Enomoto Takeaki (榎本武揚)

Takeaki ENOMOTO (December 5, 1936 [August 25, 1936 according to the old calender] – December 26, 1908) was a samurai, shogun's retainer and statesman during the end of Edo period and Meiji period. He was a vice admiral, awarded the title of Shonii (Senior Second Rank), the First Order of Merit, and a viscount. He was also a founder of the Department of Agriculture, Ikueiko School, Tokugawa Ikuei-kai Foundation (the predecessor of Tokyo University of Agriculture).

His byname was Kamajiro; his pseudonym was Ryosen. His name can be read Buyo ENOMOTO when yusoku-yomi (the way to read a person's name written in kanji [Chinese characters] using the chinese-style reading to show one's respect to the person) is applied. His father was a shogun's retainer, Takenori (also Embei) ENOMOTO; his wife was Tatsu ENOMOTO, who was a daughter of Dokai HAYASHI and a sister of Kenkai HAYASHI. His family crest was Maru ni Umebachi (a plum blossom crest in a circle).

Until becoming the Fuku-sosai (vice-president) of the navy

Kamajiro ENOMOTO, who was later called Takeaki, was born in Okachimachi, Shitaya, Edo (now Okachimachi, Taito Ward, Tokyo). His father, formerly named Ryosuke HAKODA, was from Hakodamura, Bigofukuyama Domain (now Hakoda, Kannabe Town, Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture), then went to Edo and bought the status of the Enomoto family, becoming a shogun's retainer via adoption into the Enomoto family by marrying one of their daughters, and renamed himself Embei Takenori ENOMOTO.

Kamajiro had learned Confucianism and Sinology at Shoheizaka Gakumonjo (Shoheizaka School) and English at a private school of John Manjiro since he was a child, and at the age of nineteen he went to Hakodate, Ezochi (inhabited area of Ainu, now Hakodate City, Hokkaido) as a follower of Toshihiro HORI, who was an ongoku-bugyo (the collective name of the magistrates placed at important areas directly controlled by the government in Edo period), and took part in the exploration of Sakhalin. In 1856, he entered the Naval Training Center in Nagasaki, which had been newly established by bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), where he studied the international situation, Western studies called Rangaku, seamanship, chemistry, etc.

He studied in the Netherlands from 1862 to 1867. He went through the Austro-Prussian War as a kansenbukan (a military officer to observe military operations) where he studied international law and obtained knowledge about military affairs, shipbuilding and vessels, then returned to Japan on board the Kaiyo Maru Warship, which had been ordered by the bakufu, and after serving as a gunkangashira-nami (a post in the navy), in January 1868, after Taisei Hokan (a transfer of power back to the Emperor), he was appointed Kaigun Fuku-sosai (the vice-president of the navy), which had been Tokugawa Family's kashoku (a hereditary occupation), and became a considerably leading figure in the Tokugawa Navy.

The Battle of Hakodate

Following Taisei Hokan by Yoshinobu TOKUGAWA in 1868, the Boshin War broke out. Right after the war began, the former bakufu fleet led by ENOMOTO was anchored offshore near Mt. Tempo in Osaka, but when the army of former bakufu was defeated in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, Yoshinobu and his followers, who had been in Osaka Castle, boarded and commanded the flagship ‛Kaiyo' to withdraw to Edo without notifying the shogun's retainers of the war party (in order to distinguish a warship from a troopship, "Maru" should be put only on a troopship; therefore, ‛Kaiyo Maru Warship' is inaccurate in this case).

When Edo Castle was relinquished to the new government army, ENOMOTO, dissatisfied with the way the new government was treating the Tokugawa Family, led the former bakufu fleet composed of eight warships, Kaiyo, Kaiten Maru, Banryu Maru, Chiyodagata Maru, Shinsokumaru, Mikaho Maru, Kanrin Maru and Chogei Maru, with the other former shogun's retainers of the resistance force. On the way, Kanrin Maru was carried offshore near Shimizu by a storm, where it was found by the new government navy, fiercely attacked and seized. Absorbing the members of the Shinsengumi (a shogunate police force located in Kyoto), the army of the Ouetsu-reppan Alliance and Sadaaki MATSUDAIRA, who was the lord of the Kuwana Domain, the ENOMOTO forces fled to Ezochi (Hokkaido), occupied Goryokaku (the pentagonal fort built in Hakodate City) and established the Ezo Republic, of which ENOMOTO became the president by nyusatsu (election). At this point, the United States, which had declared and maintained its position of neutrality, supporting neither the new government nor the former bakufu, due to adept maneuvering by the new government announced that it would support the new government, and as a result the new government took possession of the then newest and most powerful ironclad warship, 'Azumakan,' renaming it 'Kotetsu'; the warship had been purchased by bakufu but hitherto not possessed by any political party because of the neutral status of the United States. Even Kaiyo, which had been reputedly the sturdiest ship until then, was made of wood, so its inferiority in terms of defensibility was undeniable even with its superiority in weight and number of equipped cannons; thus ENOMOTO, much concerned about this situation, carried out an uncommon military operation to seize Kotetsu in a surprise attack. It was a tactic approved by international law, so-called 'abordage', by which attackers approach the target ship displaying the flag of a third country on their ship, switch the flag to their own when they come close enough, attach the side of their ship to the target ship, and board to attack. ENOMOTO assigned this operation to two warships, Kaiten and Shinsokumaru, and appointed Gengo KOGA, the captain of Kaiten, as commander. Toshizo HIJIKATA also boarded this ship. However, they were struck again by a storm, making the Shinsokumaru unable to continue the operation, so the Kaiten was forced to carry out the attack alone. The Kaiten succeeded in attaching itself to the side of the Kotetsu, but the Enomoto forces hesitated in boarding because of a big gap in the height of the gunwale of both ships; as a result they received heavy gunfire from Gatling guns, failed in the operation and fled, incurring great damage including the death of Captain Koga. Losing the Kaiyo and having allowed the new government forces to obtain the Kotetsu, the Tokugawa Navy, which used to be known as the largest and strongest, had now become unalterably inferior and substantially lost marine control.

