23 October 2015

Glover House and Office?

I'm sorry to keep bringing up the former house of Scottish merchant Thomas B. Glover. You would think that the history of the house---as Nagasaki's foremost tourist attraction and now a World Heritage Site---had been thoroughly studied and documented, but unfortunately that is not the case. Thoroughly misconstrued might be more appropriate. (Please see my earlier post.)

The people of Nagasaki recently celebrated the inscription of the "Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining" on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  The site includes 23 composite parts, one of which is the former Glover House. Interestingly, the official English and Japanese names of the Scotsman's former residence are different: it is just 旧グラバー住宅 (Former Glover House) in Japanese, but "Former Glover House and Office" in English.

When I mentioned the disparity to Kato Koko (the Japanese government official who played an instrumental role in the inscription on the World Heritage Site list), she said, without batting an eye, that the building would not have qualified simply as a house. In the next sentence, she agreed that there is little evidence to show that Thomas Glover used the house as an office.

The Glover House by Ochiai Soko (Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture)
All there is, in fact, is a single photograph from the 1860s showing a samurai holding a rifle and walking in front of a cannon pointing toward Nagasaki Harbor from the front of of the Glover House. There is nothing else in the way of photographs or records to show that Japanese customers even visited the house, let alone engaged in business discussions there or hid in the attic (as suggested by tourism promoters). The Nagasaki Directory and other primary sources show that Glover & Co. had an office at No.2 Oura.  Didn't the Scottish merchant conduct his business discussions there? Moreover, the treaty signed by Japan and Britain in 1858 expressly prohibited the sale of weapons to any other person or body other than the Tokugawa Shogunate, so it is highly unlikely that Glover used his front lawn as a place to sell guns.

And what about William Alt, the Glover contemporary who associated closely with Iwasaki Yataro and played an important role in the foundation of the Mitsubishi Company? Like Glover, Alt had both an office on the Oura waterfront and a house on the Minamiyamate hillside (the latter is preserved today in Glover Garden as an Important Cultural Property). No one has suggested that Alt used his house as an office.

One of the other component parts in the "Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining" is the former coal mine on Hashima Island, better known as "Battleship Island." In a public statement at the UNESCO conference in Geneva, the Japanese delegation acquiesced to Korean demands and agreed that, during World War II, Korean workers had been brought to the island "against their will." The concession ended the stalemate between the two countries and cleared the way for the World Heritage Site inscription. Only a day later, however, a Japanese government spokesman in Tokyo hurried to insist that there had been no "forced labor" during World War II.

Am I the only one getting the impression that Japan is playing tricks with history in order to win the prize of World Heritage status?

19 June 2015

Origins of a Church Bell, Revealed

A bronze bell imported from France in 1865 hangs in the bell tower behind Oura Catholic Church.  The church is a National Treasure (in fact the only National Treasure of Western origin in Japan) and is currently waiting designation as a World Heritage Site.  I was asked recently to translate a booklet on the church and in the process noticed mistakes in the description of the bell and its origins, due largely to the fact that the French inscription on the bell had been incorrectly translated into Japanese.  
The bell at Oura Catholic Church
The following words are engraved in two bands circumscribing the bell:

Je m’appelle Clotilde Adolphe Louise.  J’ai été bénite l’an 1865 par Monseigneur Charles-Jean Fillion, Évêque du Mans, France.  Mon parrain a été Mr. Le Compte Adolphe Charles Joseph Camille de Rougé et ma marraine Anne Clotilde Renée Lorière. 
Bollée père et fils foundeurs accordeurs au Mans. 

<Translation>: My name is Clotilde Adolphe Louise.  I was blessed by Monseigneur Charles-Jean Fillion, bishop of Le Mans, France, in 1865.  My godfather is Mr. Adolphe Charles Joseph Camille, Count of Rougé, and my godmother is Anne Clotilde Renée Lorière.   
Bollée Father and Son, Bell Founders and Tuners of Le Mans.

The inscription follows the custom of applying human names to bells and calling the donors “godparents.”  It also identifies the bell founder, but the Japanese translator failed to notice the acute accent in “Bollée” and incorrectly transcribed the name in katakana script, an error that has come down to the present day in numerous texts.

The letters of Louis-Théodore Furet, the French priest who visited Nagasaki in 1863 to prepare for the construction of Oura Catholic Church, shed light on the identity of the people named in the inscription.  Preserved today in the headquarters of the Société des Mission Etrangères de Paris (Paris Foreign Missions Society), the letters show that Furet purchased the bell for 2,000 francs in his hometown of Le Mans after traveling back to France in 1864.  
Louis-Théodore Furet (1816-1900)

The donor, identified as the “godmother” on the bell, was Madame Clotilde de Lorière.  While a student, Furet had served as a private teacher for the children of the Lorière family near Paris.  Madame Lorière remained a lifelong friend and made significant, albeit unsung, contributions to Oura Catholic Church by providing funds for the bell, oil paintings and other items.  The “godfather,” Adolphe de Rougé, also hailed from the French nobility and supported Furet in his missionary activities.

The information suggests that the two "godparents" in fact played an essential role in funding for the church in Nagasaki.  It may also refute the widely accepted theory that Furet left Japan dejected and pessimistic about the prospects of missionary work in this country.

The Bollée family, meanwhile, is famous in the city of Le Mans, Furet’s hometown, not only for the historic bell foundry but also for pioneering contributions to the automobile industry.  Amédée Bollée, the father, developed one of the first steam-powered motor vehicles in the world, and his son (also named Amédée) applied the technology to build a 12-seat steam-powered bus called L'Obéissante ("The Obedient").  In 1875, Amédée Bollée drove the L'Obéissante from Le Mans to Paris in 18 hours and caused a sensation in the capital.

