The Namamugi Incident and the Anglo-Satsuma War (1862-63)
On September 14th, 1862, Charles Lennox Richardson, a British merchant on a sightseeing trip from Shanghai and three companions were travelling along the Tōkaidō road through the village of Namamugi on the outskirts of Yokohama. Along the way they came across a procession of 1,000 samurai of Satsuma province accompanying their Daimyõ (feudal lord) Shimazu Hisamitsu on their way to the capital.
Japanese law required that all commoners were to dismount and kneel by the side of the road as Daimyõ passed as a sign of respect. Richardson and his crew in typical English fashion refused to dismount and bow down before a foreign lord. When orders were shouted to them by the Satsuma samurai to dismount they refused. This was immediately taken as a sign of disrespect for the laws of the samurai and an insult to their Daimyõ. A message was quickly relayed to their lord in his palanquin at the centre of the procession, who gave the order to have the foreigners “chastised.” The party were fiercely attacked by the lord’s bodyguards with Richardson killed immediately and two of his companions seriously wounded. The third companion managed to escape back to Yokohama.
When help arrived from Yokohama, Richardson’s body was found lying by the side of the road covered in sword cuts, “any of which was sufficient to cause death.” E.M. Satow, in A Diplomat In Japan notes that after Richardson’s murder European residents “came to regard any two-sworded Japanese as a likely assassin and if they passed one in the street thanked god as soon as they passed him and found themselves still alive.”
In response, the British government protested and demanded restitution for the attack on British nationals from both the Japanese government and from the Daimyō of Satsuma including the arrest and trial of the perpetrators. The British government demanded an appropriate apology to the foreign communities in Japan and the payment of £100,000. The Satsuma Daimyõ was demanded to pay £25,000, and his bodyguards were ordered to be executed in sight of an officer of the British government. The Japanese government agreed to the demands, but asked for time to pay the reparations, whilst the Daimyõ of Satsuma refused to discuss the matter on the grounds that the foreigners had ignored samurai traditions and insulted a Daimyõ.
The defiance of the Satsuma Daimyõ led to the bombardment of the Satsuma domain of Kagoshima on August 15th, 1863 by British Royal Navy warships which were sent from their port in China. The bombardment left five percent of the castle town burned to the ground and three of the Satsuma’s small steamships, only armed with one ten pound cannon each, were sunk. Thirteen British Naval crew were killed by samurai who managed to climb aboard one British ship while only five Satsuma samurai were killed.
As the British had not been able to land troops and engage in hand-to-hand combat, the Satsuma considered it their victory.
The obvious British military prowess had however impressed the Satsuma samurai and the Daimyõ himself was very quickly convinced of the superiority of Western arms. Within a month he had declared his wish to fully embrace Western technologies. He subsequently paid compensation for Richardson’s murder, and undertook to punish the perpetrators.
Interestingly, it was the Anglo-Satsuma War that gave Japan it’s now widely recognised sovereign flag. The Satsuma steamship fleet had fought during the attack under a flag with a red disc on a white background. The British immediately assumed it was the Japanese national flag and before long it became internationally recognised as the flag of Japan.
In letters addressed to his father back in England, dated Sept. 3, 1862, 11 days before his murder, Richardson wrote of his admiration of Japan, “Japan is the finest country I have been in out of England. Most magnificent hill and sea scenery…………. I doubt not but that it will become a country of large commerce.”
The photo above of Charles Lennox Richardson was taken the day after the incident at the British Consul in Yokohama by an unknown photographer. This is a reproduction of the original which I found in a bookstore in Kanda.