In the following year, 1869, due to the Kaiyo running aground and sinking, shortage of funds, frequent desertions of soldiers, closing of the gun batteries in Benten Daiba (Cape Benten Battery) led by scouts from the new government forces, and losing all warships in the Naval Battle of Hakodate Bay, the inferior position of the Enomoto forces had become indisputable and ENOMOTO surrendered. Having decided to surrender, ENOMOTO sent his 'Bankoku Kairitsu Zensho (a compendium of international marine laws)' by Ortolan (which was a copy made by ENOMOTO himself on which he added many footnotes and other comments), which he had carried with him continually since he was in the Netherlands, to Ryosuke KURODA (Kiyotaka KURODA), a general staff of the punitive forces against Ezo, hoping it would not be lost in the battle. KURODA was greatly impressed with ENOMOTO's outstanding ability, and so strove to persuade people in various sectors that they must save his life, protesting that he was a man with unparalleled intelligence in the country; thanks to KURODA's hard efforts in pleading for his life to be spared, ENOMOTO was kept alive and put in a prison located in Tatsunokuchi, Edo. Yukichi FUKUZAWA, despite being critical of him, was one of the people who made efforts to spare his life. It is said that FUKUZAWA was asked to translate the aforesaid 'Bankoku Kairitsu Zensho' by KURODA, but after one glance at it he refused to accept the task, saying that no one but ENOMOTO was qualified to undertake it.

Meiji period

On January 6, 1872, ENOMOTO was pardoned and discharged from prison, and appointed to a post in the new government out of regard for his ability. On August 8 in the same year, he served as a fourth-ranked shusshi (a supernumerary government official) for Kaitakushi (a government office responsible for Hokkaido development), the undersecretary of which was Kiyotaka KURODA, and was appointed to investigate and explore Hokkaido mines.

In January 1874, he became an envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Russia, and concluded the Treaty of Saint Petersburg. Also, when the government of Peru appealed to an international court against Japan in the Maria Luz Incident, Russian Emperor Alexander II went into arbitration and so ENOMOTO attended the trial in Saint Petersburg in which Japan won the case. When he became ambassador to Russia, he was appointed chujo (vice-admiral) in the navy; this came to be because according to diplomatic customs of the time, it was judged that a military officer would have more advantage in negotiation, and Hirobumi ITO proposed it to the government. It is not directly related to his former career in bakufu. It was an unprecedented appointment since at the time a captain was the highest position in the navy.

After returning to Japan, he successively held posts as the second-ranked shusshi (a supernumerary government official) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gaimu-taifu (a post in the Foreign Ministry), gijokan (a post in the Decoration Bureau), kaigunkyo (the chief of the navy), goyo-gakari (a government official assigned to perform a certain task) in the construction of the Imperial Palace, jimu fuku-sosai (a vice-secretary-general) in the construction of the Imperial Palace, a minister to Shin (China), and goyo-gakari in the investigation of the revision of a treaty; after the cabinet system was established, due to his ability, he assumed the ministership in six Cabinets in a row as the Minister of Communication, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Commerce and Agriculture (between the Minister of Education and the Minister of the Foreign Affairs, he assumed the membership of the Privy Council [Japan]). He served as the Minister of Agriculture for more than three years in the wartime Cabinet during the Sino-Japanese War, when the replacement of the Cabinet members was frequently made; it was the longest term in the history of the Ministry of Agriculture, so it may be a proof of ENOMOTO's extraordinary abilities, with which he was given important posts to maintain the balance among factions made of former bakufu clans.

