We previously covered the Iwakura Mission and how it established links between Japan and the North East of England. The most prominent link was with the weaponry and naval ships provided by the Armstrong armament factory in Elswick and the connection was deemed so important that one of Japan’s top naval commanders visited the region in 1911.
Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō (東郷 平八郎) is recognised as one of Japan’s greatest naval heroes and was referred to as ‘The Nelson of the East’ by Western journalists; perhaps fostered by Togo himself who wrote in his diary (which he handily wrote in English) “I am firmly convinced that I am the re-incarnation of Horatio Nelson”.
Admiral Togo and previously spent part of his young life, 1871-78, studying in England and upon his return to Japan rose through the Naval ranks, first being promoted to Captain of his own ship then advanced through the Admiral hierarchy, then to Commander in Chief of the Combined Japanese Fleet and in 1913 was awarded the honorific title of Fleet Admiral. Admiral Togo was in charge of the Japanese fleet that destroyed the Russian Baltic fleet at the battle of Tsushima, the battle in which it was claimed that every gun (and several of the ships, including the Kashima) used by the Japanese in the battle were manufactured by Armstrong in the North East.
Although Admiral Togo himself was not present at the time, the crew of the Kashima, lead by Captain Ijicki, were hailed as ‘Togo’s Heroes’ and received an appropriate welcome in Newcastle in 1906, a year after the battle of Tsushima on a mission to thank the Shipbuilders. Culminating in the crew being the guests of honour at the Newcastle Vs Stoke football match at St. James Park (Newcastle 5 – 0 Stoke).
In 1911 Admiral Togo himself visited Newcastle to show his thanks for the building and arming of the Japanese Navy. He was met by Sir Andrew Noble who has succeeded Lord Armstrong as head of Armstrong’s Armament Works following Lord Armstrong’s Death in 1900. Noble received Togo at his home, Jesmond Dene House, now operating as a hotel and restaurant. Not much information about his stay is available but it is clear that he also visited Glasgow and Barrow, then moving on to visit the USA before returning to his native Japan, where he would be put in charge of the education of the young Emperor Hirohito.
Admiral Togo died a hero and respected around the world in 1934 aged 86. Upon his death the navies of Great Britain, America, Netherlands, China, France and Italy each sent ships to partake in a naval parade in his honour in Tokyo Bay. A large statue of the Admiral stands in Mikasa park, next to the Mikasa museum, and overlooks Tokyo Bay. Jesmond Dene House still proudly advertises the fact that the Admiral stayed at the location.