Kyoto in Kimono and Other Japanese Sartorial Forms


Living in Kyoto it makes perfect sense to wear kimono. Not only is Kyoto the cultural capital of Japan, apparently if you wear kimono in Kyoto you can get discounts in some taxis and other places. There are of course, many establishments in Kyoto that provide rental kimono services for visitors. These are great for tourists who fancy strolling around the city experiencing Japanese culture, architecture, food etc. while also wearing the quintessential Japanese garb in order to get an “authentic” Japanese experience. For long-term residents like me too, however, rather than simply renting kimono, it makes great sense to take lessons in how to put on kimono because there are likely to be numerous occasions where one might be able to wear one. Indeed, wearing kimono as regular everyday wear is perfectly acceptable, too.

At the beginning of 2022, I took a seven-session course with a private instructor, Nakamura Hiroko, to learn how to put on kimono and tie obi etc., and what a difference it has made! For many years I used to try to put kimono on by myself just using instructional videos on YouTube (and there are many great ones, so I’m not knocking them at all), but I just could not feel confident in my ability and very often I found wearing kimono for long periods was tiring ( because I had tied the himo (紐)too tight, for example), or I found the way I had dressed myself was untidy and soon came loose. After taking classes with a tutor who instructed me in all the little details of getting one on it has really made all the difference. I now feel confident and comfortable.

Me having just put on a kimono during one of my lessons with Nakamura Hiroko sensei

The next challenge is for me to wear kimono as often as possible. Japanese clothes, wasou (和装), I find, tend to be very comfortable when done properly. I often wear samue(作務衣), literally “work wear”, on a daily basis. In wintertime, the fleece-lined samue are very warm and comfortable. Living in Kyoto, I also do not feel very self-conscious or embarrassed about wearing Japanese clothes. Some people do comment, but so far the comments have only been positive.

Now that the warmer days have arrived, I also like to wear jikatabi, the two-toe or split-toe shoes often worn by the rickshaw pullers in tourist spots, or sometimes by Japanese construction workers who sport them with great pantaloon-like trousers called nikka, which is short for nikkapokka, which comes from the word, ‘knickerbockers’ (There’s a great article all about the construction workers’ garb over on Some have said I look like a ninja when I wear a black samue with my jikatabi! It’s easy to see why these items are worn by people who do very physically strenuous work because they are very easy to move about in. It is also very easy to put on a samue, much quicker than kimono, of course. As a beginner, it takes me about 40 minutes to put on a kimono properly, so my plan to wear one every day has not yet come to fruition. My mornings are often hectic, so I do not find the time, but with practice, perhaps I’ll get quicker.

One of my favourite places to buy jikatabi is Sou Sou. For a long time, I had wanted a pair to simply match with western style clothes, but coupling the funky Sou Sou designed jikatabi with kimono has also become a passion of mine. As a student, I pined for a pair but they were somewhat out of my budget at the time. Now that I’m working, I feel a bit more comfortable splashing out on a pair. The only problem is that it is very difficult to choose just one pair because they have so many fabulous designs. It must have taken me more than an hour to choose the last time I was at the shop, but once I’d finally chosen, it was at the back of my mind the whole time; “I’ll be back, I’ll be back, I’ll be back!”

I recently had the great pleasure to be able to attend a lecture by the British kimono stylist, Sheila Cliffe. She is the Vivienne Westwood of kimono fashion. Her style is cool and iconic, so getting the opportunity to hear directly about her ideas was definitely not one to be missed. I really learned a lot, but the biggest take away for me was how absolutely vital it is for more people to wear kimono. I had the chance to ask a question after her talk and it was about whether she has been able to encourage some of the students she teaches at university to wear kimono. One of the things I often feel sad about is the fact that so many of the students I teach at university have never had the chance to wear kimono. They do not have family members around them who know how to put kimono on, so nobody teaches them when they are growing up. The girls might have the experience of rental kimono for their Coming of Age celebrations or at graduation, but usually they will go to a salon where a specialist will dress them and arrange their hair, but they have no idea of how to put on the kimono by themselves. Some young women will have put on a yukata for the summer festivals, and they may have even put them on by themselves, but now it is quite common to wear “cheat obi”, which does not involve much tying and is largely just a process of sliding in a ready-made bow at the back of the waistband section. Again, I’m not knocking these things, but it means that a part of the cultural heritage is being lost. It is surely this loss of culture that is the most lamentable aspect of all of this.

Kimono culture is almost literally hanging on by a thread only thanks to some, mostly women, continuing to perpetuate the kimono traditions. But what of men wearing kimono? They are even fewer and farther between. The ubiquitous suit has completely taken over since the emperor Meiji decreed the wearing of western dress in the late 1800s. At graduation ceremonies throughout many universities in Japan, it’s the girls who wear the hakama and kimono, and the boys usually only wear suits. Some occasionally wear kimono, but it is often sadly seen as the person wanting to stick out, as some of my Japanese friends have suggested to me.

When it comes to the summertime, things are a little better, perhaps. In Kyoto, a few more people can be seen wearing yukata, the summer kimono, which is a lot easier to put on than a regular kimono. During summer festivals such as the Gion Festival or Gozan-no-Okuribi, when Daimonjiyama and some of the other mountains surrounding Kyoto are lit with fires to send off the spirits after Obon, as well as the Mitarashi-sai held at Shimogamo Shrine, for example, lots of people, old and young will wear yukata, even the men sometimes! Recently, as part of an ACTR project I am involved in, I invited my kimono teacher, Nakamura Hiroko, to give a guest lecture to my students in a class I teach called, “Eigo de Kyoto”. One of the students in the class kindly acted as a model and Nakamura-sensei demonstrated how to put on man’s yukata. Nakamura-sensei very kindly gave the student the yukata and obi belt he modelled, and after that lesson, I was thrilled to learn that he wore the yukata to the Gion Festival.

Guest lecture day in my Eigo de Kyoto class with our men’s yukata model all ready for the Gion Festival!
Our model in women’s yukata for Eigo de Kyoto had this wonderful construction on the obi she wore

My kimono life has only just begun, but I am hoping to encourage a few other people along the way to wear Japanese clothing more often. Kyoto perhaps makes it easier to wear Japanese dress as it is the cultural capital of the country, but I sincerely hope to see kimono in particular, being worn more frequently and as more than just a special occasion piece. In 2022, I am working on the Collaborative Exhibition between the Rekisaikan Archives and Kyoto Prefectural University again. Last year, I was eager to get Nakai Hiromu’s hanging scroll portrait displayed, and I wrote about that here. This year, however, the theme I want to go with is ‘Kimono’, so look out for more information about that here in the near future.


Doctoral Thesis – Nakai Hiromu(中井弘)


It’s been ten years since I graduated from Kyoto University in 2012 and received my doctorate. Since that time, I’ve kept my thesis largely out of the public eye because I felt quite embarrassed about it and that it wasn’t ‘enough’. I could have done more and I could have done better, much better. In hindsight however, if it wasn’t enough the university would not have let me graduate, and although yes, I could have done more and done better it is what it is, and if nothing else, it’s a good record of where I was at with my research. For that reason, I’ve made it public and uploaded it to my Academia page. I post it here too, for those who might be interested:

It is full of typos and silly mistakes, but I welcome comments, and I am currently working on a book publication of Nakai Hiromu’s story that will be based on this initial research, so what I’ve learned since writing the thesis, and some of the comments I might receive, will be reflected in the upcoming book. Naturally, I will also be fixing the bits that need fixing and adding or taking away wherever necessary!

Some of the Books on my Shelves: for Thinking about Victorian Railway Technology and Modern Japan


Railway related publications (except the bottom one about the V&A!)

When the Japanese first began to explore the outside world after more than two centuries of almost complete isolation, one of the first things that caught their attention was the railways. This is one of the reasons I have so many books on the subject. I am trying to understand how the Japanese saw this new technology at the time, and one of the key sources of my curiosity on this subject is a poem written by Nakai Hiromu in around 1866-67, which I have translated as follows:

I realise for the first time,

The steam train is truly a wonder of civilization.

I turn to look out from the window of the train,

And see the setting sun over the mountainous landscape.

But it is all so difficult to see,

As it all goes by in an instant.

Like a bird rushing to return to the nest,

We fly past it all.

From this poem, it is easy to get a sense of the sheer wonder that Nakai must have felt when he got on a train at Suez and made the journey to the great Mediterranean port city of Alexandria by rail. The Suez Canal was not yet complete, so the railway route was the best alternative at the time. The railways had yet to reach Japan when Nakai was making his journey west, so this was the first time he was traveling by steam train. He was traveling on the Egyptian National Railways, which had been designed by Robert Stevenson, son of the famous “Father of the Railways” in Britain, George Stevenson. Nakai’s description, “like a bird rushing to return to the nest, we fly past it all”, shows how exhilarating the journey must have seemed to him thanks to the speed of the train; and this is in the age before the Bullet Train, that symbol of Japan’s high level of technology today.

Years later, after Nakai had come back to Japan, he was put to work for the new Meiji government, and in 1884 he became the prefectural governor of Shiga. In that capacity, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Kansai Railway Company’s line between Kusatsu and Mikumo in Shiga in 1889. Then again as the prefectural governor of Kyoto from 1893, he worked on the project to build a railway between Kyoto and Maizuru. Perhaps his memory of that very first train journey and the poem he wrote inspired him in his later work to some degree.

There’s a great scene in the movie, “Choshu Five” (2006) where the members of the group of five men from the domain of Choshu, who travelled to Britain in 1863, see and ride a train to London for the first time. The actors portray the sense of excitement very well and it is easy to picture the real Choshu Five having been thrilled to experience so many new things on their journey. The Japanese certainly wasted no time at all in bringing their nation up to speed in expanding the railways throughout their country.

One of my former mentors at Sheffield University who is now at Cardiff University, Professor Christopher Hood has written an excellent work on the Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan (2006). His blog can also be seen here. From the superb research he has done, we can learn a great deal about the railways in Japan.

On the subject of learning about railways, the news at the end of 2021 that Britain will be incorporating Japanese technology from the tech-giant Hitachi to build a high speed railway feels really like the completion of a full circle. Hitachi of course, was founded in 1910 by Namihei Odaira (1874-1951), but the owner was Choshu (now Yamaguchi prefecture) born man Kuhara Fusanosuke (1869-1965) who was given the orders to join his uncle’s metal mining company from the former member of the Choshu Five, Inoue Kaoru. As dramatised in the Choshu Five movie, the Japanese had a lot to learn from the British about building trains and railways then. Now however, it seems it’s the other way around. I must admit, though, I’m finding it hard to imagine a new British highspeed rail service with the super-efficiency matching anywhere near that of the Japanese!

The books pictured in the photograph above are:

The Victorian Railway and How it Evolved by P. J. G. Ransom (William Heinemann Ltd, 1990)

The Victorian Steam Locomotive, It’s Design and Development 1804-1879 by G. D. Dempsey C. E. and D. Kinnear Clark C. E. (Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2015)

The Sound of the Whistle, Railroads and the State in Meiji Japan by Steven J. Ericson (Council on East Asian Studies Harvard, 1996)

Early Japanese Railways, 1853-1914 Engineering Triumphs That Transformed Meiji-era Japan by Dan Free (Tuttle Publishing, 2008)

The Victorian Railway by Jack Simmons (Thames & Hudson, 2009)

Designing the V&A The Museum as a Work of Art (1857-1909) by Julius Bryant (Lund Humphries in association with V&A Publishing, 2017)


This article about Some of the Books on my Shelves will hopefully become the first of a regular series on the subject. I enjoy reading and I have a lot of books in various genres, so I hope to introduce the ones relevant to the overall content of this blog.

Japanese Food Culture and UK-Japan Relations


In 2021, I had a chapter published in a Japanese book on the subject of Japanese food culture. My chapter discusses the ideas that British and Japanese people have about food, and also looks at how historically, and in the present day, the peoples of both of those cultures have viewed each other’s food culture. It was a challenging chapter to write because I am not a “foodie” by any means, but I am interested in how the British and the Japanese understand, or misunderstand, each other. Food is an essential element of human life, of course, so I felt like I was going back to basics by examining this aspect of the relationship between these two relatively different cultures.

One aspect of this research that stood out for me were the comments about Japanese food from people like Isabella Bird and Basil Hall Chamberlain, big names in Britain-Japan studies. In her Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (1880), Isabella Bird talks about “The Food Problem” when referring to Japanese food, giving the clear impression that Japanese food was a big issue for many of the British and those from other western nations who struggled with eating Japanese food. Reading them reminded me of the kind of reactions I used to get when talking to friends and family in the UK back in the 1990s about trying different Japanese foods and the overall impression was that Japanese food didn’t taste of anything; that it was bland (Basil Hall Chamberlain used the term “insipid” in his Murray’s Handbook), and in many cases, grotesque. Raw fish?! Why would anyone want to eat raw fish? This was a common reaction that I recall hearing from my fellow Brits. I found it odd that many British people I knew then just didn’t want to try something different. Perhaps they were just too used to their pre-packed, sliced hams, and slithers of carefully cut cod or salmon pieces wrapped in plastic (often with the bones and/or skin removed for easier consumption) from the supermarket. I like to think that things have changed in Britain today, where it is now possible to buy packs of sushi rolls in UK supermarkets across the country and many more Japanese restaurants have appeared in several UK cities. Indeed, now we can find lists of Top Ten Japanese restaurants in London online or in other media, and there are many cookbooks to teach Brits all about how to cook Japanese food at home.

With Japanese food being chosen by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage in 2013, many Japanese institutions have been pushing Japanese food (washoku) culture to the forefront, including a number of universities. Kyoto Prefectural University established its Japanese Food Culture Department in 2019, and I was involved in the symposium to commemorate the launch of that (see my post). This book chapter I wrote was part of the publication that was put together as an extension of that symposium, and each of the symposium speakers have chapters in the book.

