Japan–United Kingdom relations

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Anglo–Japanese relations
Map indicating locations of United Kingdom and Japan

United Kingdom

Diplomatic Mission
British Embassy, Tokyo Japanese Embassy, London
Ambassador Tim Hitchens Ambassador Keiichi Hayashi
Embassy of the United Kingdom in Japan

Japan–United Kingdom relations (日英関係 Nichieikankei?) is a bilateral and diplomatic relation between Japan and the United Kingdom.


The history of the relationship between Britain and Japan began in 1600 with the arrival of William Adams (Adams the Pilot, Miura Anjin) on the shores of Kyushu at Usuki in Ōita Prefecture. During the Sakoku period (1641–1853), there were no relations between the two countries, but the treaty of 1854 saw the resumption of ties which, despite a hiatus during the Second World War, remain very strong up until the present day. On 3 May 2011, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Japan was "one of closest partners in Asia". British people have often held the view that Japan is like "the Britain of the East", due to certain cultural similarities such as the constitutional monarchy, being an island nation, driving on the left, sense of humour and a perceived emphasis on being polite whilst coming across to others as reserved.

Chronology of Anglo-Japanese relations[edit]

  • 1587. Two young Japanese men named Christopher and Cosmas sailed on a Spanish galleon to California, where their ship was seized by Thomas Cavendish. Cavendish brought the two Japanese men with him to England where they spent approximately three years before going again with him on his last expedition to the South Atlantic. They are the first known Japanese men to have set foot in the British Isles.
William Adams (1564–1620)
  • 1605. John Davis, the famous English explorer, was killed by Japanese pirates off the coast of Thailand, thus becoming the first known Englishman to be killed by a Japanese.[1]
The 1613 letter of King James I remitted to Tokugawa Ieyasu (Preserved in the Tokyo University archives)
  • 1613. Following an invitation from William Adams in Japan, the English captain John Saris arrived at Hirado in the ship Clove with the intent of establishing a trading factory. Adams and Saris travelled to Shizuoka where they met with Tokugawa Ieyasu at his principal residence in September before moving on to Edo where they met Ieyasu's son Hidetada. During that meeting, Hidetada gave Saris two varnished suits of armour for King James I, today housed in the Tower of London.[2] On their way back, they visited Tokugawa once more, who conferred trading privileges on the English through a Red Seal permit giving them "free licence to abide, buy, sell and barter" in Japan.[3] The English party headed back to Hirado on 9 October 1613. However, during the ten year activity of the company between 1613 and 1623, apart from the first ship (Clove in 1613), only three other English ships brought cargoes directly from London to Japan.
  • 1623. The Amboyna massacre occurred. After the incident England closed its commercial base at Hirado, now in Nagasaki Prefecture, without notifying Japan. After this, the relationship ended for more than two centuries.
  • 1639. Tokugawa Iemitsu announced his Sakoku policy. Only the Netherlands was permitted to retain limited trade rights.
  • 1808. HMS Phaeton enters Nagasaki to attack Dutch shipping.
  • 1832. Otokichi, Kyukichi and Iwakichi, castaways from Aichi Prefecture, crossed the Pacific and were shipwrecked on the west coast of North America. The three Japanese men became famous in the Pacific Northwest and probably inspired Ranald MacDonald to go to Japan. They joined a trading ship to the UK, and later Macau. One of them, Otokichi, took British citizenship and adopted the name John Matthew Ottoson. He later made two visits to Japan as an interpreter for the Royal Navy.
  • 1861. 5 July. The British legation in Edo was attacked.
  • 1867. The Icarus affair, an incident involving the murder of two British sailors in Nagasaki, leading to increased diplomatic tensions between Britain and the Tokugawa shogunate.
  • 1872. The Iwakura mission visited Britain as part of a diplomatic and investigative tour of the United States and Europe.
