In 2017, Pembroke Dock historian David James prompted renewed interest in a historic ginkgo tree in his town. This was no ordinary tree; it was planted in the garden of the Master Shipwright’s House in 1877, following the stay of a young Japanese lieutenant. Lieutenant Heihachiro Togo had stayed at the house while overseeing the construction of a Japanese war ship, the Hiei, at a private dockyard in the area.
The ginkgo tree sapling was sent to Pembroke Dock by Kagenori Ueno, who was then the Japanese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Great Britain. It was a gesture of thanks for the kindness shown by Pembroke Dock to Japan.
David James shared this story with Japanese journalists and diplomats, who he brought to see the tree at Pembroke Dock. They in turn told David that Lieutenant Togo had later risen through the ranks of the Imperial Japanese Army and become Marshal General, playing a prominent role in Japanese history.
With the help of the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, David James arranged for cuttings to be taken from the tree, which would all be planted in locations linked to Marshal General Togo in Japan. The first sapling was planted in the Kure naval base in Hiroshima, Japan, in July 2020. The second was planted at the Togo Shrine, in Tokyo, where a ceremony is yet to be held.
David and his wife Margaret were recently invited to the seaside city of Kagoshima, Japan, the birthplace of Marshal General Togo, to plant the third sapling. David was asked to make a speech about the tree and how it is strengthening the bonds of friendship between Wales and Japan.
Unfortunately David has been rather ill of late; because of this, added to the COVID threat and the attendant travel restrictions, he was with great regret unable to accept the invitation. David instead asked his close friend in Japan, Suzuko Sakai, if she would act as his ambassador and read the speech for him at the event.
David had met Suzuko at a ceremony in Angle, Pembrokeshire, and told her the story around the ginkgo tree. Suzuko suggested that a sapling should be planted in Kagoshima, the birthplace of Marshal General Togo. Her suggestion was accepted by the Wales team, and she contacted Takahisa Karidokoro, the President of the Japan British Society of Kagoshima Youth Division, to begin the Kagoshima project.
Suzuko Sakai represented David at the event on 22 November. The tree was planted in Tagayama Koen Park in Kagoshima City, where Marshal General Togo’s statue stands. All weather forecasts predicted rain but luckily the day stayed clear and fine for the ceremony. Suzuko Sakai read the message from Wales, wearing a friendship lapel badge showing the Japanese and Welsh flags. She was given a large red rosette identifying her as one of the Guests of Honour at the event.
Kimiyasu Shimadzu, President of the Japan British Society of Kagoshima, told a national news outlet, “I truly feel the deep relationship between Kagoshima and the UK.” British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden commented that “the ginkgo tree will be a symbol of the continued and further friendship between Japan and the UK.” Haruko Arimura, a member of the House of Councillors, said, “The ginkgo tree will deepen the partnership between Japan and the UK.”
David hopes that this story will not only continue to inspire people in Wales and Japan, but will also promote Pembrokeshire as a destination for Japanese visitors – who may wish to retrace the steps of a young lieutenant.