Heihachiro Togo: Nelson of the East

In 1848, a boy was born in Satsuma, (Kagoshima prefecture) the fourth son of the Togo Family who served under the Shimazu local lord. During his childhood the boy was often told by his mother to become a noted man such as a samurai. At the age of 14, the boy reached adulthood and according to Japanese custom his name was changed to Heihachiro.


The end of the Edo Period saw many struggles between Japanese and foreigners. In 1862 the Namamugi Incident took place near Yokohama. Lord Hisamitsu Shimazu and his attendants were on their way home from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo). Their procession came across four mounted foreigners. A skirmish of courtesy led to a fight and the attendants murdered Englishman Charles Richardson, a merchant of Shanghai. This aroused hostility between Satsuma and England. The following year the British Royal Navy attacked Kagoshima (Anglo-Satsuma War) and that attack motivated 17 year old Heihachiro to join the army.


At the battle Heihachiro’s mother was courageous enough to deliver food to each troop disregarding the dangers and flying bullets. One of the bullets landed in front of her,

however, she remained calm. Like mother like son. At the defeated battle, Heihachiro exclaimed “The backbone of a nation's defense lies in its Navy”.


Hearing the Meiji Government was sending young men to England and America for study, Heihachiro, with the help of Takamori Saigo, his mentor from Satsuma, jumped at the chance to study naval science in London. In 1871, Heihachiro, now 23, voyaged to England with 11 other young Japanese men. On board they recited poems and played the biwa.


After studying English he boarded a training ship in Plymoth called HMS Worcester as a cadet. In those days Japan was unknown to Europe and America. The cadets studied and slept on the ship with English comrades who often mocked them. Heihachiro replied with dignity, “If you continue mocking me, I will smash your bones! Prepare yourself!”

After that they stopped ridiculing him and began to admire him. Two years later he graduated with honors. They regarded Heihachiro as a “conscientious Japanese”.


In 1874 Heihachiro finished school and set out on a 7 month voyage. The following year, when his stay limit was expiring, he was ordered to supervise three battleships which the Imperial Japanese Navy ordered and which were under construction in Britain. He spent most of his leisure time reading and studying. In 1878 at the age of 30 Heihachiro returned to Japan in the battleship Hiei.


While in Japan, Takamori Saigo, Heihachiro’s mentor, rose up in arms forced by his discontented colleagues. Takamori was killed and so was Heihachiro’s older brother. If Heihachiro had been in Japan he would have died alongside them.The Seinan War was an influential event for him. Heihachiro held a moral debt whether he should have died with them. From that time he held a strong determination to be a great naval man and fight for his country.


In 1886, Heihachiro, aged 38, became ill and went to a health resort where he received therapy for 4 years. He absorbed himself in reading and expanded his knowledge in historical figures, military, diplomacy and international law. When he recovered, Heihachiro came to Kure for a new post. 


#123 Parkway Vol.22 No.1 January - March 2008


HEIHACHIRO TOGO (1848-1934) served as Kure Naval Station’s second Chief of Staff from May 13, 1890 to December 1891. Heihachiro lived in Miyahara village with his wife, two sons, newborn daughter, and ten servants. Today you can see his detached house relocated to Irifuneyama Memorial Museum.


During his stay in Kure one incident recounts Togo’s deep insight. In 1891 a Qing (Chinese) fleet arrived in Japan. They showed off their 7,300 ton huge vessels and tried to convince the Japanese they had no chance of winning. While in Miyajima’s harbor, Heihachiro was invited aboard one along with Kuranosuke Nakamuta, Commander-in-Chief of Kure Naval station.  Heihachiro saw how dirty the inside of the ship was, in spite of the grandeur of appearance. Laundry was loosely hanging on cannon barrels and soldiers were lazily lying. Heihachiro thought, “They would be easily beaten with such a loss of morale even if they attack us all at once,” and he was right.



In 1903 Heihachiro was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy. In 1904, February 6th, the Russo-Japanese War broke out. The following year, 1905 on May 27th the Battle of the Japan Sea (Battle of Tsushima) occurred. Heihachiro, with his bold naval strategy, destroyed the Russian Baltic Fleet at the strait of Tsushima located between Korea and Japan. It was a stunning victory and called the greatest battle after the battle of Trafalgar. That incident gave   

him the nickname, Nelson of the East. The Japanese proverb “Katte Kabuto no o wo Shimeyo” meaning “In the time of mirth take heed” came from Heihachiro.


Heihachiro, with a bouquet in his arm, visited Russian commander, Zinovy Rozhestvensky, at the Naval Hospital in Sasebo, Nagasaki prefecture. “I am respectful that you have achieved your mission bravely enough to get heavily injured. Please get well soon.”  Rozhestvensky was moved by his kind words.


