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Viscount Suematsu Kenchō (末松 謙澄?, September 30, 1855 – October 5, 1920) was a Japanese politician, intellectual, and author, who lived in the Meiji and Taishō periods. Apart from his activity in the Japanese government, he also wrote several important works on Japan in English. He was portrayed in a negative manner in Ryōtarō Shiba's novel Saka no ue no kumo.
Suematsu was born in the hamlet of Maeda in Buzen Province, now part of Yukuhashi, Fukuoka Prefecture. He was the fourth son of the village headman (shōya), Suematsu Shichiemon. His name was initially Ken'ichirō (謙一郎?), he later changed it to the shorter Kenchō.
At the age of ten he enrolled in a private school where he pursued studies in Chinese (kangaku 漢学). Suematsu went to Tokyo in 1871, and studied with Ōtsuki Bankei and Kondō Makoto. In 1872, he briefly entered the Tokyo Normal School, but left it soon after. It was around this time that he made the acquaintance of Takahashi Korekiyo.
In 1874, at age 20, Suematsu began working for the Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun newspaper (predecessor to the Mainichi Shinbun), writing editorials under the pen name Sasanami Hitsuichi (笹波篳一). During his time working for the newspaper, he was befriended by its editor, Fukuchi Gen'ichirō.
Suematsu at Cambridge
Suematsu arrived in London in 1878 with the Japanese embassy which was dispatched there, and enrolled in Cambridge University in 1881. He graduated with a law degree from Cambridge (St. John's College, Cambridge) in 1884, returning to Japan in 1886.
Suematsu was elected to the Diet of Japan in 1890. Suematsu served as Communications Minister (1898) and Home Minister in his father-in-law Itō Hirobumi's fourth cabinet, 1900-01. He had married Itō's second daughter Ikuko in 1889 when he was 35 and she was 22. As they were from clans which had fought in the 1860s (Kokura and Chōshū), he wittily described his marriage as "taking a hostage".
Suematsu was influential in the founding of Moji port in 1889, approaching Shibusawa Eiichi for finance. He also worked to improve the moral standards of Japanese theatre and founded a society for drama criticism.
From 1904 to 1905 Suematsu was sent by the Japanese cabinet to Europe to counteract anti-Japanese propaganda of the Yellow Peril variety and argue Japan's case in the Russo-Japanese War, much as Harvard-educated Kaneko Kentarō was doing at the request of Itō Hirobumi at the same time in the USA. Suematsu was promoted from baron (danshaku) to viscount (shishaku) in 1907 in the kazoku peerage.
Suematsu was also active as a writer of English works on Japanese subjects. His works include the first English translation of Genji Monogatari (which he wrote while at Cambridge) and several books on aspects of Japanese culture.
- Kenchio Suyematz, trans. Genji Monogatari : The Most Celebrated of the Classical Japanese Romances. London: Trubner, 1882.
- Baron Suematsu, A Fantasy of Far Japan; or, Summer Dream Dialogues. London: Constable, 1905.
- Kenchio Suyematsu, The Risen Sun. London: Constable, 1905.
- NCBank biographical timeline of Suematsu's life
- Yukuhashi City webpage about Suematsu
- Cobbing, The Japanese Discovery of Victorian Britain, p. 123.
- O'Brien, The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-1922, p. 202.
- Lister, The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910: Gateway to the Island Empire of the East, p. 94.
References (Books and articles)
- Suematsu Kencho: International Envoy to Wartime Europe, Ian Nish in 'On the Periphery of the Russo-Japanese War Part II', STICERD Discussion paper, LSE, No. IS/05/491, May 2005
- Japanese Students at Cambridge University in the Meiji Era, 1868-1912: Pioneers for the Modernization of Japan, by Noboru Koyama, translated by Ian Ruxton, (Lulu, September 2004, ISBN 1-4116-1256-6)
- "Suematsu Kencho, 1855-1920: Statesman, Bureaucrat, Diplomat, Journalist, Poet and Scholar," by Ian Ruxton, Chapter 6, Britain & Japan: Biographical Portraits, Volume 5, edited by Hugh Cortazzi, Global Oriental, 2005, ISBN 1-901903-48-6
- O'Brien, Phillips P. (2004). The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902-1922. (London: RoutledgeCurzon).
- Lister, Ayako Hotta (1995). The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910: Gateway to the Island Empire of the East. (London: Routledge).
- Cobbing, Andrew (1998). The Japanese Discovery of Victorian Britain. (London: Routledge).
- M. Matsumura, Pōtsumasu he no michi: Kōkaron to Yōroppa no Suematsu Kenchō, pub. Hara Shobo, 1987
- M. Mehl (1993). "Suematsu Kenchô in Britain, 1878-1886", Japan Forum, 5.2, 1993:173-193.
- Kaneko Kentaro
- Kikuchi Dairoku
- Inagaki Manjiro
- Cambridge University
- Anglo-Japanese relations
- Japanese students in Britain
- Suematsu's memorial stone is at Yukuhashi city, Fukuoka prefecture. He was born there.
- Japanese Literature by Various at Project Gutenberg Contains a translation of the first 17 chapters of The Tale of Genji, with an introduction and footnotes, by Suematsu.
- Kenchō Suematsu (1905). The Risen Sun. Archibald Constable., available here from Google Books.
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