Satsuma students

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Monument to the Satsuma students, outside Kagoshima Chûô train station

Nineteen young men from Satsuma han were among the first Japanese to study overseas in the West, departing Japan in 1865, a year before the Tokugawa shogunate lifted bans on overseas travel. A number of these students went on to become prominent figures in the Meiji government, or in Meiji period society otherwise.

The students, aided by the Scotsman Thomas Glover, claimed to be merely traveling to the Koshiki Islands just off the coast of Kyushu, when they departed from Hashima (an area in Kushikino city, on the Kyushu mainland). In fact, they left Japan entirely, arriving in Singapore twenty days later; 46 days after that, they arrived in London. All adopted new names while overseas, but most are known today by their "real" names. While in London, they studied at University College London (UCL) under chemistry professor Alexander Williamson, as the Chôshû Five had before them, beginning in 1863. Williamson also arranged for the Satsuma students to visit industrial cities in the UK, to study railroad engineering, shipbuilding, surveying, and other industrial and technical fields.[1]

The mission was led by 34-year-old Niiro Hisanobu and 31-year-old Godai Tomoatsu, and included a set of three brothers: 28-year-old Machida Hisanari, 19-year-old Machida Sanetsumi, and 15-year-old Machida Seijirô.

The students returned to Japan with examples of numerous new technologies, including spinning machines, and also made arrangements for Satsuma to show a pavilion, separate from that of the shogunate, at the 1867 Paris World's Fair. Members of the mission also arranged to gain Britain's support for Satsuma in the upcoming rebellion against the shogunate.

Several members of the mission, including Nakamura Hironari, Samejima Hisanobu, and Yoshida Kiyonari, later went on to serve as Japanese ambassadors to Western countries, while others, including Mori Arinori and Terashima Munenori became top-ranking government ministers. A number of the students went on to study at Rutgers University in New Jersey, or at other institutions in the United States. Hatakeyama Yoshinari and Machida Hisanari became the first heads of the institutions that would later develop into the University of Tokyo and Tokyo National Museum, respectively.

Members of the Mission

(listed along with age at the time of the mission, and notes)


  • Plaque at Kagoshima-Chûô train station, Kagoshima City.[2]
  1. Plaques on-site at University College London.[1]