In Japan, the view of British food is changing too, I think, but perhaps at a slightly slower pace. The idea that British food is bad is still fairly widespread, but gradually more books and other resources about how to cook British food at home and explaining how food culture in the UK is changing are being made available. However, there is still a strong tendency to talk about afternoon tea at fancy hotels or fish and chips rather than about simple home cooked meals. The Downton Abbey TV series was quite popular in Japan and a couple of Downton Abbey cookbooks have done much to maintain the image of British food as being related to class. Personally, I would like to see Japanese translations of the likes of Pete Brown’s Pie Fidelity.

At any rate, the views of British food in Japan and the views of Japanese food in Britain are something fluid and constantly changing. This can only be a good thing. The fuss over getting the Japanese to buy British cheese in the post-Brexit era was an entertaining one to read about in the media. And I am very grateful to be able to buy some British foods in shops and online in Japan. Once the pesky pandemic is over, perhaps the possibilities to purchase Japanese foods in the UK and UK foods in Japan will become even easier.

Kansai Deeper on NHK World


In late 2021 I had the honour of appearing on a new show for NHK World called Kansai Deeper in which I, representing Kyoto, and a number of other foreign residents living in the different prefectures of the Kansai area, discuss the different cultural aspects of our respective regions. The programme can be seen on demand at the following link. Please watch it if you are interested in seeing something about Kansai.

The photo below is a screen shot of me on the programme.

Collaborative Exhibition 2021 at the Rekisaikan, Kyoto


Now showing at the Kyoto Rekisaikan Archives until January 9th, 2021 is the Collaborative Exhibition organized between the Rekisaikan Archives and Kyoto Prefectural University students in the Faculty of Letters. This year for the Department of European and American Linguistic Cultures, I was able to put together the story of Kyoto Prefecture’s 5th governor, Nakai Hiromu and his involvement with the organization of the Fourth National Industrial Exhibition held in Kyoto in 1895 and the modernization of Kyoto in the Meiji period. Some of the students from each cohort, including those from the Eigo de Kyoto (Introducing Kyoto in English) class and the Oubei kara Mita Kyoto (Kyoto as Seen from the West) class that I teach were involved in translating my English into Japanese for the explanatory panels and in creating the panels themselves. It was a lot of hard work, but definitely worth it and the exhibition includes some real treasures from the Rekisaikan Archives, so if you are in the area, please come and see it. As well as our department, teachers and students from the Department of History, Department of Japanese and Chinese Literatures and the new Department of Japanese Food Culture also have displays. The poster below shows the details:

As can be seem from the second image above, in this exhibition visitors can view the hanging scroll of Nakai Hiromu. I believe this object has not been on public display since 1934 when the 40th anniversary of Nakai’s death was held at Tofukuji temple, so this opportunity to see it is a very special one. Old photographs of Nakai never show the lines of his face, but the artist has shown them very clearly in this painting and the image is in very excellent condition. It had been my hope that Nakai Hiromu’s descendant, and author of a book about Nakai’s life could have come to see the exhibition and the hanging scroll painting, but sadly he passed away on December 9th, just two days before the exhibition began. I met Mr. Yashiki in 2006 and together with his lovely wife we visited Nakai’s grave at Sokushu-in temple within the precincts of Tofukuji temple. Meeting the descendant of the man I had spent so many years researching really made Nakai come to life for me. He was no longer just a character consigned to the annals of history but a real person with real human connections and real every day struggles and successes. The lines that can be seen on his face in the painting on the hanging scroll really portray that perspective, too.

A section of the hanging scroll painting of Nakai Hiromu (中井弘) (courtesy of the Rekisaikan Archives)

In addition to the scroll, another great artifact that can be seen is the English guide book written by Francis Brinkley upon the request of the Kyoto government titled simply, The Kyoto Industrial Exhibition of 1895. Francis Brinkley was an Anglo-Irish scholar and British naval officer. He was the owner of the Japan Mail newspaper and wrote several important works on Japanese arts, architecture and culture. He is another fascinating character that I am studying recently and I hope to write about more in this blog in the future.

I am biased of course, but I really think you should try and get to visit the Rekisaikan Archives and see the Collaborative Exhibition!

Introducing the Department of European and American Linguistic Cultures


Here is a brief video introducing the department I work at in the Faculty of Letters at Kyoto Prefectural University. Are you interested in studying with us? We also have a graduate programme in which you can carry out research in the fields of English Literature, American Literature, English Linguistics or UK-Japan Cultural Exchange. Have a look at our website here.

Some Thoughts on 2020, Coronavirus, and Emergency Remote Teaching


There really is no escaping it. Each morning when I wake up for a brief moment I am actually momentarily unaware of the awful disease that is currently crawling its way through the human race, taking out some, and causing great trauma for others. Then as my consciousness hits me so does that terrible reality.

I was entrusted with taking some KPU students to Australia in February 2020 for a study abroad programme. When I came back to Japan, I developed a very bad cough, which went on and on for weeks. Eventually by March, it turned into a full on case of pneumonia. Naturally, I was terrified, thinking I had somehow perhaps caught COVID-19. I went to the hospital and was simply diagnosed with pneumonia. I was not tested for the coronavirus. My temperature was up and down like a yo-yo, and at one point it got up to 39.4 degrees centigrade. I had trouble breathing and that’s when it got really scary. The second time I went to hospital I still wasn’t tested for the virus. Japan has had a policy of not testing many people. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, but even now I still wonder whether I actually had the virus. Did I just get a “mild” case of it? If they didn’t test me, how could they know it wasn’t the virus? I had so many questions, and so few answers, which seems to be a commonality in these strange times. My workplace asked me to stay home for a week, which I did. My health did eventually improve and I’m still around to tell the tale, unlike some poor souls.

Everyday we have seen how many more people have caught the disease and how many more have died. It feels like we are all living in some alternative reality of horror and we somehow veered off the normal path of life. Many of us are staying at home in order to curb the spread of the disease, and so we should, unless we are a key worker. There is a sense of being out of reality, of having fallen off the tracks of normal life. But this IS the reality. This IS normal life now, and we simply have to adjust, but how long for? Not knowing that is unnerving. For some, of course, life was already a horror story anyway even before the virus. Poverty, sickness, violence, depression, hunger, homelessness, the list goes on; people all around the world were suffering in some form or other to varying degrees. The virus has just come and upped the level of awful.

It sometimes feels difficult to find hope or joy in such times, but having said that life is very rarely, if ever, a linear process, and despite all the hideousness that surrounds us, there is often something to be grateful for. Despite the health scare that I’ve had, one good thing that has come out of this COVID-19 situation has been how much I’ve learnt had to learn about new technology and teaching online. It even has its own name and abbreviation; Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) has forced me to learn much more than I ever thought I needed about EdTech (another abbreviation I had seen around, but never paid much heed to). But thanks to the situation we are now in, I’m discovering many wonderful tech tools that will be useful for the classroom, both during remote teaching and once I’m able to get back to the physical classroom. In the past, I’ve often wanted many of the tools that I’m only just now discovering, things like Padlet, Flipgrid, Quizlet among others. I’m glad I’ve been forced to learn about these things. Many of them I found out about through the FutureLearn course, Teaching English Online Cambridge Assessment English. I’ve taken a number of FutureLearn courses in the past and they have a lot of courses for learning about online teaching. The university I work at has decided to use the Microsoft Teams platform for providing online classes to students. I am still struggling with it because it’s a lot more complex compared to Zoom, or other video conferencing platforms. Fingers crossed it won’t take long for me to become accustomed to it. Either way, getting to know all this new tech has really begun to make me wonder about the future of university teaching, and how it will need to develop in order to remain relevant to future generations. 

For several years now I have wondered about the future of universities and the safety of my career path. In the past, I had heard fellow teachers discuss their worries about the declining birth rate, and whether there will be enough 18 year-olds to fill all of Japan’s universities. Are brick and mortar universities going to become extinct? Perhaps not the Oxbridges and Ivy League schools of the world, but what about the rest of us? Is online teaching the way of the future? That question raises its ugly mug again now that the pandemic has brought us into another world. A scary, unknown world, but also perhaps, a world full of potential?

At a time when we all need to stay home, it might be easy for people to start feeling bored, and I’ve seen several posts and memes online asking people what skills they have acquired during lockdown, or as the Japanese say, 「外出自粛」(gaishutsu jishuku) “refrain from going out” (another thing I’ve learned thanks to COVID-19; lots of new Japanese words). The virus has given everybody that has access to the Internet a wonderful opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills. My Japanese reading skills seem to have improved tremendously thanks to all the chat threads in meetings in MS Teams. I actually feel much busier working from home; no time for getting bored. Again though, on the plus side, at least I can work while I enjoy a good homemade cuppa. That is, until the Tetley teabags run out, and I can’t get more from the UK until the international postal services are running again.

How much I (we all?) took for granted before COVID-19; this is a wonderful time for reflection. It is also the perfect time to remember to give thanks more often, to prevent the horror stories of life and be a bit kinder. There have been many online videos, pictures, news stories and so on, of people thanking doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers on the frontline, and I am incredibly grateful to them too, but I think I also need to thank pretty much everybody else as well; the delivery staff, the supermarket staff, all the people who put the newspapers together, the kindergarten teachers who are creating educational, fun videos for my child to watch on YouTube, my friends and family, who maybe I can’t meet in person at the moment, but who dish out much needed cyber hugs and lend a kind ear. Thank you. Yes, you, kindly reading this, and right to the end as well.

We don’t know how much longer this situation will continue, so I for one am going to try and make the most of this challenging situation; stay positive, keep learning, keep reflecting, make lemonade out of lemons, ‘n’ all that.

Stay safe and well out there, folks!

Reiwa: a New Era, a New Appointment and New Adventures in 2019


 From April 1st, 2019, I began a new post as Associate Professor at the Faculty of Letters, Kyoto Prefectural University (KPU). The Faculty of Letters is based in the recently constructed Rekisaikan building. This is particularly exciting because the same building now houses the Kyoto Institute, Library and Archives (Japanese link). The Archives used to be kept in another building which was closed in September 2016, and they were re-established in the Rekisaikan building in April 2017. These Archives are very special to my research because they contain several letters written by, and a hanging scroll painting of, Nakai Hiromu (1838-1894). Nakai was Kyoto’s fifth prefectural governor in the final year before he died, and I wrote my PhD thesis at Kyoto University about him. Therefore, I am looking forward to being able to organise some talks and other events in cooperation with the Rekisaikan show-casing his life and work now that I am also an employee of Kyoto Prefecture.

The new post at KPU allows me to teach a class called Eigo de Kyoto, or “Kyoto in English” in which the students and I get to talk about Kyoto’s culture and history using the English language. I have been bringing my research focus back to Kyoto and I am currently developing a programme of historical tours of Kyoto, which I hope to be able to write more about in the future, but one of them focuses on the Sonnô Jôi, or “revere the emperor, expel the barbarian” movement of the final years of the Edo period (1603-1868). In examining the end of the Edo period, I have been looking at the former Emperor Komei (1831-1867), who was known for his anti-foreign stance and his connection to the Sonnô Jôi movement. In his work, A Diplomat in Japan, Ernest Satow talks about the convenience Komei’s death was in 1867, which allowed for the new era of the Meiji period to begin, heralding the beginning of the new Meiji government and a more outwardly-looking Japan after ending its seclusion policy.

May 1st, 2019, saw the beginning of another new era in Japan, the Reiwa era, ending the Heisei period (1989-2019) of now retired emperor Akihito, and bringing in a new emperor, Akihito’s son, Naruhito. Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend an event of the Asiatic Society of Japan in Tokyo in which Emperor Naruhito (at the time Crown Prince) was also present. I was too awestruck to attempt to make conversation with him, to my regret, but he struck me as a true gentleman. His Imperial Highness studied at Oxford University in his younger years and he specialized in research about the River Thames in London. His memoirs, The Thames and I, were translated into English by the late Sir Hugh Cortazzi, a former British Ambassador to Japan. It was the first time a crown prince of Japan had ever studied abroad, and since then several members of the Japanese Imperial family have continued to study in Britain. Thanks perhaps to his time in Britain, the new emperor seems to have quite an international outlook. He spent some time with the British Royals in his student days in the UK and was apparently surprised to see Queen Elizabeth II serve the tea herself rather than being waited upon by staff. Emperor Naruhito’s wife, Empress Masako, who was a diplomat before she married into the imperial family, also developed a close relationship with the Dutch Royal Family during her convalescence from a long-term illness. Perhaps the new Reiwa era will bring in a more relaxed style of monarchy to Japan as well as develop deeper international connections for the Japanese nation. The up-coming Rugby World Cup event in 2019, and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 are already perhaps evidence of this trend.

For myself in the new Reiwa era, I am hoping to help develop Kyoto’s international connections. Kyoto Prefectural University is working to connect with the local community, too. I am looking forward to somehow tying in the work I do with the Ryoma Associates of Kyoto with my new work at KPU. Through my time with the Ryoma Associates, I have been able to experience a number of historical tours in Japanese, so I hope to incorporate what I have learned into similar historical tours in English. This kind of tour would be useful for both Japanese people studying English as well as English-speaking international tourists coming to Japan. Recently, I had the very fortunate opportunity to do the Sonnô Jôi tour I mentioned above for students from the US. With the Eigo de Kyoto class at KPU, I am hoping to develop tours such as this further. Kyoto has seen a dramatic rise in the number of international tourists, so I would like to be able to cater some tours to them, but also to Japanese people learning English. The opportunity to talk about ones own culture in another language really helps a person to see that culture and history from another perspective. Another one of the classes I will be involved in at KPU allows students to travel to Sydney, Australia and stay for a programme of study for one month. Whilst there, KPU students will get to talk about Kyoto, and Japan in general. It is a great experience for Japanese students to have to study about their own country and culture before going to share that knowledge with students in Sydney. This is a great opportunity for real “grassroots” connections.

