View Full Version : Foreign Military Advisors in Late 19th Century Japan

2nd December 2003, 17:29
I'm starting this thread to discuss the foreign military advisors in late Edo - early Meiji Japan.
You know, I don't find the premise at all out of historical bounds. It is a fact that the Shogun's army (pre-Meiji Restoration) did utilize French officers to teach new tactics; and the newly-formed naval forces in the south had contracted with England. Other daimyo likewise employed foreign advisors.

After the Restoration the newly-empowered Emperor's military administrator recommended maintaining the French contract so as not to create confusion. The new government again contracted with France who sent one Lieutenant and a Noncommissioned Officer; If I recall correctly, more followed. It's only these two instructors whom I have seen named -- and don't ask because I'd have to sort through my records (source is in French and was transcribed for a meeting of the Japan Martial Arts Society in the 1980s). By the way, these foreign advisors taught tactics and weaponry at the Rikugun Heigakko-ryu Toyama Gakko Shucho-jo -- later named Rikugun Toyama Gakko. I'd have to check yet again, but they might have taught at the Heigakko.

Both the Lieutenant and the NCO studied Jikishinkage Ryu gekken (kendo/kenjutsu) at Sakakibara Kenkichi sensei's dojo circa 1873-4. The NCO was a Matre d'Armes (sabre, I think).

Therefore, I can envision a scriptwriter combining the personas of both French Advisors into a single person, then changing his nationality to American. (Interestingly, in "Master and Commander" the enemy switched from America to France when it became a movie).

So, the movie isn't as off base as it may seem. Except for the alleged love interest stuff -- ugggh !! They don't kiss do they? Yuck!

2nd December 2003, 18:03
I'm presently reading a book titled "The Rise and fall of the Imperial Japanese Army" which gives a pretty good take on the Japanese Army from the Meiji period up to the end of the 2nd world war. The first few chapters goes into the use of foreign advisors and even gives some names of some of those advisors. Though the Japanese were using the French for quite some time during the initial creation of the standing army, they also opted for Prussian officers after the French lost to them during the Franco-Prussian War. Accordingly the Japanese got most of their "modern" battle tactics from the Prussian advisors, and later used them during their war with the Russians.

2nd December 2003, 18:07
While on this interesting topic, I wanted to broaden my knowledge on Saigo Takemori. Any suggestions on good reads concerning this fascinating figure?

2nd December 2003, 18:27
Since posting that quote I've found one of the sources I was paraphrasing. Much of the data comes from the Laszlo Abel article, "Japanese Military Modernization and the French Connection," published in the Japan Martial Arts Society (JMAS) Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 2 , June, 1985 (pp 11 ~ 16).

Highlights of Mr. Abel's valuable article are:

...Even before the Meiji period, the French government had begun to support Japan through the conclusion of the Franco-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Amity on October 9, 1858....

...The First French Military Mission to Japan arrived on January 13, 1867 under the leadership of Charles Sulpice Jules Chanoine (1835-1915). Training of the military started at Oya Jinta (in the vicinity of present-day Hinode-cho, 1-chome, Naka-ku, Yokohama) with supplies and equipment which ahd been brought from France. This training ground proved inappropriate and was later moved to Edo. Due to the growing threat of revolution against their Tokugawa employers, this First Mission was forced to leave after only about 18 months of teaching had been completed. During that short time, Chanoine was credited with the initiation of a military penal code for the infantry based on the French code.

Not all of the advisors of this First Mission returned to France, however. Several remained to offer their assistance to the new government of Emperor Meiji and the lower ranking samurai who brought him to power. Two of these were Albert Charles Dubousquet and Eugene Jean Baptiste Marlin. ...Dubosquet is praised with having suggested the reorganization of the Japanese military along French lines. This was inaugurated on September 10, 1878. He, too, died in Japan, on June 18, 1882 and is buried at the Yamate International Cemetery.

The Second Mission arrived on April 11, 1872 with 15 members under the command of Charles Antoine Marquerie (1824-1894). The thire and final mission to be requested by the Japanese arrived on June 2, 1884 and consisted of five men.

The majority of the French were employed by the Japanese War Department.....

...The Toyama Gakko was the first school established with the sole aim of training and educating officers and noncommissioned officers.... The founding of Toyama Gakko was greatly aided by French officers...:

Armand Pierre Andre Echeman (April 11, 1872 - January 18, 1875). An Infantry Captain who...taught military exercises, shooting, physical training, and theory.

Joseph Auguste Cros (April 11, 1872 - February 29, 1876) ...an Infantry Sublieutnenat who ... taught military exercises, shooting, physical training and theory.

Francois Joseph Ducros (May 26 - April 10, 1877) ...an Infantry Sergeant who gave instruction in physical training.

Alexander Etienne Bouguin (October 29, 1875 - December 31, 1879) ...Infantry Lieutenant taught shooting theory.

