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?

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