Both Kyoto city and Kyoto prefecture are becoming evermore aware of the possibilities for promoting Japanese culture to an international audience. The Japanese Ministry for Culture is now in the process of moving its base to Kyoto and will no doubt be dealing with such issues. The numbers of international tourists have increased dramatically and that fact is posing several challenges for Kyoto, notably in terms of infrastructure and cultural understanding. American writer and Japanologist, Alex Kerr has recently written a book in Japanese, Kankô Bôkokuron (Destroy the Nation with Tourism) which discusses this very topic. It will be an interesting challenge for Japan and Kyoto to face.

My first public speaking event at KPU will be on Sunday, July 7th, 2019, at the symposium commemorating the start of the newly created Department of Japanese Food Culture within the Faculty of Letters. I will join the panel discussion talking about the expectations and prospects of the new department. Please see the photo below for details from the advertising poster if you are interested in coming along. Japanese food (washoku) was designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2013 and there have been several moves toward its promotion worldwide. I would like to see the new department at KPU address the international promotion of Japanese food in the future, and I would like to see some of our excellent English-speaking students be part of that process.

It is quite an exciting time with this new Reiwa era coming in and I for one am excited about the possibilities.


Nakai Hiromu: Supporter of Doshisha University and Education in Early Meiji Japan 


At Doshisha University, there is a one year scholarship to the amount of 100,000 yen known as the Mizusaki Kiichi Scholarship. It is named after Mizusaki Kiichi (1871-1937) who studied economics at Doshisha University. He graduated in 1893. In 1899, he went to Britain  for three years to study at Edinburgh University and London University. In 1908, he became a professor at Doshisha College, as it was known then and he worked for the establishment of Doshisha as a university, which it later became in 1920. Mizusaki became the first principal of Asano Junior High and High School in Yokohama in 1920. He remained there until his death in 1937.

The Mizusaki Kiichi Scholarship was originally known as the Nakai Scholarship. Nakai Hiromu had a good habit of providing financial and other assistance to those less fortunate than himself and he was particularly concerned, in this regard, about education. During his term as prefectural governor of Shiga, he is known for his role in pushing for the establishment of what later became known as the Hachiman Shogyo High School in 1886. Nakai Hiromu, along with several other famous names from the Meiji government, including Japan’s first prime minister, Ito Hirobumi, and one time foreign minister, Inoue Kaoru, also contributed money to the establishment of Doshisha University itself. Nakai donated 200 yen in 1889 (if I have calculated it correctly, 200 yen would be worth perhaps closer to 500,000 yen by today’s standards).

As a well known writer of Chinese poetry in his time and, of course, the author of two travel journals and a work about the constitution of the United States of America, Nakai Hiromu was well connected with the world of education despite the fact that he himself was a politician by career. He had worked for the Meiji government’s Foreign Department; he had been a secretary to the Department of Building and Engineering, and later on he was prefectural governor of Shiga and then Kyoto, respectively. However, education was important to him. In his first travel journal to Britain, A Travel Sketch of the West – A New Account of Crossing the Seas (西洋紀行ー航海新説、Seiyô Kikô Kôkai Shinsetsu), he says,

“We need to establish schools in Japan that provide our own teachings. There need to be schools where everyone from 10 years old to about 20 years old can live in the schools and each student can study all manner of things to the best of their ability. In this way, the people can be taught properly and thoroughly well, before their minds become confused.”

He was also critical of scholars who simply buried their heads in Confucian and other ancient Chinese texts, and he recognizes the necessity for practical learning as well. In one of his poems in the same travel journal he writes,

“The prowess of the warrior in the Land of the Gods

Is the greatest in the east,

But the ridiculous Confucian scholars,

Talk only of protecting the surrounding seas.

If they want to find the path to wealth and strength

They need only rid themselves of the old books

And take up the western study of navigation.”

 For someone who started out with beliefs of “expelling the barbarian” and keeping any foreign influence out of Japan, it is interesting to see how his opinion changed by travelling abroad. Just like Niijima Joe, the founder of Doshisha University who travelled to the United States, what Nakai discovered was the importance of learning from foreign countries. However, he still believed in the value of Japanese traditions, too. He was perhaps a true believer in the popular Meiji phrase “wakon yosai” (和魂洋才、Japanese spirit and Western technology).

It would be interesting to know what Nakai would make of Doshisha University’s current international perspective and encouragement of global connections among its students. As someone who has studied at Doshisha, and who used to work at Doshisha University’s Business School and helped to establish the Global MBA programme, I like to think Nakai Hiromu would be proud of Doshisha’s international achievements.

The 5th Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival in 2017


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This year the event is on a somewhat smaller scale, but there will be a museum talk on September 3rd (in Japanese only) and the lantern walk will be held on November 18th.

For more details in Japanese see the Bakumatsu Festival website:

If you don’t speak Japanese you can still enjoy the lantern walk so come along and enjoy the tour!




The 4th Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival



Commemorating some 150 years since the death of Sakamoto Ryoma, the signing of the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance, the ending of the Bakufu government and the beginning of the Meiji era, a huge shift in Japan’s historical narrative, this year the Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival, now in its fourth year, will host a number of events lasting about a month long. In previous years, there has always been one big event held outside the Kyoto City Hall, but this year instead, there will be several individual events spread out from late-October to late-November. Every year the event is organised by the Kyoto Ryoma Society (Kyoto Ryoma-kai) and this year too that organisation will be at the helm. The following is a list of some of the things that will be going on:


1. “Bakumatsu History Talk Show” featuring authors from the Kyoto Ryoma Society newsletter.

A keynote lecture and panel discussion will be held. *Please note that this event will be held in Japanese only. No interpretation services will be provided*.

Themes: One hundred and fifty years since the war between the Bakufu government and the Choshu domain, and the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance

Date & Time: October 29th, 2016, 14:00~17:00
Venue: Ryoshinkan building, Doshisha University
Karasuma-Imadegawa, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto (close to Exit 1 of Imadegawa Station on the subway Karasuma Line)

Fees: 2,000 yen for Kyoto Ryoma Society and members,
3,000 yen for non-society members

In cooperation with the Bocho (Yamaguchi Prefecture) Historical Society


2. A Tour of the Kyoto National Museum “Sakamoto Ryoma Exhibition”

In cooperation with the Osaka Ryoma Society

Date & Time: October 30th, 2016, meet at Keihan Nanajo Station at 14:00
Fees: 3,000 yen for non-society members
2,000 yen for Kyoto and Osaka Ryoma Society members

Tour Route: Shichijo Shinchi (former location of Kyoto’s “yuukaku” brothel area), Hoko-ji Temple, site of the former retirement home of Kawaraya Gorobei (where a number of men from Tosa hid in exile), Chishaku-in temple, Myoho-in temple, Kyoto National Museum tour of the Sakamoto Ryoma exhibition led by museum curator, Miyakawa Teiichi (guided talks given in Japanese only).



3. The 23rd Annual Sakamoto Ryoma Lantern Parade Walk

Date & Time: Saturday, 19th November, 2016; meet at the Kamogawa River Sanjo Bridge riverbank area. Applications to join the parade will begin at 15:30. The parade will set off from Sanjo Bridge riverbank at 16:30; please be on time if you wish to join.
Fees: 3,000 yen for non-society members
Free for Kyoto Ryoma Society members


4. Additional Event: Saturday Lecture at the Kyoto National Museum

Museum curator, Miyakawa Teiichi and chairman of the Kyoto Ryoma Society, Akao Hiroaki will talk about “Hayashi Ichiroemon and Sakamoto Ryoma” 

Venue: Lecture theatre of the Heisei Chishinkan Building within the Kyoto National Museum

Date & Time: 26th November, 2016, 1:30pm-3:00pm, seats are available for 200 people.

It is free to hear the talk but a museum entrance fee will be required.
Numbered tickets will be distributed on a first come, first served basis at the ground floor of the Heisei Chishinkan building from 12pm. Come early to ensure your place.

Please check the official website of the Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival for further details (in Japanese only):

Dreamton – a British Village in Kyoto


imageTwenty weeks in to what has been quite a rough pregnancy so far, the other day my husband and I decided to go on a little day out in Kyoto. I understand why they refer to “confinement” during pregnancy because I’ve hardly been over the doorstep all summer, so this little outing was a particular treat. And what a treat indeed! Despite living in Kyoto prefecture for ten years, I don’t recall ever having had an opportunity to visit the city of Kameoka. Now, thanks to my time in Nagoya and having learned to drive at last (although hubby is doing most of the driving recently as it’s become increasingly difficult for me with my growing tummy), I have a car and that gives me more of a chance to explore outside of Kyoto city. So yesterday we went to Kameoka. The reason: I had heard of a little place called Dreamton, a British village in the heart of Kyoto countryside. Curiosity sufficiently piqued, I decided I had to go and explore.


Dreamton is one of the most intriguing places I’ve been to in Japan. I’ve been to places like Meiji-mura in Gifu, which is home to several important historical buildings from the Meiji era, and I’ve visited some of Japan’s other themed visitor facilities, of which there are plenty. The former British consulate building in Hakodate, which is now a wonderful museum, does a fabulous afternoon tea set and I have fond memories of my visit there. The Glover Gardens complex in Nagasaki, another historical remnant of British settlement in Japan is also an incredible place that allows visitors to get a sense of what life was like for British settlers in Japan in those early days of contact. Dreamton, however, is not like these places of historical interest at all. Dreamton is the complete creation of a Japanese Anglophile, and it is this point that makes it so fascinating. According to the staff there, it was established 5-6 years ago. The buildings are made to look like very old buildings that you would find in a typical village somewhere in the UK, and it comes across as very authentic-looking indeed.


The Pont Oak tearoom and restaurant

Dreamton reminded me of myself as a teenager and the passion I developed for Japan, albeit on a much, much grander and larger scale. As a teenager, I once transformed my bedroom into my image of a Japanese home. It had hand-made, makeshift tatami mats and sliding doors. It was decorated with pictures of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. I had tea ceremony utensils, chopsticks and rice bowls, and I slept on a kind of makeshift futon. I was very proud of my creation and I loved it! However, it was naturally quite different to the real thing. Dreamton is impressively authentic looking. Upon entering the grounds, it feels just like you’ve stepped into a small English village. It was the small details that stood out the most to give it it’s authentic feel. As I entered the first small shop to go through into the main complex, the tinkling sound of the old bell on the top corner of the door to let the shop keeper know that a customer had arrived felt so familiar. I was greeted by an elderly gentleman dressed in a white shirt, dark trousers and a waistcoat wearing glasses and an old top hat with slightly frayed edges. The sight of him and the surroundings of British antiques and other goods for sale really made me feel like I’d travelled instantaneously to a British countryside shop. But more than the sights, it was the smell; it even smelled like a small country shop somewhere in England. The feeling of the rough stone floor under my feet too, gave me that sense that I was no longer in Japan.

Below is a picture of the entrance to the shop where you place your order for the restaurant in advance:


The entrance to the first shop. You can order your meal and purchase gifts like soap, fridge magnets, teas, shortbread biscuits and sweets. They also do take outs of cake!


A plate of fish ‘n’ chips with mushy peas! Yummy goodness for 1,900 yen.

Despite the slight difficulty in access, the place being deep in the mountains of Kameoka, it was quite crowded with visitors. We spotted number plates from Kyoto, Osaka and even Fukui in the car park. We had a 10-15 minute wait before we could be seated in the restaurant for lunch and it was late too; we didn’t get there until 3pm in the afternoon. Many of the other customers were there for the cream tea set (1,250 yen) or the afternoon tea set (2,100 yen), but my husband and I had not had time for lunch yet so we tried the fish and chips (1,900 yen per meal), which also comes with a cup of tea. I was very pleasantly surprised when my plate arrived and on it I saw mushy peas! I think it was my first time to eat mushy peas in Japan, and very tasty they were too. The chips were like regular fries you can get in many places in Japan, but the fish was very  good, very like you would get in a chip shop in the UK. It was delicious. And the tea! I enjoyed that so much I had to order another pot. One small cup was just not enough. The food was very filling and I struggled to eat all of it, which felt authentic too. It’s not often that I can eat a whole portion of fish and chips by myself in the UK. Even the utensils were authentic. We were given proper old-school style fish knives with the curved tip at the end and a cream-coloured handle. These were Sheffield-made knives. The lady who served us our meal was dressed like a maid. She looked like she had come straight from the set of filming in the Downton Abbey series. All of the staff had fabulous costumes and the service was truly wonderful. The staff took time to kindly make sure we were comfortable, answer our questions, and even give us a bit of background information on the place.


The Menu

Here’s a video I found on YouTube showing some of the scenes of Dreamton:

Here’s another YouTube video with commentary in Japanese and an interview with the founder, Haruyama Mayumi aka Marie:

Some more pictures from my own visit:


A view of the garden



Gift shop and antiques shop

The place has a shop where you can buy clothes designed by the founder, particularly dresses in typical British style florals and tartan styles. There is an antiques shop where you can find all kinds of things. I was reminded of some of the things my grandparents used to have their house when they were alive.

Aside from the shops and restaurant/tea room, Dreamton also provides wedding services and you can stay overnight in the Bed and Breakfast hotel.

What a great place to observe the connection between Britain and Japan alive and well. It was really a great day out, and I’m looking forward to going again. I highly recommend it. The website (mostly in Japanese) is here: Do check it out if you get a chance. I’m looking forward to visiting in May when apparently the place is awash with the colours of roses. I was told it was lovely in winter too when there’s snow fall and smoke coming from the chimneys. I can’t wait for my next visit!


2015 Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival


2015 Bakumatsusai Poster

The Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival will be held again this year from September 14th-20th.

There will be a panel display held at ZEST Oike, the underground shopping mall near Oike Station from September 14th-19th.

The main event with stalls and entertainment will be held outside Kyoto City Hall on Saturday, September 19th.

