Friendship Between Britain and Satsuma

The shared history at the heart of Anglo-Japanese relations

edward viii

During the late 19th and early 20th century, Kagoshima was visited by many important dignitaries, both from Japan and abroad. Sengan-en was used as a venue to welcome and entertain these distinguished visitors. Perhaps the most important of these visits came from Britain and the relationship formed, despite an unsteady start, would lay the foundations for the modernization of Japan and eventually lead to the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.

Harry Parkes British envoy to Japan

Sir Harry Smith Parkes, 1866

Immediately following the Bombardment of Kagoshima in 1863, Satsuma rapidly engaged in talks with Britain to establish a peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries. In 1865, a secret delegation of nineteen young samurai had been dispatched to the UK to learn about industrialisation and modernisation. In 1866 the Shimadzu family invited the British Envoy to Japan, Sir Harry Smith Parkes to Kagoshima. Parkes met with the regent Shimadzu Hisamitsu, his son Tadayoshi, and senior advisers such as Komatsu Tatewaki at Sengan-en and was royally entertained.

A forty-course feast of Japanese food was served on the first day, followed by a western style dinner on the second. Parkes was taken hunting for wild boar and deer to conclude the visit.

Parkes left the following account of Sengan-en:

“Sengan-en was faced to the port. I was entertained by the senior retainer. It was amazing entertainment. This garden is so wonderful that I don’t know how to express it. Anyone who visits there must be stricken by a desire to stay for three years at least.”

Interestingly the British account of the hospitality provided was less complimentary about the food served. The record of the meal features some interesting asides that were clearly sarcastic in nature. The unusual nature of the food is made clear by comments like “small bones of chicken, and unlaid eggs“, “gelatine sweetmeat (like stewed india-rubber)“, and “bitter green tea (again)“.

While it isn’t clear what kind of musical accompaniment was provided, notes like “exit band, to the great relief of guests” show it wasn’t to the tastes of the British entourage. I’m glad to say that the restaurants at Sengan-en have a significantly better reaction from overseas guests to Sengan-en today.

The London Illustrated News on Saturday, 2nd February 1867 however was highly complimentary about the house and gardens.

“This rustic mansion shows that his Highness of Satzuma has a very good idea of domestic comfort in the fine warm weather of the summer season. The Japanese are fond of gardening, to which they apply a considerable degree of science. The fishponds, the rockwork, the labyrinthine quickset hedges, and pavements of variegated stones, which are introduced into a garden of moderate extent, with miniature hills and forests, usually made in imitation of some well-known features of the natural scenery of the country afford the visitor an entertaining study. The exquisite neatness and tidiness of a Japanese dwelling is one of its most agreeable characteristics, whether in town or country.”

Prince Arthur of Connaught

Prince Arthur of Connaught, 1906

Prince Arthur of Connaught was a British military officer and grandson of Queen Victoria. In 1906, by order of King Edward VII, Arthur visited Japan to present the Meiji Emperor of Japan with the Order of the Garter, as a consequence of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. Arthur visited Sengan-en and was welcomed by Shimadzu Tadashige, who was a student at the Etajima Naval Academy, and the British trained naval genius Marshal-Admiral Togo Heihachiro.

After taking lunch at Sengan-en, and a brief tour of Kagoshima City, the group returned to Sengan-en to see a performance of the British and Japanese national anthems by local girls playing koto. Tadashige and Arthur also listened to performances of Satsuma biwa and took a stroll around the gardens.

prince arthur of connaught

The next morning a visit was made to Terukuni shrine, and the grave site of Saigo Takamori. Returning to Sengan-en one last time, the group watched a demonstration of Jigen-ryu swordsmanship, after which Tadashige presented Arthur with a number of gifts and bade him farewell.

Shortly after this visit, the Shimadzu family contracted British architect Josiah Conder to build their residence in Tokyo. Several design changes took place, and the project was started in 1915, and completed two years later in 1917. The building still stands today in the Shimadzu-yama area of Gotanda, where it is used as the main hall for Seisen University.

Edward VIII

Edward, Prince of Wales, 1922

Edward, Prince of Wales visited Kagoshima in 1922 as part of his tour of Asia. The previous year Hirohito, Crown Prince of Japan had visited Britain, and this reciprocal visit was the last stop on Edward’s journey across the continent. Due to his rank, travels, good looks, and unmarried status, Edward was the most photographed celebrity in the world at the time.

Edward’s tour of Asia aboard the battleship HMS Renown saw stops in India, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.

edward viii in japan at sengan-en

The final port of call on the voyage was Kagoshima, and Edward spent an afternoon at Sengan-en, enjoying the finest Satsuma hospitality. Shimadzu Tadashige was working in London, and had met with Edward prior to his departure, relying on his younger brother Yasuhisa and Marshal-Admiral Togo Heihachiro to oversee the welcome at Sengan-en.

satsuma heki ryu prince edward

After visiting Terukuni shrine and the Kogyokan Museum, Edward visited the Shoko Shuseikan Museum one year prior to its opening to the public. After having lunch in the house at Sengan-en, Edward watched a tempuku flute performance and a display of Jigen-ryu swordsmanship and Satsuma Heki-ryu archery.

Edward sent a telegram to the Shimadzu family thanking them for the entertainment at Sengan-en upon returning to Britain. Edward was also presented with a number of gifts, including Satsuma-ware pottery and an archery set that are still in the possession of the Royal Collection Trust today.

The Anglo-Japanese Alliance lasted from 1902-1923, and the Shimadzu family and Kagoshima played an important role in supporting the diplomatic relations between the two countries throughout that period. 2022 will mark the 100 year anniversary of Edward’s visit to Kagoshima, and provide an opportunity to reflect on the shared history between our two countries as well as the role played by Kagoshima in establishing early relations with Britain, despite the isolationist policies of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Alex Bradshaw

Alex is the Head of Overseas Business for Shimadzu Limited, and has lived in Kagoshima for over 15 years.

He has spent many years studying traditional swordsmanship, and has demonstrated martial arts for the Crown Prince of Japan as well as at many venerable shrines across Japan. He also practices calligraphy, zazen, and many other elements of Japanese culture and has translated several works on the subject.

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