Reprinted from “Oguri Tadamasa and Yokosuka“
Oguri was born in the 10th year of the Bunsei Period (1827), in Kandasurugadai, Edo (current-day Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo), the eldest son of his father, Tadataka and his mother, Kuniko and the 12th in the Oguri line. Traditionally, the head of the Oguri household was called “Mataichi”. The reason for this dates back to the time of the 4th generation Oguri, Oguri Tadamasa. When the 4th Oguri was in the service of future shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, he took up a spear at the critical moment during a battle and saved his lord’s life. After the battle, Tokugawa Ieyasu rewarded him with the same spear and, thereafter, he always aimed to be at the head of the army in battle (ichiban-yari “the first spear”). His position as ichiban-yari became so expected that Ieyasu eventually ordered that he take the name Mataichi, a combination of the characters for “again” and “first”, and the name was then passed down through the Oguri line.
From the age of nine (according to the year counting based on the lunar calendar), Oguri attended the school of Confucianist scholar Asaka Gonsai, on the grounds of the Oguri residence. Also attending this school were Kimura Yoshitake (Kimura Kaishu), who later traveled to the United States on the Kanrin-maru, Iwasaki Yataro, the founder of Mitsubishi Group and, working as an assistant, Kitamura Sehei (later known as Kurimoto Joun), who would become a lifelong friend of Oguri. While attending school, he studied the arts of swordplay, jujutsu and gunnery. Small in size and not especially robust, he nevertheless possessed a well-developed fighting instinct and an unusually powerful curiosity. He also possessed the dislike for excessive and meaningless talk characteristic of the “Edokko”(a native of Edo).
In March of the 14th year of the Tenpo Period (1843), when he was 17 years old, Oguri paid his first visit to Edo Castle and had his first audience with the shogun. Before long, word of his excellence in the fields of both the liberal and military arts had spread and he was made an escort to the shogun. Several years later he married his wife Michiko, eldest daughter of the Takebe family. With Oguri reputedly just 22 and Michiko just 15, they made a charming young couple. However it was not until the arrival of the United States Navy’s Commodore Perry in the 6th year of the Kaei Period (1853), and Japan took its first steps towards opening to the world, that Oguri’s efforts began to take on a furious energy.
Oguri Takes the Stage
Following the arrivals of Commodore Perry and Russian Vice-Admiral Putiatin, and the consequent settling of the Treaties of Peace and Amity with the United States and Russia, Oguri’s father died from sickness whilst serving as magistrate in Niigata City and Oguri, in July of the 2nd year of the Ansei Period (1855) at just 29 years of age, succeeded as the 12th generation head of the family. In June of the 5th year of the Ansei Period (1858), and without the emperor’s sanction, Minister Ii(井伊) Kamonnokami Naosuke signed the United States-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce. Within the shogunate government, debate still existed concerning the pros and cons of signing the treaty but, from the beginning Oguri was a consistent proponent of the notion that,“Trade is not something for which one can just sit and wait. We should take it upon ourselves to enter the international community and pursue trade and commerce.”
In answer to those factions within the shogunate who were cautious of the treaty he said, “The important thing about who holds responsibility for the country’s administration, is not whether they are a Tokugawa, but whether they possess the determination and resolve to place the emphasis on the good of the nation.” It was decided that the shogunate would send a delegation to the United States, to take part in the treaty’s exchange of the instruments of ratification to take place there the following year. For various reasons, the representatives that the government initially intended to send were unable to go so, in September, it was decided that Shinmi Buzennokami Masaoki would go as senior envoy, Muragaki Awajinokami Norimasa as deputy envoy and Oguri Tadamasa as metsuke (a form of inspection officer).
Shinmi and Muragaki already held important posts in the shogunate government but for Oguri it must have been a considerable promotion. Just one day prior to this appointment, he had been promoted to the post of metsuke, and in November of the same year he was named to the rank of bungonokami. Why Oguri was chosen for this responsibility cannot be said with any certainty, but it is thought that word of Oguri’s sagacity, sensitivity and keen sense of logic and justice, and his opinions regarding such issues as commerce and trade, must have come to the attention of Minister Ii(井伊).
Behind the promotion, Oguri was also assigned a secret task: to identify and rectify any imbalances in the currency exchange rate. According to the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, it was decided that currency exchange should be conducted on a basis of “same type, same amount”, and the rate was fixed at one Mexican silver dollar for three Japanese silver coins. However the matter was complicated by the fact that, at the time, the value of gold was three times higher outside of Japan than within. This disparity threatened the loss of great quantities of gold and gold coins from Japan. At the time there were smaller gold pieces in existence, four of which were equal to the larger Japanese gold coin, the koban. However, due to the low production volume for gold coins, it had been decided that new silver pieces would be produced and circulated as the equivalent of the smaller gold piece. In other words, one koban became equal to four silver pieces.
