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PEOPLE

2023.03.31
Vol.53

The Saga Clan Built Japan's First Reverberatory Furnace, and the "Mietsu Naval Station" was the Base of the Western-style Navy: Passing on the Passion That Went Into Registering the Site as a World Heritage Site to the Next Generation

Mr. Yoshimi Eguchi

Former Director of the Sano Tsunetami Memorial Museum (currently known as Sano Tsunetami and the Mietsu Naval Dock History Museum)

Mr. Yoshimi Eguchi
PROFILE

Born July 12, 1938, in Fukutomi, the town of Kawazoe-cho, Saga City.

Graduated from Naka-Kawazoe Junior High School and Yanagawa Commercial High School.

After working for Saga Tamaya, he served as public secretary to a member of the House of Representatives, Mayor of Kawazoe Town, Director of the Sano Tsunetami Memorial Museum, Chairman of the Kawazoe Town Land Improvement District, and Chairman of the Saga Prefecture Official Baseball Umpires Association.

He is currently President of the Yanagawa High School Alumni Association, Director of the General Affairs Department of the Saga City Federation of Senior Citizens, President of the Naka-Kawazoe Vice Senior Citizens Association, President of the Naka-Kawazoe Town Development Council for the Village of Benevolence, and Vice President of the Naka-Kawazoe School District Welfare Council.

The History of Steelmaking in Japan Began in Saga

Kato: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule today.

Eguchi: I am very happy to hear of your ever-increasing success. I was so excited when the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2015. It was a moment when my dream came true.

Kato: The “Mietsu Naval Station Site,” one of the component parts, was the base of the Western-style navy of the Saga Clan, located in Saga City, Saga Prefecture.

Eguchi: As is well known, the Saga Clan placed gun batteries in the bay to defend Nagasaki and prepare for the threat of warships from Western powers. With the support of the Dutch Navy, information on Western science was obtained, and when the Nagasaki Naval Training School opened, Saga clan lord Nabeshima Naomasa dispatched clan officers to learn Western-style ship-handling techniques. After the institute closed, a Western-style dry dock was built in Mietsu using traditional methods. Through the work of Sano Tsunetami, the paddle steamer named “Ryoufumaru” was successfully constructed.

Kato: Initially, however, the Saga’s component part was not included in the provisional list of industrial heritage sites on the World Heritage List.

Eguchi: That was the case, wasn’t it?

Kato: The steps towards World Heritage status were started through teamwork between myself and Mr. Stuart B. Smith, former Executive Director of the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH), who looked at the documents and said that the fact that the Saga clan was the first in Japan to build reverberatory furnaces was significant.

Eguchi: Until then, people had been making things from bronze, but it became possible to make things from iron, which is harder than bronze, and this led to railways and so on.

Kato: In other words, the history of iron manufacturing in Japan can be said to have started in Saga. On the other hand, Saga Prefecture mentioned the Takatori Residence, which still exists in Karatsu City. It is a gorgeous gold-brocaded mansion with a Noh stage inside, built by Takatori Koreyoshi, who was known as the owner of multiple coal mines, such as the Kishima Coal Mine and others. However, it was difficult to include only a private residence in the concept of the Heritage of Meiji Industrial Revolution. Therefore, it was necessary to drop the residences, including that of Ito Denemon House, who was known as the "King of Coal Mines" of Chikuho. Even the Glover Residence in Nagasaki was considered difficult.

Eguchi: I see. I remember that you and Mr. Smith visited Saga in February 2008. I did not meet you two then because I was appointed director of the Sano Tsunetami Memorial Museum in April of the same year. Nonetheless, since I had been unofficially designated as the director of the museum, I had seen the materials.

Kato: Until then, you were the mayor of Kawazoe Town, weren't you? Mr. Kazuyoshi Suzuki, a senior researcher at the National Museum of Nature and Science (currently Director of the Center for the History of Japanese Industrial Technology at the National Museum of Nature and Science)—joined the committee of experts on the Industrial Heritage of Modernization of Kyushu-Yamaguchi—said that Kawazoe's mayor was a big shot.

Eguchi: When I ran for mayor in 1995, one of my pledges was to build a museum to commemorate Tsunetami Sano, one of the "Seven Sages of Saga," who founded the Japanese Red Cross and played a significant role in the Mietsu Navy at the end of the Edo period. I was very much indebted to Mr. Suzuki.

Kato: Is that so?

Eguchi: Still, I was surprised at first. To be honest, I had never thought that Saga would be registered as a World Heritage site. But it was very exciting, and I was elated that such a possibility existed. Up until then, I had been giving lectures and other talks. I had always said that "hard work always pays off," but I had never felt such a reward for my efforts as I did at the moment the decision was made to inscribe the site as a World Heritage Site in Bonn, Germany, in 2015. I will never forget the joy I felt that day. In 2018, I received a letter of appreciation from the World Heritage Route Promotion Council, and I am deeply grateful to you for all of your efforts.

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