The Choshu Five
Recently, the story of the Choshu Five has resurfaced in the wake of the making of a movie commemorating the legacy of five men from Yamaguchi who helped shape modern Japan into what it is today. The movie was shot on location in several spots in Yamaguchi, starting in Hagi in 2005. In July of this year, the Hagi Museum held a special exhibit that ran until September to commemorate the five with a display of artifacts, photos, and letters. Later in July, the city of Hagi sent five junior high school students, ”The Choshu Five Junior,” to England for a two week summer program in London to study and participate in international and intercultural exchange, following in the footsteps of the original five.
Prior to the Meiji Restoration, the Western tip of Honshu where Yamaguchi lies today was known as Choshu, the home of the Choshu clan. In 1863, five young samurai from the region were selected by the Choshu clan to study in England, in order to bring back knowledge and technology from Europe that would aid the clan in their long struggles against the Tokugawa shogunate of Eastern Japan. However, at the time Japan had its doors closed shut to the world due to laws of sakoku (”closed country”). Interaction with foreign countries, especially with the West, was scarce and highly restricted, and it was illegal to leave the country. Because of these strict laws, the five youth were disguised as English sailors and smuggled onto a trading vessel bound for Shanghai. There, they split into two groups and boarded ships bound for London, where they finally arrived in November, 1863, after almost six months of travel.
The members of the Choshu Five included Ito Shunsuke (who later took the name Ito Hirobumi), Inoue Monta (later Inoue Kaoru), Yamao Yozo, Endo Kinsuke, and Nomura Yakichi (later Inoue Masaru). They studied at University College in London under the guidance of Professor Alexander Williamson. Ito Hirobumi and Inoue Kaoru left England after a short time when news came of heightening tensions between the Choshu clan and the allied powers regarding attempts to close the Straits of Shimonoseki to foreign shipping. The other three stayed on longer, and all five went on to become significant figures in Japan’s rapid modernization, responsible for important developments in the fields of government, economics, education, engineering and technology.
Ito Hirobumi was born Ito Shunsuke in 1841 in Hikari City. Adopted into a samurai family, he gained official samurai status in 1863, shortly before his voyage to England. After his return to Japan with Inoue Kaoru to try to prevent war from breaking out between the Choshu and the allied powers, Ito replaced the old governing system by establishing the Cabinet civil service in 1885, basing the new government on ideas and methods he’d learned in Europe. With the establishment of the Cabinet in 1885, he also became the first Prime Minister of Japan, and later resumed the position as the fifth, seventh, and tenth Prime Minister as well. During his long political career, he founded one of Japan’s oldest political parties, the Rikkenseiyukai, sponsored several missions abroad to study foreign governments, supported the Sino-Japanese War, negotiated the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, and later, in 1906, became the first Resident General in occupied Korea, where he established law that gave Japan control over Korean internal affairs. He was assassinated in Manchuria in 1909, incidentally shortly after his resignation from the post of Resident General, by a Korean nationalist.
Inoue Kaoru was born into a poor samurai family in Yamaguchi City in 1836. He studied Dutch learning, gunnery and swordsmanship in Edo (modern day Tokyo) in 1858, and, the leader of an anti-foreign movement, was involved in setting fire to the British legation in Edo in 1862. After his return from England, however, he set out with Ito to prevent war against the allied powers over the Straits of Shimonoseki, and went on to promote the Europeanization of Meiji-era Japan. In 1885 he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the first Cabinet under the governing of Prime Minister Ito, and served in later years again under Ito as the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Finance, during which time he reorganized the government’s financial and land tax systems. He made many contributions to the business world before his death in 1915.
Yamao Yozo, born in Yamaguchi City in 1837, also spent time in Edo, where he received the traditional training of a samurai at a private school. After his studies in London, he went on to study engineering at the Anderson Institute in Glasgow, Scotland, from 1866-1888, where he also worked at the River Clyde Shipyards. Following his return to Japan in 1868, he headed the Yokohama Shipbuilding Yard, and took the position of Vice Minister of Public Works and Engineering. He was a strong advocate for the role of technical education in Japan’s industrialization and modernization, and founded several schools devoted to such studies－the Imperial College of Engineering (ICE), the Imperial College of Art, and Kobu Daigakko, which later became the Department of Technology at Tokyo University－and served as President of the Japan Engineering Society for 36 years. He also set up a school for the blind and deaf. It is rumored that he introduced the popular Scottish song,”Auld Lang Syne,”to Japan.
Endo Kinsuke, born in Hagi in 1836, returned to Japan in 1866. Involved in many forms of diplomacy, he is most famous for his position as Director of the Mint Bureau in Osaka, which he headed from 1881-1883. He succeeded in striking new Western-style coins without the aid of foreign engineers, and opened to the public the rows of sakura (cherry blossom) trees at the Mint formerly open only to Mint employees.
Inoue Masaru, born in Hagi in 1843, was adopted briefly into the Nomura family and named Nomura Yakichi, but was later restored to the Inoue family. He returned to Japan in 1868 after studying mining and civil engineering in England, and went on to head the construction of the first railways in Japan, running from Shimbashi in Tokyo to Yokohama. During his time as Director General of the Railway Agency, he helped build up a network of railways. He died in 1910, and his tomb is located in a triangular patch of land where the Yamanote line meets the Tokaido Shinkansen in Kita-Shinagawa, Tokyo. Two scholarships were founded in his name at University College in London to enable students at the college to study at a Japanese university.
The movie premiers October 28th in Yamaguchi and Kita-Kyushu.
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