Historical Heritage of the Mietsu Navy Site in Saga, Kyushu
-= Challenges of modern shipbuilding by the local clan under the feudal Edo –
♣ Outline of Mietsu shipbuilding heritage
In Saga prefecture in Kyushu, there’s the famous historical heritage of navy facility, named “Mietsu Kaigunnsho” (Navy Training Site in Mietsu). This heritage was later designated as a World Industrial Heritage. I could happen to visit this heritage of Saga in my travel to Kyushu. The Site was constructed for building up military vessels and conducting naval training by the Saga Han (Feudal local clan) in the Tokugawa period (in the end of 19c). This report is a small visit note of my visit
<Saga’s Development Challenge of Shipbuilding>
The Saga Han, and its Daimyo Nabeshima Naomasa, was well known as one of the enlightened feudal land lord who was actively working introducing modern science and technology from the early time of his rule, even under the seclusion of Japan at that time. So this heritage was a precious evidence being able to trace the technical challenge of the local government Han in the Edo period. Eventually this navy site got successful to build the Western steamships and to construct modern docks in this Mietsu, Saga, by Saga clan’s local initiatives.
In the meantime, around that period, Tokugawa Shogunate (Edo government) had been engaging the strong policy to counter the threat from Western naval power by building own battleships and conducting naval training in several strategic points. The “Nagasaki Navy Training Institute” was major one for this purposes. And they had nurtured a bunch of naval engineers and talents there. However, it was closed soon because of the financial reasons. Then the Saga Han had created its similar facility in the Mietsu district by themselves, and began the “Naval Training” independently by their own initiatives, because they felt the direct threat from the foreign naval power and it required to cope with them.
♣ Mietsu Navy Training Site and Sano’s Memorial Hall
The local government and academic circles, which have recognized the historical importance of this navy site, have launched the investigation on the footage of the Mietsu Navy Training Site (Mietsu NTS) in 1990s. Then they found the several remaining relics at the site of Mietsu recently, such as ruins of shipment lodges, sailing training spots, ship buildings, and repairing facilities. Among them, the relics of dry dock in the premises was highly valuated as the first modern ship’s dry dock constructed in Japan. People could observe the clear trails there how energetically Japan, even the local government, had been challenging to develop shipbuilding technology by using the traditional craftsmanship combined with the Western modern technology when facing the foreign military threat.
Any ways, this historic site was begun to excavate since the 2000s while the local government Saga was hoping the nomination of “World Heritage” of Unesco. And it was decided to become a historic park in order to memorialize the old time endeavors of Saga clan.
However, when people visit the the site now, unfortunately they couldn’t see much of the visible appearance of the relics, except of the several scattering stone marks in the grassy field, which is associated with the iron furnaces, training stations, repairing sites, mooring places, and others. They seem to be the only remaining proof which certificates the old working sites there. Of course, there were a number of explanatory boards facilitated on the remaining ruins here in the site including dry dock though.
As a matter of facts, these environments might be inevitable if it considers the preservation of historical heritages like these. The restoration of the Mietsu NTS, particularly the sites of the dry dock was quite hard to deal with them, because they were made of wood, and easily damaged if expose them to the open air. Then, the heritage sites had been buried back under the ground in order to protect them. It is a pity for the visitors, but it might be the fate of the historical remains like this .
Instead, the artifacts and reproduction pictures as the result of excavation are displayed in the “Sano Tsunetami Memorial Hall” located nearby the Mietsu NTS . So the whole figures of the “Naval Training and Shipbuilding sites” can be examined by these. Also, a kind of CGI scope was prepared there for visitors to inspect the former figures of the site by 3D’s live figures.
♣ Historical significance of Mie-tsu Navy ruins
Meantime, this Mietsu Naval Relics are regarded as a valuable evidence to illustrate the development process of shipbuilding technology of Japan from the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate to the Meiji Period. Firstly it shows the footage of construction process of the large style vessels by combining the techniques of traditional Japanese shipbuilding methods and Western technology, and for the second, it was indicating the existence of highly level of technique in Japan’s engineer which built up steamships for the first time in Japan under the limited resources and short knowledge about the modern shipbuilding techniques. It can be well recognized, more than anything, in the several remaining “Repairing and Production sites” found around the dry dock compound .
At the production site, many fractured bricks of rectangular furnace, crucible furnace, casting place were found by the excavation of the academic teams, in addition to the lots of components made by iron and copper alloy, like the iron bonding rivet used for assembling boiler and others. These were never found anywhere in Japan before. It was believed that the extremely high skill for its production, and well organized material control method required to crimp the red heated rivets on to the curved iron plate in a short time.
In these works, Tanaka Hisashige and other talented engineers, who had been invited by Saga Han, were actively involved, and they had been working at the so called “Seirenngata” (Science and Technology Institute of Saga in the Edo period). Along with this lices, Japan’s first steamship “Ryo-Fu maru” was completed by facilitating the unique boilers made of Saga in the end of Edo period.