Then on Sunday September 20th from 1pm there will be a talk (in Japanese only) on Bakumatsu History at Doshisha University of which I will again be a participant. I look forward to seeing you there if you can make it!

  • Eleanor

New Book Chapter Announcement


bpix-cover pic

The Japan Society’s series, Britain and Japan: Biographical Portraits, has just been expanded with the publication of Volume IX, and I’m pleased to say that I also have a chapter in there called  Mutô Chôzô (1881-1942), and A Short History of Anglo-Japanese Relations. Sir Hugh Cortazzi has compiled and edited this work published by Renaissance Books. In all, there are 57 chapters describing the men and women who have worked toward U.K.-Japan relations.

Since coming to work at Aichi Prefectural University I have been following up research on this little known character, Mutô Chôzô. There is a fantastic Collection at Nagasaki University’s Economics Library which belonged to him, and many of the sources can be viewed online. Mutô’s work, A Short History of Anglo-Japanese Relations, was first published in 1936 at a time when Anglo-Japanese relations where becoming strained in the build-up to World War Two. Nevertheless, the book was a pioneering little work, and although it is somewhat out of date now, it still has some gems of knowledge as an introductory text on the subject.

Another talk on the Nakai diaries coming up!


Nakai Hiromu's Kokai Shinsetsu

I have very kindly been given another opportunity to talk about translating Nakai Hiromu’s first travel diary, A Travel Sketch of the West – A New Account of Crossing the Seas.

This time the event is organised by JAT (Japan Association of Translators) and SWET (Society of Writers, Editors and Translators) and will be held in Osaka on Sunday, September 21st, 2014.

Please see the website below for details:

I look forward to seeing you there if you can make it!

– Eleanor



IJET 25 Tokyo


I will be giving a talk on the subject of translation entitled, “Translating Japanese History – For Love, Not Money -” in June, later this year.

For details, please see the following IJET website page.

If you are interested in the field of translation, I can highly recommend attending this event.

I wish I could stay for the whole thing, but I will only be able to attend to give my own talk.

I hope to see you there though, if you can make it.


Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival, November 16th, 2013, in Kyoto city!


Just a quick heads up about a very cool event I will be involved in on November 16th (this coming Saturday)!

If you are in Kyoto on that day, pop over to the city hall and Zest. There’s lots going on this year to celebrate the life of Ryoma at the Kyoto Bakumatsu Festival!

I will be chatting with fellow Bakumatsu scholars from 1pm.



Updates, and bits and bobs


Aichi Prefectural University,Nagakute Campus at sundown

Aichi Prefectural University,
Nagakute Campus at sundown

My first year as a lecturer at Aichi Prefectural University (APU) is coming to a close. There have been many challenges for me on the administrative side of the job, this being the first time for me to be in a faculty member position. Getting used to the system, the new classes I’m teaching, and the working styles here has been exciting and a great learning curve.
In addition, getting used to life in Nagoya and Aichi as a whole has also brought with it new challenges and lessons learned. For one thing, I’m now in the process of learning to drive! “Better late than never”, as the saying goes. Aichi is known for being home to one of Japan’s leading car manufacturers, Toyota, so this seems as good a place as any to start learning, although I hope I don’t pick up any of the nasty habits of the well-known “Nagoya-bashiri” while I’m here. I have already witnessed two accidents since I’ve been here, and on several occasions I’ve spotted some car drivers going through red traffic lights (I almost got run over by one of them!) and others not signalling when turning. Not good, Nagoya! Not good. 😦
In terms of research, I have been discovering some interesting new things. I have begun to trace the work of a man called Mutō Chōzō (武藤長蔵, 1881-1942) who wrote “A Short History of Anglo-Japanese Relations” published in 1936.
The reason for following up his work is because I have been looking for a useful basic textbook in English to use with my students at APU on the subject of UK-Japan relations. So far, I have not found one basic text that gives a brief general outline of the subject. I have therefore started to create my own for use in class.

The interesting thing for me about Mutō Chōzō was that he was born here in Aichi. He was born on June 9th, 1881 in Umibe-gun, Tsushima-chō; what is now Tsushima city in Aichi Prefecture. In 1907, Mutō became a professor of Nagasaki Higher Commercial School, which is now the Faculty of Economics at Nagasaki University. The university still houses the vast Mutō Collection, the publications, documents and other sources that Mutō used in his research, as well as some of his own personal items such as photographs, his personal seal and some letters. One of the photographs (believed to have been taken in May 1919) shows Mutō pictured with the famed Japanese novelists Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892-1927), Kikuchi Kan (1888-1948) and the playwright, Nagami Tokutarō (1890-1950). This picture can also be seen on a fascinating pamphlet created by the university called CHOHO.

This year, 2013, marks the 400th anniversary of trade relations between Britain and Japan, and means lots of special events will be held in both countries.  There’s a great website with a wealth of information about events that are happening throughout the year: Japan400.

Finally, the new academic year starts in April. Let’s see what new endeavours that will bring…

Lecture on Nakai Hiromu at Sokushu-in Temple


On May 20th, 2012, I had the great honour of giving a talk in Japanese about Nakai Hiromu at the temple where he is buried; Sokushu-in, within the Tofuku-ji Temple complex in the south-east of Kyoto city.

About 20 people came to listen to the talk and I received several questions and comments afterward. One of the listeners was kind enough to send me copies of some photographs he took, and he has given me kind permission to post them here.

Speaking about Nakai at Sokushu-in

Preparing to wash the grave

It was an excellent opportunity to give a talk in Japanese. Earlier in the year, I had been given the wonderful opportunity to talk  to fellow members of the Kyoto Ryoma-kai on the subject of Nakai Hiromu. I’m hoping there will be more such opportunities in the future to introduce the important role that Nakai played in Japanese history.

Sokushu-in itself is a beautiful temple. It is not usually open to the general public, except for a brief time each year during the red leaves season. The main complex of Tofuku-ji Temple is well-known for it’s red leaves and receives thousands of visitors each year.

Sokushu-in is the Shimazu clan (Feudal Lords of Satsuma) temple in Kyoto and it has seen many illustrious guests in its time. The great ‘Saigo-don’ (Saigo Takamori, 1828-1877) is known to have been here for secret meetings. Also, there are several monuments commemorating those who were lost in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. The grave of Narahara Kizaemon (1831-1865) (famous for attacking the British merchant, Charles Lennox Richardson, in the Namamugi Incident of 1862) is also here, near to the Nakai/Yokoyama family grave compound.

The grave of Narahara Kizaemon

I enjoyed this opportunity to again wear the kimono given to me for the occasion of my doctoral graduation ceremony. Here in Aichi, unfortunately I don’t see many people wearing kimono, so coming back from Kyoto on the Shinkansen, I probably stuck out like a sore thumb (even more than I do anyway, I mean). Still, it was all good fun!

Thank you to the organizers, and the most attentive audience, at Sokushu-in. I had a lovely day; albeit a very nervous one!

JACET Chubu Forum


I will be speaking at a workshop at the JACET Chubu Forum on June 2nd, 2012.

Pop along if you have time! My presentation is entitled:

Globalising Japanese History: The Significance of Teaching in English in Japanese Universities


 Teaching lessons on Japanese history in English to students at Japanese universities may at first seem useful only for special classes geared towards international students in Japan who are not yet familiar enough with the Japanese language to be able to sit regular Japanese classes on the subject.

However, this paper attempts to debunk this narrow concept and suggests that Japanese history lessons in English for Japanese native students are also relevant in today’s “Globalising” society. The opportunity to study Japanese history in English provides students with a new and refreshing perspective on a subject, which perhaps thus far they had found to be merely a tedious rote-learning exercise instilled during their school days.

This paper seeks to examine the relevance and benefits of Japanese history lessons in English. One key aspect of this topic is the issue of historical memory, or, historical memory loss. Why are some characters in history remembered while others are forgotten?

In addition, some Japanese history scholars of Japanese nationality are not always familiar with the English language. This is not a criticism, however; it merely notes that thus far there has often been a necessary tendency for them to focus on reading old Japanese language documents and source materials. In the past, in an in-depth examination of Japanese historical details, there has not always been the time, resources or necessity for Japanese history scholars of Japanese nationality to access English language sources or produce their own research findings in the English language. In today’s “Globalising” society, this current standard is becoming insufficient.

Therefore, this paper seeks to demonstrate the future possibilities for Japanese history education via the medium of the English language. What new nuances can the English language provide for Japanese history education?


Latest news


It has been a long time coming, and I have nobody to blame for that but myself, but I have finally managed to obtain my doctorate. I have finally completed my thesis, entitled, “Nakai Hiromu: Meiji Statesman and Hero of Anglo-Japanese Relations”. My next mission is working toward the publication of a book on the subject; anybody know any good publishers? 🙂

A great deal has happened since the last time I wrote a blog, which was quite a while ago. Now I live in Nagoya and have become a faculty member at Aichi Prefectural University in the Department of British and American Studies. This allows to me teach in my own field of Anglo-Japanese relations; it also means I get to talk a lot about Nakai Hiromu!

A new and exciting phase has begun…

Where to find me on SNS


For anyone interested, just quickly:

I have started using Twitter again. I gave up on my last account because I wasn’t using it much, but having switched to a smartphone (and very smart they are too!) I figured it may become more useful. The recent earthquake in the Tohoku region has also encouraged me to make use of Twitter as it seems a good way to let people know that I’m safe in this quake-prone land.

You can find me on Twitter here:!/eleanoracr I plan on “tweeting” in both English and Japanese.

In addition, whilst I’m on the subject of SNS, if you are a Mixi user, you can also find me here:

On LinkedIn I’m here:

And on Academia I’m here:

With globalisation (or, globalization, take your pick) becoming evermore relevant to our world, the social networking sites have become an indispensable element for bringing us all together, so I look forward to connecting with you!

All the best,

Eleanor@you don’t have to be religious to say a prayer for Japan

Nakai in Biographical Portraits Series


I’m a little late in making this announcement:

It’s been some time since I wrote a blog having moved to another post, but before I digress further let me tell you about a new publication.

Britain & Japan Biographical Portraits, Volume VII, compiled and edited by Hugh Cortazzi (Global Oriental, 2010).

This, the seventh book in the series, has chapters on many characters who have played a role in Anglo-Japanese Relations. This particular tome includes chapters on Nakai Hiromu’s good friend Inoue Kaoru (written by Andrew Cobbing) and one of Josiah Conder’s (of Rokumeikan fame) students Tatsuno Kingo (written by Ian Ruxton) as well as British diplomat Francis O. Adams (written by Hugh Cortazzi) along with a plethora of other interesting and key persons.

It had long been a dream of mine to get a chapter on Nakai Hiromu in this excellent series and finally that dream has come true!

More about the publication can be seen here.

New Publication on Nakai Hiromu!


Mr. Yashiki Shigeo has published his long-awaited definitive work on his great ancestor, Nakai Hiromu. Self published through a Tokyo-based publishing company called Gentosha Rennaisance, this work goes into great detail about Nakai Hiromu’s life. Much new and previously unpublished information about Nakai’s life abounds in this truly excellent work.

I intend to write a fuller review in the near future, but for the time being, I would just like to get word out about the book. You can purchase a copy via of course, as well as other online bookstores.

The author, Mr. Yashiki, came to Kyoto last weekend. I arranged to meet him at the Ryoma bar in Kiyamachi in order to express my congratulations on his publication. He was accompanied by several other members of the Yokoyama/Nakai clan. What a great honour it was for me to meet them all! History is really brought to life on such occassions. Nakai Hiromu is not just some old character from the history books. He was a real, living and breathing person, and meeting his descendents really reminded me of the fact.

Watch this space for my review of Mr. Yashiki’s book in future!

Doshisha and Globalization


My work for the Global MBA Programme at Doshisha Business School (DBS) is almost at an end. From the beginning of April, I shall become a “specially appointed associate professor” at the Research Institute for World Languages, Osaka University. Therefore, I felt it might be appropriate to write a bit of a review of my time at DBS, for my own record, if nothing else.

Having been a member of the administrative team for the Global MBA (GMBA) for the past year, my perspectives are naturally from an administrative point of view rather than an academic one. However, this in itself has been a useful exercise in getting to see the workings of a Japanese University at a structural level. My one word for this experience is “interesting”.

As the key initial programme geared toward globalization at Doshisha University, the Global MBA has been the leading force in the university’s successful bid for the Global 30 initiative.  Before coming to work full-time at Doshisha in May last year, since September 2008 I had been coming once a week to help out translating information from Japanese into English for the  GMBA website. Upon subsequently joining the Business School office team, I was initially busy translating many of the documents for our new incoming GMBA cohort. 

The entire GMBA programme is in English and our students are not expected to have any knowledge of the Japanese language (though, of course, it helps in daily life). Therefore, many documents (library information, student handbooks, official notices, application forms, etc.; everything needed to be translated into English. At one point, I was even making little English labels for things in the building and doing simple things like creating instructions in English for how to use lockers…)

Then, in September 2009 our international students arrived, and I have since been busy translating, interpreting, advising, helping to organise and so on, carrying out all manner of administrative duties. It was an interesting experience because prior to that I had been studying for such a long time as a student at Kyoto University, pouring over books alone in my quiet room with little contact with the outside world unless I sought it in the company of friends. It has been very interesting and eye-opening to observe the dynamics of working in an open-plan office with a team of other people, albeit a little difficult to concentrate sometimes because I am used to the silence of my own study.

The students seem quite happy with the programme, and because the programme is still in its early years, as the initial cohort, there are many opportunities for them to put forward ideas on the development and running of the programme. The 2009 cohort is a diverse  body of 20 students from 13 different countries around the world; they are a close-knit community of very enthusiast, dynamic people, and therefore, a lot of fun to be around.

My own field is not related to Business Studies and I have been asked on occasion why I am working at DBS. My first thought is, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles…”, but actually, in a  roundabout sort of way admittedly, my work here is very much related to my field, that is, the field of international relations. Granted, my research is more historically based, but a historical base is not much use if it is not to be made reference to in the context of the present, and indeed, the future. Therefore, it is important to understand the present situation too.

