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

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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.”

Togo in America (1911)

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From Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East, by Jonathan Clements. Out on the Kindle now in the UK and in the US.

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The Americans were even more overwhelming in their reaction, leaving Togo taken aback at their enthusiasm and their energy. The pushy welcome began on the night that the Lusitania docked, when Togo found a midnight reception committee determined to whisk him onto land before dawn. Soon after, he faced a gesticulating, yelling wall of journalists and photographers, from whom his American minders selected a lucky foursome to take his picture. Togo stood to attention and stared grumpily into the cameras, only to discover that the paparazzi wanted him in a multiplicity of poses and aspects. He seemed particularly galled by the constant strobing of camera flashes. One single image, it seemed was not enough, and Togo suffered an excruciating fifteen minutes of man-handling and exhortations, until Chandler Hale, the Third Assistant Secretary of State, came to his rescue.

‘I have been beaten by the zeal of those cameramen,’ quipped Togo. ‘It is rather easier to fight the world squadrons than meeting those men.’

Faced with his customary silence, the American press filled in the blanks for themselves, with ruminations on the loneliness of command in the mysterious East, or patronising conjecture about what Togo might have said, had he been in a position to utter more than a few phrases. He was taken on a train to Washington, by a welcoming committee that plainly assumed he had never seen a train before, and whose excited fishing for compliments on American railways he found rudely obtuse.

The New York World concentrated on Togo’s encounter with local telephone exchange workers, whose place of work he visited on his way to the railway station. Dismissed as ‘Hello Girls’ in the early 20th century, switchboard operators were subject of contemporary gossip – a woman on the other end of a phone line, ready, in a certain sense, to do one’s bidding, and hence something of an erotic frisson. They were also habitually condescended to as bimbos, hence the World’s scoffing at the New York switchboard operators’ failure to remember to greet Togo with the correct cheer, which, the reporter assured his readers, was Banzai: ‘Ten Thousand Years’.

Other American crowds were soon educated by their press as to the expected form of address, and Togo was greeted with wild cries of Banzai everywhere he went. This verbal assault did not even escape him when riding in a government limousine, since on one occasion he found himself in an impromptu race with a car full of hysterical (and possibly drunken) flappers, who yelled Banzai at him and waved their handkerchiefs while the Admiral looked on in surprised amusement. At no point did Togo risk shaming his hosts by pointing out the unwelcome truth, which was that Banzai at the time was a military salute more appropriate to the gruff, tough army, whereas the more cultured Navy tended to salute with calls of Hoga: ‘Respectful Congratulations’.

The attention was clearly getting to Togo, as was the press’s constant demand that he say something, no matter how ill-informed or unfelt.

‘I have been frequently asked what I thought of America,’ he said with a rare scolding tone. ‘But isn’t it asking me too much? I have landed here only this morning, and I have nothing to tell.”

Togo to Go

Haus Publishing have put the first thirty pages of my biography of Admiral Togo online for free. Check it out!

Togo Heihachiro (1848-1934) was born into a feudal society that had lived in seclusion for 250 years. As a teenage samurai, he witnessed the destruction wrought upon his native land by British warships. As the legendary ‘Silent Admiral’, he was at the forefront of innovations in warfare, pioneering the Japanese use of modern gunnery and wireless communication. He is best known as ‘the Nelson of the East’ for his resounding victory over the Tsar’s navy in the Russo-Japanese War, but he also lived a remarkable life – studying at a British maritime college, witnessing the Sino-French War, the Hawaiian Revolution, and the Boxer Uprising. After his retirement, he was appointed to oversee the education of the Emperor, Hirohito. This new biography spans Japan’s sudden, violent leap out of its self-imposed isolation and into the 20th century. Delving beyond Togo’s finest hour at the Battle of Tsushima, it portrays the life of a diffident Japanese sailor in Victorian Britain, his reluctant celebrity in America (where he was laid low by Boston cooking and welcomed by his biggest fan, Theodore Roosevelt) forgotten wars over the short-lived republics of Ezo and Formosa, and the accumulation of peacetime experience that forged a wartime hero.

About the Author

Jonathan Clements is the author of A Brief History of the Samurai, and biographies of many prominent figures in Asian history, including Coxinga, Prince Saionji and the First Emperor of China.