Photo at Knightsbridge by W. S. Gilbert, c. 1885
  • 1899 Extraterritorial rights for British subjects in Japan came to an end.
  • 1909 Fushimi Sadanaru returns to the UK to convey the thanks of the Japanese government for British advice and assistance during the Russo-Japanese War.
  • 1910 Sadanaru represents Japan at the state funeral of Edward VII, and meets the new king George V at Buckingham Palace.
  • 1913. The IJN Kongō, the last of the British-built warships for Japan's navy, enters service.
  • 1915. The Twenty-One Demands would have given Japan varying degrees of control over all of China, and would have prohibited European powers from extending their Chinese operations any further.[6]
  • 1921. Crown Prince Hirohito visited the UK and other European countries, via Singapore. It was the first time that a Japanese crown prince had traveled overseas.
  • 1921. Arrival in September of the Sempill Mission in Japan, a British technical mission for the development of Japanese Aero-naval forces.
  • 1922 - Washington Naval Conference concluding in the Four-Power Treaty, Five-Power Treaty, and Nine-Power Treaty; major naval disarmament for 10 years with sharp reduction of Royal Navy & Imperial Navy. The Treaties specify that the relative naval strengths of the major powers are to be UK = 5, US = 5, Japan = 3, France = 1.75, Italy = 1.75. The powers will abide by the treaty for ten years, then begin a naval arms race.[8]
  • 1923. The Anglo-Japanese alliance was officially discontinued on 17 August after U.S. pressure and other factors brought it to a close.
  • 1934. The Royal Navy sends ships to Tokyo to take part in a naval parade in honour of the late Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō, one of Japan's greatest naval heroes, the "Nelson of the East".
  • 1939. The Tientsin Incident almost causes an Anglo-Japanese war when the Japanese blockade the British concession in Tientsin, China.
  • 1953. Nineteen-year-old Crown Prince Akihito, current Emperor, represents Japan at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
  • 1966. The Beatles played at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo to overwhelming adulation. This performance emphasized growing good will between Britain and Japan in their foreign relations policies.
  • 1971. HIM Emperor Hirohito pays a state visit to the United Kingdom after an interval of 50 years.[9]
  • 1978. Beginning of the BET scheme (British Exchange Teaching Programme) first advocated by Nicholas MacLean.[11]
  • 1990. The Alumni Association for British JET Participants JETAA UK is established
  • 2001. The year-long "Japan 2001" cultural-exchange project saw a major series of Japanese cultural, educational and sporting events held around the UK.
  • 2008. UK-Japan 2008 celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce.[14]
Foreign Ministers William Hague and Katsuya Okada meet in London in July 2010.
  • 2012. A UK trade delegation to Japan, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, announces an agreement to jointly develop weapons systems.
  • May 2012. Before travelling to the UK on a state visit Emperor Akihito releases a statement of his pleasure at being invited to lunch with Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.[15] He also personally thanks the people of the UK for their support to Japan after the 2011 earthquake.[16]
  • 13 October 2013. The Coldstream Guards parade in Yokohama to celebrate 60 years since Akihito attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and 400 years of Anglo-Japanese trade.

See also the chronology on the British Embassy website in Tokyo.[17]

Anglo-Japanese Chief-of-Staff meeting by Gen. Shigeru Iwasaki and Gen. Nick Houghton in 2014.

Britons in Japan[edit]

The chronological list of Heads of the United Kingdom Mission in Japan.

Japanese in the United Kingdom[edit]

(see article Japanese in the United Kingdom).

The family name is given in italics. Usually the family name comes first, but in modern times not so for the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro and Katsuhiko Oku, both well known in the United Kingdom.