While he was the Minister of Commerce and Agriculture, he gave orders for the first time to begin preventive construction for the Ashio Copper Mine pollution case, which had been an impending problem at that time, and made an inspection tour of the site for the first time as a minister, although the visit was conducted privately. Also, he overruled the former government's view which had considered it a private case between an enterprise and the local people, and expressed his opinion that it was a public pollution case that needed the nation's involvement, and after he returned from his tour, he explained its importance to Shigenobu OKUMA and set up an investigative committee to start the movement to propose drastic measures for the future, while he took the responsibility on himself and resigned.

In 1890, he was promoted to viscount. In the ceremony of the promulgation of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, he served as a giten kakaricho (a subsection chief in the ceremony).

On the other hand, he took various supportive actions aiming to provide special education for talented students from the families of former shogun's retainers. Keenly realizing the importance of agriculture through his experience in the cultivation of Hokkaido, in 1891he founded the Tokugawa Ikueikai Foundation (now Tokyo University of Agriculture) and assumed the role of its president. From 1888 to 1908, he served as the first chairman of the Institute of Electrical Engineers of Japan. When Kiyotaka KURODA died, he took on the role of chairman of the funeral ceremony, going over the heads of other high-ranked officers from the Satsuma clan. However, there is a theory for this which postulates that in his later years, KURODA was estranged from the Satsuma clan faction and no one would take on the duty of chairman.

He died in 1908 at the age of 73. His graveyard is located in Kichijo-ji Temple, Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

Personal Profile

He had enlightened ideas and good knowledge of foreign languages. In the establishment of the Ezo government, ENOMOTO gave a full display of his diplomatic knowledge and capacity to obtain oboegaki (informal diplomatic documents) from the persons concerned of powerful countries, which was an epoch-making technique for the Japan of that time (they were not recognized as a belligerent group [their right of belligerency] and this oboegaki was obtained without the recognition of the parent state or the ambassador).

After becoming a bureaucrat in the Meiji government, he fully demonstrated his knowledge and spirit of inquiry and was known as "the best bureaucrat in the Meiji period" by the people, but in the Meiji government with its clannish behavior, he was often timid. He was a typical Edokko (a typical person from Edo), who had a strong sense of duty and humanity and was easily moved to tears, and was a favorite of Emperor Meiji. As he was critical of an extreme Westernization policy though he was knowledgeable of foreign countries, he dared to dress in kimono when attending a garden party.

By contrast, Yukichi FUKUZAWA disliked ENOMOTO and disparaged him, calling him a minister of no action and no policy, a typical opportunist who serves two lords, which is a disgraceful act for a bushi (samurai), and moreover, a man who is glad to be given a peerage by his former enemy and does not know yasegaman (endurance for pride's sake) ("Yasegaman no Setsu [the theory of yasegaman]"). FUKUZAWA also blamed Count Kaishu KATSU, who took the post as kaiguntaifu (a vice-minister of the navy), kaigunkyo (the chief of the navy) and sumitsu komonkan (the adviser of the Privy Council); because of things like this, he held a critical viewpoint on the former shogun's retainers who became government officials.

Futaro YAMADA wrote as follows:
Had he died in Goryokaku, he would have been one of the most popular heros in Japan's history, just like MINAMOTO no Yoshitsune and Masashige KUSUNOKI, and his story would have been handed down from generation to generation.'
But he may have died contentedly for himself, thinking that he had done a good job for a former shogun's retainer.'
"Ningen Rinju Zukan (a reference book of people's death)"

While he was in prison after he lost the battle in Goryokaku, he wrote to his brother to teach him in detail how to make an incubator, soap and so on, the new way to raise silkworms and how to extract indigo, for the purpose of helping his brother's living. It seems as though he was confident that he had the best knowledge in Japan in the field of chemistry.

Incidentally, when he was the first Minister of Communication, they needed to decide on 'a badge' for the Ministry of Communication. On February 8, 1887, they announced, "The letter shape "T" shall be used as a badge of the Ministry as of now", but it became apparent that the shape can be confused with an universal symbol "T", meaning unpaid or insufficient charges. Then, ENOMOTO proposed an idea to add one stroke above T to make ' '; thus it was officially changed to ' ' by commenting on the official gazette published on February 19 that actually 'T' was wrong but meant to be ' '. This is just one of many stories which explains how Japan's post office symbol ' 'came into existence, but this is an anecdote which shows his intelligence since the shape of 'テ (reads "te")' of 'テイシンショウ (reads "teishishow" [the Ministry of Communication])' matches that of the symbol ' '.

He wrote "Toran (going to the Netherlands) Diary", "Hokkaido Junkai (exploration) Diary," "Siberia Diary," "Ryuseto (Japanese swords made from meteorites) Article," etc.

Takamitsu ENOMOTO, a novelist and a guest professor of the Tokyo University of Agriculture, is his great grandson.

[Original Japanese]