Chapter 1: Japanese who traveled to Africa

The first chapter deals with Japanese travelers. Until the end of the Edo period (1603-1868), Africa was a stopover rather than a destination. From the Meiji period (1868-1912) onward, the number of Japanese doing business or research in Africa gradually increased.

Prior to the Meiji period: Samurai who went to Africa

Before the Meiji period, it was recorded that the Tensho embassy (four boys sent by Japanese Christian feudal lords to the Pope in 1582) passed through the Cape of Good Hope. At the end of the Edo period, the Shogunate sent several missions to Europe. They crossed Egypt by land and headed for Europe by way of the Mediterranean.

First Japanese Embassy to Europe, 1862

1)TAKASHIMA Kyuya, Ousei kikou (欧西紀行: Mission to Europe), Volume 6 (1867) [831-97]

Ousei kikou

Illustration of the steam locomotive running through the desert

In 1862, the Tokugawa shogunate decided to send a mission to Europe in order to negotiate a postponement of the opening of Edo, Osaka, Hyogo and Niigata to foreign trade. TAKENOUCHI Yasunori, the head of the mission, was ordered to research and study Western civilization in a broad sense, in addition to the negotiation. A total of 36 people departed from Shinagawa for Europe. FUKUZAWA Yukichi also participated in the mission as an interpreter. They sailed from Shinagawa to Suez on the British government frigate Odin and then took an overland route to Alexandria via Cairo. TAKASHIMA Yukei (Kyuya), the doctor of the mission, wrote that they took a steam locomotive from Suez to Cairo in Ousei kikou, a detailed report of the travel.

Second Japanese Embassy to Europe, 1863

The mission sent to Europe in 1863 is also known as the “Ikeda Mission,” named after the head of the delegation, IKEDA Nagaoki, magistrate of foreign affairs at that time. Responding to the strong intention of the Japanese Imperial Court to close the port of Yokohama once again in order to restore the national isolation policy, the shogunate sent the mission to negotiate with the European great powers. A group photo taken in front of the Sphinx in Egypt is known to us. It was taken by Antonio Beato (1832-1906) and is signed “A. Beato” in the lower left. Beato was a photographer from Italy, and was the younger brother of Felice (Felix) Beato, who was also a photographer and took many pictures of Japan around the Meiji Restoration. Antonio, active in Egypt then, took this photo when the Ikeda Mission passed through the country.

Members of Ikeda Nagaoki's Japanese Mission to Europe in front of the Sphinx, Egypt, 1864.
Members of Ikeda Nagaoki's Japanese Mission to Europe in front of the Sphinx, Egypt, 1864.

Ikeda and his business card used in France
Ikeda and his business card used in France

After the Meiji Restoration: Travelers, merchants, and researchers who went to Africa

In the Meiji period, many Japanese started moving to Hawaii, the U.S. mainland and Australia. From around 1900, however, the anti-Japanese movement began to spread in these countries. In order to avoid this movement, some Japanese went to South Africa, where English was spoken and the number of Japanese was still relatively small.
There were also people who visited South Africa as tourists. Below is the story of NAKAMURA Naokichi, who traveled around the world without money, and some Japanese he met during his visit to South Africa.


2)NAKAMURA Naokichi and OSHIKAWA Shunro, Godaishu Tankenki (五大洲探険記: The Exploration to the Five Continents), Volume 4, Hakubunkan, 1910 [95-74]

Nakamura Naokichi
Nakamura Naokichi

Nakamura Naokichi was born in what is now Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, in 1865. While running a hat store, he acknowledged himself as a “floating balloon” and an “innate travel bug” and first went to the U.S. by himself in 1888. He spent 10 years in the U.S. until 1898, working and traveling around North America, with a temporary return to Japan in 1893. In America, he met KATAYAMA Sen, a famous socialist.
After he returned home, he started to go on a penniless journey around the five continents in 1901 and traveled for 6 years. During the tour, he contributed to local newspapers in Toyohashi, Sanyo Shinpo (参陽新報) and Shin Choho (新朝報).
After returning to Japan, he coauthored the above-mentioned Godaishu Tankenki with Oshikawa Shunro, a famous adventure novelist of the time. The book is a 5-volume work and his visit to Africa is featured in volume 4, Africa Isshu (阿弗利加一周: Tour of Africa). The entire work consists of volume 1 Asia Tairiku Oko (亜細亜大陸横行: Crossing the Asian continent) (Korean Peninsula, mainland China, and Thailand), volume 2 Nanyo Indo Kikan (南洋印度奇観: The Spectacles in Southeast Asia and India) (Southeast Asia, India), volume 3 Tekkyaku Juo (鉄脚縦横: Across the Middle East and Southern Europe)' (Persia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, the Middle East and Europe), volume 4 Africa Isshu and volume 5 Oshu Musen Ryokou (欧州無銭旅行: Penniless Journey in Europe) (Europe).
Volume 4, Africa Isshu, begins with a ship sailing from Madeira Island, in the Atlantic Ocean, to Cape Town. It describes negotiations with the shipping company about his intention of boarding without fare and the immigration control in Cape Town. From Cape Town, he headed for the Republic of, where he visited some of the country's famous gold mines.
Nakamura generally traveled on foot with 100 yen (about 150,000 yen in present-day value), collected from his friends, and his “travel evidence book.” He used his title of “world explorer” to receive food and accommodation for free. Also, it seems that he usually negotiated for free boarding when traveling by ship. Nakamura was not the only one who made a penniless journey in those days, and German and Belgian travelers also visited Japan without money. They would use their business cards as penniless travelers and get support such as lodging.
In his “travel evidence book,” Nakamura added his self-introduction and wrote that he paid the national tax himself and he would raise his own travel expenses. He also asked IZAWA Shuji, a member of the House of Peers, to write a referral that assured the identification of Nakamura, the holder of the book. In the countries he visited, when he met celebrities he asked for their signature in his “travel evidence book” to use as a reference.

