An amateur historian has spent 36 years and his own savings honoring a pivotal moment in Japan's modern history.
Former liquor seller Takeo Asaumi, 82, has opened a museum about the 1862 murder of a British merchant and its consequences. He also paid to restore the man's grave.
Samurais murdered Charles Richardson after he appeared to have showed insufficient deference. The Namamugi Incident, named for a village about a dozen miles south of Tokyo, sparked a local war with Britain.
"It triggered the process by which Japan became a modern nation," another history enthusiast once told Asaumi. "It is strange that there's no museum."
Those words from an elderly man from Kagoshima Prefecture set Asaumi on his quest.
Richardson had been riding near present-day Yokohama when he encountered the long procession of samurai and their lord from the Satsuma clan in what is today's Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan's distant south. The warriors gestured for Richardson to give way, then killed him when he failed to do so. The Briton was only 28 when he was slain. Two companions were also injured.
Aug. 21 marks the 150th anniversary of the incident.
The Satsumas initially refused to pay compensation or to surrender the perpetrators. Britain launched a war, and the episode is now considered seminal in Japan's later modernization.
Asaumi grew up in the neighborhood where the murder took place, but paid little attention to a local monument until the stranger asked for directions to it.
Asaumi got the history bug. He began to collect documents and memorabilia about the incident. He scoured second-hand bookshops in Japan and found out that photographs were kept at a university in the Netherlands. He obtained an old newspaper report about the murder in Britain.
In all, he has amassed 1,000 items of memorabilia, ranging from journals to brocade pictures.
"Those pieces seemed to talk to me," he said. "They needed to be passed down to future generations."
Asaumi also took modern history courses at Waseda University for 10 years so that he could give visitors a detailed description of the incident.
Neighbors now help operate the museum he created in his house, which draws about 300 visitors a month. It is rewarding, he said, when junior high school students visit to research their history homework.
And he won a fine honor from the late novelist Akira Yoshimura. The author visited the museum numerous times while writing a book on the Namamugi Incident. In that volume, he describes Asaumi as quite simply "an awe-inspiring ordinary citizen."
In addition to the museum, the Yokohama Archives of History in Yokohama is also running an exhibit on Richardson through Oct. 21. The exhibition titled "Namamugi Jiken, Gekishin, Bakumatsu Nihon" (Namamugi Incident, a big impact, Japan in the closing years of the Tokugawa Shogunate), features letters from Richardson to his family and other related personal items.
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Related story at http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/AJ201207110010
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