This meant that 100 Mexican silver dollars could be exchanged for 300 Japanese silver pieces which, if changed into gold, would be worth 75 koban. If this gold was then taken outside of Japan and changed back into Mexican dollars, it would be worth 300 Mexican silver dollars, three times the original amount. Oguri took himself to an office at the Philadelphia Mint and, in no time at all, armed only with scales and an abacus, calculated the gold content of the Japanese and United States currencies and, to the surprise of everybody, made the American authorities recognize this disparity. After this, Oguri’s estimation in the eyes of the United States authorities took a leap. Until that time he had been seen as just a metsuke, little more than a spy, but he soon came to be seen as a man who, despite his small stature, possessed a curious mixture of dignity, intellect and conviction, and who was quite able to express himself directly and give a firm“no”, should he feel the need. This experience in the United States would prove a great influence upon the actions of the man in the future.
Magistrate of Accounts
When Oguri returned from his nine-month-long visit to the United States, he found the state of affairs within his country one of burgeoning radical changes. In November of the 1st year of the Man-en Period (1860), he took office as foreign magistrate and, just one month later, Mr. Heusken, an interpreter for the United States Legation, was killed by a member of the Satsuma Clan. Following this, in March of the 1st year of the Bunkyu Period (1861), a Russian warship occupied Tsushima Island in current-day Nagasaki Prefecture. When the government received word of this, Oguri, in his capacity as foreign magistrate, was sent to Tsushima Island with the task of solving the problem, in the end failing to make the Russians withdraw.
It was this incident which brought home to Oguri the difficulties inherent in diplomacy and the lack of policy of the shogunate government, and he submitted his resignation from the office of foreign magistrate. The incident also revealed to Oguri the shogunate’s lack of economic and military strength, and it was this that would, before long, spell the beginning of his resolve towards the establishment of the Yokosuka Arsenal. In March the following year he was appointed to a position as secretary and bodyguard, in May to the position of defense representative, and in June to the position of Magistrate of Accounts, and given the name “Kozukenosuke”. By this time Oguri was 36 years old. As Magistrate of Accounts, he was responsible for the government’s finances, which was, along with diplomacy, one of the shogunate’s two greatest headaches at that time. Oguri went through periods of repeated appointment and resignation from the post and, by the time of his dismissal in January of the 4th year of the Keio Period (1868), Oguri had taken up the position four times. This shows his expertise in matters of finance.
The Establishment of the Yokosuka Arsenal
In August of the 1st year of the Genji Period (1864), Oguri once again became Magistrate of Accounts. Around this time, a shogunate vessel, the Shokaku-maru was damaged and requested aid in repairs from a French ship which happened to be in port at Yokohama at the time. The repairs were completed perfectly and, in this way, France was able to earn the trust of the shogunate. In addition, the man who facilitated relations between the Japanese government and France during the repairs, was none other than Oguri’s most trusted friend, Kurimoto Joun. Oguri longed to establish a true dockyard and repair facility, but he could not look to the United States for assistance as they were in the middle of the Civil War and did not have the luxury of providing technical support to Japan.
England was to be avoided due to their dealings with the Satsuma and Choshu Clans, and their involvement in the Opium War. As for Russia, relations were still bitter after the incident at Tsushima and he could not turn to them for aid. Oguri was greatly pleased then, to find himself in a position where his close friend could assist in negotiations with the French and he immediately paid a visit to French Minister Roche. Roche too, when he was appointed as minister to Japan, had been charged with regaining status for France, which had been late in penetrating the Orient.
As the two had complementary goals, talks progressed very quickly and smoothly and, in November, discussion had already taken place between Oguri and Roche concerning the appointment of an overseer for the proposed steelworks (renamed the Yokosuka Arsenal in the 4th year of the Meiji Period (1871)). As a result of these talks, it was decided that a formal request would be made for Mr. Verny, an engineer currently posted in Shanghai, China, while the village of Yokosuka was selected as the first choice for the site of the steelworks. Yokosuka had already been involved in the repair of foreign vessels since the 1st year of the Man-en Period (1860), possessed shores of an appropriate depth and with a bedrock capable of supporting dry-docks, and had a marked similarity to the geography of France’s Port of Toulon. In January of the 2nd year of the Genji Period (1865), Verny arrived in Japan and conducted a survey of Yokosuka Port. He made his report concerning the construction of the Yokosuka steelworks to Minister Roche, and the minister and the shogunate government granted their official approval of the construction plan.
