UCL celebrates 150th anniversary of Japan’s Choshu Five
3 July 2013
The story of five young Japanese noblemen who endured a perilous 135-day sea journey aboard a Jardine Matheson & Co ship to come to Victorian-era London and study at UCL is being marked today at an event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of their departure.
On their return to Japan, the five men went on to form the core of a new Japanese government, leading the nation’s transformation from an isolated state to one of the world’s foremost technological powers. Included among them was Hirobumi Ito, the father of the Japanese Constitution and the first Prime Minister of post Meiji-Japan.
UCL was founded in 1826 as the first university in England to open its doors to students of any race or religion. The Choshu Five were some of UCL’s early international students and influenced others to travel. One hundred and fifty years later, we continue to mark the achievements of these five men.
The other members of the Choshu Five also became incredibly influential. They included:
• Kaoru Inoue became Japan’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
• Kinsuke Endo was the founding Master of the Japanese Mint Bureau
• Masaru Inoue became the founding President of the Japanese Board of Railways
• Yozo Yamao became Secretary of State in Japan’s Ministry of Industry and established Japan’s first Institute of Technology. He also introduced sign language into a governmental education system.
The Choshu Five made contact with William Keswick, who ran the British trading firm Jardine, Matheson & Co’s new office in Yokohama. At a time when it was forbidden to travel abroad, secret arrangements were made for the five young noblemen to leave Japan aboard one of the company’s ships.
Once in the UK, Hugh Matheson, the head of the firm in London contacted a member of the UCL Council and the Choshu five were enrolled at the university. The five were taken under the supervision of Alexander Williamson, a professor of Chemistry at UCL.
Professor Shin-Ichi Ohnuma (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology), said: “UCL’s contribution to the education of these five young future leaders of Japan 150 years ago is something that should be celebrated. In particular, we should also honour the effort of Professor Williamson and philosophical influence of Jeremy Bentham.
“Following in the footsteps of the Choshu Five, many Japanese students have studied at UCL, contributing to almost all aspects of Japanese society and UK-Japan interaction. UCL continues to support all international students who have strong passion to become leaders of societies and currently has many Japanese undergraduate students and researchers, along with strong collaborations with Japanese universities and industries.”
Sir Henry Keswick, Jardine Matheson Chairman, said: “We are proud of the role that the firm played in bringing these young Japanese noblemen to Britain and introducing them to UCL. It made a tremendous difference to their lives and to the future development of Japan, as well as helping to nurture our long-standing ties to the country."
Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost of UCL, said: “The event not only marks the wonderful history between UCL and Japan, but also looks towards the future, as I hope that we can continue to celebrate the strength of collaboration between our institutions and countries for many years to come.”