb Cushing, US agent in China, to open diplomatic negotiations with Japan. At the time, Biddle’s flagship was the 90-gun ship of the line USS Columbus, Captain Thomas Wyman commanding, which was accompanied by the Boston-class sloop of war USS Vincennes, under the command of Captain Hiram Paulding.

Word reached the squadron on 5 July 1846 of war with Mexico. Charles Nordhoff, who was a sailor aboard USS Columbus, writes that

“On the fifth of July, our consort vessel returned from Shanghai, with the commodore, who brought with him an official report of the declaration of war between the United States and Mexico, news which we had been for some time expecting. We immediately proceeded to sea, bound for Japan, our commodore having been intrusted by government with the delivery of a letter from the President of the United States to the Emperor of Japan, expressing a desire to open negotiations for a treaty of trade.” 

(Charles Nordhoff, later in life. Image in PD.)

In his later report to Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft, Biddle reported:

The Japanese, as you know, have always been more rigid in the exclusion of foreigners than even the Chinese. The only Europeans admitted to trade are the Dutch from Batavia; and their trade is confined to a single port, and limited to one annual ship. By the laws of Japan foreign ships are not permitted to anchor in any port of the empire, except that of Nagasaki. Any attempt to penetrate Japan made at that port would be sure to encounter the hostility of the Dutch, whose exertions have hitherto been successful against every attempt to disturb their monopoly. The Japanese officers at Nagasaki are without authority to treat foreign officers; they could not accede to any propositions; they could only transmit them to the seat of Government at Yeddo. The distance between Yeddo and Nagasaki is three hundred and forty-five leagues, and the journey between them is “usually performed in seven weeks,” according to a work on Japan published at New York in 1841. I concluded, therefore, to proceed direct to the bay of Yeddo, where I anchored on the 20th instant, the Vincennes in company.

In other words: having scored an unequal treaty with China, and hearing of the outbreak of war with Mexico, Biddle thought he could go to Japan (and go straight to Edo to avoid attracting the ire from the Dutch), snag a *different* treaty with Japan, and then smoothly pivot and head across the Pacific to join the war.

Easy, right?

We’ll see.

Sources (All Parts)


This and more is made possible by readers like you. Support my work via Patreon at bit.ly/2lVqvv2, send a 1-time donation here: bit.ly/2lQfdZ8 , or buy my new novel #GreyDawn via bit.ly/greydawnebook! Thank you!