Oguri’s plan for the construction of the steelworks received much criticism from within and without the government, but Oguri refused to listen. He is attributed with saying, “A shipyard is a necessity, if only to cut down on unnecessary expenditure. Even if the shogunate should lose the reins of power, the construction of a steelworks at Yokosuka would be an honorable treasure to leave to posterity, on a par with leaving behind a house with a treasure house.” Oguri was convinced that, regardless of who held the reins of power within the Japanese government, the Yokosuka Arsenal would play an important role in the modernization of the nation.
The Yokosuka Arsenal in the Hands of the Meiji Government
On the 1st of April in the 4th year of the Keio Period (1868), the Yokosuka Arsenal, established as a genuine Western-style shipbuilding facility, was handed over to the new Meiji government. This followed the breaking out, in January of the same year, of the Boshin War at Toba and Fushimi-guchi at the entrance to Kyoto, and the subsequent defeat of the forces of the shogunate at the hands of the Meiji government troops. Even during these turbulent times, under the supervision of the Frenchman Verny, work on the steelworks continued steadily. The Meiji government had occupied Edo and, on the 21st of the month preceding the handover of the steelworks, negotiations for the handover were conducted by Higashikuze Michitomi, Governor-General of the Kanagawa Court and Isshiki Naoatsu, Magistrate for the Yokosuka Arsenal.
On the 24th of the same month, discussions with the French Minister concerning the involvement of France were concluded and it was decided that Verny and his 33 French engineers, and the 12 engineers from the Yokohama steelworks, would continue work under the new government as they had under the old, and unfinished work on the dry-docks and shipbuilding berths would continue. On April 6, by the side of the Karasu-gawa River where it runs through the village of Gonda, Gunma-gun, Kozuke-no-kuni (current-day Kurabuchi, Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture), an innocent samurai was beheaded. The man was none other than the one responsible for the creation of the Yokosuka Arsenal, Oguri Kozukenosuke Tadamasa.
At the outbreak of the Boshin War, Oguri asserted his rejection of the new regime and was dismissed by the 15th of the Tokugawa line and then shogun, Yoshinobu. He then retreated to his farm at Gonda Village (part of his fief) with his wife, children and retainers, but was taken by the new authorities and executed without trial. He was 42 years old.
Oguri was not only responsible for the establishment of the Yokosuka Arsenal, but he also proposed the establishment of a railway (between Edo and Yokohama), a national bank, telegraphic and postal systems and the county and prefecture system, and also such modern administrative methods as the establishment of a Chamber of Commerce and Industry and joint-stock company bodies. These were all realized one-by-one by the new government during and after the Meiji Period, laying the foundations for Japan’s rapid development into a modern nation, but it is important to remember also the contributions and efforts of Oguri in breaking the mould and taking those first active steps towards modernization.
The Yokosuka Arsenal, built on the hard work of Oguri, was not just involved with shipbuilding and repairs, but has also been involved in various other fields of endeavor. The Yokosuka Arsenal was the site for the construction of Kannonzaki Lighthouse, Japan’s first Western-style lighthouse, and for the construction of mining machinery and steam engines used in the rejuvenation of Ikuno silver mine (Hyogo Prefecture), which had been closed down at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Also, the basic design of and machinery for the Tomioka Silk Mill (Gunma Prefecture), which pioneered the modernization of silk thread production, and the turbine water wheels used in cotton yarn
production at the Aichi Spinning Mill, were all created at the Arsenal. In this way we can see the immeasurable importance of the role played by the Yokosuka Arsenal in the cultivation of an export industry so vital to the development of Japan’s modern industry and the process of modernization.
In later years, Okuma Shigenobu, a prominent figure in political and journalistic circles during the Meiji and Taisho Periods, said, “Oguri was destined to be killed. The reason: because the Meiji regime’s plans for the modernization of Japan were imitations of his own.” Today, with the world undergoing a turbulent period not unlike the turmoil of the final days of the shogunate, the unmatched foresight and administrative skills exhibited through the achievements of Oguri are being discovered anew. To this day, each year in Yokosuka City, a
ceremony is held to celebrate his deeds.
|Peririn and Ogurin|
|The Yokosuka Kaikoku Festival began in 2003, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan. This festival, held each summer, is the representative event of“Kaikoku-no-Machi Yokosuka”(Yokosuka: the City of Japan’s Opening to the World), and features the Kaikoku Fireworks Display, and many other events.|
Peririn and Ogurin are much loved as the image characters of the Yokosuka Kaikoku Festival, and were created by cartoonist and direct descendent of Oguri Kozukenosuke, Oguri Kazumata, as cartoon re-imaginings of Commodore Perry, who led the re-opening of Japan to
the world, and Oguri Kozukenosuke, who contributed in so many ways to the growth and development of Yokosuka.