Representing the Meiji Emperor, Heihachiro visited England in 1911 after a 40 year absence, to attend the coronation of King George V of the United Kingdom, and there

he met with his old school masters and mates.


Heihachiro retired from official duties and public life when Hirohito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1926. His face was on the cover of Time Magazine, issued on November 8th of the same year.


Heihachiro passed away from larynx cancer on May 30, 1934 at the age of 87. According to the articles in Chugoku Shimbun issued after his death, Japanese in Brazil were so proud of him that they produced cigarettes named Gensui (admiral), with his face on the box, and dedicated them to the Imperial Navy. His state funeral was held solemnly on the 5th of June at Hibiya in Tokyo. The procession was 1,524 meters long. “Our master was a quiet and elegant gentleman,” one of the servants in Kure days recalls.


#124 Parkway Vol.22 No.2 April - June 2008




江戸時代末期、日本人と外国人の間には争いが頻発していた。 1862年、生麦事件が横浜の近くで起こる。島津久光と藩士たちは、京都から江戸に帰る途中だった。行列は、騎乗の外国人4人と遭遇する。藩士が上海の商人である英国人チャールズ・リチャードソンを殺害した。これにより薩摩と英国は敵対するようになる。翌年、英国海軍は鹿児島を攻撃(薩英戦争)、この戦いがきっかけで、17歳の平八郎は軍隊入隊の意思を固めた。 


戦闘にあって、平八郎の母親は豪傑だった。危険も顧みず、飛んで来る弾を気にもかけず、各部隊に食糧を配って回った。 砲弾が目前で破裂しても、彼女は動じなかった。この母にしてこの息子あり。戦いに敗れたとき、平八郎は「国防のかなめは海軍にある」と叫んだ。


明治政府が、英国とアメリカに勉学のために若者を送っていることを聞き及んだ平八郎は、薩摩での先輩、西郷隆盛に頼み込んで、海軍科学を学ぶロンドン行きの機会を得る。 1871年、23歳の平八郎は若者11人とともに英国に向かった。船上では皆で詩を朗読し、琵琶を演奏したという。


英語を勉強した後、プリマスでHMS Worcesterと呼ばれる訓練船に乗り込んでいる。当時、日本はヨーロッパやアメリカでは知られていない国だった。訓練生は、馬鹿にされながらも英国の学生と共に船で学び、共に眠った。平八郎は堂々とした態度で応じる。「馬鹿にし続けるなら、骨を粉々にしてやる!覚悟しておけ!」


その後、馬鹿にされなくなり、認められるようになった。 2年後、優秀な成績で卒業する。平八郎は「誠実な日本人」と言われていた。


1874年、平八郎は留学を終え、7ヶ月の航海に出た。翌年、滞在期間を満了すると、日本帝国海軍が英国に注文し建設中だった3隻の戦艦を監督するよう命じられた。彼は余暇のほとんどを読書や勉強に費やした。 1878年、30歳で平八郎は軍艦比叡で帰国した。







 呉在任中、東郷の洞察の深さを物語る出来事があった。 1891年に清(中国)艦隊が日本に到着した。7,300トンの巨大船を誇示して、日本人に勝ち目がない事を思い知らせようとしたのだ。宮島港にいる間に、平八郎は、呉海軍司令官中牟田倉之助と共に戦艦に招待された。 平八郎は見た目の壮大さにもかかわらず、船の内部の汚さに気づいた。洗濯物が大砲の上にだらしなくかけてあり、兵士たちは気だるげに横になっている。「私たちを一斉攻撃してきても、あのような士気のなさでは、簡単に打ち負かすことができるだろう。」と平八郎は考え、実際その通りだった。


1903年に平八郎は日本帝国艦隊の複合艦隊司令官に任命された。 1904年2月6日、日露戦争、そして翌年、1905年5月27日、日本海海戦(対馬沖戦)が起きる。平八郎は大胆な海軍戦略で、韓国と日本の間にある対馬海峡でロシアのバルチック艦隊を撃破した。それは素晴らしい勝利で、トラファルガーの戦い以来の偉大な戦いと言われた。平八郎は「東洋のネルソン」と呼ばれることになる。日本の諺に、「勝って兜の尾を締めよ」ということわざがあるが、これは平八郎に由来するものである。








平八郎は、1934年5月30日に87歳で喉頭がんにより亡くなった。中国新聞の記事によると、ブラジルの日本人は平八郎のことを非常に誇りに思い、平八郎の肖像を箱につけたタバコに元帥という名をつけ、帝国海軍に献上した。6月5日、国葬が東京の日比谷で厳粛に行われた。行列の長さは1,524メートルだったという。 「ご主人様は静かで洗練された紳士でした」と、呉での使用人は回想する。