British Japan Consular Service

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The British legation in Japan, Yokohama, 1865 painting.
The former British Consulate in Yokohama (now Yokohama Archives of History)

Britain had a functioning consular service in Japan from 1859 after the signing of the 1858 Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce between James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and the Tokugawa Shogunate until 1941 when Japan invaded British colonial empire and declared war on the United Kingdom.

Consular Officials[edit]

The Consular Service was established with officials who were expected to serve their entire careers in Japan. The entry-level position was as student interpreter who were expected to learn Japanese. In the early years almost all dealings with Japanese officials were in Japanese and British consular officials had a high standard in the spoken and written language.[1] This declined over time as more Japanese officials learnt English.[2]

British Consular Courts in Japan[edit]

Until 1899, British Consular Officials exercised extraterritorial jurisdiction over British subjects in Japan. Consular officials sat as judges in consular courts in all treaty ports. Until 1865 appeals from decisions of consular officials were made to the Supreme Court of Hong Kong. From 1865 appeals from decisions could be made to the British Supreme Court for China and Japan in Shanghai. From 1871 to 1878 a judge from Shanghai was based in Yokohama sitting first as a branch of the British Supreme Court for China and Japan. Later they were treated as a judge of the Kanagawa Consular Court. In 1879 a British Court for Japan was created in Yokohama which had first instance jurisdiction in Kanagawa and appellate jurisdiction from other consular courts in Japan. Appeals from the Court for Japan lay to Supreme Court in Shanghai.[3]

Notable consular officials[edit]

British Judges in Japan[edit]

The following judges were based in Yokohama from 1871 to 1877 before the establishment of the British Court for Japan.

Between 1865 and 1872, Sir Edmund Grimani Hornby, the Chief Judge of the British Supreme Court for China and Japan also heard cases in Japan when traveling on circuit.

The following were full-time judges of the British Court for Japan. Most of the above consular officials named above also acted as judges as part of their consular duties.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • "Britain's Japan Consular Service, 1859-1941" by J.E. Hoare in Britain & Japan: Biographical Portraits, Volume II, ed. Ian Nish, 1997 ISBN 1-873410-62-X
  • Richard Chang, The Justice of Western Consular Courts in Japan. ISBN 0313241031


  1. ^ I Nish, Britain and Japan, Biographical Portraits, p99
  2. ^ Ian Ruxton, (ed), The Semi-official Letters of British Envoy Sir Ernest Satow from Japan and China (1895-1906), p153-4.
  3. ^ Richard Chang, The Justice of Western Consular Court in Japan