Enomoto Takeaki

Enomoto Takeaki

Enomoto Takeaki (榎本 武揚 , Edo, August 25, 1836 - Tokyo, August 26, 1908) was a Japanese naval admiral loyal to the Tokugawa Shogunate, who fought against the new Meiji government until the end of the Boshin War, but later served the new government.

He was president of the short-lived Ezo Republic between 1868 and 1869.

Enomoto Takeaki Biography

Early life

Enomoto was born a member of a samurai family of the Tokugawa clan, in the Shitaya district of Edo (present-day Taitō. Enomoto began studying Dutch in the 1850s, and after the opening of Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854, he studied at the new Nagasaki Navy Training Center established by the Tokugawa Shogunate and on the warship Tsukiji at the Training Center in Edo.

At the age of 26, Enomoto was sent to Holland to study Western techniques in naval warfare and Western technologies. He stayed in Europe from 1862 to 1867, and thus became fluent in Dutch and English.

He returned to Japan aboard the battleship Kaiyō Maru, a steam warship purchased in the Netherlands by the Tokugawa Shogunate government. While in Europe, Enomoto had realized that the telegraph would be an important means of communication in the future, and he began planning a system to connect Edo and Yokohama.

Upon his return, he was promoted to Kaigun Fukusosai (海军 副 総 裁), the second highest rank in the Shogunate Navy, at the age of 31. He also received the court title of Izumi-no-kami (和 泉 守).

Meiji Restoration

During the Meiji Restoration, after the surrender of Edo in 1868 to forces loyal to the new Meiji government during the Boshin War, Enomoto refused to surrender his warships, and fled to Hakodate (on the island of Hokkaido) along with the rest of the Navy of the former Tokugawa Shogunate, plus a handful of French military advisors and their leader, Jules Brunet.

His fleet of eight steam warships was the strongest in Japan at the time.

Enomoto hoped to create an independent country under the Tokugawa family's empire in Hokkaidō, but the Meiji government refused to accept the partition of Japan. On December 15, 1868, the "Republic of Ezo" was proclaimed independent, with an organization similar to that of the United States, Enomoto was elected as the first president with the Japanese name of sōsai.

This would be the first person elected by suffrage in Japan, since Japan was ruled under a strict feudal structure and with the support of warlords.

The following year, Meiji government forces invaded Hokkaidō and defeated Enomoto's forces at the naval battle of Hakodate. On May 18, 1869, the Ezo Republic collapsed, and Hokkaidō passed to the rule of the central government headed by the Meiji Emperor.

Meiji Era Politician

After his surrender, Enomoto was arrested, charged with high treason and imprisoned. However, the leaders of the new Meiji government (largely at the insistence of Prime Minister Kuroda Kiyotaka), pardoned him in 1872, thinking that because of his knowledge he could be of use.

He thus became one of the few former Tokugawa supporters to make the transition to the new ruling elite, the politics of the time being dominated by the Choshu and Satsuma men, who had a strong bias against outsiders in general, and former Tokugawa servants in particular.

Enomoto was an exception, however, and quickly rose within the new ruling clique to a higher rank than any other member of the previous Tokugawa government.

Enomoto Takeaki Final years

In 1874, he was awarded the rank of vice-admiral of the fledgling Imperial Japanese Navy. The following year, he went to Russia as a special envoy to negotiate the Treaty of St. Petersburg.

The successful conclusion of the treaty was very well received in Japan and gained prestige within the ruling circles, the fact that Enomoto had been chosen for such an important mission was proof of reconciliation between former enemies of the government.

In 1880, Enomoto became Minister of the Navy (海军 卿). In 1885, because of his diplomatic skills he was again called upon to assist Itō Hirobumi in concluding the Tientsin Convention with the Qing Dynasty. Thereafter, Enomoto attained a series of high positions in the Japanese government.

He was Japan's first Minister of Communications (1885 - 1888) after the introduction of the cabinet system in 1885. He also served as Minister of Agriculture and Trade in 1888 and again from 1894 to 1897; Minister of Education between 1889 and 1890 and Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1891 and 1892.

In 1887, Enomoto was ennobled to the rank of viscount under the kazoku framework of the hereditary noble title system, and was selected as a member of the Privy Council. Two years later he was appointed president of the Japanese Photographic Society.

He was especially active in promoting Japanese emigration through settler settlements in the Pacific Ocean and South and Central America.

In 1891, he established - against the will of the Matsukata Masayoshi cabinet - an emigration section in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the task of encouraging emigration and the search for new territories for the Japanese abroad.

Two years later, after leaving the government, Enomoto also helped establish a private organization, the "Colonial Association," to promote foreign trade.