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Leading Members Of The Iwakura-mission. Iwakura Tomomi Is In The Middle. Photograph Is Public Domain, Via Wikimedia Commons

1872: When samurai came to Saltaire

1872 saw something unique in Saltaire. The village welcomed a group of Japanese dignitaries, the Iwakura Embassy. And 2023 sees, for the first time, the publication of a comprehensive history of this remarkable event.

Entitled 1872: When samurai came to Saltaire a paper describing the visit has been researched as a joint effort between the Saltaire History Club and Saltaire Collection.

The Embassy’s visit was remarkable because, only a few years before, Japan had been closed to foreign influence and contacts. Remarkable also, because the dignitaries were very senior indeed: their leader, Iwakura Tomomi, was Japan’s Foreign Secretary. Remarkable, because the ambassadors were on a round-the-world journey which would last over 20 months, taking in North America and much of Europe, and meetings with the US President, Queen Victoria and Chancellor Bismarck of newly unified Germany. Remarkable, because they had chosen to visit still-incomplete Saltaire, in their quest to discover how Japan might catch up with the newly-industrialised and prosperous ‘Western Civilisation’.

Today, Japan has the world’s third largest economy: in 1872, it was just emerging from 800 years of feudalism.

The Embassy’s journey was a key step on Japan’s road to modernisation. Saltaire was part of that!

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