List of Japanese diplomatic envoys in Great Britain (partial list)[edit]

Ministers Plenipotentiaries[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stephen Turnbull, "Fighting ships of the Far East (2), p 12, Osprey Publishing
  2. ^ Notice at the Tower of London
  3. ^ The Red Seal permit was re-discovered in 1985 by Professor Hayashi Nozomu, in the Bodleian Library. Massarella, Derek; Tytler Izumi K. (1990) "The Japonian Charters" Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp 189–205.
  4. ^ Thierry Mormane : "La prise de possession de l'île d'Urup par la flotte anglo-française en 1855", Revue Cipango, "Cahiers d'études japonaises", No 11 hiver 2004 pp. 209-236.
  5. ^ Information about 1885–87 Japanese exhibition at Knightsbridge
  6. ^ Gowen, Robert (1971). "Great Britain and the Twenty-One Demands of 1915: Cooperation versus Effacement". The Journal of Modern History (University of Chicago) 43 (1): 76–106. ISSN 0022-2801. 
  7. ^ Gordon Lauren, Paul (1978). "Human Rights in History: Diplomacy and Racial Equality at the Paris Peace Conference". Diplomatic History 2 (3): 257–278. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.1978.tb00435.x. 
  8. ^ H. P. Willmott (2009). The Last Century of Sea Power: From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894-1922. Indiana U.P. p. 496. 
  9. ^ a b "Ceremonies: State visits". Official web site of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  10. ^ "OUTWARD STATE VISITS MADE BY THE QUEEN SINCE 1952". Official web site of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  11. ^ http://linguanews.com/php_en_news_read.php?section=s2&idx=2321
  12. ^ Penguin Pocket On This Day. Penguin Reference Library. 2006. ISBN 0-14-102715-0. 
  13. ^ "UK: Akihito closes state visit". BBC News. 1998-05-29. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  14. ^ http://www.ukjapan2008.jp/
  15. ^ "Emperor's thoughts ahead of visit to the United Kingdom". The Mainichi. 2012-05-12. 
  16. ^ "(Nearly) meeting the Emperor". Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation. 2012-05-18. 
  17. ^ http://www.uknow.or.jp/be_e/uk_japan/relations/

Further reading[edit]

  • Britain & Japan: Biographical Portraits edited by Hugh Cortazzi Global Oriental 2004, 8 vol (1996 to 2013)
  • British Envoys in Japan 1859–1972, edited and compiled by Hugh Cortazzi, Global Oriental 2004, ISBN 1-901903-51-6
  • Beasley, W.G. Great Britain and the Opening of Japan, 1834-1858 (1951) online
  • Best, Antony. Britain, Japan and Pearl Harbour: Avoiding War in East Asia, 1936-1941 (1995) excerpt and text search
  • Buckley, R. Occupation Diplomacy: Britain, the United States and Japan 1945-1952 (1982)
  • Checkland, Olive. Japan and Britain after 1859: Creating Cultural Bridges (2004) excerpt and text search; online
  • Denney, John. Respect and Consideration: Britain in Japan 1853 - 1868 and beyond. Radiance Press (2011). ISBN 978-0-9568798-0-6
  • Dobson, Hugo and Hook, Glenn D. Japan and in the Contemporary World (Sheffield Centre for Japanese Studies/Routledge Series) (2012) excerpt and text search; online
  • Marder, Arthur J. Old Friends, New Enemies: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy, vol. 1: Strategic illusions, 1936-1941(1981); Old Friends, New Enemies: The Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy, vol. 2: The Pacific War, 1942-1945 (1990)
  • Nish, I. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance (2nd ed 1985)
  • Nish, I. and Y. Kibata, eds. The History of Anglo-Japanese Relations, Vol. I: The Political-Diplomatic Dimension, 1600-1930; The History of Anglo-Japanese Relations, Vol. II: The Political-Diplomatic Dimension, 1931-2000 (2000)
  • Nish, I., ed. Anglo-Japanese Alienation, 1919-1952 (1982),
  • Thorne, Christopher G. Allies of a kind: The United States, Britain, and the war against Japan, 1941-1945 (1978) excerpt and text search
  • Thorne, Christopher G. The Limits of Foreign Policy: The West, The League and the Far Eastern Crisis of 1931-1933 (1973)
  • Towle, Phillip and Nobuko Margaret Kosuge. Britain and Japan in the Twentieth Century: One Hundred Years of Trade and Prejudice (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Woodward, Llewellyn. British Foreign Policy in the Second World War (History of the Second World War) (1962) ch 8

External links[edit]