I have learned a great deal about globalization and internationalism during my time at DBS. I have also learned a great deal about what constitutes professionalism, and I have developed quite a strong opinion about what does not constitute professionalism. I have been fortunate enough to have been surrounded by colleagues who have taught me a great deal about professionalism, and about the world of business, of which I really knew nothing before.

As my interests lie in the history of Bakumatsu/Meiji Japan, I  wonder what the founder of Doshisha, Niijima Jo (or Joseph Hardy Neesima, as he is also known, 1843-1890), would think of his university’s Global 30 initiative and the Global MBA. I assume he would be proud of the developments, although admittedly sometimes during my time here I have sensed frustrations amongst those involved regarding the pace of these developments, and I have an inkling Niijima-sensei might have felt the same. There is still a lot to be done in terms of the general mindset toward globalization within the university as a whole, but small and gradual steps may be better in the long run rather than a dive into the unknown.  This begs the question, what is globalization (and should I spell it with an ‘s’ or a ‘z’)? What does it mean to globalize (I’m still not entirely comfortable with that ‘z’… nevermind, I’ll try and get over it)?

For me, an important element of being global however, is multiculturalism. As a child, I grew up in places like Birmingham, Dudley and later Liverpool, which are very multicultural places. Britain is a small island nation like Japan, but it is much more culturally and racially diverse. If the colour of somebody’s skin is different to mine, so what? They still have the same red blood coursing through their veins. If somebody has a different cultural background to mine, so what? Diversity makes the world a more interesting place. Multiculturalism is still pretty low on the cards in Japan. I still get stared at for my white skin and red hair in some places, at least I think it’s that and not my poor dress sense 🙂 Being in the environment of the Global MBA at Doshisha however, is a very multicultural experience. With so many people from so many different backgrounds working together, the environment can do nothing but give you a sense of being a true global citizen.

 The one or two movers and shakers at Doshisha are gradually influencing their colleagues and the “fear of the unknown” seems to be steadily dissipating. I imagine that Niijima-sensei came up against a lot of opposition and stick-in-the-mud mindsets himself when he first established his school. Certainly, his escape to the United States of America in 1864 was against the rules; at the time, no Japanese was allowed to leave Japan on pain of death, but off he went anyway to learn about the west. He studied at Amherst College, Massachusetts and was baptised a christian. Then he brought his religion back to Japan and established Doshisha on christian principles. That would have rankled quite a few people in Japan at the time having been a very anti-christian nation for so many years. Christianity had long been forbidden in Japan by the Bakufu government and it was still feared as a method for the western take-over of Japan by many. State Shinto was in many ways established as a means to counter this. Nevertheless, Niijima brought his christianity, set up an English school under its principles and the school eventually became one of the best private universities in the country. Doshisha is now faced with a new challenge, however; does it wish to get left behind, or does it wish to enhance and expand itself to meet the global era? I’m pretty sure Niijima-sensei would want it to move forward into globalisation and make its mark as a world-class university, and it is now taking gradual steps toward this.

Doshisha recently succeeded in becoming a member of AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. I was helping to organise the application for that and I am very glad that we managed to become a member before my work here finished (it gives me a bit of a sense of closure). It may perhaps be some time before Doshisha can become accredited by AACSB (the process usually can take anything up to 5 years, apparently), but if the University stays true to its goal of globalization, I really think Doshisha Business School can make its mark on the world stage. I think Niijima-sensei would be proud of that. Doshisha Business School aims to be a world-class business school. The standards must therefore meet the standards of international institutes. That means much more participation in the global sphere (ie participating in international symposia etc) and Doshisha Business School is certainly progressing towards that.

My time at Doshisha has been interesting. I truly learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes running of a Japanese university. More important to me personally, I also learned a great deal about myself and about what I want out of life. I would be lying if I said my time at Doshisha has been a breeze. If I am honest, it has been quite a struggle for me. I am grateful for all I have learnt however, and I am very happy that I was able to work with some very lovely people. Thank you to the GMBA team.

I hope the Global MBA will continue to go from strength to strength.


Exceptional Females in Bakumatsu/Meiji Japan?


Curator at the Kyoto National Museum, Miyakawa Teiichi, spoke recently about Chiba Shusaku and his younger brother Chiba Teikichi (Sadakichi?) at a lecture arranged by the Kyoto Ryoma-kai. The two Chiba brothers were both kendo masters and it was at the Chiba dojo run by Teikichi in Edo that Sakamoto Ryoma spent time honing his own kendo skills. Chiba Teikichi’s son Jutaro became very close friends with Ryoma, and Jutaro’s sister, Sana, became Ryoma’s girlfriend, for a time. This was before he met Oryo whom he eventually married. Very little is known about the Chiba kendo school and Miyakawa-sensei is currently following several leads to discover more about it. He is particularly interested in the life of Chiba Sana and the depictions of her in nishiki-e prints and other media. In some of these Sana has been mistaken for a man because she was very competent with a naginata, a wooden pole with a curved blade on the end. Some believe that women like Sana were not very common in her time. Fighting does not seem to have been considered very lady-like, I suppose. In the same way,  Ryoma’s wife, Oryo, is believed to have been an unconventional type of woman. In Meiji period media she was often depicted carrying a western style umbrella with books under her arm. Ryoma had told her she ought to read more, apparently. This line of thought leads me to recall the class I took back in Sheffield about Tsuda Umeko (1864-1929). I learned that at the age of six, Tsuda travelled as the youngest member of the Iwakura Mission to the United States where she received her education. She did not return to Japan until 1882, and had forgotten much of her native language. Later on, she went on to establish the Tsuda College, which is still in existence today.

I have never much been interested in women’s studies or gender studies in particular. I have spent most of my time investigating “samurai dudes”, and that it should be surprising for a woman to do anything other than fit into the narrow-minded stereotype of wife/mother seems fairly irrelevent to me, if only because I don’t fit the stereotype myself and not many of my female friends do either, but that is perhaps the subject of another kind of blog.

My field, especially in Japan perhaps, is dominated by male figures, but I have never questioned, or found need to question that. It was only because the character of Chiba Sana was questioned that the issue of exceptional females in history was brought to my attention. My immediate reaction, however, was to ask whether she really was all that uncommon in her time?

I’ll wait for the next lecture from Miyakawa-sensei to find out more.

Updates – rough notes


Sunday, 27th September 2009

I attended another lecture  hosted by the Kyoto Ryoma Club. This time the speaker was Machida Akihiro of Meiji Gakuin University. He spoke about Shimazu Hisamitsu, younger brother to one of the great lords of Satsuma, Shimazu Nariakira, and the father of that lord’s successor, Shimazu Shigehisa.

Although Machida-sensei did not really touch upon the subject in his talk, what interests me about Hisamitsu is his role in the famous Namamugi Incident, or as it is sometimes known, the Richardson Affair, in which the British merchant Richardson was murdered by Satsuma men.  The incident led to the Anglo-Satsuma War, which in turn led to much cooperation between Britain and Satsuma and to the sending of Satsuma students to Britain in 1865 (a subject I have touched upon in a previous post).  The British residents in Yokohama were in uproar over the Namamugi Incident and were initially baying for the swift arrest of Shimazu Hisamitsu, however he managed to get away and was not pursued further. I’d like to delve into this topic further in a future blog; will keep you posted.

Saturday, 10th October 2009

Today was the 115th anniversary of Nakai Hiromu’s death. In the morning I visited his grave at Sokushû-in within the precincts of Tofukuji Temple.

This was the second time for me to visit on the anniversary of his death. Last year I was joined by two Kyoto Ryoma Club members, but this year I went on my own. I washed the grave, placed flowers and lit incense as an offering before paying my respects with a prayer. I felt somewhat guilty about not having my completed my doctoral thesis yet, and could only report that I am STILL working on it. My only excuse is not having the time as I currently work a full-time job now. There was a young priest cleaning up the temple gardens after the recent typhoon. There were leaves and twigs all over the place so he really had his work cut out for him; still he had some time to chat to me briefly. I spoke to the mother of the house too. She told me how Hiromu’s descendent, Nakai Hiroko used to often come and visit the grave all the way from her home at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Nakai Hiroko is one of the ladies who established the Nakai Hiromu statue that now stands in Kyoto’s Maruyama Park in 1964. According to the mother at Sokushû-in, Hiroko is an elderly lady now who can’t really get to visit the grave these days. I gave her a copy of one of my papers and she said she would pass it on to Hiroko-san. The first time I met one of Nakai Hiromu’s descendents, I felt the reality for the first time. Until that point, Hiromu had just been an historical figure from dusty history books. On meeting one of his descendents the realism hit me. I’ll never forget that feeling. Hiromu is somebody’s grandfather, great-grandfather…

Saturday, 17th October 2009

I attended Day One of the Japan Writers Conference (JWC) at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts (DWCLA). It had been my intention to go and listen to Juliet Winters Carpenter speak about the translation project she is now involved in, that of Shiba Ryôtarô’s Saka no ue no Kumo. There are eight books in the series and Prof. Carpenter will be team translating them. She informed us she will be doing three of the books over the next two years!

Whn I lived in Aomori (1999-2002) I bought a copy of her translation of Shiba’s Saigo no Shôgun, or The Last Shogun. It was from this publication that I first learned of Prof. Carpenter. Shiba’s books are well-known as fairly difficult to read and with all the historical references his books must be terribly difficult to translate. As Prof. Carpenter herself said however, Shiba is one of, if not the most influential authors in Japan. Some might even argue that to understand the Japanese mindset it is essential to know Shiba’s work. However, to my knowledge, despite the tremendous amount of works that he has written, only The Last Shogun, translated by Prof Carpenter, The Tatar Whirlwind: A Novel of Seventeenth Century East Asia translated by Joshua A Vogel, and Kukai the Universal: Scenes from His Life, translated by Akiko Takemoto have been translated and published in English. It has always been one of my dreams to translate Ryôma ga Yuku; that too is eight volumes long, so if I am going to do it, I had better get started….

Nakai Hiromu and the Iguchi Albums


Again, it has been some time since I wrote last.

I have since updated my “About the Author” page, and if I am honest, lately I have been feeling the pinch of not having more published papers out by now.

My only excuses for not keeping up with this blog are that now I am working full-time as an administrator at Doshisha Business School where a new Global MBA Programme has starting this autumn.  My doctoral thesis is still not complete, and I have  been hit by health troubles.

I am also working on several other projects too. Although, I am beginning to wonder when any of them will be completed! “A woman’s work is never done”, and all that.

Amongst the chaos of everyday life, recently I attended a lecture at Campus Plaza Kyoto hosted by the Kyoto Ryoma-kai. Curator of the Kyoto National Museum and author of Ryoma wo Yomu Tanoshisa (Rinsen Sensho, 2003), Miyakawa Teiichi, gave a talk about the photographs of Sakamoto Ryoma’s wife, Oryo. It was a fascinating lecture. One of these photographs of Oryo in particular  is a relevant artifact for my own research because the photograph album of which it is a part is said to have been put together by none other than the star of my own thesis, Nakai Hiromu.

Unfortunately, there is no direct physical evidence that states the album, which is one of a set of two, was put together by Nakai Hiromu. There is no signature written by Nakai himself, for example. There is not even a photograph of Nakai included in the collection. The only evidence we have is word of mouth.

Collectively these two albums are known as the Iguchi Albums, as they were donated to the museum in Autumn 2000 by Iguchi Shinsuke, a descendant of the same Iguchi Shinsuke who ran a Soy sauce shop in Kawaramachi Street where Sakamoto Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro were assasinated in 1867. When Shinsuke, the younger, donated the albums to the museum, he informed them that they had been given to the Iguchi family by Nakai Hiromu. Iguchi Shinsuke, the elder, had been a good friend of Nakai Hiromu during the Bakumatsu/Meiji years as he had to many of the samurai heroes of the time.

How a soy sauce shop owner became friends with a prefectural governor is an interesting story…

According to the story by Miyakawa-sensei in his book Ryoma wo Yomu Tanoshisa (p.166), Nakai met Iguchi when the former had collapsed from hunger near the Takoyakushi Bridge over the Takasegawa river after having run away from his domain, Satsuma. Iguchi Shinsuke and his wife Sumi took Nakai in, fed him and looked after him until he regained his strength. Then some years later in 1884, Nakai Hiromu became the governor of Shiga prefecture and he called Iguchi to the prefectural office to thank him. Iguchi is said to have wondered what the governor of Shiga would want with him, until of course, he got there and realised who it was.

Another version I could have sworn I’d heard somewhere, but could well have confused it with something else, was that Nakai had collapsed near the bridge in Kiyamachi after a fairly hard night of drinking, and had been taken in by Iguchi. Some days after that Iguchi was called to the Shiga Prefectural government offices where he was surprised to find the governor Nakai wanting to thank him… Personally, I quite like this second story. It paints a picture of a typical scene that might be still seen in Kiyamachi today after a wild weekend of partying! 🙂

Upon the death of Nakai Hiromu, Iguchi Shinsuke was entrusted with several of Nakai’s items, including the two photograph albums. Also in the collection, which was given to the Kyoto National Museum, were a number of scrolls with letters to Nakai from several illustrious Bakumatsu and Meiji period notables as well as a medal given to Nakai by the Meiji government.

Along with the letters housed in the Kyoto National Museum and the Reimeikan Museum in Kagoshima, these two photograph albums give an excellent idea of the sort of connections and famous friends that Nakai had. Although throughout the recording of history thus far Nakai himself has been a background figure, there is evidence enough to show that through these many connections, he was able to make not the smallest amount of influence on the history of his time.




