Choshu Five | 長州ファイブ J-Film

Presented by JICC, Embassy of Japan and the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC

A historical drama about five young samurai who risked their lives to travel to the West in search of knowledge that would shape the dawn of modern Japan…

After the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853, Japan began to open its ports to more foreign traders. There was strong anti-foreign sentiment and resistance to this sudden influx of foreign merchants. However, there were some who recognized that it would be better to learn from the foreigners than to fight them.

In 1863, a group of five young intrepid samurai from the Choshu domain in western Japan were determined to acquire learning from the West. Despite risking the death penalty for violating the ban on overseas travel, these samurai, abandoning their swords, disguised themselves as sailors and set off on a boat across the ocean bound for England. They would become known to history as the “Choshu Five.”

Winner of the Grand Remi Award at the 40th WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival.

Who were the “Choshu Five”?

Choshu Five

In 1863, five young samurai approached William Kenswick, a Hong Kong-based British shipping agent, for safe and secret passage to Shanghai. Putting away their swords and cutting off their top-knots to disguise themselves, they were smuggled to Shanghai and then enlisted as apprentice seamen with the British Merchant Navy.

Arriving in England and through contacts via Mr. Kenswick, they were soon enrolled in the University College of London where they studied the technological and scientific advancements of western Europe.

When they returned to Japan, these five would become a core part of the new government of modern Japan after the end of the Shogunate in 1868. The members of the “Choshu Five” included:

  • Ito Hirobumi, the father of the Japanese Constitution and the first Prime Minister of Japan.
  • Kaoru Inoue, the first Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
  • Kinsuke Endo, founding Master of the Japanese Mint Bureau
  • Masaru Inoue, the founder and President of the Japanese Board of Railways
  • Yozo Yamao, Secretary of State in Japan’s Ministry of Industry and established the first Institute of Technology. He also introduced sign language into the education system.

After the “Choshu Five” had departed, another group of samurai came to England to study in 1865. They were later known as the “Satsuma Fourteen” and they would also play important roles in the development of modern Japan.

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