Foreign government advisors who helped modernize Japan during the early days of the Meiji Restoration.

(Posted on December 13, 2023)

One of the tourist attractions of Yokohama is the Foreign General Cemetery located at Yamate or the Bluff as it was then called. There lies the grave of Edmund Morel (1840-1871), a British civil engineer, who came to Japan in 1870 as the head of the British engineers to install a railway between Tokyo (Shimbashi) and Yokohama (Sakuragi-cho) under contracts with the Japanese government. Let’s take a closer look at his work.

        The entrance to the Foreign General Cemetery in Yokohama

        (the photo by kakidai)


Before coming to Japan, Morel participated in railway construction in New Zealand (1862-1863) and Australia (1864-1865). Morel designed the Japanese railway along the sea, and used local wood instead of iron for bridge construction and railway ties, all aimed at minimizing cost and time. Ten steam locomotives and fifty passenger carriages were imported from Britain. Narrow gauge of 1067 mm was adopted. Locomotive drivers were all foreigners. To finance the project, the Japanese government issued its first foreign bonds in the amount of one million British pounds. 

It was unfortunate that Morel, who was suffering from TB died just before the inaugural ceremony, which took place on October 14, 1872 carrying the Meiji Emperor, high ranking government officials and foreign ambassadors. It connected Shimbashi and Yokohama for a distance of 29 Km in 53 minutes. The first commercial service began a day after. Thereafter, British engineers including John Diak (1828-1900), Charles Shepard (~1875), John England (1822-1877) led the survey and construction of railway between Kyoto and Kobe through Osaka. They also rest at the Foreign General Cemetery in Yokohama. 

       Ukiyo-e's depicting the inaugural ceremony on October 14, 1872 

Now, I would like to introduce Inoue Masaru (1843-1910), an administrator of the railway. Inoue graduated from University College London in 1868 studying mining and railway engineering. Inoue cooperated closely with Morel, who advocated for the need of railway administration and raising railway engineers. With the help of the British engineers, Inoue managed to complete the Kobe-Osaka railway in 1874 and the Osaka-Kyoto railway in 1877 respectively. Then, the Tokaido line connecting Tokyo and Kyoto for a distance of 397 km was implemented in 1889 and the Tohoku line connecting Tokyo with northern Japan (Morioka) covering 535 km in 1891 respectively. 

For your information, more than 2,690 foreign advisors came to Japan between 1868 to 1889 according to one source as shown below. The number includes those employed by private institutions.


England 1,127 (mostly civil engineers)

America   414 (mainly teachers employed by private institutions)

France    333 (mostly military personnel)

China     250

Germany  215

The Netherlands 99

and so on.





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