Civilisation

“Aboard the Dingyuan, the wounded, half-blind William Tyler stumbled through the carnage. His ears were still ringing from the blast, and would continue to do so for the rest of his life. Up ahead, he saw a friend of his, Lieutenant Wu. Even as they exchanged greetings, a man standing nearby was torn apart by an enemy shell, smearing gore and entrails across the deck.

“‘So this is civilisation,’ said Wu. ‘This is what you foreigners are so keen to teach us.’”

From Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East, by Jonathan Clements.

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Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East

At long last, available on the Kindle, my biography of Admiral Togo, from Amazon in the UK and Amazon in the US.

“ … a fine attempt to revive the memory and reputation of a most professional and successful naval officer who lived through a period of astonishingly rapid and radical change for his country and service.   Recommended for the general reader, but especially for those who may find themselves working with the Japanese.” – Naval Review

“Clements… recounts the life of a Japanese admiral famous for his victory at the Battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War. Through his extensive reading of multiple-language sources, Clements points out deficiencies in some of the… sources he quotes, and presents so far little-known episodes like the important roles French advisers played in the Battle of Miyako Bay in 1869 during Japan’s civil war in the early Meiji period.” – CHOICE

“This book is a refreshing account of a defining figure of modern Japan. It is well written and deals with themes such as leadership, individual commitment, social transformation and cross-cultural understanding of great contemporary relevance.” – Mariner’s Mirror

Another Manchuria

I have to spend a lot of money on Amazon Japan – sometimes I remember to write down my better discoveries, so that other researchers don’t have to take pot luck with cripplingly expensive postage.

For the last five years or so, I have been eschewing English-language guidebooks and relying on Japanese ones, not only in Japan, but also in parts of China. My favourite are the beautifully comprehensive Rurubu magazine-format tourist guides, that have helped me navigate the wilds of Amakusa and Hokkaido, Shanghai and Taiwan. But sometimes, you need something a little more specialised…

Manchuria Off the Tourist Track, by Keiji Kobayashi is a marvellous idea – a travel guide to Manchuria that highlights the region’s past as a Japanese puppet state. Kobayashi mooches about the modern-day Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin, poking around odd monuments, and old buildings that are leftovers from the days when Manchuria was Japan’s own little exercise in imperialist expansion. This is where Mannerheim led a cavalry charge through the city centre of Mukden, against Japanese gunners, although Kobayashi also has time for the obscurer historical individuals, such as the grave of Verda Majo (1912-1947), the Japanese revolutionary who wrote books in Esperanto arguing for the freedom of China.

Some relics are long gone. The Japanese who remained behind have largely faded into the local population, and three generations of Chinese history have added their own artefacts. Shenyang train station is still there, but the nearby memorial to the fallen of the Russo-Japanese War has now been replaced by one of the ubiquitous statues of Chairman Mao. Kobayashi, ably aided by his photographer Ribun Fukui, chronicles the ghosts of Manchuria’s Japanese past, including the brutalist monuments to Japanese aggression, and carefully preserved sites of Japanese atrocities, some of the skeletons left in piles where they were found.

Manchuria is such a fascinating place, and includes the former capital of the Manchu dynastic founder Nurhachi; the great monumental tower built by General Nogi and Admiral Togo to honour their fallen men; Harbin, a Russian city on Chinese territory. They even dig up the old Man’ei Studios, once the largest film studio in Asia, that cranked out films in Japanese for the local population, now largely forgotten in film archives. Once the “cockpit of Asia”, Manchuria is now far off the tourist trail, but seems like one of the most exciting places for anyone in search of a glimpse of yesterday’s tomorrow. It is a sci-fi future that failed, and all the more interesting for it.

