Namamugi Incident

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The Namamugi Incident, as depicted in a 19th-century Japanese woodcut print. Charles Lennox Richardson is at the centre of the scene.

The Namamugi Incident (生麦事件, Namamugi-jiken) (also known sometimes as the Kanagawa Incident, and as the Richardson Affair) was an assault of British subjects on armed retinue of Shimazu Hisamitsu in Japan on September 14, 1862, which occurred six days after Ernest Satow set foot on Japanese soil for the first time. Failure by the Satsuma clan to respond to British demands for compensation resulted in the August 1863 bombardment of Kagoshima, during the Late Tokugawa shogunate. In Japanese the bombardment is described as a war between the United Kingdom and Satsuma Domain, the Anglo-Satsuma War (satsu-ei sensō).

Course of events[edit]

Body of Charles Richardson, 1862

Four British subjects (a Shanghai merchant named Charles Lennox Richardson, two Yokohama-based merchants, Woodthorpe Charles Clark and William Marshall, and Margaret Watson Borradaile) were travelling for a jaunt on the Tōkaidō road through the village of Namamugi (now part of Tsurumi ward, Yokohama) en route to Kawasaki Daishi temple in present-day Kawasaki. The party had departed the treaty port of Yokohama at 2:30 pm by boat, crossing Yokohama harbour to Kanagawa village, to join their horses, which had been sent ahead.

As they passed north through Namamugi village, they encountered the large, armed retinue of Shimazu Hisamitsu, the regent and father of Shimazu Tadayoshi, the daimyō of Satsuma, heading in the other direction. The party continued to ride along the side of the road without dismounting until they reached the main body of the procession, which occupied the entire width of the road. In Japan, samurai had a legal right to strike anyone who showed disrespect (See kiri-sute gomen). However, British nationals were protected by extraterritoriality under the Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty and were exempt. Richardson, leading the Britons, rode too close to the procession and did not dismount despite being gestured repeatedly to do so, and was slashed at by one of the Satsuma bodyguards. The other two men were seriously wounded (Mrs. Borrodaile was not harmed), and they rode away as fast as they could. Richardson eventually fell from his horse, and was mortally wounded. Hisamitsu gave the order for todome—the coup de grâce—to be given.[1] Several samurai proceeded to hack and stab at Richardson with swords and lances. A post-mortem examination of his body showed ten mortal wounds.[2] Richardson's grave is to be found in the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery, between the later graves of Marshall and Clarke.[3] Japanese reports later accused Richardson of continuing to ride in the middle of the road, even trying to get between Hisamitsu's litter and his bodyguards. Richardson's uncle was reportedly not surprised about his nephew's demise, but blamed him for being reckless and stubborn. Frederick Wright-Bruce, the British envoy to China, remembered Richardson as an arrogant adventurer.[2]

The case of Eugene Van Reed, who had dismounted and bowed before a daimyō's train, was instanced by Shimazu's supporters who later said that the perceived insolent attitude of the Britons (who did not dismount) caused the incident. Van Reed's conduct appalled the Western community, who believed that Westerners should hold themselves with dignity before the Japanese, being at least the equal of any Japanese person. There were also later suggestions that Richardson whipped Chinese while horseback riding in China, and according to the Japan Herald "Extra" of Tuesday 16 September 1862, he had been heard to say just before the incident, "I know how to deal with these people".

Consequences of the Namamugi Incident[edit]

Entrance to the village of Namamugi, circa 1862
Poetic monument of Namamugi Incident in Yokohama

The incident sparked a scare in Japan's foreign community, which was based in the Kannai district of Yokohama. Many traders appealed to their governments to take punitive action against Japan. Britain demanded reparations from the government (£100,000, eventually paid) and from the daimyō of Satsuma (together with the arrest, trial and execution of the perpetrators, which never took place). Satsuma prevaricated and Britain eventually engaged Satsuma a year later in what subsequently became known to the Japanese as the Anglo-Satsuma War. A squadron went to Kagoshima, capital of the Satsuma Domain to demand reparation for the Namamugi Incident. Meeting further prevarication, they seized several Satsuma vessels as hostage against payment, and were unexpectedly fired on by Satsuma forts. The squadron retaliated, and the naval bombardment of Kagoshima ensued. This claimed five lives among the people of Satsuma (which had largely been evacuated before the unheralded attack on the British squadron), and 11 lives among the British (including, with a single cannon shot, both the captain and commander of the British flagship HMS Euryalus).[4] Material losses were substantial, with around 500 houses burnt in Kagoshima, and three Satsuma steamships sunk. The conflict caused much controversy in the British House of Commons, but Acting Vice Admiral Augustus Leopold Kuper's conduct was eventually commended by the House. Kuper was advanced to Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1864 "for his services at Kagoshima".

Shimazu Hisamitsu was subsequently given the court title of Ōsumi no Kami (大隈守).[5]

Satsuma admired the superiority of the Royal Navy and sought a trading relationship with Britain as a result. Later that year, they paid the £25,000 (equivalent to £2,200,000 in 2016)[6] compensation demanded by the British government, borrowing (and never repaying) the money from the bakufu – the shōgun's government that would be overthrown replaced by the restored government of Emperor Meiji five years later.

In popular culture[edit]

The incident was the basis of James Clavell's novel Gai-Jin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Denney p.84
  2. ^ a b Reichert, Folker (2013). "Mord in Namamugi" [Murder in Namamugi]. Damals (in German). Vol. 45 no. 3. pp. 66–69.
  3. ^ Denney pp.1 and 129 (photograph)
  4. ^ The British victims were caused by Satsuma gunnery as well as accidents due to the imperfect breech-loading guns developed by the English engineer William George Armstrong.
  5. ^ Edmond Papinot: Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan. ISBN 0-8048-0996-8 Volume 2, pg. 571.
  6. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved November 6, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Satow, Ernest. A Diplomat in Japan, Tuttle (1921). ISBN 4-925080-28-8
  • Rennie, David. The British Arms in North China and Japan. Originally published 1864. Facsimile by Adamant Media Corporation. (2001) ISBN 1-4021-8184-1
  • Denney, John. Respect and Consideration: Britain in Japan 1853–1868 and beyond. Radiance Press (2011). ISBN 978-0-9568798-0-6

Coordinates: 35°29′29″N 139°39′49″E / 35.491315°N 139.663525°E / 35.491315; 139.663525