I was recently in Tokyo in order to send off some relatives who had been visiting here in Kyoto. After seeing them through the gates at Narita Airport I dashed off to visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum near Ryogoku Station. I had been desperate to go there for some time as I had heard about the model of the Rokumeikan building they had. However, after being mighty impressed at the sheer scale of the museum itself and the somewhat elaborate method for actually getting into the museum building itself, I made a beeline for the Rokumeikan display and found myself utterly  disappointed with what was on show. Or rather, not on show, because the Rokumeikan model could hardly be seen. I felt most put-out. It was a little bit like that feeling you get when you’re all expectant and excited about seeing a movie you’ve heard rave reviews about and then you watch it and it’s quite simply ‘rubbish’.  What depressed me most of all was that all of the other exhibition pieces were brilliant! Only the Rokumeikan, or rather the method of its display, was a real disappointment. The model itself, what I could see of it at least, was amazing.

It simply could not be seen properly. It was fitted into a hole in the floor and over the top of it some thick glass was placed for people to walk over to see it from a kind of bird’s eye view. This might not have been such a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that because the model was so large in scale (it included both the Rokumeikan building and the large front garden and gate) one sheet of glass alone was not safe enough for people to walk over, so the glass cover was split into smaller sections with what appeared to be thick iron girders in between, thus blocking a clear view of the model beneath.

After this disappointment, I wondered despondently around the rest of museum and then decided to try the museum shop. I found some postcards with one being of the Rokumeikan model. The photograph on the front gave a much better perspective and clearer view. I wondered why the display itself could not have allowed a view like the one on the postcard. Thinking that was all they had in the way of Rokumeikan goods I was about to leave, but then, in the far corner of the shop I saw some publications, one of which gave a description of the Rokumeikan and the construction of the model by the modeler, Uchida Yoshio who is an architect and lecturer at Toyo University. I bought a copy of that and two copies of the Rokumeikan postcards and headed back to my hotel.

The following day, weighed down by heavy luggage, I went to the site where the Rokumeikan once stood. Now, the Yamato Life Insurance company building stands on the spot. Exhausted from the weight of my bags, I was glad to find a trusty old Starbucks coffee shop on the ground floor of the building. After taking a couple of pictures of the plaque commemorating  the Rokumeikan, I went and enjoyed a Matcha Tea Latte and pondered the significance of the Rokumeikan.

The Rokumeikan was highly criticized within Japan for its unnecessary lavishness. Inoue Kaoru, the driving force behind the Rokumeikan project, was eventually forced to resign from his position as Foreign Minister for failing to rid Japan of the bonds of the Unequal Treaties with western nations, and his so-called ‘failure’ is also seen to be part of the failure of the Rokumeikan.

My interest in the Rokumeikan began when I discovered that it was Nakai Hiromu who, apparently, suggested the naming for the Rokumeikan. It comes from a Chinese classic poem in the collection called the Shi Jing. In the book by Pat Barr, The Deer Cry Pavilion (which is how the word “Rokumeikan” translates into English) quotes the English translation by Arthur Waley of the Chinese poem:

Yu, yu, cry the deer

Nibbling the black southernwood in the field.

I have a guest.

Let me play my zither, blow my reed-organ,

Blow my reed-organ, trill their tongues,

Take up the baskets of offerings,

Here is a man that loves me

And will teach me the ways of Chou.

The poem represents the welcoming of guests, which is exactly what the Rokumeikan was for. The prevailing idea that its purpose was to rid Japan of the bonds of the Unequal Treaties appears to me to be more an idea that came with the after-thought of the contemporary media and critics of the time. The original purpose, I think, was that it would merely be a place to welcome foreign guests. Certainly, if anything positive had come from it regarding the unequal treaties, the Rokumeikan would perhaps not have been so highly criticised, and it could well have been in existence today.

There is an excellent translation by David Rosenfeld (2001) of Pierre Loti’s vicious attack on the Rokumeikan. Loti tells of his personal experience when he was invited to a ball at the Rokumeikan to celebrate the Emperor Meiji’s birthday in 1886. I was absolutely shocked to read his account; his racist attitude seems to know no bounds. To give an example, he calls the rickshaw men that drive the guests to the ball “little black imps”! Need I say anymore?!

I am glad I finally made it to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. As long as you don’t get too excited about seeing the Rokumeikan exhibit as I did, I can really recommend a visit there. It’s a pretty big place and one of the bonuses is that you can use your ticket for multiple re-entry for one day, so if you fancy going to get some “chanko-nabe” (sumo wrestlers’ hot-pot) for lunch you can! Ryogoku is a famous Sumo mecca, of course; home to a number of Sumo stables, restaurants that serve Sumo hot-pots and there is also the famous Sumo Stadium. I always enjoy watching the Sumo on TV; I’d like to go there again to see a tournament. Perhaps by that time, the Rokumeikan model will have a  better form of display.

A Stone Marks the Spot


Stone marker

Stone marker

On March 29th 2009, the unveiling ceremony was held for the stone established by the Kyoto Ryoma Club to show where Sakamoto Ryoma’s wife Oryo lived in her days before marrying Ryoma as well as where Nakai Hiromu lived during the end years of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

I attended the ceremony which was led by Akao Hiroaki, head of the Kyoto Ryoma Club and I helped out with the unveiling. Nakamura Takeo, a Geographical Historian who teaches at Kyoto Women’s College gave a brief speech about Oryo to the crowd that had gathered to come and see the event.

I was suddenly also asked to speak a little about Nakai Hiromu, but unfortunately became incredibly tongue-tied and perhaps didn’t make much sense to the listeners; whereupon I was rescued by Miyakawa Teiichi, a curator at the Kyoto National Museum, who also spoke a little about Nakai. I regret not having been better prepared to say something (a lesson for any similar future scenarios!) but I had no idea I would be asked to say something. The day then continued with a mini tour of Kyoto led by Nakamura-sensei who took us round some of the places related to Oryo’s life and times.

Finally, in the evening there was a celebration to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the opening of the Ryoma Bar in Kiyamachi Street, Kyoto; after which we all ‘piled in’ to the Ryoma Bar and lots of karaoke was enjoyed.

My only other regret was not having prepared some handouts about Nakai Hiromu to give to the crowd. What with having to write a doctoral thesis and everything else that is going on I didn’t really have the time to make something up. Nakai Hiromu is still not very well known so I have to get word out as soon as possible. Time is always something I wish I had more of these days.

One of Nakai Hiromu’s descendents is currently in the process of publishing a biography in Japanese about his great ancestor so that will be a big step forward (one I am looking forward to). Once the thesis is out of the way, my plan is to get to work on an English version of a biography.

Nakai Hiromu saved the life of the British ambassador to Japan, Harry Parkes, in March 1868 at the Nawate Incident in Kyoto (when  Parkes was on his way to an audience with the Emperor Meiji) so he is an extremely key figure for the history of Anglo-Japanese relations history.

The “What if?” concept within historical studies has been utilised much in recent years and I for one think it is a very important concept to consider. What if ambassador Harry Parkes, or those that accompanied him: the famous Japanophile and diplomat Ernest Satow, or grandfather of the famous Mitford sisters and later Lord Redesdale, Algernon B. Mitford, had been killed that day? I believe that Anglo-Japanese relations would have developed in a considerably different manner. In what way different? Maybe Robert Cowley will do some more “What If?” books and he’ll let me ‘sling in’ a few of my ideas?

Some recent occurrances


March 25th, 2009, Cloudy and windy.

I got all excited today because I found some photographs of Nakai Hiromu on the Internet that I had not known about previously. The photographs are in the “Izeki collection”, and can be viewed here:

Nakai photos in the Izeki Collection (Photo no. 20, 104, and 105)

Seeing Nakai in Japanese dress (photo no. 20) was nice because he is more usually portrayed in western dress. He is the one in the middle at the back . Also in the picture is Yamaguchi Naoyoshi (1839-1894), a samurai from the domain of Saga who joined the famous Iwakura Mission on a tour around the world. Tanaka Moriaki (1843-?) is second from the left, and he is one of the Satsuma students who travelled secretly to Britain in 1865. Ueno Kagenori (1845-1888) is second on the right. He was a well-known scholar of English from Satsuma and became the Japanese minister for Britain. Finally, on the far-right is Komatsu Tatewaki (1835-1870) the famous samurai from Satsuma who is recently gaining much attention in Japan after the airing of the NHK period drama Atsuhime. Also, the picture of Nakai Hiromu sat next to a women (photo no. 104) was intriguing. She looks very stern; I wonder, who she could be? The description at the bottom tells us the picture was taken in London in Meiji 2 (1869) after he had finished working for the Foreign Department, so it was taken on his second visit to London.  I think however, that he looks his most “dashing” in photo no. 105, again which was taken in London.

March 26th, 2009, glorious Spring weather!

I had a little bit of time in between tasks today so I cycled into Kiyamachi as the weather gave me my first real feeling of Spring of the year. The blossoms have just started to come out a little along Kiyamachi. My reason for going there was to take a photograph of the pre-unveiled stone I mentioned in my last blog entry that informs passers-by that Nakai Hiromu and Sakamoto Ryoma’s wife Oryo lived around that area. Here’s the picture (the stone and plaque are still covered up in white tape waiting for the unveiling on the 29th):

An as yet veiled stone

A still covered stone

A VERY special event


At last, Nakai Hiromu is to get a commemorative stone in Kyoto!

On March 29th 2009 at one o’ clock in the afternoon in Kiyamachi Street、just south of Sanjo St., the unveiling ceremony will take place.

The stone will be placed somewhere outside the bar ‘Ryoma’ in Kiyamachi Street. It marks the spot where Nakai Hiromu lived for a short time during the end of the Bakumatsu period. Why bother telling the world that? Well, the stone will also mark the spot where Ryoma’s wife Oryo lived before she was married to Ryoma, so it is kind of killing two birds with one stone (excuse the pun) so to speak. 🙂

Incidentally, the event will also mark the 2nd anniversary of the Ryoma bar, so the day is going to be a full one, which I am rather looking forward to! If you are in Kyoto and not busy, please come out to see it!

Attack on Ryoma at Teradaya


Sakamoto Ryoma (1835-1867) was a major troublemaker for the Bakufu government authorities. It was because of him and his fellow Tosa samurai, Nakaoka Shintarô (1838-1867), that the domains of Satsuma (present-day Kagoshima prefecture) and Choshu (present-day Yamaguchi prefecture) were able to form the Satsuma-Choshu Alliance in order to work together against the Bakufu authorities. The Bakufu knew about Ryoma’s activities and he was therefore on their “wanted” list.

The year was 1866 (Keio 2). The Satsuma-Choshu Alliance had finally been consolidated on March 7th (Gregorian calendar) and two days later on March 9th Sakamoto Ryoma and the Choshu samurai Miyoshi Shinzô (1831-1901) were staying the night at the Teradaya Inn in Fushimi to the south of Kyoto.

Ryoma had just gotten out of the bath and was only half dressed when  he and Shinzô were attacked at 3am on the morning of the 10th. Ryoma fired a few shots with his Smith & Weston, but one of the attackers came at him with a sword and sliced at Ryoma’s gun-welding hand cutting him across his thumb.

Ryoma shouted to Shinzô telling him to escape and the two of them dashed through the back of the house smashing into the house behind and out into the road on the other side. They ran to a log store house on the banks of the nearby canal. There they waited until dawn discussing their options, even considering committing suicide before falling into enemy hands. But Ryoma told Shinzô that he should make a run for it and try to get to the Satsuma domain house which was only a few blocks away. Shinzô agreed and off he went to get help. Ryoma’s hand was badly injured. He also happened to be suffering from a cold. Wearing only his undergarments in the freezing cold night air he did not have enough strength to run for it, so he waited at the log storehouse for Shinzô’s return.

Shinzô managed to get to the Satsuma house where he found Oryo, Ryoma’s wife had already arrived (she too had had to escape from Teradaya where she worked). Too weak to take the Satsuma men to where Ryoma was Shinzô told them of Ryoma’s whereabouts and Oryo went with a couple of men to find Ryoma and take him back to the safety of the Satsuma house.

On the evening of March 9th, I took the last train to Fushimi-Momoyama just after midnight. I had a few hours wait until the 3am rendevous outside the Teradaya Inn, so I dropped into a nice little cafe, which just happened to be open until 3am. Nice! I sat in the cafe reading about the Satsuma students who went to Britain in 1865 while I sipped a hot coffee to keep me awake until it was time to go.

There were six of us. Nakamura Takeo sensei guided us from Teradaya Inn and we followed the escape route of Ryoma and Shinzô. We got to the canal. It was pretty cold and I guess it must have been colder in Ryoma’s day because global warming wasn’t such an issue then; plus, I was fully dressed and only suffering with a bit of hayfever unlike Ryoma who was just in his underwear and bleeding profusely from his cut hand. I tried to imagine how it must have been for Ryoma while he waited for some of the Satsuma men to come to his rescue. From the canal we followed the route that Shinzô was said to have taken. Nakamura-sensei had given us photocopies of an old map from the Tenpo period (1830-1844) which showed how the roads had been. Some parts were different of course; most notably the section of road which had never existed in Ryoma’s time where later in 1895 Japan’s first electric tramway was installed.

We had a wonderful guide. It was a fairly cold night, but the moon was looking glorious, and I wondered if Ryoma had been able to see such a glorious moon that night too. Nakamura-sensei reminded me that Ryoma probably hadn’t been much in the mood for gazing at the moon; he had more critical things on his mind at the time! Actually going to see the places where history happened is always a moving thing, but going there on the exact day at the exact time (albeit another year) is even more exciting! Thanks to Nakamura-sensei and the Ryoma Company team for organising such a fun event. Despite feeling very sleepy all the following day, on the 10th (in fact I think I still haven’t quite recovered!) I had a very enjoyable and learning experience!

