The Japanese have from early days been a seafaring race:-they proved this by their repeated piratical attacks on the seaboard of Korea and China, which became so disastrous that the timid Chinese government for a time let a belt of land along the coast lie waste as a protection. But of a navy properly so called during the Middle Ages, little is known. Both the central government and the Daimyōs possessed war-ships which were worked, like the galleys of the Mediterranean, partly with sails and partly with oars; and although the outward form differed from that of the galley, the internal arrangements were the same. These ships played an important part in the domestic feuds of the times. The national annals tell of their presence at the famous battle of Dan-no-ura in A.D. 1185 between the partisans of the great houses of Taira and Minamoto, and again in the still more famous expedition to Korea under Hideyoshi at the end of the sixteenth century. This ancient navy, however, disappeared without leaving any traditions.
The foundation of the modern Japanese navy dates from the last days of the Shōgunate, when a few young men were sent to Holland for instruction in seamanship, and the services of a small party of British naval officers and men, under the leadership of Commander Tracey, R. N., were obtained through the instrumentality of Sir Harry Parkes, then British minister at Yedo. This was in September, 1867. Five months later, the revolution which drove the Shōgun from his throne broke out, and the Naval Mission, as it was termed, was withdrawn, first to Yokohama, then home to England. During the troublous times that ensued, some of the greater Daimyōs devoted all their energies to military matters. One of them, the Prince of Hizen, eager to possess a navy of his own, engaged Lieutenant Hawes, of the Royal Marines, as gunnery instructor on board a vessed named the Ryūjō Kan; and this officer, who had an unusual talent for organisation, and who occupied himself, both on board the Ryūjō Kan and later on in other positions, with many matters besides gunnery and the training of marines, may be considered the real father of the Japanese navy. In the year 1873, when all storms were over and the Mikado had long been restored to absolute power, the British government lent the services of a second Naval Mission, headed by Commander Douglas, R. N., and consisting of thirty officers and men. A Naval College was built in Tōkyō, and instruction in all the necessary branches was seriously commenced, young officers and seamen being drafted off from time to time to the various ships, so as to constitute, as it were, a leaven by which a practical knowledge of naval matters should be spread. The drill was formed on the model of the English Naval Gunnery School, and the excellence of the system can be traced down to the present day. The second Naval Mission left Japan after six years' service. The Naval College was later on removed to Etajima in the Inland Sea, an Academy for senior officers was established at Tōkyō, and gunnery and torpedo schools were also organised. In addition to ordinary training-ships, a standing squadron is kept afloat, which goes out every year for long cruises and squadron exercises. A suitable law of conscription, based largely on the volunteer system, is in force.
As regards dockyards, there are four "first-class naval stations," each of which is provided with ship-building plant. The oldest is that at Yokosuka near Yokohama, which was built by French naval architects some forty years ago, and has since been greatly extended; but the most important is at Kure on the Inland Sea, which, in addition to a well-equipped dockyard and a magnificent harbour, possesses a fine arsenal for the manufacture of largecalibre modern breach-loading steel guns, and also of large-calibre steel shell. Sasebo in Kyūshū ranks as the third naval station, with three dry docks. The fourth is Maizuru on the Sea of Japan, completed in 1901. A fifth is to be established at Muroran in Yezo. Most of the ships and guns are, however, still imported from abroad.
When the war with China broke out in 1894, the navy was already well-prepared to take its share in the fray, because, though numerically weaker than the Chinese fleet, it was superior in seamanship and in discipline. The advance, alike in morale and in matériel was so constant, so solid, that, when preparing the last edition of this book in 1901, we ventured to express ourselves as follows:-
"We are no sailor, and the opinion of an amateur on naval "matters is notoriously worthless. Nevertheless, we cannot refrain "from repeating in other words what we have already said of the "Japanese army. We cannot help expressing our admiration of "and belief in the Japanese navy also, and of Japan altogether "as a military power. Though it may not be for us to judge of "the technical excellencies of ships and guns and docks, it is "perhaps given to an old resident who has travelled widely, and "read a good deal, and mixed much with all classes, to appreciate "the existence of those qualities of intellect and morale which go "to make up a good fighting man whether on land or sea. To "our thinking, any foreign power that should venture to attack "Japan in her own waters, would be strangely ill-advised."
Need we say how brilliantly this prophecy has been realised in the great war with Russia now (1904) being fought out before the eyes of an astonished world? In less than two months from its inception, the Japanese established their superiority in the handling of modern vessels, in gunnery, in tactics, in everything that makes for efficiency. Now, after six months, little remains of their opponents' fleet but disabled hulks, while the exploits of Admiral Tōgō, and his brave subordinates will live on in the memory of future generations.