Developments during Shogunate


The Imperial Japanese Navy had not been developed yet but once Japan was finally opened up to foreign and external influences, the Tokugawa shogunate recognized importance of a strong Navy and the vulnerability of the country from the sea and initiated an active policy of research and adoption of Western naval technologies. With support of Dutch, the Shogunate acquired its first steam warship, Kankō Maru, in 1855 and began using it for training. The first Naval Training Center was established at Nagasaki.

The paddle steamer Soembing.. The ship is renamed Kanko-maru.

The paddle steamer Soembing.. The ship is renamed Kanko-maru.

Several future leaders were sent abroad to study the most advanced techniques related to Navy and warships. It was a common practice of Japan in several disciplines and still nowadays they have the same way of thinking. The future Admiral Takeaki Enomoto (1836-1908), which was samurai, were sent to study in the Netherlands for several years.

In 1857 the Shogunate acquired its first screw-driven steam warship Kanrin Maru and used it as an escort for the 1860 Japanese delegation to the United States. But buying ships was expensive and did not provide enough know-how. Japanese realized about this problem and in 1865 the French naval engineer Léonce Verny was hired to build Japan’s first modern naval arsenals, at Yokosuka and Nagasaki. It worth mentioning that it has been 155 years ago when a sailing ship flying the Japanese flag by the first time entered the Golden Gate and visited the U.S. That ship was the previously mentioned Kanrin Maru. Historically, it was also the first Japanese ship ever to cross the Pacific. Therefore, its arrival to San Francisco was an important event for Japan and America.

The Kanrin Maru was the first Japanese ship ever to cross the Pacific.

The Kanrin Maru was the first Japanese ship ever to cross the Pacific.

There were intense contacts with British, a major naval power. In 1867–1868 a British Naval mission headed by Commander Richard Tracey went to Japan to assist the development of the Japanese Navy and to organize the naval school of Tsukiji.

More international exchange programs started. In a new naval center in Kagoshima, students were sent abroad for training and a number of ships were acquired. The areas of Choshu, Hizen, Tosa and Kaga joined Satsuma in acquiring ships. This was not enough to prevent the British from bombarding Kagoshima in 1863 or the Allied bombardments of Shimonoseki in 1863–64.The Bombardment of Kagoshima, also known as the Anglo-Satsuma War (薩英戦争 Satsu-Ei Sensō), took place on 15–17 August 1863 during the Late Tokugawa shogunate. The Royal Navy was fired on from coastal batteries near the town of Kagoshima and in retaliation bombarded the town. The British were trying to exact a payment from thedaimyo of Satsuma following the Namamugi Incident of 1862, in which British nationals were attacked (one killed, two wounded) by Satsuma samurai for not showing the proper respect for a daimyo’s regent (Shimazu Hisamitsu).

illustration of kagoshima attack

bombardment of kagoshima

The fleet was progressively expanding. By the mid 1860s the Shogunate had a fleet of eight warships and thirty-six auxiliaries. Satsuma (which had the largest domain fleet) had nine steamships, Choshu had five ships plus numerous auxiliary craft, Kaga had ten ships and Chikuzen eight. However, compared with strong British navy traditions, the seamen were still practically low trained and without real war experience.


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