Monument of Satsuma Students


I’m not getting obsessed about statues or anything honestly, but I want to write about the monument for the Satsuma students in Kagoshima today. I’m reading the novel by Hayashi Nozomu called Satsuma Students, Go West! (Kôbunsha, 2007) at the moment and enjoying it immensely. The Kagoshima dialect that comes across in the book was a little difficult for me to grasp at first, but I’m gradually getting used to it. The book is about the adventures of the 19 students who secretly travelled to Britain in 1865; secretly of course, because at the time it was still against the Bakufu government’s laws for any Japanese to leave Japan without government consent. The history has been well covered even in English thanks to the work of Dr. Andrew Cobbing and his publication entitled The Satsuma Students in Britain (Japan Library, 2000).

So, in Kagoshima city there is a monument dedicated to these Satsuma students, which controversially does not include two of the men, Takami Yaichi from Tosa (Kochi prefecture) and Hori Takayuki from Nagasaki because they were not born in Satsuma (Kagoshima). There had been efforts to amend this but unfortunately so far the city of Kagoshima has deemed it too difficult a task to carry out.

Monument of the Satsuma students in Kagoshima City

Monument of the Satsuma students in Kagoshima City

When I originally set out on my studies of Nakai Hiromu I wondered why a statue of Nakai Hiromu had not been included in this monument either. Nakai Hiromu was in Britain when the other Satsuma students were there and indeed, the Satsuma students get frequent mention in Nakai’s travel journal Kôkai Shinsetsu, however, Nakai had not travelled with the Satsuma students. In fact, he had gone to Britain with the support of the Tosa domain and he had gone with the Tosa samurai Yûki Yukiyasu. Nakai had already run away from and abandoned Satsuma several years before at the tender age of 16, so it perhaps makes sense that he would not be included in the Satsuma students’ Monument. Having said that, it amazes me that even now there is still no statue of Nakai Hiromu in his hometown of Kagoshima. When I went to Kagoshima in 2005, I spoke with one of the curators of the Reimeikan Museum and was told that because Nakai ran away from Satsuma he was, to all intent and purpose, considered to be a traitor! It was almost unbelievable for me to hear that. Nakai Hiromu put his life on the line doing his duty for his country when he saved the British ambassador, Harry Parkes, in 1868. He could perhaps be said to be one of the earliest cases of karôshi (death from overwork) because he died of a brain haemorrhage whilst working on several huge projects to help make Japan a “strong and wealthy nation” as Prefectural Governor of Kyoto. It makes no sense at all that he is not more respected in both his hometown of Kagoshima and indeed, in the whole of Japan.

I think the two lads who joined the other Satsuma students, Takami Yaichi and Hori Takayuki, need a place on the Satsuma Students’ Monument, but perhaps more than that, Nakai Hiromu needs a statue in Kagoshima. And, the statue of him in Kyoto needs to be better looked after.

Nakai Hiromu Statue – Maruyama Park


Yesterday I went to Maruyama Park in Kyoto and watched the cleaning of the Sakamoto Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro statue. The organizers of the “cleaning event” were the Kyoto Kochi Kenjin-kai (a group of Kyoto residents born in Kochi Prefecture – Japan amazes me sometimes. I wonder if there is group for say, Newcastle-born Liverpool residents?). I was hoping to be able to lend a hand (I’d even taken some rubber gloves, just in case). I was hoping I could get those involved to help me clean the small statue of Nakai Hiromu that also stands in the park. The scale of things however, totally stunned me and I felt like I couldn’t ask. There was a huge team of people and they had brought all sorts of cleaning apparatus. They even had a huge yellow truck with a lift on the back to carry people up so that they could ‘shampoo’ Ryoma and Shintaro’s heads!

Sakamoto Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro get a wash

Sakamoto Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro get a wash

When I got there, I was a little early and “Ryoma” and “Oryo” from the Kyoto Ryoma Club (who had invited me) had not arrived yet, so I didn’t know anybody there. I’m a bit shy and didn’t like to butt in, so I went off to see the statue of Nakai Hiromu while I waited for Ryoma and Oryo to show up. I’m glad I did too, because it was in a terrible state: covered in bird droppings with mold growing up the side of the plinth; there was even a bit of the cement missing where the statue is attached to the plinth. Suffice to say, the statue is in a real mess. Something really has to be done about it! I really have to do something about it….. Nakai Hiromu is not from Kochi Prefecture, so  I can’t really ask the Kyoto Kochi Kenjin-kai, I guess. I wonder if there is a Kyoto Kagoshima Kenjin-kai, and would they be interested? Nakai is, afterall, from Kagoshima. But, he did abandon his domain and nobody in Kagoshima really knows who Nakai is. There are many statues of famous Satsuma samurai in Kagoshima city, but Nakai is not among them. Would anybody from Kagoshima be interested in cleaning the statue at Maruyama Park when they don’t even have one in Kagoshima? Ryoma and Shintaro have thousands upon thousands of fans in Japan and all over the world. People go to visit their graves at Gokoku Shrine in Kyoto everyday. How many people even know where Nakai Hiromu’s grave is? How many people even know who Nakai Hiromu is? The scale is quite different. The statue of Nakai wouldn’t need a huge team of people to clean it though; it’s not a big thing. Two or three would be enough, I guess.  I’ll have to see if I can’t arrange something…

Nakai Hiromu's statue is looking a little worse for the wear

Nakai Hiromu’s statue is looking a little worse for wear

Cement missing on one side of the Nakai statue

Cement missing on one side of the Nakai statue

One side of the plinth is badly covered in mould

One side of the plinth is badly covered in mould

The statue that currently stands in Maruyama Park is not the original. The original seems to have been removed some time around the Second World War; no doubt the metal was used for the war effort. The statue that currently stands was erected in 1964 by Hiromu’s descendents, Nakai Kise and Nakai Hiroko. It is a terrible waste to let the statue fall to ruin, so I will see what can be done about it. I shall keep you posted.

Calendar Conundrums


First, I would like to wish everyone a very happy New Year. I hope 2009 will bring a lot of good into the world. I realise I am a little late with my wishes, the reason being that from Christmas day 2008 right through to about January 4th or 5th 2009, I was sick with what I believe to have been the norovirus. Well, whatever it was, it put everything on hold, I was quite incapacitated for some time, and my research was put on the back burner for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t fun. So my Christmas and New Year were pretty much ruined. On January 11th however, I made up for all the missed celebrations of Christmas and New Year by partying BIG TIME as it was my birthday! 😉

I had started writing this  entry on Christmas Eve, I think it was, and then became sick, so this is now a little less timely, but I started it and being the stubborn Capricorn that I am therefore must complete it.

Christmas in Japan is quite different to what I had grown up with in Britain. Being in such a different world as Japan is to the one I grew up in sometimes makes me wonder about my concepts of time and space. Studying the history of Japan makes me wonder about such ideas even more. The calendar is an excellent example of what I mean. Christmas Day is a national holiday in the UK. In Japan, December 23rd is a national holiday as it is the Emperor’s birthday, but Christmas Day is a regular working day. Where I come from Christmas is a family affair, but here in Japan, New Year is a time for family gathering. Experiencing life in Japan therefore, really challenges my perceptions of the meaning of these yearly events.

In 2008, December 26th was the 29th day of the eleventh month in the Lunar calendar. Nakai Hiromu was apparently born on  this day in 1838, which according to calculation was January 14th 1839 in the Gregorian calendar. That would make him a Capricorn, like yours truly. Sakamoto Ryoma was born on the 15th day of the eleventh month 1835 of the lunar calendar, which was January 3rd 1836 of the Gregorian calendar; also making Ryoma a Capricorn!

In Ryoma’s case, he died before the Meiji government changed the calendar over to the western one and figuring out the dates is perhaps not so awkward. However, the calendar was changed over from the old Japanese lunar calendar to the western Gregorian calendar in 1873, therefore, dates for Hiromu sometimes become a little more awkward because it can be difficult to know which calendar is being used, particularly in the case of private diaries and journals. It gets me into a real tizz sometimes!

Now that I am fully recovered from my sickness of course, I have been working hard to catch up with my research. I am STILL trying to perfect the translation of Hiromu’s Kokai Shinsetsu travel journal. It is no easy endeavour. During his sea journey to Britain in 1866, he tells us briefly about what he sees when in the western calendar the date changes from 1866 to 1867. He experiences New Year celebrations with the British passengers on board ship and he describes the people dressing up in “strange hats” and “clapping hands and banging on tables”. Some of the sailors play flutes and drums etc and go running wildly around the ship! The passengers, “even the ladies” he tells us, are drinking alcohol until late at night. Hiromu does not give much away about his feelings on the experience. He tells us only that it is all a little bit strange for him, and surely it must have been.

Having grown up with a certain tradition all one’s life, like the New Year celebrations, and then experiencing another that is quite different, it can feel a little bit strange. I can testify to that myself! I think it is important though to have such experiences in order to be more open and accepting of the world around us. I for one am glad of my experiences in Japan; I think they have helped me to be a little less stubborn and dogmatic… only a little mind! 🙂

Knowing Nakai Through his Chinese Education


Poetry Collection by Oshu Sanjin (Nakai Hiromu)

Poetry Collection by Oshu Sanjin (Nakai Hiromu)

According to Ito Chiyu in his work Kaiketsuden, for a brief period Nakai Hiromu studied under the Confucian scholar Hirose Tanso (1782-1856).  I had not heard of this scholar until I read Ito’s chapter on Nakai. When I made a search about him, the Japanese Wikipedia site informed me that Hirose ran a school in Oita prefecture called Kangien (咸宜園), which apparently can still be seen and was once visited by the ex-prime minister Koizumi Junichiro. According to Ito Chiyu, Nakai Hiromu only attended this school for a short period, though he does not give any exact dates. Indeed, Ito’s work is known to be considerably loose on the facts, so whether Ito’s assertion is really true or not I have yet to find more evidence. Nevertheless, it is a fact that Nakai Hiromu was well versed in the Chinese classics as many a samurai elite was in those days, and Hiromu himself was a fairly prolific writer of Chinese poetry.

As I study more in depth the life of Nakai Hiromu, I feel more and more the necessity of studying kanshi/kanbun (Chinese poetry/Chinese writing). Hiromu wrote many poems, some of which can be found in his travel journals, and to really understand the man himself as well as the mindset and the thinking of the many Meiji period elite, an understanding of their educational backgrounds seems vital.

According to many scholars, present and past, there was a growing tendency in the Meiji period for people to look down on the thousands of years of Chinese culture that they had been raised on. This derogatory view of Asian culture is considered to have had an influence on the culmination of terrible atrocities that occurred during the 1930s. Many of the Meiji elite saw the west as the new “master” to follow and wanted to forgot all about their previous Confucian teachings. Fukuzawa Yukichi (1834-1901) and Hiromu’s good friend Inoue Kaoru (1835-1915) are perhaps good examples of this.

Nakai Hiromu however, seems not to have taken this view to such extremes. He recognised the benefits of western culture and recognised that Japan could learn from that, but he does not denounce Chinese learning entirely either. He continued to compose poetry throughout his life and the Chinese classics continued to influence him. In his first travel journal however, he does demonstrate some feelings of despair toward contemporary Chinese due to their weakness in response to western pressure. He laments the fact that China had bowed to western pressure, but he also sees the Chinese example as a lesson for Japan.

Hiromu had many friends and colleagues who were also known poets and Confucian scholars such as Onuma Chinzan (1818-1891), Washizu Kido (1825-1882), Narushima Ryuhoku (1837-1884) to name but a few. In studying Meiji history, to really understand the minds of the people then, I really feel it is essential for me to get a grasp of Chinese learning too. So I have a large task ahead of me. I am certainly glad of those classes I had at Sheffield University in the philosophy of East Asia, but I was only scratching the top of a very large iceberg. There’s still a very long way to go!

It was Hiromu who decided upon the name for the Rokumeikan (known somewhat awkwardly as the “Deer Cry Pavillion” or “Hall of the Baying Stag” in English). The Rokumeikan was of course, Inoue Kaoru’s “baby”, a means of demonstrating to the west that Japan could be civilised too by providing western style entertainment for visiting foreign dignitries. Hiromu, however, took inspiration for the name from a poem in the collection of one of the five Chinese classics, the Shi Jing (詩輕), or Book of Songs (Book of Odes). The poem represents the spirit of hospitality the Meiji government wished to show the west. An English translation of the poem by Arthur Waley is published in his “Book of Songs” (1937):

Yu, yu, cry the deer
Nibbling the black southernwood in the field.
I have a guest.
Let me play my zither, blow my reed-organ,
Blow my reed-organ, trill their tongues,
Take up the baskets of offerings,
Here is a man that loves me
And will teach me the ways of Chou.

Translating Japanese History


I have recently begun work on the English translation of Nakamura Takeo’s work Kyoto no Edo Jidai wo Aruku (Bunrikaku, 2008).  I really feel that this work will be of great benefit to both scholars and the general public abroad who are interested in learning more in depth about the history of Kyoto, as well as to foreign tourists who visit Kyoto and want to do more than just scratch the surface while they tour round the city. I feel it is a shame to limit the vast amount of information in the book to just Japanese language speakers.

I do of course also have to complete my doctoral thesis on Nakai Hiromu, but it is nice to have a break from that occasionally and to do some pure translation work.

Nakamura’s work presents a large section of information on Sakamoto Ryoma of course too, which will be very good for an English speaking audience since Ryoma is becoming ever more popular in a global context.

Speaking of translation work, I was also happy recently to receive a copy of the soon to be published Shinsengumi no Ronjikata ([Discussing the Shinsengumi] Matsuno Shoten, 2009) by Miyachi Masato, Ito Katsushi, Kobayashi Takehiro, Tada Toshikatsu and Miyakawa Teiichi.  It was my job to help out with the English translation of the contents page; however, as I read through the articles themselves I thought how nice it would be to present this work in full to an English speaking audience in the future.