Business in Africa: General Store, Laundry

According to AOKI Sumio’s Japanese who went to Africa (アフリカに渡った日本人), Jiji Press, 1993 [DC812-E155], there were about 20 Japanese residents in Cape Town in 1903. Among them was FURUYA Komahei, who ran a successful general store called Mikado Shoten with his Japanese employees. Nakamura also met him when he stopped over in Cape Town. It is written in Africa Isshu that Furuya became a guarantor for Nakamura’s application for a travel permit to the Transvaal and put him up in his house.
In this section, in addition to Furuya, we will introduce other Japanese who did business in South Africa, such as IWASAKI Kanzo and AKASAKI Denzaburo.

Furuya Komahei was born in Ibaraki Prefecture. Before coming to Cape Town, he worked first with Americans on the mainland of the United States and then moved to Hawaii to work with an immigrant company. At the age of 28, he and his wife moved to Cape Town, where they launched Mikado Shokai. From its opening in 1898, the company dealt with Japanese goods, South African wool and other articles. Furuya himself left the management to a Japanese and returned to Japan in 1915. In 1942, as World War II intensified, the South African government ordered Japanese residents to leave the country and eventually, Mikado Shoten's property was confiscated.
Mikado Shoten dealt in miscellaneous goods. A directory of overseas business companies by the Commerce and Industry Division of Kobe City presents items handled by the company, including wool, medicine, cotton wool, silk cloth, cotton fabrics, cosmetics, copy paper, drafting paper, fans, asbestos and light bulbs. These items can be found in the Directory of Merchants and Manufacturers in Foreign Countries, Kobe City Commerce and Industry Division, 1922 [374-81].

Renshusen Taisei Maru Sekai Shuko Shashin Cho
Above: Mikado Shokai on Adalay Street
Bottom: Photo of Mr. and Mrs. Furuya
(Furuya in the center of the back row, Mrs. Furuya in the right of the front row, and his niece SUKEGAWA Kimiko on the left)

Furuya, his wife and their store are recorded in photos taken by the Tokyo Nautical College's training ship, Taisei Maru, which stopped at Cape Town during its round-the-world voyage.

Cape Town (Table Mountain) from the decks of the ship
Cape Town (Table Mountain) from the decks of the ship

Adderley Town, Cape Town
Adderley Town, Cape Town

IWASAKI Kanzo went to Australia as a cabin boy on a steamer, worked for a stockbroker in Melbourne, and then opened a laundry business there. In 1900, he decided to leave Australia where the economy was in a recession due to the Second Boer War that started in 1898. He departed with 3 other colleagues to South Africa, despite the fact that the war was still going on there, and arrived in the colony of Natal, where he started a new laundry business. After that, he sold the business and opened a general store called Kanzo Shokai in Durban. In 1903, Nakamura stopped over in Durban and stayed with the Iwasaki family for 1 month while waiting for a connecting ship. He probably handed over the store and returned to Japan around 1908.

AKASAKI Denzaburo, who did business in Madagascar from around 1904, is also well known. When the Russian Baltic fleet called at Madagascar during the Russo-Japanese War, he immediately telegraphed to the Japanese Consulate in Bombay, India, to inform them about the arrival of the fleet. Later, the Japanese Navy sent a letter of appreciation to him for that.


