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The British in Bakumatsu Japan: The Namamugi Incident

What happens when a party of foreign tourists is believed to have disrupted the procession of a feudal warlord? A high-action incident, followed by a political crisis.

Paul Martin

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The Namamugi Incident (ukiyo-e)

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(Second of 4 parts)

Part 1:  The British in Bakumatsu Japan: The Tozenji Incident

Tokaido Hodogaya

The Bakumatsu era and subsequent Meiji restoration were a turbulent time in Japan. It is a bittersweet, complicated period in Japanese history filled with feats of great valor mixed with the sadness of needless ritual suicides and assassinations of passionate young men of opposing forces who all, at the end of the day, only wanted the same thing: to protect the country that they loved. 

There are various storylines that interlink and overlap the many different complicated aspects of this period. This series of articles focuses on events involving British civilians and legation or embassy staff in Japan during the turbulent Bakumatsu era, and features images and eyewitness accounts and reports from the time about the Tozenji, Namamugi, and Joi incidents.

This is Part 2 of the series, which is published in chronological order. 

Kukimura original photo (Japanese sword)
Tokaido Road (Namamugi monument) (Japanese sword)

(Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and images) 

On September the 14, 1862, just over one year after the Tozenji Incident and while the negotiations over it continued, a party of three men and one woman set out on a balmy autumn day from the precincts of the foreign settlement in Yokohama to go on a horseback ride and visit the Kawasaki Daishi temple. Little did they know that they were about to become the catalyst that would change the course of Anglo-Japanese history. 

The party members consisted of Charles Lenox Richardson, an entrepreneur who had spent an extended period in China. He had only recently come to visit Japan on his way back to England. He was accompanied by his old friend, Woodthorpe Charles Clarke, a merchant whom he had previously known while working in China. Clarke was now based in Japan. They were joined by Clarke’s friend, William Marshall, another merchant based in Japan, and Marshall’s sister-in-law, Margaret Borrodaile. 

The three men rode steeds while Borrodaile rode a Japanese pony. They traveled down the Tokaido (Eastern Sea Road) in the direction of Edo (Tokyo). The Tokaido was one of the main roads of Japan that connected the military capital, Edo, to the imperial capital, Kyoto, and therefore heavily used by all members of society. 

Traveling in the opposite direction, from Edo to Kyoto, was Shimadzu Hisamitsu (also known as Saburo), and his entourage in full official procession. Hisamitsu was the father of the Daimyo of Satsuma province, Shimadzu Tadayoshi and, in somewhat complicated circumstances, the de facto leader of the clan. 

According to testimonies by Clarke and Marshall, they were going along the Tokaido road when they suddenly found themselves in the midst of the Daimyo’s procession. According to various accounts, the procession was somewhat extended and punctuated. Some of the members of the procession signaled to the party that they should stop or dismount, but they did not pay any heed. The party continued to travel two abreast on the left-hand side of the road, with Richardson and Borrodaile about 10 yards in advance of Clarke and Marshall. Borrodaile was closest to the edge of the road and Richardson closest to the middle, with Clark behind Richardson and Marshall behind Borrodaile. 

Finally, the party reached a section of the procession that swelled out further into the road, making it difficult for them to pass. In fact, they had reached the heavily guarded palanquin of Shimadzu Hisamitsu. A large man stepped out from the middle of the procession, raised his arms for them to stop while shouting at them. However, half the party were new to Japan, and the other half were visiting, so it would seem that none of them understood Japanese. 

Richardson last known photo alive

Richardson turned in his saddle and called back to Marshall and Clarke, “We are stopped!” Clarke responded, “Let’s pull into a side road!” Marshall added, “Let’s not have a row!” However, they had become so tightly packed in the narrow road that Borrodaile was now pressed up against hedges that lined the side of the road. 

Richardson and Borrodaile began to wheel their horses clockwise to turn back, when the large man who had stepped out of the procession shouted again, threw off his top coat, drew his sword and slashed Richardson across his back. The other samurai also instantly sprang into action attacking the group with spears and swords. Clarke and Marshall were also cut badly, and it is said that Borrodaile narrowly ducked a sword swung at her head that cut her hat and some of her hair. The party bolted back in the direction that they had come, having to run the gauntlet through the members of the procession that they had just passed. 

According to the Japan Herald dated September 20, 1862, “Mr. Marshall was severely wounded in the side and back…” (Whether this was referring to a second wound or the same wound was unclear.) 