There appears to be an ever-growing interest in Japanese history of all periods and this is evident from the ever-growing number of books in English in this field. Many of these books in English are written by western scholars who are specialists in the field of Japanese history, and of course there are many great works out there. However, it is also important to present the works of Japanese historians and give them a voice in the English speaking world to present their views of their own history. One example of this kind of work that I enjoyed particularly was Takii Kazuhiro’s The Meiji Constitution (I-House Press, 2007) translated by David Noble. I hope to be able to present much more about Japanese history to the English speaking world in future with both my own research and with translations of great works by Japanese authors.

Some recent events


I’ve only just started this blog and I’m getting lazy with it already! So, here’s a few things that have happened over the last few days.

December 9th, 2008

Today, the copy of Meiji Bunka Zenshu – Gaikoku Bunka-hen [Meiji Culture Collection – Foreign Culture edition] (Vol. 7, 1955 edition) that I had ordered last week finally arrived at my door. I’ve only ever had naff photocopies of the 1992 edition, the pages showing Nakai Hiromu’s travel journals, before now, so I was mighty pleased to at last get my hands on a copy of my own. It’s of a reasonably good quality considering it’s the 1955 edition. It still has its own box, though that has browned tremendously over the years. Still the book itself is properly intact. In fact, it still has the old advertising pamphlets and so on that often come with newly published books in Japan.

I was rather pleased to find in there also, a copy of the No. 5 Monthly Report on Meiji Culture, published on June 25th, 1955. Being from a second hand bookshop I would imagine it is not all that uncommon that such added papers get lost over the years, so I was very fortunate to get a copy of the book with these papers in it still. Why get so excited over such things? Well, this particular report has a short article on Nakai Hiromu at the beginning, and I learnt some things about him from it that I did not know, which I will go into another time.

December 10th, 2008

Today was the anniversary of the death of Sakamoto Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro in the western calendar.  In the old Japanese calendar  of course, they were killed on the 15th day of the eleventh month 1867 which was December 10th in the western calendar.  In commemoration of the event Nakamura Takeo gave a guided tour of the route that the killers are said to have taken after they murdered Ryoma and Shintaro. I attended the long walk with the members of the “Ryoma Terakoya” group that is held once a month at the Ryoma Bar in Kiyamachi Street, Kyoto. Off we marched at a fairly speedy pace with Nakamura sensei leading the way, followed by “Ryoma” aka Mr. Akao, leader of the Kyoto Ryoma Club and “Oryo” who both carried chochin lanterns. We first stopped at the site where the Tosa domain house (Tosa yashiki) used to be situated, then going past Tosa Inari Shrine we went to the site of Omiya where Ryoma and Shintaro were murdered. From there we followed the killers’ route, along Kawaramachi Street to Shijo Street, then along Shijo to Senbon Street where we turned to go north up to Marutamachi Street. It took a little over an hour and we were walking at night roughly at the time the actual killing was said to have taken place.

Kyoto is a very different place now, but strangely it was not difficult to imagine what the scenery would have been like in 1867 thanks of course to Nakamura sensei’s excellent commentary along the way.

December 12th, 2008

Today I attended the annual meeting party for the UFJ Mitsubishi Scholarship students in the Kansai area. This was my second time at the meeting so I saw some familiar faces but also was fortunate to make some new acquaintences.  Mitsubishi is of course the company founded originally by Sakamoto Ryoma’s Kaientai member, Iwasaki Yataro (1834-1885), so it is very significant for me that I am currently receiving their kind sponsorship to further my studies.  I am very interested in seeing the diaries and other documents of Yataro maintained at Mitsubishi and hope one day to go to Tokyo to see them for myself. It is my belief that perhaps there is more information available in those documents on Nakai Hiromu that is yet to be discovered. It is fairly common knowledge already that Nakai was very close to Goto Shojiro and other Tosa domain samurai, so I would not be surprised to find something in Yataro’s collection. In Yataro’s already published diaries Nakai Hiromu is mentioned as having attended a meeting with Yataro himself along with Goto Shojiro, Sakamoto Ryoma, the British merchant William Alt and others. Yataro mentions Nakai under one of his aliases, Tanaka Kosuke and Nakai visits on several occasions around the same time period. I am pretty certain there is much more on Nakai in the Iwasaki Yataro documents. It’s just a case of finding them…

Anyway, it was nice to meet so many nice people at the party 🙂

Nakai Hiromu in English texts


One of the hardest things about carrying out research on Nakai Hiromu, I have learned, is actually finding documentation and sources on him. There’s not a lot, and what there is often tends to be fairly limited in its scope. In my last post, I mentioned that the spot where Nakai’s temporary residence had been in Kiyamachi Street had been briefly touched upon in the JR West journal Kyoto Sansaku, and it’s exactly this kind of thing that I mean. Modern texts tend to give only a passing mention. Our Mr. Nakai is quite an elusive character it seems.

Naturally in English texts too, information about Nakai Hiromu  is few and far between. However, Andrew Cobbing has made a more extensive study about Nakai in his works, for example, The Japanese Discovery of Victorian Britain (Japan Library, 1998) and The Satsuma Students in Britain (Japan Library, 2000). Also, thanks to Professor Cobbing for his kind and helpful advice, I have learned that another author, Susanna Fessler has also looked at the travel journals of Nakai Hiromu in her publication Musashino in Tuscany: Japanese Overseas Travel Literature, 1860-1912 (University of Michigan, 2004). This work gives 16 pages of coverage on Nakai and discusses both of his travel journals as they are published in the Meiji Bunka Zenshu series.

It is good to see though, that Nakai is getting a little more attention. It does put pressure on me of course to hurry up and finish my doctoral thesis! What am I doing writing a blog?! Get to it woman!

In all seriousness though, it is important that such “background characters” like Nakai get more attention so that a broader and clearer picture of the historical facts can be made.

Wonderful news!


Today I cycled to work under another glorious day of sunshine, through the grounds of Shokokuji (相国寺) temple, where the Japanophile Sir Ernest Satow himself once stayed on a visit to Kyoto. The autumnal red and yellow leaves were truly a sight to behold!

Whilst attempting to complete my thesis on Nakai Hiromu at Kyoto, I am also currently working part-time at Doshisha University established by the great pioneer of education Niijima Joe  (新島襄、1843-1890), which now sits upon ground that once was the spot of the Satsuma domain estate. I am helping out with the creation of the new Global MBA programme website, translating documents from English to Japanese and so on.  I was fortunate enough today to meet and interview a former sensei of mine from Sheffield University who will be teaching on the new programme of which many classes will be given in English. It is a very impressive programme of study that the Business School is preparing and I believe it will help Japan to become all the more prominent on the international stage. Niijima sensei would no doubt be very happy to see that his university is growing ever more into an international establishment.

Then, upon arriving home this evening I read great news that Nakai Hiromu has received mention in the Autumn edition of the JR West publication called Kyoto Sansaku (京都散策). Nakamura Takeo sensei wrote the article entitled, Sakamoto Ryoma to Bakumatsu Shuyo Jinbutsu no Sumai, (Sakamoto Ryoma and the Residences of Key Bakumatsu Figures [this author’s translation]), on pages 14~15. Nakamura sensei is a specialist of the geographical history of Kyoto and I am much indebted to his excellent work. You can find his blog listed in my blogroll on the right.

In the article, aside from informing us about the residences of the various prominent clans such as Choshu and Tosa, he also guides the reader to the private residences of such famous characters as Nakaoka Shintaro (1838-1867), Sakuma Shozan (1811-1864), Takechi Zuizan (Hanpeita, 1829-1865). In addition to these characters however, the map included in the article also tells us the spot where Nakai Hiromu temporarily resided on Kiyamachi Street. Nakai is also known to have had his residence to the west side of the Kamo river near Kojin-guchi (荒神口) Bridge not far from the Imperial Palace, but for a time he also lived in the more central area of Kiyamachi, which is now a famous nightspot in Kyoto. Indeed, one excellent bar I can recommend along there is the bar “Ryoma”, which is of course dedicated to the samurai hero Sakamoto Ryoma. So again, whenever you’re in town…

Anyway, it’s good news that gradually Nakai Hiromu is beginning to be recognised in Japan. Niijima Joe’s residence near the Imperial Palace is also not so far from Nakai’s residence at Kojin-guchi. I have discovered that Doshisha University also maintains a copy of Nakai Hiromu’s publication Man’yu Kitei (1878) in its library. I have yet to go and see their copy, but I do wonder if it was a copy that Nakai personally gave to Niijima, and were the pair well acquainted with each other? I still have some investigating to do. I am unsure of whether the dates of their residency match and here, do excuse me, I am just thinking allowed. When I find out the facts, I’ll let you know…

The End of an Era or the Beginning of a New One?


I read today, on Yahoo Japan news, that the hot springs (onsen) where Sakamoto Ryoma and his wife Oryo spent their honeymoon, said to be the first honeymoon in Japan, is to be closed down due to dilapidation. That’s a real shame. In 2010 NHK will air their historical drama “Ryoma-den” and the Ryoma “boom” is just on the rise again. It seems a shame to close down something that is likely to bring in a lot of revenue from tourism and boost the local economy. Why don’t the local government, to which the hot springs establishment now belongs, simply put in a bit of investment and give the place a make-over? Exactly how dilapidated can it be? Ryoma is just beginning  to make more of an impression on the world stage now too. I’m pretty sure the place would get its fair share of foreign tourism.

I was intrigued to see that the Ryoma Festival held at Gogoku Shrine this year had its fair share of foreign visitors, not including myself of course. I have also noticed in recent years the number of foreign tourists visiting Maruyama Park in Kyoto and taking the time to inspect the statue of Sakamoto Ryoma and Nakaoka Shintaro at the far end of the park. No one really seems to have noticed the smaller statue of Nakai Hiromu at the other end of the park closer to the entrance to Yasaka Shrine though; most Japanese do not even pay attention to that. If you ever get a chance to go to Maruyama Park, do go and have a look at Nakai Hiromu’s statue (pictured below).


Nakai Hiromu’s Final Resting Place


Nakai's GraveNakai Hiromu’s final resting place is in a temple called Sokushuin within the Tofukuji Temple complex in the southeast of Kyoto city. You can get there easily if you take the Keihan line to Tofukuji Station. Alternatively, it is accessible on the JR line from Kyoto Station. Tofukuji Temple is famous for its red leaves in Autumn. Sokushuin itself is normally closed to the public all year round, except in the month of November when the gardens are open to the public. The place swarms with tourists at that time of year, but the leaves are truly a sight to behold.

The picture I have included above was taken when I visited Nakai’s grave (centre) this year on the 114th anniversary of his death on October 10th. I have been to the grave a couple of times in the past, but one of the most memorable times was in 2006 when I went with one of Nakai Hiromu’s descendents, Mr. Yashiki, who is currently in the process of writing a biography about Nakai in Japanese. This was quite an emotional experience for me because at the time I had been studying about Nakai for three or four years already, but until that moment, Nakai had just been an historical figure to me. To meet one of his descendents and be able to visit Nakai’s resting place with him really gave me a sense of the reality of Nakai Hiromu’s life. He was no longer just some historical figure from books; he was real, he was a person’s relative, he was Mr. Yashiki’s relative, and I was being allowed to join him in his visit to his ancestor’s grave, a pretty personal thing from my point of view.

In the picture, to the right you can see the grave of Nakai’s wife, Takeko (竹子). There has been some confusion over Takeko, which I’ll go into some other time. Then to the left, there is the grave of Nakai’s daughter Sadako (貞子), who also deserves further explanation, but for the time being let me just say that she was the first wife of Japan’s famous first prime minister from a “common” background, Hara Takashi (1856-1921).

The grave plot includes other members of the Nakai and Yokoyama families; Nakai’s father, Yokoyama Eisuke, is also there for example. All together there are 11 graves and these are surrounded by a low cut hedge.

Lately, I have been trying to visit the graves more often. I doubt that they get many visitors since the temple is normally closed to the public. Each time I want to go, I have to call in advance and let the priest know I’m coming.

Sokushuin is recently getting a lot of attention in Japan because it is also famous as one of the hide-outs of the famous Satsuma samurai Saigo Takamori (1827-1877). Sokushuin was established by the Shimadzu family who have been the Lords of Satsuma for many generations. Recently in Japan, the NHK TV drama, “Atsuhime”, has put Sokushuin in the public eye because the Satsuma Princess Atsuhime visited the temple on her way to Edo (present-day Tokyo) when she was going to be married off to Tokugawa Iesada (1824-1858), the 13th Shogun of Japan who ruled when Japan signed the Unequal Treaties with the west thus “opening” Japan after over two hundred years of isolation.

I highly recommend a visit to Tofukuji, and if you can make it in November, I recommend you to see the gardens of Sokushuin too. If you do, please go say hello to Nakai Hiromu and his family.

There are still a couple of days left, I might try and get there again myself before the month is out.

It all started with a samurai


The now renowned samurai, Sakamoto Ryoma, is the reason I am where I am today.

I became engrossed with the fact that he is, and continues to be, so popular in Japan, and I wanted to know why, so I began a dissertation.  That dissertation got me into graduate school here in Japan where I discovered another samurai who is not so well-known. This samurai goes by many names and aliases, but I like to use the name by which his descendants call him: Nakai Hiromu.

I have started this blog in order to tell the world about Nakai Hiromu, and anything else I find interesting to share with you.

So here are some Nakai facts:

He was born on 29/11/1838 (Tenpo 9), which means January 14th 1839 in the Gregorian calendar (he’s a capricorn!), to a Satsuma samurai family in the castle town of Kagoshima. He was the first son of Yokoyama Eisuke and at birth was given the name Yokoyama Kyunoshin. He ran away from Satsuma at the age of sixteen in 1854, the same year that Commodore Perry came to “open” Japan.

He travelled to Britain in 1866 and on his return in 1867 he entered service in the Foreign Department. It was in this capacity that he left his mark on history in an incident called the “Nawate Incident” or “Parkes Incident” – I’m going to save that story for another day though….

As this is my first attempt at such an endeavour, and I’m still like a baby taking its first tentative steps, I will keep it brief by wrapping up here for now.