3)SHIRAKAWA Ikai, Jicchi Tosa Higashi Africa no Tabi (實地踏査東アフリカの旅: lit. Field Trip to East Africa), Hakubunkan,1928 [578-173]

In addition to the Japanese presented above, such as Nakamura and Furuya, there were other Japanese who made their way to Africa: known as “Karayuki-san” or “Joshigun (娘子軍: female army).” SHIRAKAWA Ikai was a reporter for the Osaka Asahi Shimbun newspaper and on board the Kanada-maru, the first ship of the African East Coast Line opened by Osaka Shosen Company in 1926. He wrote in this book that he was surprised to see in Zanzibar 4 or 5 Japanese women who were thought to have been in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia at that time.
Shirakawa said that almost no one in Japan would know that the women had come as far as Africa. He also reported that an older woman had been moving around islands of the South Indian Ocean since the age of 15 or 16 without contacting Japanese people for decades. He thought nothing could be more miserable and hoped that they would be able to return home as soon as possible. According to interviews with older women here, “Joshigun” had been in Zanzibar since at least 1894.

Researchers who traveled to Africa

Some Japanese researchers also visited Africa. NOGUCHI Hideyo is a notable one among them and is known for his research on yellow fever and syphilis. He died of yellow fever while studying it in Ghana. We will introduce some documents related to him as an example of Japanese researchers who went to Africa.
NOGUCHI Hideyo wrote many letters. Some of them were sent to his parents, wife, former teachers and benefactors. The National Diet Library owns his letters included in the ISHIGURO Tadanori collection (石黒忠悳関係文書: documents related to Tadanori Ishiguro) in the Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room.

4)Letter from NOGUCHI Hideyo to ISHIGURO Tadanori dated April 28, 1919 [Ishiguro Tadanori collection 936]

Letter from NOGUCHI Hideyo to ISHIGURO Tadanori

ISHIGURO Tadanori was from the same hometown as Hideyo Noguchi and laid the foundation of the medical system of the Japanese Army. Noguchi, who worked for the Institute of Infectious Disease, served as a guide for Simon Flexner, an American pathologist and epidemiologist and the director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, when he visited Tokyo. Tadanori Ishiguro was the army surgeon general and called Noguchi to have him report on Flexner's inspection tour to Japan. In this letter, Noguchi reported his research trip to Ecuador on yellow fever and wrote that he had been invited as a state guest in Quito, the capital, and vaccinated the military against the disease.
Many of his letters have been compiled and printed into a book titled Noguchi Hideyo shokanshu (野口英世書簡集: Collection of Hideyo Noguchi's letters), Hideyo Noguchi Memorial Association, 1989 [GK98-E30]. It also includes a letter he wrote to his acquaintance Madsen, the director of the Danish National Institute of Serology, on board a ship from the United States to England before heading to Ghana. It said that he was going to Accra, the capital of Ghana, to find out the etiology of yellow fever in West Africa and that one of the members from his laboratory, who had arrived earlier and participated in the research team, died in Lagos. The cause of death was not mentioned in the letter, but he said he would be surveying something different from the infections he had previously researched in South America and elsewhere.

Noguchi Hideyo and Thorvald Madsen
Noguchi Hideyo and Thorvald Madsen

In addition to Noguchi, many other researchers visited Africa. HACHISUKA Masauji was enthusiastically engaged in exploration and research even though he was often ridiculed as an aristocrat who was crazy about his hobby of research. He was originally an ornithologist who later wrote a PhD thesis on the extinct dodo. In 1930, he accompanied a Belgian expedition in Congo, where he became the first Japanese to meet a wild gorilla.

Hachisuka Masauji (photo taken in 1932)

5) MIYOSHI Takeji, Sekai no shojochi wo iku (世界の処女地を行く: Go to the world's virgin lands), Shinseisha, 1937. [713-182]

Sekai no shojochi wo iku
Cover of Sekai no shojochi wo iku

MIYOSHI Takeji joined the Belgian expedition to Congo with Hachisuka as a reporter for the Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun newspaper. The articles were serialized in Osaka Mainichi Shimbun newspaper in 58 installments. Part of this series is included in this book. The book was published six years after his Congo expedition. While the articles in Osaka Mainichi Shimbun featured Hachisuka, somehow his name is not mentioned in this book. The chapter “Gorilla Rakudo Tankenki” (ゴリラ楽土探検記: Exploration of Gorilla Paradise) deals with the Congo expedition and reports an encounter with lions at the campsite and a search for gorilla nests.

After World War II: Bank of Japan official and Minister of Foreign Affairs who went to Africa

As we have seen, from the Meiji period to the early Showa period, many Japanese visited Africa, some of whom settled there. However, the Second World War severed the relationship between Japan and Africa, and by 1942, most Japanese residing in Africa had returned to Japan.
After the war, the relationship between Japan and Africa first became active in the field of commerce. From the 1950s, Japanese trading companies expanded their business to African countries, exporting textiles and machinery and importing mineral resources such as copper, iron ore and manganese. In the 1970s, exchange and international cooperation at the government level developed rapidly because it became essential to deal with the trade issues between Japan and Africa and the resource issues caused by oil crises.

