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The Namamugi Incident, as depicted in a 19th century Japanese woodcut print. Charles Lennox Richardson is at the centre of the scene.

The Namamugi Incident (生麦事件 Namamugi Jiken ?) (also known sometimes as the Kanagawa Incident, and as the Richardson Affair) was a samurai assault on foreign nationals in Japan on September 14, 1862, which resulted in the August 1863 bombardment of Kagoshima, during the Late Tokugawa shogunate. In Japanese the bombardment is described as a war between the United Kingdom and Satsuma domain, the Anglo-Satsuma War.


Course of events

Body of Charles Richardson, 1862.

Four British subjects (a Shanghai merchant named Charles Lennox Richardson, two other Yokohama-based merchants, Woodthorpe Charles Clark and William Marshall, and Mrs. Margaret Watson Borradaile) were travelling for a jaunt on the Tōkaidō road through the village of Namamugi (now part of Tsurumi ward, Yokohama) en route to Kawasaki Daishi temple in present-day Kawasaki. The party had departed the treaty port of Yokohama at 2.30 pm by boat, crossing Yokohama harbour to Kanagawa village, to meet up with their horses, which had been sent ahead.

As they passed north through Namamugi village, they encountered the large armed retinue of Shimazu Hisamitsu, the regent and father of Shimazu Tadayoshi, the daimyo of Satsuma, heading in the other direction. The party continued to ride along the side of the road until they reached the main body of the procession, which occupied the entire width of the road. Richardson, leading the Britons, rode too close to the procession and was slashed at by one of the Satsuma bodyguards. The two other men were seriously wounded (Mrs Borrodaile was not physically harmed), and they rode away as fast as they could, Richardson eventually falling from his horse, mortally wounded. Hisamitsu gave the order for todome - the coup de grâce - to be given. Richardson's grave is in Yokohama at the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery, between the later graves of Marshall and Clarke. [1]

The case of Eugene Van Reed, who had notoriously dismounted and prostrated himself before a daimyo's train, was instanced by Shimazu's supporters who later said that the insolent attitude of the Britons (who did not dismount) caused the incident. Van Reed's conduct appalled the Western community, who believed that westerners should hold themselves with dignity before the Japanese, being at least the equal of any Japanese person. There is no evidence to support later suggestions that Richardson whipped Chinese while horseback riding in China, though according to the Japan Herald "Extra" of Tuesday 16th September 1862, he had been heard to say just prior to the incident, "I know how to deal with these people".

Consequences of the Namamugi Incident

Entrance to the village of Namamugi, circa 1862.

The incident sparked a scare in Japan's foreign community, which was based in the Kannai district of Yokohama. Many traders appealed to their governments to take punitive action against Japan. Britain eventually engaged Satsuma a year later in the Anglo-Satsuma War. A squadron went to Kagoshima, capital of the Satsuma domain to demand reparation for the Namamugi Incident. They seized several Satsuma vessels as hostage against payment, and were unexpectedly fired on by Satsuma forts. The squadron retaliated, and the naval bombardment of Kagoshima ensued. This claimed five lives among the people of Satsuma (which had largely been evacuated prior to the surprise attack on the British squadron), and 11 lives among the British (including, with a single cannon shot, the Captain and the Commander of the British flagship HMS Euryalus).[2] Material losses were important, with around 500 houses burnt in Kagoshima, and three Satsuma steamships destroyed. The conflict caused much controversy in the British House of Commons, but Acting Vice Admiral Augustus Leopold Kuper's conduct was eventually commended by the House. Kuper was promoted Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1864 "for his services at Kagoshima".

Satsuma admired the actions of the Royal Navy and sought a trading relationship with Britain as a result. Later that year, they paid the £25,000 compensation demanded by the British Government, borrowing (and never repaying) the money from the bakufu - the shogun's government that had only five years to run before being replaced by the restored government of Emperor Meiji.

The incident was the basis of James Clavell's novel Gai-Jin.

See also


  1. ^ Rennie. The British Arms in North China and Japan page 273
  2. ^ The British victims were caused by Satsuma cannonry as well as accidents due to the imperfect Breech-loading guns developed by the English engineer William George Armstrong.

Further reading

  • Satow, Ernest. A Diplomat in Japan, Tuttle (1921). ISBN 4-925080-28-8
  • Rennie, David. The British Arms in North China and Japan. Adamant Media Corporation. (2001) ISBN 1402181841


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