Tōgō Heihachirō, First Kōshaku

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Admiral of the Fleet Marquis (Kōshaku (侯爵)) Tōgō Heihachirō (東郷 平八郎) O.M., (27 January, 1848 – 30 May, 1934)

Early life

Tōgō was born on 27 January, 1848 (by the Western calendar) in the Kachiyacho district of the city of Kagoshima in Satsuma domain (modern-day Kagoshima prefecture), in feudal Japan. Tōgō's father was a samurai, serving under the house of Shimazu, and he had three brothers.

Kachiyacho was one of Kagoshima's samurai housing-districts, in which many other influential figures of the Meiji period were born, such as Saigō Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi. They rose to prominent positions under the Meiji Emperor partly because the Shimazu clan had been a decisive military and political factor in the Boshin war against the Tokugawa Shogunate and in the Meiji Restoration.

Tokugawa conflicts (1863-1869)

Tōgō's first combat experience was at the age of 15 during the Anglo-Satsuma War (August 1863), in which Kagoshima was bombarded by the Royal Navy to punish the Satsuma daimyo for the murder of Charles Lennox Richardson on the Tōkaidō highway the previous year (the Namamugi Incident), and the Japanese refusal to pay an indemnity in compensation.

The following year, Satsuma established a navy, in which Tōgō and two of his brothers enrolled. In January, 1868, during the Boshin War, Tōgō was assigned to a paddle-wheel steam warship, Kasuga, which participated to the Naval Battle of Awa, near Osaka, against the navy of the Bakufu, the first Japanese naval battle between two modern fleets.

As the conflict spread to northern Japan, Tōgō participated as a third-class officer aboard the Kasuga in the last battles against the remnants of the Bakufu forces, the Naval Battle of Miyako and the Naval Battle of Hakodate (1869).

Studies in Britain (1871-1878)

Tōgō studied naval science for seven years in England as an apprentice officer, from 1871 to 1878, together with sixteen (or eleven?) other Japanese students. Tōgō visited London, at that time the largest and most populous city in the world. Many things were strange to Japanese eyes; the round houses made out of stone, the "number and massiveness of the buildings", "the furnishings of a commonplace European room", "the displays in the butchers' shop windows: it took them several days to become accustomed to such an abundance of meat." The Japanese group was separated and sent to English boardinghouses for individual instruction in English language, customs and manners. Next, Tōgō was sent to Plymouth, where he was assigned as a cadet on the HMS Worcester, which was part of the Thames Nautical Training College, in 1872. Tōgō found his cadet rations "inadequate": "I swallowed my small rations in a moment. I formed the habit of dipping my bread in my tea and eating a great deal of it, to the surprise of my English comrades." This was attributed possibly to Tōgō's "Far Eastern metabolism", the lack of rice, "or that some other essential element was missing; or perhaps the climatic differences sharpened his appetite." Perhaps the excitement of his adventure contributed, or maybe Togo just liked the food. Togo's comrades called him 'Johnny Chinaman', being unfamiliar with the 'Orient', and not knowing the difference between Asiatic peoples. "The young samurai did not like that, and on more than one occasion he put an end to it by blows." Tōgō also surprised these young Englishmen by graduating second in the class.

During 1875, Tōgō circumnavigated the world as an ordinary seaman on the British training-ship Hampshire, leaving in February and staying seventy days at sea without a port call until reaching Melbourne, eating only salted meat and ship's biscuits. Tōgō "observed the strange animals on the Southern continent." On his return, Tōgō had sailed thirty thousand miles. Tōgō suffered a strange illness which severely threatened his eyesight: "the patient asked his medical advisers to 'try everything', and some of their experiments were extremely painful." Mr. Capel commented later, "If", he wrote, "I had not seen with my own eyes what a Japanese can suffer without complaint, I should often have been disinclined to believe....But, having observed Tōgō, I believe all of them." The Harley Street ophthalmologists saved his eyesight. Tōgō studied mathematics in Cambridge (though not at the University) during this time, while living with Reverend A.S. Capel. Tōgō then went to the Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth, and to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. During his stay, the Imperial Japanese Navy placed orders in Great Britain for three warships. Tōgō made use of the opportunity to apply his training, supervising (watching carefully) the construction of the Fusō whilst on work experience at the Samuda Brothers shipyard on the Isle of Dogs.

Tōgō, newly promoted to Lieutenant finally returned to Japan on 22 May, 1878 onboard one of the newly-purchased British-built ships, the Hiei.