The report continued, “…while Mr. Clarke’s left arm at the shoulder was nearly cut through, the sword having penetrated half through the bone.” 

Drawing of the Incident by Charles Wirgman

The party regrouped about 650 yards up the road. Richardson, who had been at the lead of the party and closest to the large samurai, suffered the worst of the attack. His intestines protruded from a deep cut to his side, and a deep cut to his shoulder. He told the others, “I am dead already, save your own lives.” Shortly after which, he fell from his horse, according to Clarke, “Looking quite dead.” 

The remaining three fled. Woodthorpe and Clarke, who were also floundering from their wounds, urged Borrodaile to continue without them. Panic-stricken she rode her horse as fast and long as she could. Her horse fell twice beneath her, and at one point she even rode into the sea, preferring to drown rather than suffer the same fate as Richardson. Somehow, her horse found the road again and she headed for the foreign settlement in Yokohama. 

Another drawing of the incident based on Charles Wirgman’s testimony

Covered in splatters of her companions’ blood, she fainted on arrival at the house of a Mr. Gower. Despite being semi-conscious from the loss of blood, Marshall and Clarke also managed to get back to the American consulate based at Hongakuji temple (Kanagawa prefecture). 

According to some accounts, Richardson somehow managed to drag himself to the side of the road and prop himself up against a tree. It is said that he called out begging for help and water. However, the local Japanese were too afraid of the oncoming entourage to approach and help him. The procession arrived shortly, and the coup de grace (todome) was carried out. Some sources, mainly newspapers, tried to pin the order for todome on Hisamitsu, but according to Kukimura Jikyu, it was Kaieda Nobuyoshi who arbitrarily carried out the gruesome act. 

A recovery party that had set out from the foreigners settlement discovered the body and reported: “The whole body was one mass of blood; one wound from which the bowels protruded, extended from the abdomen to the back; another on the left shoulder had severed all the bones into the chest; there was a gaping spear wound over the region of the heart; the right wrist was completely divided, and the hand was hanging merely by a strip of flesh; the back of the left hand was nearly cut through; and on moving the head, the neck was found to be entirely cut through on the left side.” 

Richardson Body

It was assumed that the main wounds had happened while Richardson was still in his saddle, and that the wounds to the hands and neck had occurred after falling from his horse. This would appear to suggest that he had tried to resist the coup de grace administered by the Satsuma samurai. It was also discovered during the autopsy that he had wounds to his abdomen that appeared to have happened (likely by spears) while sitting in the saddle. 

Namamugi by Felice Beato
Shimazu Hisamitsu (Saburo)

The Satsuma Side of the Story 

Shimadzu Saburo and his procession continued on their journey along the Tokaido road, stopping to spend the night at a post station town called Hodogaya-juku. The British authorities complained to the Shogunate, who immediately contacted the Satsuma clan for some clarification. As Shimadzu Hisamitsu was on his way to Kyoto, the following report was given to the Shogunate via a clan retainer of Shimadzu Tadayoshi. 

It is reported that when Shimadzu Saburo (Hisamitsu) was leaving Edo yesterday, four foreigners on horseback became mixed up in his procession. They tried to politely gesture to stop them, but they did not pay heed and recklessly became caught up in the procession. Unavoidably, one of our foot soldiers, a man named Okano Shinsuke, slashed two of them, at which point the foreigners fled immediately. However, Shinsuke went in hot pursuit, but where he went, we unfortunately do not know. We intend to continue to search for him, and if his whereabouts are discovered we will report to the Bakufu immediately. I was ordered to report this immediately to the Bakufu by Hisamitsu [Saburo] via the Hodogaya station [on the Tokaido Road]. I relay this report as requested. 

Matsudaira Shurishiki (Shimazu Tadayoshi) Retainer Nishi Chikuzaemon Dated: 22nd Day, 8th Month Bunkyu 2 (1862) 

Okano Shinsuke was a fake name given by Hisamitsu to protect the identity of the large samurai who was thought to be Narahara Kizaemon. However, it appears that members of the British consulate knew who the culprit was anyway. In a letter from Ernest Satow to W. G. Aston dated January 7, 1876 he wrote:

Narahara is the name of the man who killed Richardson, brother of Saburo’s (Hisamitsu) confidential retainer. 