Joseph Kiehl (September 27, 1884 - July 24, 1887). Kiehl was Master-at-Arms and Marshal of the Logis as well as a teacher of physical training and swordsmanship, presumably in the European manner. [emphasis added]

Etienne de Villaret (October 29, 1884 - October 28, 1887). This Lieutenant taught strategy, shooting theory and technique. He also supervised Kiehl's swordsmanship instruction [emphasis added]

Henri Berthaut (hired on October 29, 1884) Berthaut was the Lieutenant in charge of the Thire Military Mission to Japan. He was responsible for the organizing of the timetable of courses concentrating on those which pertained to the military arts and their practical application. He was rehired on October 29, 1886.

Henri Lefebvre (September 25, 1887 - January 26, 1889) An Infantry Captain, he taught strategy, shooting and theory of hpysical exercise....

...The majority of the French advisors who worked in Japan in the early modern period... were hired on a contract basis, with the average length of contract being three years. Each instructor was paid monthly with salaries ranging from 150 to 400.... [A]round 188 the salary of the Prime Minister was 500, while a newly graduated school teacher might receive only 5 ....

For at least some of these French soldiers, live in Japan was not limited solely to teaching western military methods and science, but also included the study and practide of Japanese martial arts. The book Meiji Budo-shi [A History of Budo in the Meiji Period] records that de Villared and Kiehl entered the dojo of Sakakibara Kenkichi, a master of Jikishin Kage Ryu, famous for its kenjutsu (combative swordsmanship.)[emphasis added] Considering that the Meiji Restoration had been underway for only about 20 years when they joined in November of 1887, their acceptance seems to make them the premier foreign martial arts pioneers of Japan. What was it that stimulated them to make their students their teachers? Had their expertise in the swordsmanship of their own country given them an insight into the many underlying benefits that are a part of martial arts training? Or was it that they felt that the Japanese themeselves were too prone to neglect their own traditions in favor of western imports. Just what was it that brought on their drive to join a dojo?...

Sources cited by Abel:
Chronologie des Relations Cultures Entra la France it le Japon, 1549 - 1949, Nishibori Akira, 1984

"Etienne de Villaret" in VU! magazine, Christian Polack [no date given]

Japan's Intercourse with France in the Early Stage, Nishibori Akira, 1984

Meiji Budo Shi, Watanabe Ichiro, 1971

Rikugun Kyoiku-shi, 1913

Rikugun Toyama Gakko no Taiiku in OLYMPIC vol. 21 April 1983, vol. 22 July 1983, Kinoshita Hideaki

Rekishi kara mita Toyama Kakko [sic] no Kyokan Kyosei, Kinoshita Hideaki, 1979

Shitamonshi no Shiryokachi in tsuite no Kento, Kinoshita Hideaki, 1978

Toyama Gakko Gakuseisuu in kansuru Kenkyu, Kinoshita Hideaki, 1979

Another book you might be interested in covers the early Meiji period through the introduction of the German military ca. 1886.

Before aggression: Europeans prepare the Japanese army Ernst L. Presseisen, (Tucson: University of Arizona Press), 1965


Earl Hartman
2nd December 2003, 20:58
Actually, the fire-and-maneuver tactics of Satsuma Heki Ryu battlfield kyujutsu were apparently modelled on the French musket tactics of the 18th century.

According to the people with whom I spoke when I visited Kyushu to view a demonstration of Satsuma Heki Ryu, the Satsuma Heki Ryu method differed from the kyujutsu of other domains in that:

1) The archers fought in tightly disciplined groups which loosed their arrows in timed, staggered volleys. The squad would be orgainized in a number of ranks, and as the unit advanced towards the enemy, the first rank would loose their arrows, immediately after which the second rank, which had their arrows nocked and ready, would advance and loose. While the front rank was shooting, the rear ranks would be preparing to advance and loose. In this way, the squad would advance on the enemy while maintaining a constant barrage of arrows. The two archers on the flanks of the line were responsible for covering the flanks and would direct their arrows as need dictated.

In contradistinction to this, the other domains apparently did not adopt this sort of highly disciplined approach, but would simply fire at will.

2) In the Shimazu han, where this system was in force, all bushi, including those of the higher ranks, were required to train in this manner. In other domains, foot archery was the province of the zappei, or the common troops.

Where and when the Shimazu han military establishment had the opportunity to observe the French method I do not know, but I presume that the adoption of this method was farily recent, at least from an historical perspective. IIRC, they said this had happened about 200 years ago.

Also, regarding foreign military advisers, etc., if I am not mistaken, the Satsuma and Choshu domains, in preparation for their battle with the Tokugawa, independently established relations with the French and the English (can't remember who went with whom, offhand) and imported the most advanced European weapons, whereas the Tokugawa were still using the old hinawaju (matchlocks). I'm pretty sure that the French and English were jockeying for position in the new Japan, hoping to solidify their relative positions at the expense of their traditional rival. I would imagine that with the weapons Satsuma and Choshu must have imported people to train them in their use.