Reflecting on the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Choshu Five

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’).
It is no exaggeration to say that the arrival in the UK of the ‘Choshu Five’ was a springboard for the emergence of modern Japan. At the same time, it marked the beginning of wide-ranging grassroots interchange between the UK and Japan and of 150 years of productive and mutually-beneficial academic interaction. Celebrating this milestone provided an excellent opportunity to contemplate the value of our bilateral ties and to consider how to take them to the next level.

Various events were arranged in both the UK and Japan to commemorate this anniversary, from public lectures and seminars on topics such as engineering and deaf education, to filmshows and commemorative ceremonies. The leaflet design for this year's Embassy Manga Jiman competition also took inspiration from the Choshu Five, with the theme of the competition as "voyages of discovery".

Monument dedicated to Professor and Mrs Williamson was unveiled at Brookwood Cemetery
in Surrey, where they are buried

Leaflet design for Manga Jiman 2013

Who were the Choshu Five?

Hirobumi Ito

The Father of the Japanese Constitution & Parliamentary Government in Japan

Kaoru Inoue

The Father of Modern Japanese Diplomacy

Yozo Yamao

The Father of Japanese Engineering

Masaru Inoue

The Father of Japanese Railways

Kinsuke Endo

The Father of the Modern Japanese Mint