Monument to Hamasaki Taheiji, Ibusuki, c. 1930.

1920sCommerceHistoric EventsNotable LandmarkOutside TokyoPatriotism/Military
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“Monument to pioneer Hamazaki [sic] Taheiji, Ibusuki Spa,” c. 1930. Hamasaki is remembered as the wealthy Ibusuki merchant who, with his financial and trade prowness, funded the creation of the Satsuma clan’s naval fleet that helped bring about the downfall of the Tokugawa shogunate, ushering in the Meiji Restoration. Ibusuki is situated at the most southerly point on the Satsuma peninsula, near Kagoshima. In 1546, the Portuguese merchant Jorge Alvares, credited as the first European to reach China and East Asia by sea during the Age of Discovery, docked at Ibusuki and documented Japan in his ‘Japan Report’ from the perspective of a Westerner. In this way, Ibusuki became the first port in Japan to be introduced to the West.

“In February, 1864, two young terrorists attacked a cotton-laden boat of Hamasaki Taheiji, a merchant under the Satsuma clan’s patronage, near Kanmon Strait in Shimonoseki. The terrorists went to Osaka and put up the head of the captain they killed with a notice board publicly accusing he Satsuma of trade with foreign countries. The the two terrorists committed suicide.

“The Satsuma clan had concealed to the public the fact of foreign trade … Hamasaki’s ship was loaded with cotton collected in Osaka for the purpose of sale to foreigners in Nagasaki. In those days the surrounding area of Osaka was very famous for its cotton fields … Both the decrease of cotton production in the [United States] South and the sharp rise in cotton prices, ‘the world cotton crisis’, were caused by the Civil War which broke out in the US. Carrying cotton from Osaka to Nagasaki was considered to be a courageous act because going to Nagasaki by boat for the purpose of foreign trade meant that ships had to pass the Kanmon Strait where there was the fear of attack by the exclusionist groups of the Choshu clan.

“The Choshu, however, agreed later to trade with foreign countries, especially with regard to the import of Western weapons. According to the History of Kagoshima City, the Satsuma clan bought 10,000 guns in Nagasaki in 1862. The Satsuma clan collected 82,300 ryo by the donation of 34 merchants out of which 20,000 ryo was from Taheiji … The purchase of guns and a steamboat was carried out, strengthening the Satsuma clan’s military power … Old-fashioned or used weapons were brought to European nations and, moreover, to China. The Satsuma clan had a continuing intention to pool more weapons and ships thereafter which were later resold to other clans, making large sums of profit.

“In 1865, 19 students and delegates of the Satsuma clan were sent abroad for study. They were first sent to England and then some of went to the European countries and to the US for further study. In those days, to send one person abroad for study required a lot of money. Such a lot money would have been paid finally by the Satsuma clan with the assistance of Hamasaki Taheiji and other merchants.

“… The Satsuma-Choshu alliance was established in January, 1866. Two years later, the Boshin War broke out. For the preparations of war, the Satsuma clan started the reinforcement of the army and the supply of guns. [A fast] warship would also elevate their superiority.

“For the purchase of a warship, Mathukata Masayoshi, who later became a finance minister in the Meiji government, went to Nagasaki in 1867, just before the Boshin War, with a budget of 40,000 ryo from the Satsuma clan. He found a very sophisticated warship, name later Kasuga-maru, which he eagerly desired to get … The sale price was 160,000 ryo and he had to pay 80,000 ryo as a deposit. Although he hdidn’t have enough money with him, he didn’t give up. He went to a branch office of Hamasaki Taheiji’s company in Nagasaki, and borrowed the money so he could get the warship.

“… The Satsuma clan would never have been able to become the driving force of the Meiji Restoration – and moreover the Restoration itself could not have been accelerated – without the Civil War in the US. The Civil War led to 1) the reduction of US [military] pressure on Japan, 2) the sharp rise of world cotton prices which enabled the Satsuma clan to get enough funds for the defeating the Shogunate government, and 3) the influx of massive weapons, improved and used during the Civil War, to Asian markets … which strengthened the military forces of the Satsuma clan and also made it richer by profits on re-sale to other clans.”

The Influence of the Civil War in the US on the Meiji Restoration in Japan, by Haraguchi Izumi, South Pacific Study, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1995

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