Hello, Sailors

The Mariner’s Mirror, or to give it its fantastic full title, The Mariner’s Mirror, wherein may be discovered his art, craft & mystery after the manner of their use in all ages and all Nations, has just published a glowing review of my Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East. Alessio Patalano, lecturer in War Studies at King’s College London and a specialist in East Asian security issues, really gets the book, noting its concentration on “the multiple applications of naval power, from diplomatic to constabulary and military functions.” This is particularly important in the case of Togo, as there was considerably more to his life than his sudden appearance in 1905 as the hero of the battle of Tsushima. He’d first encountered the British as a teenage samurai, and watched swordsmen standing knee-deep in water on the shores of Kagoshima, angrily brandishing their blades at “retreating” Royal Navy vessels. He’d studied for several years in Victorian England, and been part of dockside politics and naval espionage in China, Korea, and Hawaii before he saw military action against China and Russia. Patalano thinks, rightly, that I have romanticised Togo, but also notes: “This book is a refreshing account of a defining figure of modern Japan. It is well written and deals with themes such as leadership, individual commitment, social transformation and cross-cultural understanding of great contemporary relevance.”

French Made

My publishers have alerted me to an even-handed and largely complimentary review of my Admiral Togo book in the May 2011 issue of Choice, a magazine for academic libraries. Masahiro Yamamoto of the University of Wyoming pronounces it “fun reading”, and says: “Clements… recounts the life of a Japanese admiral famous for his victory at the Battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War. Through his extensive reading of multiple-language sources, Clements points out deficiencies in some of the… sources he quotes, and presents so far little-known episodes like the important roles French advisers played in the Battle of Miyako Bay in 1869 during Japan’s civil war in the early Meiji period.”

Maybe I should write more about those Frenchmen. I have been meaning to translate Eugene Collache’s “Une Aventure au Japon” for some time now. I might do that when I get a moment, as I have been thinking about making it the basis of a book about the Republic of Ezo and the involvement of foreigners in Japan’s civil war. A noren curtain, bearing the image of Goryokaku, the five-pointed star-shaped fortress in Hakodate, serves as a constant reminder to me over my office door. One the many book projects that are simmering while I work on others, but I’ll get there in the end.

Foundation and Empire

Lovely evening yesterday at the Japan Foundation for the book launch of Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East, where I discussed Togo’s odd relationship with the British, from his teen years when he stood in samurai armour, wielding a sword and facing up to a warship, through his student days in Kent aboard the training ship Worcester, up to his run-ins with British vessels on the China Seas. Most notoriously, his sinking of the British registered transport Kowshing in 1894, which was captained by a fellow graduate of the Worcester and was hotly debated in the letters page of the Times for many months.

Everybody had a good time and there were lots of laughs at the expense of British MPs, confusions in signal flags, and the misfortunes of the Russian Baltic Fleet. It’s been 99 years since Togo was feted by the British on his triumphant world tour of 1911, and it was nice that he got to be celebrated again.

Thanks to everyone who came along.

Togo at the Movies (1923)

From Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East, by Jonathan Clements. Available now in the UK and soon in the US.

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Togo the former samurai was brought face to face with a development of the new age – the motion picture. La Bataille (in America, Danger Line) directed by E.E. Violet, was the international star-studded epic of its day, the tale of the Japanese Marquis Yorisaka (Hayakawa Sessue) who suspects his wife of having an affair with the English captain Fergan (Felix Ford). The vengeful Yorisaka has Fergan transferred to his ship, and when wounded in action, orders the neutral Englishman to take charge of the ship. The film was an unabashed weepy, a refashioning of Othello, in which the wounded Marquis later discovers that his wife had been faithful to him, and seeks a tearful reconciliation. However, when screened to an audience of Japanese dignitaries by the well-meaning Viscount Ogasawara, the film’s scenes of naval combat had an unexpected effect on Admiral Togo. The sobbing Togo bolted from the theatre, confessing afterwards to Ogasawara: ‘Many of the men around me died in just that way. Do you think I can keep myself from weeping when I see the sight? It does not matter if it is a movie picture.’

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And for readers in the London area there’s still time to book yourselves a place at my free lecture on Wednesday at the Japan Foundation, Johnny Chinaman: Admiral Togo and the British. I guarantee at least one joke at the expense of Essex.