That moment of experiencing an epiphany… I was travelling from Yokohama to Tsurumi on Keikyu Line when that sudden realization struck me after hearing the train announcement ‘Namamugi Eki desu’ (Japanese for Namamugi Station) in the well air-conditioned wagon. ‘How on earth can this small local station’s name sound familiar to me?’ , I said. Tons of flashbacks were triggered haunting my memory in the search for remembering the origin of my familiarity with the word Namamugi. Those few seconds had felt like a year when my conscious was pulled back to the wagon by ‘doa wo shimarimasu’ (Japanese for door closing) announcement. As the train slowly progressed to Tsurumi station, which was my final destination, I struggled hard to get rid of my superstitious misgivings starting with ‘what if in my previous life, Namamugi was…’.
Finally, that brain-pounding effort for remembering came to a peaceful rest with a few desultory mental images from one of my History of Britain classes back at university. Yes, ’Namamugi Incident’ it was…The incident that caused the Anglo-Satsuma war. How stunning destiny is… That day, as a 19-year-old young man in that British History class, I could never know one day I was going to live near Namamugi. It was even painful for me to spell the word Namamugi correctly in the final test. If you are destined for something, your life brings you exactly to that pre-destined spot.
So here goes the story of The Namamugi Incident; Shangai-based British merchant, Charles Lennox Richardson, decided to retire from the world of business after seeking his fortune in China where he had lived for nine years. When he stopped over in the treaty port of Yokohama, the 28-year-old British gentleman was en route back to London, where he was born. Back in 1862, Yokohama was a treaty port, meaning that it was a port city that had been opened to foreign trade by Western powers. On 14 September, 1862, Richardson was not the only Englishman in the port. Yokohama based merchants William Marshall and Woodthorpe Clarke were also in the port for some business. Mrs. Borrodaile, wife of a businessman in Hong Kong, was there, too, for visiting Yokohama. Richardson and Charles Clarke were friends from Shanghai.
Namamugi circa 1862
Meeting in the port, four British nationals decided to go on a trip to Daishi-ji, a Buddhist temple, located in Kawasaki. They sailed across the bay of Kanagawa and mounted the pre-arranged horses on the other side. The group was riding to the Northeast, towards Kawasaki.
That day, father of the daimyô of Satsuma Han, Shimazu Hisamitsu was returning from Edo (former name of Tokyo) to Kyoto. He was passing through the Namamugi village, a locale on the Tokaido, which was the most important five routes of the Edo period, connecting Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto. That part of Tokaido, between Kawasaki and Kanagawa, was called ‘the Avenue’ by the foreign residents because of that pine tree lined road stretching along with Mount Fuji in full view. Shimazi Hisamitsu was accompanied by his large armed retinue.
Richardson’s party had already passed a few groups of samurai without any incidents by the time they encountered the retinue of Satsuma regent Daimyo Shimazu Hisamitsu in Namamugi on Tokaido. The law required riders to stop, dismount, step aside and let the samurai procession pass prostrating themselves before the daimyo. Samurai were legally authorized to conduct kiri-sute gomen, killing the one who was disrespectful. Richardson did not stop. He moved ahead to cut through the procession approaching to the daimyo’s palanquin. Marshall told Richardson to stop. Samurai shouted at him to keep away from the daimyo’s palanquin in Japanese. We do not know if Richardson was rude and stubborn or if he did not simply understand Japanese. But one of the daimyo's bodyguards slashed Richardson with his sword. He fell off his horse. Hisamitsu ordered his guard for todome – the coup de grace – to be given to spare Richardson, who was then on the ground, from suffering. Clarke and Marshall were badly wounded, too. Ms. Borrodaile was able to escape from the scene. Richardson’s body was wrapped by the samurai in a straw mat and left next to a roadside pine tree.
The Namamugi Incident, as depicted in a 19th-century Japanese woodcut print.
Body of Charles Richardson, 1862.
A total amount of 1,250,000 pounds was demanded by the British government as indemnity. The shogunate paid 1,00,000 pounds which was their proportion. But Satsuma authorities refused to pay the remaining 250,000 pounds. In response, capital of Satsuma, Kagoshima, was bombarded by the Royal Navy passing into history as Anglo – Satsuma war, or satsu-ei sensō.
Namamugi Incident’s scene
A poetic monument to commemorate the incident
Small museum, Namamugi incident museum
You can travel to Namamugi by Keikyu Line, which connects the Tokyo wards of Minato, Shinagawa, Ōta, and the Kanagawa municipalities of Kawasaki, Yokohama and Yokosuka.