Today, “L'avenue Bollée” is one of the main thoroughfares in Le Mans, and the city is famous worldwide for its 24 Heures du Mans, the world's oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923.

The Bollée bell foundry in Le Mans has long since ceased production, but the bells made by the family are still ringing at Oura Catholic Church, the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Yokohama, the Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and other bell towers around the world.

(I thank Sophie Morishita for her help in this study) 

05 May 2015

About a New Book

Your writer recently established a publishing house called "Flying Crane Press" to serve as a vehicle for information on the history and culture of Nagasaki studies, mainly but not exclusively in English.

This follows two earlier endeavors, one a monthly magazine entitled Nagasaki Harbor Light (36 issues, 1985-87) and the other a yearly journal entitled Crossroads (six issues, 1993-98).  Both of the above were published in collaboration with Lane Earns and devoted to studies on Nagasaki's remarkable past and present -- everything from atomic bomb survivor testimonies to scholarly articles on topics related to the former Nagasaki Foreign Settlement. The Crossroads articles are available at Lane's website: (http://www.uwosh.edu/home_pages/faculty_staff/earns/)

The first publication of Flying Crane Press saw daylight on April 25.  Entitled The Glover House of Nagasaki: An Illustrated History, the 59-page book is the first concise description of the former residence of Scottish entrepreneur Thomas B. Glover (1838-1911), including information on the life and work of Glover and his British/Japanese son Kuraba Tomisaburo and on the history and architectural features of the building. It also takes up the controversial postwar career of the building as a tourist attraction, particularly its provocative but groundless connection with the opera Madama Butterfly.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), UNESCO's advisory body, recently recommended that the “Sites of Japan Meiji Industrial Revolution" be added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.  The former Glover House is one of the 23 sites in the recommended group, along with the former coal mining island of Hashima (taken up in an earlier installment of this blog).  The final decision of the UNESCO committee will be announced in July.

The World Heritage recommendation should serve as an opportunity to review the presentation of the building and to correct the misinformation of the past, a large part of which originates in the exploitation of the building as a tourist attraction and the failure of local authorities to conduct systematic research on the building and its former inhabitants.

Hopefully, the new book will contribute to the discussion.  It is available in Nagasaki bookshops and online at http://flyingcranepress.co

10 April 2015

Dilapidation and Destruction

An old-fashioned building catches the eye of people walking up the slope to the Nagasaki Prefecture Office.  The insignia above the main door identifies it as the Nagasaki Prefecture Office No.3 Annex.  A stone monument with the inscription “Former Landing Place for Portuguese Ships” stands outside with an explanatory signboard to the side, but the history of the building itself is not mentioned.  Only after some research will the interested few come to realize that it is the former Nagasaki Police Station erected in 1923 and the only pre-World War Two building remaining in the neighborhood.

The two-story building is located at the bottom of the slope known to Nagasaki residents as kenchōzaka, a spot marking the original shoreline of Nagasaki Harbor where Portuguese and Chinese trading ships anchored in the 16th century.  A series of land reclamations conducted from the Edo Period to recent years has placed it some two hundred meters inland from the present-day Ohato waterfront. 

The Nagasaki Prefecture Assembly recently passed a resolution to move the seat of government to the site of the former Nagasaki Fish Market, near JR Nagasaki Station, and to demolish the No.3 Annex along with the main office buildings.  Proponents of the move trot out the oft-used term rōkyūka (dilapidation) to justify the destruction, but the decision to move the prefectural office is deeply rooted in a plan, decades-old, to bring the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagasaki and to radically redevelop the area around JR Nagasaki Station.  

The view that the No.3 Annex is unworthy of preservation is based on the opinion of experts that 1) the building is not architecturally significant enough to qualify as a heritage site and that 2) it bears no scars from the atomic bombing.  Both opinions, I think, are questionable.  The former Nagasaki Police Station is portrayed in numerous prewar picture postcards, indicating that it cut a prominent figure in the Nagasaki townscape and that it captured the interest of foreign visitors (for whom most of the early picture postcards were printed).  

Moreover, it was virtually the only building that survived the conflagration that rampaged through the neighborhood after the atomic bombing, gutting the old Nagasaki Prefecture Office and the Nagasaki District Court and leaving few other buildings intact.  A film taken by the American Occupation forces in the autumn of 1945 shows it standing unscathed amid a wasteland of rubble and charred debris. 

A picture postcard published circa 1930 shows the Nagasaki Police Station (present-day Nagasaki Prefecture Office No.3 Annex) to the right.  Constructed in 1912, the Western-style Nagasaki Prefecture Office in the background (colored red) would be destroyed in the fires that broke out after the atomic bombing. 
Used until 1968 as the Nagasaki Police Station, the iconic building is currently an extension of the Nagasaki Prefecture Office.  It retains its original features, including the gothic stone entrance portal and the bars on the windows of the former basement jail.   
If the Nagasaki Prefecture Office No.3 Annex is indeed "dilapidated," its dilapidated condition is due to the failure of Nagasaki Prefecture to conduct necessary upkeep and repairs over the years.

Although it may reflect a rather conservative European sentiment, I think that the word "dilapidated" should be used, not as an excuse to tear the building down, but rather as a call to preserve it as a precious witness to almost a century of Nagasaki history and, properly restored, as a venue for a new career as a museum or information center.  

Confucius seemed to agree when he said: "Study the past if you want to define the future." (温故知新)