6)HATTORI Masaya, Rwanda chuo ginko sosai nikki (ルワンダ中央銀行総裁日記: Rwanda central bank governor Diary), Chuokoron-sha, 1972 [DF256-12]

At the request of the International Monetary Fund, the author, who had been an official at the Bank of Japan, assumed the post of governor of the Bank of Rwanda in 1965, 3 years after the country's independence. This book describes in detail from when he took office at the Central Bank, which was on the verge of bankruptcy and “couldn't get any worse,” to the time when the dual exchange rate system, which was the “root of all evil” of the Rwandan economy, was abolished and an economic revitalization plan centered on the liberalization of market was finally established. Even after the formulation of the plan, the author worked to develop the Rwandan economy through creative activities such as the establishment of the Rwandan Warehousing Corporation and the reconstruction of the Public Bus Corporation. Making sure that the economic revitalization plan was steadily implemented and bore fruit in 1970, the following year the author handed over the governorship to the Rwandan people and bid farewell to the country, where he had stayed for six years. This book was published in 1972, and one of the reasons why he was inspired to write it was “a concern that Japanese people's interest in African countries is focused solely on practical benefits such as resources and markets, and little attention is paid to the people living there.”

On the occasion of the successive independence of African countries from the late 1950s, the Japanese government promptly recognized the new independent countries and established diplomatic relations with them. Japan's diplomacy towards Africa was, however, generally inactive from the end of World War II. It was in 1974, after the first oil shock, that KIMURA Toshio became the first Japanese foreign minister to visit sub-Saharan Africa.
In the February 1975 issue of Gekkan Africa (月刊アフリカ: lit. Monthly Africa) [Z8-34], Kimura, Minister for Foreign Affairs at that time, gave an interview and stated his purpose and impressions after visiting 5 African countries (Ghana, Nigeria, Zaire (present the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Tanzania and Egypt). Kimura said he decided to visit Africa because “the African continent is still seen in the same way as the colonial period ... As a first step, Japan should show the right attitude from an international moral standpoint.” But he also states that another aim of the visit was to soften the criticism of Japan from other African countries for actively trading with South Africa, a racist country at the time.
MORI Yoshiro was the first Japanese Prime Minister to make a tour of sub-Saharan Africa, visiting South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria in 2001.

Below are the routes of the Bunkyu mission and NAKAMURA Naokichi’s journey.

Routes of the Bunkyu mission and Nakamura's journey
Routes of the Bunkyu mission and Nakamura's journey

Column: Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers

The activities of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs) can be cited as an example of Japanese people going to Africa. According to the website of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)External Link Bottom, the JOCVs, in response to requests or need from developing countries, recruit people who have appropriate skills, knowledge and experience and who wish to make use of their skills for the benefit of people in developing countries, then train and dispatch them.
According to the first issue (July 1965) of the official magazine of the JOCVs, Wakai chikara (若い力: lit. The Young Power) [Z24-195], destinations of the JOCVs at that time were mainly other Asian countries and they would be dispatched to Africa only if there was an appropriate project there. A few years later, however, in the same magazine and in Nihon Seinen Kaigai Kyouryokutai no Ayumi Showa 40/41 Nendo (日本青年海外協力隊のあゆみ 昭和40・41年度: lit. The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers' Progress in 1965/66) [DE71-70], many activities in Kenya, Tanzania and Morocco were presented, suggesting that the JOCVs had deep ties not only with Asia but also with Africa from the very beginning.
According to Seinen kaigai kyoryokutai 20 seiki no kiseki (青年海外協力隊20世紀の軌跡: lit. A History of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers in the 20th Century) [DE71-G206], “the number of JOCV members dispatched to Africa has continued to grow in both the east and west of the continent and surpassed that in the Asian region.” For many people, JOCVs may be symbolized by the activities in Africa.
Today, members from various occupations, such as science and mathematics teachers, community developers, computer engineers, nurses, auto mechanics, physical therapists, and librarians, are sent to African countries to work with local people for the purposes of “contribution to economic and social development and reconstruction in developing countries,” “deepening friendship and mutual understanding" and "cultivating an international perspective and returning volunteer experience to Japanese society.”

Images of the activities of a volunteer librarian in Tanzania
Images of the activities of a volunteer librarian in Tanzania
1: A picture-story show at an elementary school
2: Lecture at a librarian school
3: Instructing local librarians on services for children
4: Storytelling and contact with children in an orphanage

Next Chapter 2:
Africans who came to Japan

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