Edo-period students took secret trip to Britain

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A view of the rocky reefs from which the Satsuma students departed. It is believed they took a tenmasen boat from the reef covered by the whitewash of waves, seen in the photograph toward the upper left corner. The national flags of Britain and Japan highlight a stone monument displaying waka poems written by the students to express the sorrow of departing.

The Yomiuri ShimbunICHIKIKUSHIKINO, Kagoshima — Near the end of 2015, I saw some bronze statues as I was taking photos of a tram in front of JR Kagoshima-Chuo Station.

They were a set of 17 statues named “Wakaki Satsuma no Gunzo” (Group of young men of Satsuma) in an area that is now a part of Kagoshima Prefecture. Satsuma was the name of an old province there.

Seventeen youths departed for Britain as students in 1865 at the end of the Edo period (1603-1867) — the Satsuma feudal clan had sent them, daring to violate the Tokugawa shogunate’s prohibition on travel abroad.

The 17 men included those who later became famous such as Arinori Mori and Tomoatsu Godai. Among the statues was one of a boy holding a grape. His name was Kanae Nagasawa, who was then 13.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A photo shows Kanae Nagasawa, right, after arriving in Britain. It is said that he entrusted his hair to his mother after cutting off his topknot.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

I could not help but shout, “Oh!” as I recalled something from a friend’s wedding ceremony 20 years prior. The wedding was held at a winery in Santa Rosa, Calif. My friend Mary asked sadly, in her wedding dress, why I didn’t know about Kanae Nagasawa. She told me he was a Japanese man who had built the winery.

A placard explaining the statues in Kagoshima stated that he was the youngest among the 17 students who later succeeded in growing grapes in the United States, and was nicknamed “the grape king.”

The Satsuma feudal clan sent 19 students abroad, with them secretly departing from Hashimaura bay in Ichikikushikino, Kagoshima Prefecture.

On the west coast of the Satsuma Peninsula, there is a quiet cove on the northernmost part of the curved shores. Some people dropped fishing lines there, as the East China Sea spread before them.

I found a flyer on a quiet pier, with nobody else around. It was for people who wanted to get a tourist boat named “the Australian” — pronounced by locals as “Oh suta rai en” — and a telephone number written on the flyer.

I dialed the number and a man answered and told me he guides passengers to sea areas from which the students departed.

Akinobu Biro appeared in a light truck. He was formerly a crew member of a longline tuna fishing boat. He said he was now the head of Reimei Hashima Kyogikai, an association made up of local residents.

The tourist boat left the bay and stopped beside a long, slim reef, which was covered by the whitewash of waves, below protection banks.

“[The students] climbed aboard the tenmasen boat of a fisherman from this rock reef and took that to a steam ship offshore,” Biro said.

On April 17, 152 years ago, the original vessel called “the Australian,” also pronounced “Oh suta rai en” by Japanese all those years ago, carried the students. The vessel was arranged by Thomas Glover, a British trader.

In the wake of the Anglo-Satsuma War in 1863, the Satsuma feudal clan was deeply impressed by Britain’s power. The Satsuma clan also deeply felt the necessity to modernize itself, and thus secretly sent its men to Britain.

Biro pointed his finger to a house on the ground and said, “From the second floor, they took turns watching the sea.”

The group of students had arrived in the Hashima area from the Kagoshima Castle city, and had waited for the steamship to appear. They spent about two months on this secret mission.

Biro said a local museum stores kamishimo vests, books and other items that the students left in their accommodations before their departure.

I got off the tourist boat and visited the Satsuma Students Museum, located on an embankment.

A kamishimo vest was given to locals as a thank you gift for the accommodations. On the back of the vest was the emblem of the Shimazu family of the Satsuma clan, comprising a circle and a cross.

In a photo taken in London, all the students were dressed in the image of British gentlemen.

Reading their books and diaries helps visitors understand the worries and enthusiasm of the young samurai as they lived through the years of the start of Japan’s modernization.

In a fishery cooperative building on the opposite side of the museum, the Reimei Festival began. Locals said the event has been held since 1989.

A chief shrine priest slowly recited a congratulatory address: “Ryugakusei no mitama wo matsuri ... ” (We are admiring the souls of the students who went to Britain). Following the ritual, elementary and junior high school students clad in jinbaori battle surcoats introduced the Satsuma clan members.

One of the elementary school students said, “Kanae Nagasawa was 13 years old. Surely he wanted to return to Japan, but I believe he studied hard, holding a strong sense of the mission.”

In the place where these Satsuma students in the last years of the Edo period spent time, feeling a sense of urgency and anxiety before their departure, their spirit has been firmly inherited.

Contributing to U.S. winemaking

Nagasawa, who departed at 13, was accommodated in the Glover family’s home in Scotland, and attended a junior high school there. A newspaper that carried his name as a student with excellent academic records, remains there.

Koki Sunada, producer of the Satsuma Students Museum who conducted research there, said, “Maybe Glover’s mother treated Nagasawa kindly because she longed to see her son in Japan.”

Nagasawa later went to the United States as part of a Christian group and succeeded in cultivating grapes and brewing wine. He greatly contributed to the development of Californian wines.


A flight from Haneda Airport to Fukuoka Airport takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes. After traveling to Hakata Sta. by subway or other means, it takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes on the Kyushu Shinkansen to reach Sendai. It then takes about 30 minutes to drive to the Hashima area. Call Satsuma Students Museum at (0996) 35-1865 or Ichikikushikino city government office’s tourism section at (0996) 32-3111 for details.

To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit

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