In addition, the Mietsu NTS is listed as the existing oldest dry dock in Japan which was used for restoring the large Western ships by Saga clan. In this dry dock, structurally the wooden frame staircase was used, and huge numbers of shells were placed on the bottoms to protect the dry dock.
Additionally, whereas the dock of ”Yokosuka Steel Works was constructed under the hand of foreign engineers, but this dock was designed and built by Japanese engineers using only its own ingenuity. So it is the unique facility never being observable in the other docks in this meaning. It is considered that the wisdom and ingenuity of engaged engineers who developed new technology were shown there.
It would be significant that the Saga clan, which was just a local force, but how could accomplish such a great works by overcoming many technical barriers. And it is surprising too how they could mobilize numerous technicians in the last days of Edo period. We have to astonish the engineering power and outstanding leadership of Saga’s government at that time.
♣ Sano Tsuenetami’s accomplishment and his Memorial Museum
While the archaeological excavation of the “Mietsu NTS “ was proceeding, the “Sano Tsunetani Memorial Hall” was constructed in 2004 to introduce the Mietsu’s significance as historical heritages and the great role of Sano in associated with the construction of the naval base.
In this memorial hall, a number of relics and materials are stocked and displayed which had been excavated from the Naval site. There, the three-dimensional models, the space-time chronology, the dome theater, etc. are facilitated to convey the history of naval center. And particularly the Hall is playing the role of information spot for the Mietsu heritage after the designation of ” World Heritage” in 2015.
Sano Tsunetami known as a head of management staff of this naval facility in the Edo era, so, the Hall also exhibits the materials which show his yearly notes, memorabilia and others related the Mietsu NTS and his pioneering works of scientific and various social activities.
According to the explanation, Sano learned “Ranagaku” and “Western Medication”deeply from the the master piece of Ogata Koan and Ito Genboku in Edo and Osaka after finishing his study at the Saga’s “Kodokan” school in his young age. And then Sano was ordered to back to Saga to take post of head of “Seirengata” institute (Saga’s science institute) by Saga’s Daimyo Nabeshima Naomasa.
There, he contributed much to the advancement of modernization of military and development of industries in Saga, such as the construction of Reflectance Furnace at Tsukiji, completion of steam engine model, building of Western large vessels, etc. with the collaboration from the great Edo’s engineers like Tanaka Hisashige (Later become a founder of Toshiba in Meiji), Nakamura and other figures.
Sano was also assigned to the leader at the Mietsu NTS and directed the operations of shipbuilding there. The steamship “Ryofu-maru” constructed in 1865 as a first large steam ship in Japan by his hand. In addition, Sano had participated to the Paris Expo in 1867 as a representative of the Saga Han clan in the end of the Tokugawa period, and after Meiji, he was even assigned to take a leading figure at the first held domestic Expo in Japan.
However, his greatest achievement would be the establishment of the “Japanese Red Cross Society” (the original name is “Hakuaisha”) in the early Meiji Era. Therefore, Sano’s great achievements would be the introduction of “Benevolence” , a global humanistic ethics, to Japan and promoted the modernization of society as a whole, not only introducing modern technology.
In my understanding, “Sano Memorial Hall” is a valuable museum to acknowledge about the Japan’s initiatives to promote the social and science modernization even under the reclusive Edo period.
♣ Last remark
I’ve had a lot of opportunities to visit Fukuoka, Kitakyushu, Nagasaki and Kumamoto, and Kagoshima of Kyushu region, but I haven’t been in Saga for the long time. But I found this time that it is an unique and amazing place worth to visit.
Although Saga played an important role in politics, economics and society from the end of the Edo period to the Meiji era, but it looked somewhat inconspicuous about its role in history so far. However, through this visit, I realized strongly the fact that Saga had played the outstanding pioneering works in modernizing Japanese society.
In particular, it should be noted that under the isolation and feudal system, many pioneering works were tested and done in association of the absorption of Western industrial technology, including shipbuilding, steelmaking, business promotion, social modernization and many others. Even in terms of human resources, significant figures such as Okuma Shigenobu, Fukushima Shiomi, Sano Shizunaku, Eto Shinpei have contribute greatly to build foundation of society after the Meiji era.
In particular, Sano played important role in the “Seirenngata” science institute, the innovative activity in the Mietsu NTS, Expo project, social activity like foundation of the Red Cross Japan, and so on. Through visit the Mietsu Navy Training Station and the Sano Memorial Hall, I reminded again of the great role of Saga for modernizing society and science, and social dynamism in the infant period of Japan.
- http://mietsu-sekaiisan.jp/sp/ 三重津世界遺産HP
- http://mietsu-sekaiisan.jp/history/ 三重津世界遺産HP History ;
- 佐賀・精錬方HP: https://www.city.saga.lg.jp/main/3855.html
- 佐野常民博物館 http://www.saganet.ne.jp/tunetami