This year marked the 150th anniversary of the journey of the ‘Choshu Five’ - members of the Choshu clan in western Japan who secretly left the country during the turbulent times toward the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. These five departed from Yokohama in May 1863 and arrived in the UK that November.
The five young men pursued their studies mainly at University College London (UCL), where they were taken under the wing of Professor Alexander Williamson and his wife Catherine, who provided not only academic supervision but also pastoral care, including the very practical matter of lodging.
After returning to Japan, they all contributed in their various ways to the modernisation of their country. The ‘Choshu Five’ included Hirobumi Ito
, who became Japan’s first Prime Minister and is otherwise known as ‘the Father of the Japanese Constitution’ and ‘the Father of parliamentary government in Japan’. The other men were Kaoru Inoue
, who became Japan’s first Foreign Minister and has been called ‘the Father of modern Japanese diplomacy’, Yozo Yamao
(‘the Father of Japanese engineering’), Masaru Inoue
(‘the Father of Japanese railways’) and Kinsuke Endo
(‘the Father of the modern Japanese mint’).