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?


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