Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Found : the American Samurai in Kumamoto

I asked my American friend who studied at one of the Kumamoto Universities as a foreign exchange student some years ago, "Do you miss anything in Kumamoto?" He answered, "Sure, the rich water from Mount Aso." His reply inspired me to visit the local areas close by with water, such as Hakenomiya, Lake Ezu, etc., not to mention the famous Suizenji Park (shown above). I learned that Kumamoto (population of about 670,000) is one of the rare cities which enjoy plentiful water from rich underground water resources. The underground water supplies originate from Aso Caldera, the active volcano surrounded by mountain ranges and plateaus. The vast Shirakawa River runs through the city. I observed water welling out in a number of places in Hakenomiya and Lake Ezu.

Lake Ezu

City Hall has a speical electronic board with the up-to-the-minute water levels at various locations. Lake Ezu's figures average 7.0-7.5 meters throughout the year. Kumamoto Castle had many deep wells as sources of water in case they were besieged.

A few days ago I was in Kumamoto again. It was a sunny day and unusually warm for January. I took a stroll around Suizenji Park and came upon the first western colonial style house in Kumamoto (1871), designated as an important cultural property of the prefecture. The house is known as L.L. Janes' Residence, so named because the Janes' family of four were the first occupants. The museum director briefed me on who he was and I realized this gentleman was the model for Captain Algren in the movie The Last Samurai played by Tom Cruise. Captain Leroy Lansing Janes (Jaynes) was an 1861 graduate from West Point and fought in the Battle of Fort Stevens in the Civil War. The battle was fought on July 11 and 12 in Northwest Washington, D.C. as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 between the forces under Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early and Union General Horatio Wright. The battle resulted in a Union victory.

After the Meiji Restoration, many local lords hastened to set up schools for the children of the clans. Governor Hosokawa, the ex-Kumamoto lord was no exception and he requested an American teacher through the Meiji Government. Janes was no Captain Algren and he did not drink. He was a pious, hard working Christian, born in New Philadelphia, Ohio, the son of Colonel Elisha Janes, who served as the county sheriff (1838-1841). He was 34 years old when he took the job. He taught more than a dozen curricula in English by himself, ranging from geometry, algebra, physics, chemistry, biology, to English.

The museum exhibited some of the textbooks he had handwritten. His methodology focused on group study, self-teaching rather than through lecturing, bringing out the best of the student. He selected group leaders to train their juniors. He taught the first coed school in Japan aimed to instill the ideals of the Japanese spirit with western teachings. He also ventured into farming vegetables with a horse driven plough and taught culturing fruit by grafting, dairy farming, bread-making and he imported the first print machine. The community respected his great mind and his five-year contract could have been renewed. Unfortunately, many of his students converted to ardent Protestants under his influence. Christianity had long been banned during Tokugawa Shogunate and was still frowned upon. Those who practiced were subjected to persecution. Janes left Kumamoto in 1876 in obscurity.

The bloody Seinan War broke out in 1877, just after he left, in the 10th year of Meiji. Therefore, he was not involved in the war as in the movie The Last Samurai. If he were, he would have fought against the rebel Satsuma force led by Takamori Saigo. Captain Algren sided with the rebels. Kumamoto Castle was besieged by the rebels. His residence became quarters for Prince Arisugawa-no-miya Taruhito, as well as the field hospital for the wounded soldiers. Again the museum exhibited a decayed wooden shutter on which the injured were carried. The house became the symbol of the birth of the Japanese Red Cross Hospital.

The two-story house was originally built inside the Kumamoto Castle. It was moved to the present location, outside the castle, next to the third house of author Soseki Natsume. The subdued colors of the roof and walls were green and brown and the windows and door frames all contribute to a harmony that suggests settled warmth. The museum director said that Nagasaki carpenters, who built the Glover House in 1863, were involved in the construction.

Records show that L.L. Janes returned to Japan and taught English in Osaka, Kagoshima, etc. and retired in San Jose, California. Several Kumamotoans visited him in San Jose.

Lastly, I found that Doshisha University in Kyoto, as well as the International Christian University in Musashino, Tokyo had affiliations with the Western School of Kumamoto, when the descendents of Janes' (Jaynes) students were traced. Janes, apparently tried to save lives of students in sanctuary, if they pursued their religious creeds.

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