Tōgō was absent from Japan during the Satsuma Rebellion, and often expressed regret for the fate of his friend Saigō Takamori.

Franco-Chinese war (1884-1885)

Back in the Imperial Japanese Navy, Tōgō received several commands, first as captain of Daini Teibo, and then Amagi. During the Franco-Chinese War (1884-1885), Tōgō, onboard Amagi, closely followed the actions of the French fleet under Admiral Courbet.

Tōgō also observed the ground combat of the French forces against the Chinese in Formosa (Taiwan), under the guidance of Joseph Joffre, future Commander-in-Chief of French forces during the First World War.

Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895)

In 1894, at the beginning of the First Sino-Japanese War, Tōgō, as Captain of the cruiser Naniwa, sank the British transport ship Kowshing which was chartered by the Chinese Beiyang Fleet to convey troops. A report into the incident was sent by Suematsu Kencho to Mutsu Munemitsu.

The sinking almost caused a diplomatic conflict between Japan and Great Britain, but it was finally recognized by British jurists as in total conformity with International Law, making Tōgō famous overnight for his mastery of contentious issues involving foreign countries and regulations. The British ship had been ferrying hundreds of Chinese soldiers towards Korea, and these soldiers had mutinied and taken over the ship upon the appearance and threats from the Japanese ships.

He later took part in the Battle of the Yalu, with the Naniwa as the last ship in the line of battle under the overall command of Admiral Tsuboi Kōzō. He was promoted to Rear-Admiral at the end of the war, in 1895.

After the end of the Sino-Japanese War, Tōgō's career was not so prominent. He was successively commandant of the Naval War College, commander of the Sasebo Naval College, and Commander of the Standing Fleet.

Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)

In 1903, the Navy Minister Yamamoto Gonnohyōe appointed Tōgō Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy. This astonished many people, including Emperor Meiji, who asked Yamamoto why Tōgō was appointed. Yamamoto replied to the emperor, "Because Tōgō is a man of good fortune".

During the Russo-Japanese War, Tōgō engaged the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, in 1904, and destroyed the Russian Baltic Fleet in 1905, at the Battle of Tsushima, shocking the world with the strategic upset. This historic battle broke Russian strength in East Asia, and is also said to have triggered various uprisings in the Russian Navy, contributing to the Russian Revolution of 1905. There was an investigation of the Russian naval leadership of the expedition, which Tōgō had destroyed or captured, into the reasons behind their utter defeat. The Russian commander of the destroyed Baltic fleet, Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky (who was badly wounded in the battle) attempted to take full blame for the disaster, and the grateful authorities (and rulers of Russia) acquitted him at his trial. Not so lucky was Rear-Admiral Nikolai Ivanovich Nebogatov who was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Later Life

In 1906, Tōgō was made a Member of the British Order of Merit by King Edward VII.

Later, Tōgō was Chief of the Naval General Staff and was given the title of Hakushaku (Count) under the kazoku peerage system. He also served as a member of the Supreme War Council.

In 1913, Tōgō received the honorific title of Admiral of the Fleet.

From 1914 to 1924, Tōgō was put in charge of the education of Prince Hirohito, the future Showa Emperor.

He expressed a dislike and disinterest for involvement in politics; however, he did make strong statements against the London Naval Treaty.

Tōgō was awarded the Collar of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum in 1926, an honor that was held only by Emperor Showa and Prince Kan'in Kotohito at the time. He added the award to his existing Order of the Golden Kite (1st class) and already existing Order of the Chrysanthemum. His title was raised to that of Koshaku (Marquis) in 1934 a day before his death.

On his death in 1934 at the age of 86, he was accorded a state funeral. The navies of Great Britain, United States, Netherlands, France, Italy and China all sent ships to a naval parade in his honor in Tokyo Bay.

In 1940, Tōgō Jinja was built in Harajuku, Tokyo, as the naval rival to the Nogi Shrine erected in the honor of Imperial Japanese Army General Nogi Maresuke. The idea of elevating him to a Shinto kami had been discussed before his death, and he had been vehemently opposed to the idea. T here is another Tōgō shrine at Tsuyazaki, Fukuoka. The statues to him in Japan include one at Ontaku Shrine, in Agano, Saitama and one in front of the memorial battleship Mikasa in Yokosuka.

Tōgō's son and grandson also served in the Imperial Japanese Navy. His grandson died in combat during the Pacific War on the heavy cruiser Maya at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.