Another clue to Narahara’s identity is in Marshall’s deposition when he stated:

Our horses were being quietly turned around when I saw a man in the center of the procession throwing the upper part of his clothes off his shoulders, leaving him naked to the waist, and drawing his sword, which he swung in both hands, he rushed upon Mr. Richardson. 

Although Marshall did not know Narahara’s name, John R. Black (former editor to the Japan Herald newspaper), tells in his book Young Japan the tale of the Teradaya Incident. 

Shimadzu Hisamitsu had sent Narahara and a group of his men to get a rogue group of Satsuma samurai to stand down from a movement known as Sonno Joi (revere the emperor, expel the barbarians). In the incident, Narahara had famously thrown off his upper garments leaving himself half-naked in what appears to have been his trademark move in climatic moments. 

Kukimura Jikyu Original picture
Namamugi by Felice Beato

Furthermore, the report includes a compelling confession by Kukimura Jikyu, who claimed that he was the last surviving member of the procession who witnessed the whole event and even laid a devastating blow to Richardson that probably killed him. His confession also corresponds with other known eyewitness accounts. Kukimura describes the situation in detail, claiming that he was slightly further along the road in the procession when the British party went past. He stated that he and his fellow samurai had felt resentful and embarrassed as the party on horseback went past them. They not only did not acknowledge their gestures to dismount, but ignored them completely. 

Beato’s depiction of Namaugi

Shortly after, when the party had reached the palanquin of Hisamitsu, Kukimura said that he heard a loud shout, and the procession stopped with men turning around to see what was occurring. Kukimura stepped outside of the procession and looked back. He saw Narahara draw his sword and then flail it around. The party then came bolting back past them. Kukimura claimed to have seen Richardson (probably Clarke) coming towards him and swung his sword at him, plunging it deep into his side. This was followed by a second person (probably Richardson) upon whom he also managed to inflict a wound.

Kurakawa Shozo
Kaieda_Nobuyoshi

Reports of Arrogance and Racism 

There were reports of Richardson being arrogant and purposely antagonizing the procession, but these appear to be unfounded. In recently discovered letters Richard had sent home to his family, it would appear that he was an incredibly dutiful son and brother. He had been fined for an altercation that he had with a Chinese servant while in China, but it appears to have been a solitary incident in which he took full responsibility, insisting that the servant had been “insolent.” 

Furthermore, Kukimura’s description of events corroborates their testimonies, as does the unemotional report at the time (apart from the fake name to hide Narahara’s identity) from Hisamitsu. 

However, foreign colonialism at the time had probably made the group think that they were imperviable to other cultures. At worst, they may have been visibly indignant at being made to delay their journey, but their ignorance of samurai and daimyo culture led to very dire consequences. Satow’s version of the incident in his letter to Frederick Victor Dickens seems to have been very accurate: 

What I heard at the time was that in turning his horse around, being close to Shimazu Saburo’s kago (palanquin), he in some way came in contact with it, perhaps with the end of the pole. But I should not like to affirm that this was really what happened, and brought down on the party the wrath of the samurai. 

Kurokawa Shozo at Namamugi Monument

Years after the incident in 1885, the head priest of Tsurumi Shrine (Kanagawa prefecture), Kurokawa Shozo, had a stone monument erected at the site of Richardson’s death on the Tokaido road. The monument still stands there today, and a plaque marking the site of the actual incident is situated outside some modern apartments some 650 yards along the road. Kurokawa was a longtime resident of Tsurumi and had arranged for various commemorative stones to be situated at historical sites in the area. 

The Namamugi Incident was a cultural clash at the highest level. The expectations of the colonial status party against the archaic feudal expectations of the samurai. If they had just dismounted until the procession had passed, or maybe even if Richardson had somehow turned his horse anti-clockwise away from Shimadzu’s palanquin instead of towards it, this historic episode may never have happened. 

However, it became the catalyst for a much larger incident. What followed became a turning point in Anglo-Japanese history, but that’s another story for the next article in the series. 

Namamugi Monument (right)
Namamugi Monument

(Story continues in Part 3.)

 We would like to extend a special thanks to Sengan-en and the Shoko Shuseikan Museum for their cooperation.

Author: Paul Martin

Paul Martin is a former British Museum curator, and a Hyogiin (Trustee) for The Society for the Promotion of Japanese Sword Culture (NBSK). He is also a recognized specialist by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT).