What follows is a very short book on the sad history of the murder of Ludwig Haber in 1874. Ludwig was businessman from Brieg in Silesia who set up as a trader in Japan at Hakodate, - one of the few ports open to foreigners at the time. He was nominated as German consul but the confirmation never reached him. This was one of the last of a series of such xenophobic murders, usually by samurai who were ready to sacrifice their own lives to rid the 'sacred soil of Japan' of foreigners.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
What follows is a very short book on the sad history of the murder of Ludwig Haber in 1874. Ludwig was businessman from Brieg in Silesia who set up as a trader in Japan at Hakodate, - one of the few ports open to foreigners at the time. He was nominated as German consul but the confirmation never reached him. This was one of the last of a series of such xenophobic murders, usually by samurai who were ready to sacrifice their own lives to rid the 'sacred soil of Japan' of foreigners.
Many years later, after the death of my own mother, I found a lacquered box full of family papers which proved that although grandmother’s tale had indeed been garbled, there were real events at the base of it. There was a yellowing cutting, undated and unsourced, from a German-language newspaper with a moving obituary for Ludwig Haber, acting German consul, murdered at Hakodate in Japan in 1874. But what made me sit up was that this obit referred to a series of articles Haber had contributed to the Oderblatt about his travels. It was this that started me off.
I knew the Haber family came from Silesia. Silesia had been part of Germany but in 1945 it became part of Poland and the German population and their language were driven out. I appealed to a Polish friend – Dr. Rafal Witkowski of Poznan University: had the archives of a journal, apparently published somewhere on the banks of the river Oder, survived?
The devastation of Silesia as the Nazis continued their resistance against the Soviet advance made this unlikely. But within a few days Dr. Witkowski had established that some of the archives of an Oderblatt published in the provincial town of Brieg had indeed survived and were stored in the old University Library at Wroclaw. In my youth Wroclaw had been Breslau. I was born there myself and lived there until the age of twelve. The survival of these archives is indeed remarkable: The fine classical library building on an island in the Oder river had been commandeered by Wehrmacht generals for their headquarters in the hopeless defence of Breslau. They fought on even several days after the death of Hitler. Influential citizens who pleaded for an end to this pointless battle were shot for defeatism. A large part of the library building was destroyed by shellfire.
I travelled to Wroclaw/Breslau. Mr W. Sobocinski, in charge of the Zbiory Specjalne of the library consulted his card index and said they did indeed have archives of a Brieg paper but it was called Brieger Nachrichten. A young assistant was sent to the cellars. She came back with several bound volumes of the Oderblatt! This did have a regular feature headed Brieger Nachrichten. Whoever had compiled the index must have mistaken this for the name of the paper. To my delight I found dozens of travel articles which Ludwig had contributed between 1871 and 1872.
But Dr. Witkowski did far more for this project: he said he was friendly with a Polish-speaking Japanese academic who had worked on 19th century industrialisation at Poznan university. He would consult him: had he ever heard of Ludwig Haber? Within a few days I had an e-mail from Professor Jin Matsuka of Otaru University of Commerce. The story of the murder of Ludwig Haber – he reported - was far from forgotten in Japan. Before long photocopies and e-mails poured in: one or two in English, a few in German but the great bulk of them in Japanese. Finding a translator took time. Ms. Maya Nakamura of SOAS translated several items but did not have time to tackle the rest. It was time-consuming work since many of the documents were in archaic script and archaic language. Nor was I happy to pay at commercial rates. Eventually a friend of friends, Mrs. Christine Roe, introduced me (by e-mail) to Prof. Takao Saijo of Konan University at Kyoto who volunteered to undertake the task… as a labour of love.
This study is thus a collaborative effort. Without these helpers – Rafal Witkowski, Takao Saijo and Jin Matsuka – it would not have been possible to rescue Ludwig Haber from oblivion, 130 years after his death.
In addition I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of archivists and librarians: Dr. Maria Keipert of the German Foreign Office archives, the Central Archives of the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem, the Frankfurt Jewish Community archives, the archives of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg; and Mr. T. Fukuda of the Japanese-German Association of Hakodate. Finally there was my friend Victor Price. When the style of 19th century German official documents defeated me, he undertook the task of translating von Brandt’s recommendation for Haber’s consulship. Price said he found it difficult to reproduce the degree of obsequiousness without actually becoming ridiculous!
To understand this assassination it had to be seen in the context of 19th century Japanese history. Japanese culture and history were matters of which I knew very little when I started on this project. A few months of reading are not enough to make up for a lifetime of ignorance. I apologise for any errors.
Prof. Saijo's translations are available on:
A number of garbled reports of the murder were published in Germany and England. Our 21st century is familiar with suicide bombers – killers seeking martyrdom for ideological reasons. In the 19th, such attacks were far rarer. Even the Nihilists who assassinated crowned heads tried their best to make a getaway. The unfamiliarity with the behaviour of this murderer may explain the incomprehension of the reporters.
The murdered man was Ludwig Haber, a German citizen from Brieg in Silesia – now Brzeg in Poland – a trader who had shortly before been appointed to act as German consul at Hakodate. The killer was Hidechika Tazaki, a samurai from Akita on the main island of Japan, Honshu.
The fullest consecutive account of the day’s happenings is given in the memoirs of one of Haber’s acquaintances, a Scottish seaman named Captain John Baxter Will ‘Old Will’ – as he liked to be called - wrote his memoirs a quarter of a century later and some inaccuracies crept into his account. They were only published 70 years later. The editor explained that Will, an ‘old salt’, was superb at handling sailing vessels, but he had had little schooling. His grammar and spelling were eccentric. He could, for example, never distinguish between ‘their’ and ‘there’.
A slightly shorter account of the murder was given in the memoirs of Max von Brandt, the German ambassador to Japan, also published a quarter of a century later. However some accounts written earlier do survive. An unpublished diary kept by R. Eusden, the British consul at Hakodate, provides contemporary details. This was preserved in the British Foreign Office Archives. The German ambassador at Yedo (later referred to as Edo and then renamed Tokyo) had appealed to his British counterpart to allow the British consul at Hakodate to represent German interests temporarily. In fact, Eusden had started this diary before any instructions from Edo could have reached him. By far the most valuable contemporary sources are, however, some 90 records of police interrogations and judge’s notes in the Japanese language. These have been published in a History of Hakodate City Hakodate Shi-shi. They supplement and often correct errors in the three European accounts.
Captain Will’s memoirs relate that when on shore he lived at Hakodate in a house maintained by Captain Blakiston, the head of a British shipping company, Blakiston, Marr & Co. So did various other foreigners including Ludwig Haber. On Haber’s last day they lunched together. Haber had with him a German visitor, a professor who had come to spend his holidays at the northern port. To quote Captain Will:
During the meal a difference of opinion occurred between Mr. Haber and myself. As the meal was finished Mr. Haber arose laughing, saying we would settle the argument at tea time. It was a fine day and he and the professor were going for a walk. Having been confined to the house so long by fever he was weak but his friend was a big burly man and would be able to carry him if he broke down.
Haber was only just recovering from one of his recurring bouts of debilitating malaria. The professor who went walking with Haber that day was F.M. Hilgendorf, co-founder of the German Society for Natural History and Ethnography of East Asia**. He was the author of numerous scientific studies in botany and biology. According to the Society, which still exists at Kobe, no account of the day’s event from Hilgendorf’s pen survives. To return to Captain Will’s account -
They walked out the new road to the tea houses at Yatsugashira where they rested for some time. Mr. Haber felt so well he suggested to the professor that they should take different roads back, Mr. Haber taking the old road, the professor taking the road they had followed going out and he said he would reach the house first. So they separated……
The account of the British consul adds that Hilgendorf was going beetle hunting .
The murderer had come up to Hakodate from Akita prefecture. He was one of those samurai who had sworn to kill foreigners and up to this time in his own country had never come across one he could tackle with a chance of success. At that time few if any foreigners were to be met in Akita.
There were only three harbours in Japan which were then open to foreign vessels, Hakodate being one of them. In the rest of Japan foreigners were few and far between. Captain Will says he believes that Hidechika had been hanging around Hakodate some weeks stalking foreigners. However, police records say he had only arrived three days earlier.
The German ambassador of the time, Max von Brandt, published his memoirs a quarter of a century after these events. Captain Will wrote his memoirs around the same time, though they were only published much later. Neither is totally accurate. On the whole, however, there appear to be fewer errors in Will’s account. He was on the spot, at Hakodate, at the time of the murder while the ambassador was far away at Edo. Von Brandt appears to have relied on reports from the embassy’s secretary-interpreter, Herr Kempermann, whom he had sent to Hakodate by a German naval vessel to act as his observer. Von Brandt wrote -
The murderer, a samurai, had stolen money from his mother and with the proceeds had embarked for Hakodate on a junk, remaining in debt to the captain for his fare. He had frittered away his money in dissolute establishments and had then gone out into the streets. There he had seen the consul and had enquired of an old woman whether this was a foreigner, had followed the slight and weak man who had tried in vain to save himself and had killed him with a few blows of his short sword. He had been seized at once and since there could be no doubt of his guilt it was only for me to establish whether he was sane or insane. I entrusted this to some navy doctors who maintained that he was sane. 
As we shall see, this contains several inaccuracies. The memoirs also differ in some detail from a letter written by von Brandt himself very shortly after the murder. This was a letter of condolence addressed to Ludwig’s brother Julius. This gives a different account of the assassin’s arrest:
The murderer, who gave himself up to the police himself, claimed that a dream had induced him to kill the first foreigner he met….Coming upon the deceased was entirely a matter of chance so one must assume that we are faced by a fanatical xenophobe of very ill repute – as such people always are. The circumstances were, however, against him. By chance there were witnesses to the attack since the victim could flee a short distance. He [the murderer] gave himself up and now tries to play the hero. 
Court records, on the contrary, show Hidechika surrendered voluntarily within two hours of the murder. In court he stated frankly that he spent his two previous nights in brothels. We shall come back to this matter of the brothels. But Hidechika had paid his ship’s fare. The boat’s captain – Murayama Chutaro – was fined one tenth of this fare because he had taken on board a passenger who did not possess the permit required at that time to leave his home town. 
To return to Captain Will’s account:
When the professor and Mr. Haber parted, taking different roads, the man must have been close behind him. He must have decided to follow Mr. Haber as Haber was the smallest and certainly the weakest man and was taking the old road which, besides being at first steep, was very lonely….There was only one house on it and a small one at that, with a little patch of garden on the slope of the hill.
According to police interrogation, Hidechika was some 50 to 70 metres behind Haber. He passed two women and one man and asked each one whether the man he was following, who was wearing European clothes, was a foreigner. Two of them confirmed that he was and Hidechika speeded up his own pace. To return to the Will memoirs:
The man carried a common Japanese umbrella as well as a concealed sword. When they got opposite the little house, he got up to Mr. Haber and poked him in the back to make him turn around to see if he was a foreigner; then he threw away the umbrella, drew the sword, and cut at him. Mr. Haber, seeing the house and garden, must have run to it, but so far as I could learn there was nobody in it, and if there had been, I question if they would have interfered. Samurai were still feared by the common people.
The captain would have known that for centuries it had been one of the privileges of the warrior caste – the samurai – to cut down any member of the lower orders who had not shown them sufficient respect. It was, however, a right rarely invoked.
The owner of the house and his son were later interrogated by the police. They said they had just come back from their farm lands and were washing their feet when they were astonished to hear someone running into their property:
I saw a samurai running after a Westerner with a drawn sword. He finally slew the westerner down in the vegetable garden 20 metres from the farm house.
Hidechika himself said that the foreigner, finding himself at bay, put his hands together – apparently pleading for his life. He addressed some words to Hidechika in a language the latter did not understand. This only made him more furious and he continued to belabour Haber with his sword. The farmer continued:
We were so scared of this dreadful person and so afraid what might befall us that we shut the door and kept the murderer out….He tried to open it… demanding in a threatening voice that we open. We could not but yield to him and when we opened he asked, with a blood-dripping sword in hand, for a cup of water for himself and [demanded] that a bucketful of water should be poured over the face of the victim to see if he was still alive. 
The terrified farmer went to examine the victim but did not pour water over him. The killer apparently did not follow him, perhaps because Shinto believers regard corpses as polluting. The farmer came back and reported that Haber was stone dead. He was ordered to go back once more to take the watch of the deceased as evidence that he had been killed. He did this, too. The murderer then left immediately. The farmer’s 19-year-old son, however, was bolder than his father. He followed carrying a piece of paper and a brush and asked Hidechika for his name so as to be able to report him. Hidechika signed his name and rank and said calmly there would be no problem at all in reporting the matter. An annotation to the police record says that since the farmer and his son had acted under duress there would be no charges against them.
Captain Will himself had been aroused from his afternoon siesta by a commotion and found Captain Blakiston struggling to explain – probably with only a limited command of the Japanese language - that he wanted a team of four of his boatmen to go to the place where Haber’s body was lying:
To save further trouble I volunteered to go….the five of us went off at the double……..When we came to the place, I found a policeman standing on the roadway, about forty yards from where the body was lying with its head down hill. I found the body there, being the first, with the exception of a solitary policeman, on the scene of the tragedy. After seeing that his victim was dead, the murderer took the hat and watch off the body, walked into town to the government authorities, and told them what he had done.
I went to…..see whether there was any life, but one look was enough. The body was fully stretched out…… I wanted to turn it over, but the policeman…..said I must not touch it till the officials came.
After some time the government officials, doctors and foreign consuls began to turn up. Then the temporary examination of the body began. When finished I was asked to take charge of the corpse and get it to the government office as quick as possible. My men got a door and a tatami (mat) from the house on the grounds. When trying to put the body on the mat, we found one leg and one arm hanging by the skin only and three cuts on the head had almost divided it.
…. I heard next day that the doctors wrought all night at it, examining the wounds and putting it together where it was badly severed. They found 17 wounds on the body, five of which would have been, singly, fatal……
The official autopsy - performed by an American and several Japanese doctors - is more cautious in assessing how many of the wounds would have been fatal but they counted an even greater number of wounds - twenty-two in all.
When we got to the government office we found all the officials, consuls and doctors there, sitting in judgement on the murderer, who was kneeling on what they called the soroban, with a heavy stone on his knees, to keep him down. This was my first sight of him. He looked like an ordinary Japanese to me, nothing ferocious about him.
Sane in the opinion of the navy doctors consulted by the German ambassador?
Not ferocious, in the view of Captain Will?
To try to understand this murder by an apparently rational man without a personal motive who killed a man he had never seen before we will have to look into the volcanic state of Japan at the time.
* Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur= und Völkerkunde Ostasiens.
In these two decades the economy, the social stratification and education underwent disruption and rapid change. Religions and language were remade. Even the calendar was changed. What may have made the period appear particularly disruptive is that prior to the 1860’s Japan had enjoyed peace and stability for two-and-a-half centuries. No country in Europe had enjoyed such a long period of peace and comparative prosperity. In 1603 a dictatorial system imposed by the shoguns had succeeded in bringing to an end the feudal wars that had plagued earlier centuries.
The shoguns – ‘commanding generals’ – had assumed powers which, in earlier centuries, had been wielded by the emperors. The emperors had been relegated to a largely ceremonial and religious role and to patronage of the arts.
The shoguns consolidated their power. They expelled Christian missionaries. Their ‘evil religion’ was regarded as divisive and likely to trigger civil strife. Native converts to Christianity were persecuted. Foreign traders were driven out. Ports were closed to foreign vessels. Japanese citizens were banned – on pain of death - from travelling abroad. Only a handful of Dutch and Chinese traders – all confined to one single port, Nagasaki – were permitted to remain.
The system imposed by the shoguns – though dictatorial – was decentralised. Local daimyo or feudal lords enjoyed a wide measure of autonomy. However, a close watch was kept on their activities and members of their families were compelled to reside at the shogun’s court, virtually as hostages.
Over the centuries the role of the shoguns, like that of the emperors before them, became largely ceremonial. Real power came to be wielded by a council of five or six feudal lords – the roju or bafuku. However they wielded power in the name of the shogun.
There were drawbacks to this imposed stability. Japan – despite an ancient and sophisticated culture – had fallen behind the West technically and therefore militarily. This was dangerous in the 19th century – the periods of aggressive European and American imperialism. The roju could see the approaching danger to their independence. Though in self-imposed isolation, they did keep themselves informed – largely through the small Dutch community tolerated at Nagasaki and through Chinese and Korean traders. Nervously they watched the advances of the British in India and the progression of the Russians through Siberia to the Pacific coast. But most worrying for them was the increasing threat from Europeans and Americans to the independence of China – the regional ‘superpower’. In two ‘Opium Wars’ a comparative small British expeditionary force had easily defeated China and forced the Chinese to legalise the pernicious opium trade. Many among the Japanese military caste realised they were ill equipped to resist any similar onslaught. There was discontent with current policies.
In the 1850’s Japan’s isolation was challenged from abroad. The ‘black ships’ of the U.S. navy commanded by Commodore Perry and equipped with powerful weapons unfamiliar to the Japanese forced the roju to sign treaties. These were to open Japan to international trade. No weapons were fired in anger but many samurai saw their rulers’ acquiescence as an intolerable humiliation. At much the same time Russian naval ships demanded and obtained similar concessions. Other European powers soon followed and they, too, were granted trading rights – at least on paper.
The resentment engendered by Perry’s expedition persisted for at least a century. We shall find Haber’s assassin referring to it. One incident especially rankled. A threatening message by the Commodore had been accompanied by two white flags. Their meaning was unknown to the Japanese so an explanation was provided:
“Perry advised that if it came to combat – which Japanese units would have no chance of winning – they should hoist the flags when they were ready to surrender, whereupon American fire would cease immediately …
One Japanese scholar is convinced that knowledge of the white flags increased the resentment of Admiral Yamamoto Isoruku who devised and led the Pearl Harbor attack….
“I want to return Commodore Perry’s visit” he replied to a question why he had originally enlisted in the navy…… He looked forward to visiting the White House ‘in order to dictate peace.’
In the early years the victims of this enforced opening up strove to frustrate it. Trade was subverted and obstructed by a combination of deceit and delay by the Japanese authorities. In addition attacks on foreigners by ‘freelancing’ samurai interfered with trade. Only by gunboat diplomacy – that is by threatening and bullying – did the ‘barbarians’ eventually manage to enforce the privileges they had been granted by these treaties.
Foreign penetration brought about tensions and conflicts within Japan’s own ruling class. Different factions accused each other of spinelessness in allowing the sacred soil of Japan to be polluted by the presence of foreigners. There were disputes on how best to deal with the barbarians. Should one keep them at arms-length? Or should one learn from them as fast as possible so as to be able to fight them when the time was ripe? There were plots and counterplots. A leading Western historian describes the situation vividly:
From the highest sources issue proclamations which do not say what they mean or mean what they say. The Throne rebukes great officers for doing what it has already approved, enjoins them not to do what it knows they have already done. Weighty memorials are submitted to the government by powerful nobles who on the basis of information which they have not understood recommend measures which are incompatible with one another. A fantastic ethos prevails through the land. Patriots assassinate other patriots for views which they have never held or professed and statesmen declare intentions which everybody knows to be contrary to their real purpose….The whole nation is in a state of uncertainty and doubt…..
In 1868 a group of samurai used these tensions to challenge and eventually to dislodge the shogun in a palace coup. They succeeded in bringing back to power the long sidelined emperor. This is known as the Meiji restoration after the name assumed by the newly reinstated emperor. Nevertheless the emperors did not manage to resume the political powers their ancestors had once held. Real power came to be wielded by members of the samurai caste.
The Meiji restoration brought with it a restoration of the archaic but indigenous Shinto religion.
The Sacred Throne was established at the time when the heaven and the earth became separated. The Emperor is Heaven descended, divine and sacred. He is pre-eminent above all his subjects. He must be reverenced ….
For centuries Japanese religious practise had been predominantly Buddhist with accretions from Confucianism and Shinto. Buddhism had its origins in India, Confucianism in China. Shinto, however, was an indigenous Japanese growth which was now …
…resuscitated from medieval lethargy… The opening years of the Meiji era are marked by an organised persecution of …. [Buddhism]. Temples all over the land were attacked and destroyed…Buddhist writings, fine sculptures, bronzes, wood carvings and paintings [were committed] to the flames. Buddhist priests were subjected to beatings… 
In times of disruption people often find support in prayer - in the security of an unchanging religion. In Japan at the time of the Meji restoration this security was destroyed.
The campaign against Buddhism only lasted a few years (1867-73). The new rulers realised they had gone too far and had antagonised too many believers. The policies went into reverse. As we shall see, the agitation against Buddhism caused dissension within the family of Hidechika Tazaki, the assassin. No doubt, it will have done the same in many other families.
A handful of supporters of the old shogunal order took up arms. There were armed clashes between them and supporters of the Meji emperor. As civil wars go, it was only a minor one. There were a few armed confrontations on land and sea. The last of these skirmishes took place in the vicinity of Hakodate in 1869 – only a few years before Haber took up residence there.
Hakodate was one of three ports that U.S. and European pressure had forced the Japanese to open to foreign vessels. The Japanese negotiators had managed to restrict foreigners to harbours away from the real centre of power. Hakodate was the remotest of these. It was not on Japan’s main island but on the northern island of Hokkaido which, at that time, was sparsely populated and under-developed.
The new ruling group realised that speedy and painful reforms were needed if Japan was to become a modern nation equipped educationally, industrially and militarily to defend itself against Western imperialism. For centuries, the carrying of arms had been confined to a hereditary and privileged warrior class, the samurai, who normally owed allegiance to feudal lords, the daimyo. They often lived in their lords’ castle-towns. Once upon a time it had been their duty to defend their lords against rivals. But long centuries of domestic peace had made them superfluous. The retention of such a class was incompatible with the needs of a modern society.
The samurais’ position had certain similarities to that of the knights in Europe in feudal times. There was, however, one fundamental difference. The samurai were not sub-seigneurs owning land. They lived off annual stipends awarded to them by their lords and they continued to receive these stipends long after their military duties were no longer required. For two-and-a-half centuries they had been warriors with no wars to fight - a parasitic class. A few of them had managed to take up other status-worthy occupations such as government administration or teaching, but most had remained idle. Since the samurai made up some 7 to 10% of the population, their stipends were a heavy burden on the economy.
Feudal lords taxed their peasants in rice. In a normal year some 40% of a peasant’s crop was paid in taxes but from time to time special levies could raise this as high as 80%. The new rulers – though themselves of samurai origin – realised that this drain on the economy was hindering the modernisation of the country. They braced themselves for painful reforms. Step by step they abolished the special rights of the samurai. Stipends were reduced drastically.
These stipends had never been generous. The average was roughly what a farmer earned. So the warrior caste had always lived frugally and had made a virtue out of necessity. They laid great stress on the virtue of frugality and their indifference to wealth. Nothing could be more galling to them than prestige dependent on wealth and display. But conventions – and sumptuary laws – demanded that on ceremonial occasions they wore fine silken garments. Now that foreign merchants exported Japanese silk, thus raising the cost of such garments, this impoverished the samurai still further. They had long kept their families small by birth control, but now many became too poor to support even their small families. Many were forced to sell valued heirlooms – swords, armour, silk garments.
A samurai of good standing whose annual rice allowance was nominally 1,000 bushels in pre-Restoration days found himself reduced to 400 after 1868 and … in 1876 was obliged to accept payment in bonds and cash which would give him an annual income equal to the value of 150 bushels. Samurai on low allowances were cut down to a pittance on which a single man could scarcely subsist.
In 1873 the reduced stipends were taxed for the first time. Hidechika Tazaki, Haber’s assassin, had a stipend of 149 koku, . One koku was, theoretically, considered sufficient rice to feed one person for a year. By the late 19th century, however, 149 koku appear to have been barely adequate to feed a family.
Traditionally Japanese society had four main strata– the nobility (kazoku), the warrior caste (shizoku) which included the samurai, the plebeians (heimin) and the outcasts (eta). Among plebeians there were further stratifications: peasants, artisans and merchants. The merchants ranked lowest – only just above the outcasts who served as scavengers, buriers of the executed and skinners of dead animals.
Following the social and economic changes of the Meiji restoration Japanese merchants – long regarded with contempt by the samurai – benefited from foreign trade and became far wealthier than their social ‘superiors’. This increased tensions.
The arrival of many foreigners [most of them merchants] affronted the feelings of haughty samurai by their independent demeanour, so different from the cringing demeanour to which the rules of Japanese etiquette condemned the native merchants. 
Of course foreign businessmen like Ludwig Haber would not have evaluated their own status as little better than that of outcasts. In fact – knowing the racist attitudes common at the time - most imagined themselves superior to the Asian people they encountered. This did not make for relaxed relations.
The samurai, though poor, had long had privileges which they valued. The clothes they could wear, the food they could buy and the kind of house they could live in had all been regulated by inherited rank. Only the samurai – often described as ‘two-sword men’ – could carry weapons: one long sword and one short one, the second little longer than a dagger.
In 1870 there came a new blow to their special status – probably the most damaging and humiliating of all. Universal conscription was introduced. The law came into effect in 1873. Now members of the plebeian class were called up and armed. Moreover they were not armed with archaic swords but with modern weapons imported from abroad. The government made some attempts to ease the position of the samurai. They were encouraged to migrate to the emptier northern island of Hokkaido. Grants were offered to encourage them to take up commerce and agriculture – but these occupations were new to them. In the past they had actually been prohibited from practising them. Only a minority managed to adapt quickly and find new and better livelihoods.
No government decrees could, however, altogether extinguish the long ingrained warrior spirit of the samurai – their ideals of duty, loyalty and bravery.
If we are to believe the chronicles of the 11th century, the true warrior of that age held his life to be of ‘no more value than a feather’. Not only was he prepared at all times to die unflinchingly in battle but he rejected any chance for survival that necessitated turning his back on the enemy. Odds, we are told, meant nothing to him; he was ready to rush into the hottest conflict or to charge the greatest concentration of the enemy if honour and the circumstances of battle so dictated.
By the 19th century, however, samurai writers complained that the old spirit was in decline and many had become decadent. One complained –
Seven or eight out of ten are like women. Their spirit is mean, like that of merchants. They cannot stay in the saddle even if their mount is more like a cat than a horse. 
Seven or eight? That left two or three out of ten even more determined to uphold the traditional warrior spirit. They initiated rearguard actions by attacking foreigners – diplomats, traders and naval personnel. A slogan current at the time was ‘Revere the Emperor, expel foreigners.’
Not only foreigners were in danger. Native Japanese who associated with foreigners were attacked. Servants working for foreigners were murdered. So were merchants and artisans who traded with them. At Yokohama carpenters who built houses for foreigners were murdered. Even Japanese grandees whose policies were regarded as too favourable to foreigners were cut down. One of the first of these murderous attacks occurred on 26th August 1859 after a Russian naval squadron anchored in Edo Bay.
A Russian officer and two seamen went ashore at Yokohama buying fresh vegetables for their ship’s mess. Burdened with their purchases….. they were attacked from behind. The officer and one seaman went down immediately under a flurry of chopping swords. The other seaman escaped, wounded…. The wounded officer lived for several hours, dying at midnight while calling for his mother…..
A whole series of similar attacks followed between 1862 and 1863. Six foreigners were murdered in short succession but the normally efficient police claimed not to be able to find a single killer. There were arson attacks on foreign trading houses. One British firm found it advisable to import a fire engine!
Rutherford Alcock, an early British representative, reported to the Foreign Office:
I cannot say the post of diplomatic agent in Edo is to be recommended for nervous people.
The German ambassador describes the atmosphere. In passing he also illustrates the racist attitude widespread among expatriate Whites.
“If, for years on end, one has not been able to leave one’s house without one’s servant handing one – along with hat and coat – a revolver…. this feeling of threatening danger soon becomes dulled [though] from time to time its presence is demonstrated ad oculus by the corpse of a friend or a compatriot. The large majority of foreigners in Japan do not let these threats disturb them in their business or pleasure any more than do crowned heads by [the threat from]anarchists…. It is true that the excitement of combat which stimulates a soldier in battle was absent but it was replaced by a perhaps unconscious feeling of superiority which the Caucasian feels when faced by the Asian.
In 1868 an attack on Sir Harry Parkes, the British ambassador, took place in Kyoto, the capital, in broad daylight. It was to be a great occasion. He had been invited to present himself to the emperor. This was the very first such audience granted to a foreigner. He rode to the palace with a British cavalry escort augmented by British and Japanese foot soldiers. In the narrow lanes of the imperial capital the party was attacked by two swordsmen. The attack was so swift and so unexpected that ten of the twelve cavalrymen were wounded before a Japanese member of the escort succeeded in killing the first of the assailants while British infantrymen killed the second. The ambassador was unhurt.
Had the two attackers survived and been caught, they might have been condemned to commit seppuku – disembowelment, better known outside Japan as hara-kiri, belly-slitting. By the conventions of the time and country seppuku was a ‘honourable’ death, as an 1868 account shows:
The ceremony which was ordered by the Mikado himself took place at 10.30 at night in the temple of Seifukuji. A witness was sent from each of the foreign delegations. We were seven foreigners in all… The provisional governor of Hiogo.. informed us that seven witnesses would attend on the part of the Japanese.. We were invited to follow .. into the main hall of the temple. It was an imposing scene: a large hall with a high roof supported by dark pillars of wood…In front of the high altar where the floor, covered with beautiful white mats is raised some three or four inches from the ground, was laid a rug of scarlet felt. Tall candles placed at regular intervals gave out a dim mysterious light, just sufficient to let all the proceedings be seen. The seven Japanese took their places on the left of the raised floor, the seven foreigners on the right.
After a few minutes of anxious suspense, Taki Zenzaburo, a stalwart
man, thirty-two years of age, with a noble air, walked into the hall attired in his dress of ceremony, with the peculiar hempen-cloth wings which are worn on great occasions. He was accompanied by a kaishaku and three officers who wore the jimbaori or war surcoat with gold tissue facings. The word kaishaku, it should be observed, is one to which our word ‘executioner’ is no equivalent term. The office is that of a gentleman; in many cases it is performed by a kinsman or friend of the condemned… In this case the kaishaku was a pupil of Taki Zenzaburo, and was selected by the friends of the latter from among their own number for his skill in swordsmanship.
With the kaishaku on his left hand, Taki Zenzaburo advanced slowly towards the Japanese witnesses and the two bowed before them, the drawing near the foreigners they saluted us in the same manner, perhaps even with more deference: in each case the salutation was ceremoniously returned. Slowly and with great dignity, the condemned man mounted on to the raised floor, prostrated himself before the high altar twice, and seated himself on the felt carpet with his back to the high altar, the kaishaku crouching on his left-hand side. One of the three attendant officers then came forward, bearing a stand of the kind used in temples for offerings, on which wrapped in paper, lay the wakizashi, the short sword or dirk of the Japanese, nine inches and a half in length, with a point and an edge as sharp as a razor’s. This he handed, prostrating himself, to the condemned man, who received it reverently, raising it to his head with both hands and placed it in front of himself.
After another profound obeisance … [he] … spoke as follows; “I, and I alone, unwarrantably gave the order to fire on the foreigners at Kobe, and again as they tried to escape. For this crime I disembowel myself, and I beg you who are present to do me the honour of witnessing the act.”
Bowing once more, the speaker allowed his upper garment to slip down to his girdle, and remained naked to the waist. Carefully, according to custom, he tucked his sleeves under his knees to prevent himself from falling forward. Deliberately, with a steady hand, he took the dirk that lay before him; he looked at it wistfully, almost affectionately; for a moment seemed to collect his thoughts for the last time, and then stabbed himself deeply below the waist on the left-hand side, drew the dirk slowly across to the right side, and turning it in the wound, gave a slight cut upwards. During this sickeningly painful operation he never moved a muscle of his face. Then he drew out the dirk, he leant forward and stretched out his neck; an expression of pain for the first time crossed his face, but he uttered no sound. At that moment the kaishaku, who, still crouching by his side, had been keenly watching his every movement, sprang to his feet, poised his sword for a moment in the air; there was a flash, a heavy, ugly thud, a crashing fall ; with one blow the head had been severed from the body.
A dead silence followed 
After the attack on the British party in the narrow lanes of Kyoto, Sir Harry Parkes appealed to the Japanese government to end the practice whereby attackers were condemned to end their lives ‘honourably’. He demanded they should be executed like common criminals. The government agreed. Proclamations were posted throughout the country.
Ludwig Haber’s assassin would thus not expect to be condemned to an ‘honourable’ end by seppuku. Nevertheless he could have avoided a common criminal’s execution, had he wished. He could, for instance, have emulated the example of the samurai who, in 1860, murdered the ‘tairo’ Ii Kamon no Kami, the strongman and near-dictator. Ii was accused of advocating concessions to American demands. He himself justified his policies saying they were meant to buy time to rearm and to prepare for armed confrontation.
On a snowy day in March 1860 Ii’s entourage was on its way to the shogun’s Chiyoda castle. The guards’ swords were covered to protect them against the sticky snow. Suddenly the little group was attacked by Mito samurai. While some took on the guards another managed to pull Ii out of his palanquin and take the tairo’s head, then dashed off with it to the gate of another … mansion where he disembowelled himself. This daring act inaugurated a decade of violence.
In many attacks on foreigners the Japanese authorities said they could not identify or arrest the culprits. Often the foreign representatives did not believe them. In one such case British ships exacted retribution. They shelled and burnt the town of Kagoshima and demanded blood money. In other instances attackers were apprehended and sentenced to death. But they were not normally contrite. On the contrary, they were proud of their action. Since samurai were often highly literate they justified themselves in poems they had themselves written. In 1864 the killer of two Englishmen chanted a verse at his execution:
I do not regret being taken and put to death for to kill barbarians is in the true spirit of a Japanese.
After the execution of eleven samurai who had killed seven French sailors at Sakai their ‘death poems’ were widely circulated. To quote a few –
Though I regret not my body, which becomes as dew scattered by the wind, my country’s fate weighs down my heart with anxiety.
The sacrifice of my life for the sake of my country gives me a pure heart in the hour of my death.
The cherry flowers too have their seasons of blossoming and fading, What is there for the Japanese soul to regret in death?
Haber’s assassin, too, wrote some such poem. One of his guards reported that he lent him a brush and paper and Hidechika “wrote down a sort of verse and kept it with him” Unfortunately this poem has not been preserved. Hidechika did however write a lengthy justification in prose – quoted later.
Between 1862 and 1863 a large number of xenophobic murders had taken place but by 1874 the wave appeared to have subsided. The Haber murder thus shook foreign residents. The British ambassador, Sir Harry Parkes, in a dispatch to the Foreign Secretary, the Earl of Derby, wrote -
It is painful to note in these days a fresh instance of that murderous disposition which, it was hoped, the Japanese had ceased to exhibit towards foreigners.
Of Ludwig Haber we know less. We have to make do with the limited insight we get from a series of travel articles he contributed to a newspaper in his hometown. We shall come back to these.
The milieu he came from is better known. He came from a middleclass Jewish family from Brieg, a small provincial town in what was then German Silesia - not far from the important city of Breslau (Wroclaw). After 1945 Brieg was incorporated into Poland and is now called Brzeg.
Two or so generations before him, Jews had been liberated from the confines of ghettos. Even more harmful than the physical confines had been the occupational ones. Most avenues of educational, social and professional advancement had been closed to them for centuries. However, once liberated their advances were staggeringly rapid.
Ludwig’s father was a merchant who imported wool from Poland and grain from Russia. He often travelled on business and it was on such a journey that he contracted cholera or possibly typhoid and died at Brody in Poland in 1846.
He left behind six children – four boys, and two girls. The youngest, Ida, was born after his death. Sudden impoverishment may explain why only one of the four Haber sons received a university education – even though this was the aspiration of most middle class Jewish males. But there may have been another reason: Ludwig’s brother Siegfried - who became a wealthy dye merchant at Breslau and a city councillor – discouraged his own son Fritz from studying at a university.  He thought the prevalent antisemitism would bar his son’s academic advancement. Normally Jews could not aspire to a professorship without first converting to Protestantism. Fortunately Siegfried failed to convince his son. Fritz became one of the most prominent scientists of his era and won the Nobel Prize. He had, however, converted to Protestantism. But Fritz was part of the generation after Ludwig. He comes into this story much later.
Ludwig’s brother who did manage to get a university education was his younger brother Julius. He studied jurisprudence. He, too, chose conversion to Protestantism. He became a judge in Provinz Posen (now Wielkopolska) which had been annexed to Prussia in the previous century. It was to him that the German ambassador in Japan addressed his letter of condolence. Later Julius became a prominent barrister – one of the small legal elite admitted to practise at the country’s highest appeal court, the Reichsgericht at Leipzig..
Of the Jews who accepted baptism in that period, it has been said that most had been non-practicing Jews before and they became non-practicing Protestant after ‘conversion’. It was a conversion of convenience. But Ludwig Haber was not among the converts. He remained – at least formally – a Jew and his name appears on the register of the Brieg community. A plaque commemorating him was fixed to the wall of the Brieg Jewish cemetery after his death.
Of the majority who held on to the faith of their ancestors, many in Germany opted for a reform of Judaism. Some urban synagogues came to hold services in the German language, others partly in German, partly in the traditional Hebrew. Some moved the weekly day of rest from Saturday to Sunday to keep in step with their Christian neighbours. Most abandoned the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
A third group, however, retained the strict orthodoxy of earlier centuries. The youngest of the Haber siblings, Ida, married such an orthodox Jew, Simon Spiro, a grain merchant. Probably he also traded in cattle. Spiro’s extreme orthodoxy – he marched his sons to synagogue at six in the morning every day – did not have the hoped-for effect: it alienated these sons from Jewish orthodoxy.
In his travel articles Ludwig never refers directly to his own religion but his general attitude emerges when he writes about the religion of others. He denounces certain Hindus for their “inability to break with ancient usages, even if one knows that these are neither salutary nor in keeping with the times”. Presumably he was not thinking of Hindus only. Elsewhere he denounces superstition and the hypocrisy and obscurantism of many ‘men of God.’ The rule of priests, he writes, “has always meant the enslavement of the masses”
He would probably have described himself as a freethinker. He appears not to have been a practising Jew. Problems of religious antagonisms, he believed, would fade away under the bright light of education. Like many in his milieu he believed optimistically in the inevitable march of progress and especially in the beneficial effects of world trade.
As a German patriot, he was enthusiastic about the unification of Germany in 1871 – the year he set out for the Orient. With the unification of Germany came an emancipation law abolishing all restrictions on civil and political rights derived from religious differences. In fact this was not fully implemented until nearly 50 years later. However, in his will – written in the year of unification – Ludwig Haber echoes this law almost verbatim. He left money for various good causes to be allocated “irrespective of confession”.
What more can we discover about him?
Little about him survives in the archives of the German Foreign Office. Most relevant Auswaertige Amt documents were burnt in an Anglo-American air raid on Potsdam in early 1945. Only two documents about him have been found. One of these is an extremely formal letter from Max von Brandt, the German ambassador at Edo (Tokyo) addressed to Herr von Bülow, Secretary of State,** at Berlin dated 17th February 1874. The manuscript is written by a scribe in the old German Sütterlin script and requests approval for the appointment of Ludwig Haber to act as consul at Hakodate, following the death of a German citizen which required some claims against the Japanese authorities. Haber is described as “independently established in Japan and in London” and as the brother of vice-consul Haber at La Libertad in Central America.
As far as I am aware the said Haber is a reliable and conscientious man to whom the representation of our interests in Hakodate may be entrusted without disquiet. 
Attached is a protocol dated Hamburg 21st May 1874 confirming that the proposed Haber was “a person worthy of respect” and “personally perfectly capable of filling this post. His commercial standing is, however, only insignificant.”
This protocol is signed “Kirchenpauer”. Dr. Gustav Heinrich Kirchenpauer was, for many years, the mayor of the Free City of Hamburg and its plenipotentiary in the German Upper House. He was a lawyer and a journalist by profession. The Hamburg city archives contain nothing to explain how he came to be acquainted with Haber.
Kirchenpauer’s assessment of Haber’s modest commercial position is puzzling because it is in direct contradiction to the assessment of his finances in the memoirs of the German ambassador to Japan.
I declined to demand any financial compensation [for the assassination] since the Japanese authorities had acted entirely correctly and since the murdered man had left no dependants in need of support and his brothers had been freed of all care by his very considerable estate. This was the only such case in Japan in which no financial compensation was demanded.
What was Haber’s business? The City of London Directory lists his as ‘merchant’ in 1871 and again in 1874. He appears to have lived and worked in London several years. The first entry gives his business address as New City Chambers, 121 Bishopsgate Street Within, E.C. In the later entry he is listed as operating in both London and Yokohama. There is, however, no indication what business he was pursuing. Nor does his long series of travel articles make any mention of his own commercial interests.
The American doctor Eldridge, who supervised the Haber autopsy, recorded that he had known Haber when alive and had traded konbu with him. Konbu is the seaweed kelp which is used in Japanese and Chinese cooking. Seven chests were loaded ‘in Mr. Haber’s sail boat Amaita for export to Shanghai’. Japanese Foreign Office archives on the winding up of Haber’s affairs do not mention selling this ship. Haber had probably only chartered it for one journey. The same files show that some five months before his death Haber had sold 500 tons of coal to the Island Reclamation Agency for heating – the second such consignment he had supplied. From Captain H.J. Snow’s “Notes on the Kurile Islands” we also learn that the captain sold sea otter furs to Haber.
These frustratingly brief glimpses into Haber’s business affairs appear to show that he was a general trader who bought and sold whatever happened to be available and in demand. Trading in coal could have been a business with a potential for growth. The fairly recent arrival of coal-fired steam ships in Far Eastern waters was changing the economy of Hakodate. The town had an excellent harbour almost surrounded by land. It was so well sheltered that ships at anchor weathered typhoons without significant damage. However sailing vessels had always found it difficult to enter the harbour because of a strong current at the entrance. They had to wait until winds were favourable and strong enough to carry them in against the current. This had sometimes required waits of 30 or even 40 days. Coal-fired ships, however, were not dependent on winds and could travel against the current. The harbour thus came to be more frequently used.
Could Haber have acquired a ‘very considerable estate’ in the few months he traded at Hakodate? It seems very unlikely. British Embassy statistics for imports and exports for the various open ports in Japan show Hakodate to have been the least significant:
At Hakodate the direct import trade fell from the insignificant sum of $21,988 in 1872 to $15,936 in 1873.
Possibly Haber had earned well on earlier ventures in West Africa or while working in England or, possibly, in Holland. Who was right in assessing his commercial standing – von Brandt or Kirchenpauer? Perhaps a German civil servant would have had ideas about what constituted riches different from those of a leading luminary of the great trading city of Hamburg.
Haber’s will – which has been preserved in the author’s family – provides some clues. Four of his five siblings are nominated as equal heirs to his estate. He excluded Edouard, the brother who was a merchant and German consul in San Salvador. Why? Had the brothers quarreled? It seems unlikely. A family tree – prepared half a century later – carries occasional brief annotations. For Edouard there is a one word entry: “Rich!” If true one can guess that Ludwig had decided that his older brother had no need of his largesse. In his will he put his four named heirs under an obligation to make certain charitable and personal donations before sharing out his inheritance. Among these are 400 Taler willed to the German Hospital at Dalston, London – perhaps they had treated him for his bouts of malaria; 1,000 Taler for a bursary for a poor, talented student in his hometown; another 1,000 Taler to be invested and the interest to be distributed annually among poor women of Brieg. These and several other personal donations add up to 10,400 Taler. If Ludwig regarded these as ‘marginal’ gifts, the bulk of his estate must have been much larger.
It is not easy to calculate what 10,400 Taler in 1871 would be worth in today’s currencies. An unskilled labourer earned no more than 30 Taler a year. The Oderblatt in 1871 carried an advert for a national lottery with a first prize of 25,000 Taler. This suggests that Haber’s ‘marginal’ gifts – if indeed they were only marginal – would have added up to a sizable sum and his total estate might have been – as the ambassador wrote - ‘very considerable’.
** Later chancellor, i.e. premier of Germany, 1900-1909.
The ship rolled abominably. The passengers - a herd of oxen, a judge from Berlin, a consular trainee from Alexandria, an Italian monk, several aged Italian women…..and a variety of oriental riff-raff – all were seasick. The oxen suffered most and several died en route….. …. One had to cling on to one’s cabin with hands and feet so as not to be thrown out of one’s bunk…
I had to pay my tribute to the sea and had time to contemplate the transitory nature of all life. I cursed my travel ideas. I thought once I reached Alexandria I would return to the continent and never again entrust my fate to the turbulent seas. But men forget their suffering quickly.
And indeed, his lust for adventure soon returned! The Oderblatt which published his travel reports was a 4-page German-language paper published twice weekly in the small Silesian town of Brieg. It printed some 35 instalments between 1871 and 1872 * All were headed “Von Brieg um die Welt. Reisebriefe in die Heimat” –“From Brieg around the world. Travel reports home.” Only the first instalment carried his name. Presumably in a small town of under 16,000 inhabitants it was well known who this enterprising young globetrotter was. Probably not many of the citizens of the little town ventured very far afield.
Despite its modest size Brieg was, however, not a provincial backwater. For over four centuries it had been the city of residence of a branch of a great Polish aristocratic dynasty – the Piasts. In the 10th century they had created the state of Poland. Later they provided several kings. The rulers of Brieg were part of a minor branch of the family. When the last died without an heir, German influence in Silesia, which had long been strong, became dominant. But thanks to the Piasts a fine ducal palace stands at Brieg today, part Gothic but mainly Renaissance. By its side is an early 18th century church with a colourful Rococo interior and across the square a college of the same period – the school where Haber was educated. In Haber’s day it was known at the Royal Gymnasium, but the kings were no longer the kings of Poland but those of Prussia. More fine historic buildings survive at Brieg or were restored after World War II. Like most of Silesia, Brieg suffered heavy damage as the Wehrmacht tried, hopelessly, to hold off the advance of the Red Army.
The tone of Haber’s articles varies puzzlingly: jauntiness and witty iconoclasm alternate with heavy Victorian pontificating. One wonders what sort of person he would have become, had he not died so young.
His journey took him to Corfu, Egypt, India, Ceylon, the Dutch East Indies, and China, ending in Japan. Unfortunately his published account stops before he reached Japan. He took over a year for this journey. Even at that time it could have been accomplished in four months. But he was obviously not in a hurry. He was exploring the world. Was he scouting around for business opportunities? It seems unlikely. He certainly takes an intelligent interest in the economies of the countries he visits, but business ventures are never referred to.
Here I shall not follow his journey, step by step. His surveys of the countries he visits add little to what any guidebook of his time might have said. I shall confine myself to his more personal asides – to what his writings tell us about the man himself.
We find a young man enormously curious, energetic and bold despite a slight physique and debilitating bouts of malaria. Captain Will’s memoirs say Haber had contracted this illness during a stay in South America. This was an error. Haber himself writes that he had contracted malaria during an earlier business venture in West Africa where he had "mehr gelitten als gelebt” – had done more suffering than living.
His youthful boldness is well illustrated by his exploits at Cairo: At the end of Ramadan a great levée was held by the Viceroy. That day the cost of hiring a carriage doubled. Haber hired one jointly with an Austrian he had, apparently, just met – a Herr Marius, K.K.Hofwagenfabrikant – that is the appointed builder of carriages to the Imperial Austrian court.
In frockcoat, white tie and festive mien, we drove to the citadel. Hundreds of soldiers formed a guard of honour… A truly oriental splendour was richly displayed. At the citadel ….the hall was packed with consular uniforms. Without fear or hesitation I joined them. Our ship’s companion, Judge L. from Berlin noticed me. “Who is introducing you?” ... Herr Marius discovered the [Viceroy’s] head stable master Count St. Maurice. Herr Marius asked me to interpret for him so I requested that the count arrange for us to be introduced to His Highness the Viceroy. The count replied that normally 10 or 12 gentlemen were admitted into the presence as a group. He took our visiting cards and came back several minutes later with the message that we could enter…. My friend and I thus had a private audience while the highest officials were only admitted in groups….. The Viceroy addressed interested questions full of personal goodwill to Herr Marius, whose friend and interpreter I was.
The Viceroy (or Khedive) Isma’il appears to have been interested in ordering carriages similar to those of the Austrian emperors. The Khedive had already virtually bankrupted Egypt and its peasantry by his extravagance. Two years earlier, in 1869, everybody who was ‘anybody’ in Europe had been invited to the grand opening of the Suez canal. The gala performance of Verdi’s Aida –commissioned for this occasion - formed part of the event. But eventually Isma’il ruined Egypt’s finances. This brought about long years of foreign control over Egyptian affairs. Haber was astute enough to suspect what was happening:
The peasants live in miserable circumstances…because of the heavy taxes. At the moment the Viceroy has solved his financial embarrassment by collecting his taxes six years in advance.
Haber and Herr Marius next decided to call on the crown prince, Mehmed Tewfik Pasha.
At the gates we had some difficulties. The guards informed us this was the prince’s palais. But the world belongs to the bold. I replied that we were friends of the prince, whereupon the guard apologised respectfully and allowed us to proceed… I congratulated the prince on behalf of Herr Marius and myself and brought the conversation around to bandmaster Eder in Vienna who – as Herr Marius had told me – had some years earlier had the honour of playing some waltzes for the prince… The prince appeared to be pleased. …Thus ended the New Year’s reception which, according to local Europeans, was quite extraordinary and unique.
Perhaps few other foreigners had such boldness – or chutzpah? And boldly he pushed ahead. We catch up with him again months later in India, having skipped a large number of rather dull travel articles.
At Benares he makes the acquaintance of an Indian prince at a mosque. The prince is about to mount an elephant together with some English visitors. Haber immediately asks whether he could join them. He had never ridden on an elephant before! The prince agreed. Haber’s own hired carriage followed the elephant.
In Java he wished to explore the interior but was warned that such a journey would be arduous and expensive. It would be best to travel in company.
Fortunately a Russian family, von Zadonsky, consisting of three brothers and a lady arrived in Batavia…. I lost no time, introduced myself and asked to be accepted as the fifth in their company. That very evening I received their affirmative reply. We immediately took steps to buy the most essential item, a travelling coach…
Haber’s linguistic talents must have made him a useful travelling companion. In Cairo he had interpreted for Herr Marius from French to German, in the Dutch East Indies from the Dutch, probably to French. He appears to have spent some time in Holland because repeatedly he mentions people in Java whom he had known at Amsterdam. He certainly spoke English, having lived and worked in the City of London for several years.
Sunday in Pekalonga my Russian friends expressed the wish to attend a church service since this was a Greek [Orthodox] holiday. I accompanied them to a Reformed church. The parson delivered a sermon in the spirit of Schleiermacher* which, for their edification, I translated.
He must have been a young man of considerable charm, winning the friendship of a great variety of people: Russian aristocrats in Java, Indian bankers in Delhi, German planters on Ceylon, English ladies on board his ship, and a variety of businessmen met at Canton.
He frequently quizzes people about their religion. He says that one cannot understand the culture of a people without trying to understand their beliefs. But he himself is very critical of organised religion. In Ceylon he asks local chiefs about their beliefs. A Protestant parson interprets for him.
As I was about to leave the parson requested that I deliver a sermon to the assembly which consisted of chiefs, priests and peasants. I did so without getting involved in dogmatic contemplation but admonished the assembled throng not to live from day to day without thought but to walk in the paths of virtue.
He has a rationalist’s suspicion of priests. In his view they often depart from these paths of virtue. Thus he writes from Bombay:
The might of the Brahmins is said to be enormous…. They indulge the lowest instincts when this serves to preserve and increase their power. Whence can come deliverance [for India] when among millions there is so much ignorance?
His enthusiasm for Christian missionaries is no greater:
The other day I heard of a shoemaker in Simla who had been a missionary.
Asked why he had given up his earlier occupation he said that over a period of three years he had finally converted two Hindus. They had been educated and fed at the expense of the mission. Some time later these two new Christians had broken into a Hindu temple and robbed it of gold and silver. The law apprehended the two scoundrels but before the judge they justified themselves saying they believed that as Christians they were performing a good deed when they seized idols. The judge condemned them to seven years hard labour but the missionary became a shoemaker, hoping to serve humanity better in that position.
The pious English send the heathens missionaries dedicated to the destruction of idols, while supplying the Indian market with a large proportion of these idols.
He is invited to an extravagant Indian wedding – a 14-day feast – given by an Indian banker. The groom is the 10-year-old son of the banker. The boy has never seen his bride and will have to wait until he reaches manhood before he can lead her home. Until then he neither sees her nor does he even get to know her.
Children are raised in servitude and must nolens volens be satisfied with the arrangements made by their parents… The inability to break with ancient usage, even if one knows that these are neither salutary nor in keeping with the times becomes sadly obvious.
One suspects Haber was not only thinking of Hindus but also of the strictly orthodox Jewish household into which his young sister had married.
He comes back repeatedly to customs he regards as antiquated. Thus he denounces not only Hindu child marriage but also the caste system; the bad treatment of widows, the low status of women in general and the segregation of highborn Hindu ladies. He grumbles that even highly sophisticated Indian friends will not introduce him to their wives and daughters – even though he tells them jocularly, he might want to marry one of their daughters.
It is sometimes amusing to see how ladies of high society are shielded from the sights of the profane world. A few days ago I was at the railway station when such a lady arrived…..coolies brought her in a litter to a [railway] coach reserved for ladies. The servants spread out a large blanket so that the highborn lady could slip from the litter under the blanket and thus reach her seat unseen.
At Benares he is outraged to find Brahmins unceremoniously dumping corpses into the Ganges whenever the mourners cannot pay for the wood and ghee required for cremation.
What future is in store for this nation of 150 million idol worshippers. Will light ever replace darkness? … Will this nation ever know how to shake off its yoke… of superstition and disgusting idolatry?
He is disturbed by the fanaticism of Moslems of the Wahabee sect who, a little while earlier, had assassinated the Earl of Mayo, the governor-general of India.
Central to his own attitude is his unquestioning belief in progress as defined in Europe and America. His ideas are typical of members of the 19th century liberal bourgeoisie. His enthusiasm for railways, canals, education and international trade was – as we shall find – totally at variance with the Weltanschauung of the young samurai who was to murder him.
England rules India against the wishes of the population supported by bayonets, their missionaries and their trade. … The missionaries are … a political help by spreading English ways. However, in matters of religion the achievements of the missionaries have, by and large, been without success.
Trade is by far the most … important means of acculturation in so far as it accustoms the native population to modern needs and makes them dependent on countries from which they are accustomed to buy their goods.
His experience further East confirms his belief in trade as a vehicle of change and advancement, but with reservations:
British free trade policies have made Hong Kong as well as Singapore flourishing trading centres. [However] the pious English conduct the opium trade with great
success. On the one hand they send out missionaries among the Chinese… on the other hand they do not neglect to line their pockets through the opium trade and thereby undermine the spiritual and moral welfare of the people.
Haber finds much to admire among the Chinese whom he finds at Hong Kong and Canton:
They are hard working and bustling like ants and seem to be extraordinarily talented in trade and money matters. Their lifestyle is moderate but they have two national vices – gambling and opium smoking.
In a [Canton] workshop master and apprentices were taking their mid-day meal together.…. Master and servants work and live together peacefully and socialist horror pictures have not yet disturbed the activities of Chinese workers.
But his admiration for the hardworking Chinese is tempered with criticism:
The Chinese carry their egoism too far … Dignitaries, both high and low, are more concerned for themselves than for the good of the state. The highest posts go to the one who pays most. A well ordered system of bribery pervades all levels of officialdom……. They struggle for their personal advantage but care nothing for the good of the whole…. A horde of officials have free rein to bring this country to ruin, relying on the indifference of the wealthy and the powerlessness of the lower classes.….
Among Germans he meets in the Far East he finds hardworking people with virtues not unlike those of the Chinese but with fewer vices:
German businessmen have – despite jealousy and obstruction – acquired an honourable position overseas…. However German capital has steered clear of overseas enterprise and thus German labour and intelligence remain subservient to English moneybags.
The English and German communities live separate lives… The English are immensely and unpleasantly jealous of the business successes of the Germans – successes achieved by hard work and application….The trade of Calcutta is predominantly in the hands of foreigners, that is of Germans and Greeks. The English find it hard to keep pace.
On the other hand he admires the British in India as administrators.
Earlier rulers, both Mohammedan and Hindu, never concerned themselves with the wellbeing of the people. They built themselves proud palaces and even prouder tombs. They luxuriated in magnificent harems…. But the people remained in a state of beasts. Much of the land lay fallow and there was no trace of education…. The English, on the other hand, have built schools and churches, roads, canals and railways and have advanced the culture of the country….Of course this was all in their own well-understood interests, but progress does benefit the entire country.
As we shall see, his enthusiasm for railways, canals, education, international trade is totally at variance with the Weltanschauung of the young samurai who was to murder him.
Haber next launches into one of his bouts of pontificating – of which these have been very many which I have, so far, spared the reader. But they do reveal the man so I will restrain myself no longer:
Just as the world never stands still, neither can nations. They must advance to fulfil their destiny. The whole world suffers if even one people remains in a state of barbarism and depravity. That is why India, with its 180 millions, is of importance to us all.
His admiration for British colonial policies, though not uncritical, contrasts sharply with his condemnation of Dutch policies in Java:
[There is no] talk of spreading education among the people… The policy has been to suck the natives dry and to keep them in a state of ignorance…. The railway line from Samarang to Solo and Djokja – a distance of about 25 German miles – is the first to be completed on Java. This minimal development of communications in a land so rich and fertile demonstrates how little this government has, so far, done for Java. Their objective has been to squeeze out as much profit as possible and to regard the welfare of the country as of trivial concern……In many areas natives have to perform forced labour and are obliged to sell the larger part of their produce, especially coffee, to the government at prices set by the latter, in many cases at barely one-third of the real value. To elevate still further the happiness of the people, the government engages in the opium trade for which it has a monopoly.
And once again Haber launches into one of his bouts of moralising:
In earlier days when no one concerned himself with his neighbours and brutal egoism was the rule……all this could happen. But in our days the spirit of independence is stirring among the peoples of the most distant regions. The day will come when the Javanese will demand a reckoning from the Dutch …
He is hostile to the racism he finds in both the Dutch and the British colonies even though he is not always quite what the 21st century might consider ‘politically correct’. We have come across his use of terms like “oriental riffraff”. In Java, on the road to Panyaharan –
- whenever we met natives these knelt on the ground and turned their backs to us so that we did not have to look at their miserable faces. When we met men on horseback, these dismounted and waited patiently till we had passed….. Occasionally hundreds of people knelt down as soon as they saw us. I found this embarrassing.
He finds himself similarly embarrassed in British India. Thus at Allahabad -
I asked the two Mittras to join me for the midday meal at Kellner’s Hotel. As we were about to sit down at table the German manager of the hotel whispered in my ear that he did not know whether he could permit natives in traditional clothes to sit at the table. Instead of answering, I immediately led my guests to the table and thus ended all polemic. Later I heard that my behaviour had offended against prevailing custom…
Haber is as close an observer of scenery as he is of the social scene. He is greatly awed by his first sight of the Himalayas, making his way to Simla on horseback in the company of some English residents.
Valleys and mountains alternate and the peaks of the Himalayas, always snow-covered, draw the eye. Frequently my companions ….encouraged me to press on while I asked them to have patience. I wanted to soak in the scenery.
This was indeed in character. He was, after all, taking three or four times as long over his journey as he need have.
….This mountain scenery is doubly fascinating for one who is not solely tied to the tumult of this world and whose thoughts gladly turn away from the hustle and bustle of struggling humanity to admire the divine works of nature.
Though antagonistic to organised religion, he had no quarrel with the divinity. On his way back from Simla he rode alone but was overtaken by a fierce storm.
It seemed as if the mighty rolling thunder was making the mountains themselves boom. Flash of lightening followed upon flash and a fierce hail beat down on me. Never before have I been exposed to such weather. Finally I had the misfortune of falling from my horse and of hurting myself. Some country people I met took care of me and with their help I reached my night quarters at Kukurhuttee.
As we see, one of his more striking attributes is his lust for adventure. While travelling on Java with his Russian friends, he frequently tells us he rises at dawn and walks ahead while they follow in the coach they had bought jointly.
Unfortunately we could not hire post horses from here [Buitenzorg] to Singalaya.. so we had to have our heavy coach dragged on by a dozen coolies and a number of buffaloes. We rented horses for the men and a small one-horse trap for Madam von Zandonsky. I myself chose to proceed on foot wanting to test my strength, despite a temperature of 25 degrees Reaumur.** As a lone wanderer deep in thought I wanted to fix in my memory the indescribable beauty of the region, the lush vegetation, the valleys and the mountains. Pouring with sweat I reached the village of Avegoe … where I found my travelling companions resting. Our luggage, dragged by coolies and buffaloes, was not expected until the following day. A helpful Englishman, Mr. S., helped me with linen and clothes and gave me a severe dressing down for having walked the stretch from Buitensorg to Singalaya on foot. In fact, such hikes are very unusual in the tropics and one does suffer the consequences.
He and his Russian travel companions, the von Zadonskys, climb Mount Merapi, a volcano which had erupted in fury shortly before.**
Merapi had … destroyed several villages and killed some 200 people. We got as far as a hillock at an altitude of 3,500 feet. We could not go any further. It is beyond my powers to describe adequately the scene that greeted us. Two destroyed villages lay before us, the huts of the peaceful inhabitants flattened in wild confusion. The stench of corpses numbed us…. Dead horses and oxen lay about… as if struck by lightening. The entire soil was covered by ash, as was the little stream….Thick clouds of smoke rose from the water and the stink of sulphur filled the air. The trees were bare…..The high cone of Merapi was veiled in cloud but suddenly we heard a dull rumble which caused us to fear that the Merapi.. had not exhausted its fury. We started on our way back…..
Haber, surveying the chaos and destruction, stops to think and – as so often – to philosophise:
I cannot leave this site where nature has worked so destructively without thinking. Hundreds of people lived at the foot of Merapi, happily and without a care until, from the interior of the mountain, mighty … fires flare up suddenly and destroyed men, animals and plants. Yet the unhappy resident had known all along that they lived at foot of a volcano. Habit had blinded them to danger. We earth dwellers also know that sooner or later our journey will come to an end and our bodies must perish…. And yet we live from day to day without worry, cradled in a feeling of security which is entirely without justification. When we do see the eternal rules of nature assert themselves, we wail as if a volcano had erupted over us. We grumble and complain – as if divine wisdom did not reveal itself anew every single day with the rising of the sun and its going down.
Little did he know how soon his own journey would come to an abrupt end.
We learn much about Hidechika Tazaki from the records of police interrogations, of court proceedings and from the document he himself presented to his interrogators to justify his act. All these were preserved conscientiously and were reprinted in full in Hakodate Shishi, a History of Hakodate.
Hidechika was a samurai from Akita Prefecture in the northeast of Honchu – the main island of Japan. In 1874 he was 23. Three years earlier he had joined a centre for the study of the ‘Great Way’ which had been established at Akita as part of the revival of the ‘truly Japanese’ Shinto religion. There he studied kogaku – a nationalistic discipline which involved the study of Shinto sacred texts, national history and literature. Kogaku idealised the emperor as the direct descendant of the sun goddess.
The essence of Shinto is the devotion to invisible spiritual beings and powers called ‘kami’ of whom there are myriads. Rituals at shinto shrines or in the home enable human beings to communicate with sacred spirits such as wind, rain, mountains, even prominent rocks. Humans become kami after they die and are revered as ancestral kami.
In the period before the Meiji revival Shinto had been considered obsolete and had been almost indistinguishably absorbed into Buddhism. The form in which it was revived towards the end of the 19th century remains a subject of controversy. One of the leading Occidental historians of Japan dismisses it contemptuously:
The so-called State Shinto which was developed for political ends from the turn of the 19th century is an invention resembling and indeed anticipating the National Socialist perversion of Teutonic mythology.
Used in this way, Shintoism served to consolidate the newly restored authority of the emperor as well as the position of the politicians responsible for the Meiji Restoration. It also helped to counter the spread of Christianity and to fuel the agitation against Buddhism which had been launched in 1867.
Religious conflict divided Hidechika’s own family, as his grandfather and his step mother stated when interrogated by the police. His stepmother Tsuru, was, in fact, his aunt - the sister of his real mother who had died when he was only eight.
Hidechika had become so absorbed in Shintoism for these 4 or 5 years. [He] even wanted to change the family religion. There were often discussions between mother and son to the displeasure of Tsuru. But it was the only subject of differences of opinion. Otherwise family life was fair and smooth.
This assessment of the grandfather does not tally entirely with that of the stepmother. She told the interrogators she had always had a lot of trouble with her stepson. On the day he left home he had persuaded her to go to the theatre. While she was away he had decamped, taking with him all the clothes she possessed. Later she had discovered he had pawned 16 articles for 13 yen.* .
The anti-Buddhist policies of the government were put into reverse around 1872. They had met with strong resistance from the public. In 1874 the Akita centre for the study of the Great Way was closed. This made Hidechika indignant. He blamed the recent introduction of Western scholarship and Christianity for the decline of kogaku.
A later interrogation was summarised by the judge who conducted it. Hidechika is quoted as fearing that kogaku would soon be abolished while Christian teachings would flourish . …
….students of the same mind, including him, got together with the teachers of the religious academy and talked very lamentably of the status quo. However his action [the murder] had been entirely conceived by himself. The others knew nothing about it. If he had revealed his intention and they had opposed it, he might have been denounced.
He was actuated by heedless thought… If he had deliberated, he would have noticed that he had disregarded the constitution and had lied to the government….It was a very regrettable deed, not to be borne.
This last is, of course, the opinion of the interrogator, not that of the assassin. Hidechika appears to have been ambivalent about Western scholarship. At one stage he had thought of going to Tokyo himself so as to study Western science. He would not have been the first nor the last student undecided about what to study. Eventually it was the poverty of his stepmother that had prevented his move to Tokyo. 
He left Akita without confiding his plans to his family. They had no idea what had happened to him until days later, when they were summoned for interrogation.
However he did leave a series of letters addressed to the priests at his kogaku academy. Apart from studying there he had also helped produce paper talismans. He informed them that he would ‘bolt away due to circumstances beyond his control’ and made his tutors gifts of several scrolls. These scrolls, he told them, “would surely satisfy your aesthetic mind.” Whether these scrolls contained paintings or calligraphy is not clear.
The tutors were also interrogated. The letter addressed to them was found to contain nothing suspicious. The tutors confirmed that Hidechika had been employed for producing talismans. They had met him daily and had become friendly…. Hidechika had greatly revered Michiaki [the priest who headed the academy] and others but “they did not [do] … more than keep in touch, even disdaining him behind his back”…… They had not involved themselves in discussing personal matters.
His fellow students strove even further in trying to distance themselves from him- he endeavoured to get on an intimate footing with them but they declined as he was a bad character, giving to drinking and gambling and frequenting brothels. As boys they had all gone to the same school. Neither they nor the teachers would ….have anything to do with him as he had always borne a bad character. [However] about a year earlier the murderer had suddenly changed his mode of life and become sober and steady, devoting all his time to the study of the Shinto religion and writings…. After he had been thus engaged for six months he endeavoured to renew his acquaintance with his school fellows and teachers, but they said they could not make sense of him.
The letter to his tutors – addressed as ‘Great Man Fujiwara-no-Michiaki” “Great Man Fujiwara-no-Hidetane” and similar said he was, that day, taking a boat to Shimonoseki – one of the ports close to Korea where Japan was then engaged in a military campaign. He did indeed mention that he wanted to kill foreigners, but he envisaged doing so in battle, as a soldier serving in the army.
I have long lived in vain, with nothing meritorious to do for my country:I wish to go to Taiwan and Korea to exterminate barbarians.
He then switched to a rhythmic, ritual style:
At my back - a sprig of the sacred tree,
plucked from the shrine of my town.
In my mind - truth and sincerity.
I strive my utmost.
If not serving the Great God,
What good would it be –
that sharp sword to slay ugly evildoers?
Had he really intended to go to Shimonoseki to enlist or was he simply trying to obscure his trail? Was it pure chance that he came across a boat headed for Hakodate and hence face to face with Haber? Following the murder Hidechika told his interrogators, that to combat the threat to Japan from foreigners and from the consequent ‘degeneration of Japanese society’ all foreigners should be killed.
With so many foreigners in our country, killing one person was nothing more than scooping a drop of water from the ocean. But he thought it would be a shame to leave things as they were and therefore he determined to kill foreigners to show his loyalty to his country.
He used the same image of scooping a mere drop of water from the ocean in several separate interrogations. He also repeated several times that he had no grudge against the man he had killed. This was not a matter of personal vengeance.
The junk he boarded took him to the northern port of Hakodate. As we have seen this was one of the few ports open to foreign ships. The von Brandt memoirs claim that, in addition to stealing from his step mother, he never paid the captain of the junk. This, as we have seen, was not true.
Reports of the murder published in Germany and in England put about simplistic accounts which suggested that the murder had simply been inspired by a dream the previous night. In fact, a plan to ‘exterminate barbarians’ had been on his mind for a long time. A dream was however involved. Hidechika said in evidence that the third night after his arrival at Hakodate, while asleep in a brothel, he had had a dream in which a kami – a Shinto deity – had appeared to him. This was repeated in a document he handed to the police when he surrendered himself. It was an invocation of the gods written in Shinto prayer style. It is worth quoting in full.
The Ise and Izumo shrines referred to in his document are the most revered in Japan. One of the Ise shrines was – according to tradition - built in the 4th century B.C. It is dedicated to the sun goddess, regarded as the progenitor of the Imperial family.
The two Great Gods in the god-wind blown Ise shrines!
The Great Gods of three great shrines in the eastern country!
The Great God of the revered Izumo shrine!
The Great God in the shrine of Akita and all the eight hundred myriad gods!
I, Tazaki Hidechika, deferentially state that Hidechika, instructed by Fujiwara Michiaki, priest at the Akita shrine, read Shinto scriptures and understood that in the very beginning all living things were created by the Gods.
Our country was kept peaceful. The ways [relations] of lords and subjects and the ways of men were beautifully observed. The country thrived.
[Now, however] here at Hakodate live heinous villains, foreigners who talk of dethroning the Great Power. [i.e. the Emperor].
In a dream last night I was told by the God that sits at the Kashiwara shrine that Hidechika [should] get rid of these heinous villains [but] without discussing the matter – neither with his compatriots nor with foreigners. Hidechika, though not deserving such a great favour, was very pleased with this command. He hoped to come across these heinous villains so that he could get rid of them, pacify the mind of the Founder God and let the light of Japan shine throughout the world. If he did not accomplish this, he would be tied to this task to the end of his life.
I pledge and beg with deep sincerity that my intention be fulfilled.
The document has its roots in a philosophy totally at variance with that of his victim. Haber, as we have seen, believed fervently in progress and in discarding what he considered to be outdated concepts – religious and social. If Tazaki Hidechika had ever managed to communicate with Haber, he might well have concluded that this Westerner was precisely the antagonist he wanted to eliminate.
After preparing this document Hidechika wandered the streets of the port city looking for foreigners to kill but did not find an opportunity. He spent a second night in a different ‘pleasure house’. The following afternoon, after drinking some sake, he went out again, reportedly merry from the alcohol, carrying his sword.
Samurai were known as ‘two sword men’ but the police inventory of his property lists only one real weapon - a ‘short sword.’ There is a second sword listed – a ‘holy sword’ - but this was merely a miniature talisman, not a deadly weapon.
In 1874 the wearing of swords by members of the warrior caste was still legal. It was only banned two years later. But even before the ban, the flaunting of swords in public was frowned upon. Since he did not want to arouse the suspicion of the other lodgers at his inn he had left his sword in the inn-keeper’s charge. On the day of the murder he took it back and hid it under his cloak.
The police inventory of Hidechika’s property also lists a fukusa required for the tea making ceremony. This suggests participation in a sophisticated culture. It is curious that he carried it on his journey.
Detailed and frequently overlapping notes were taken down by a number of different policemen. The constable on duty at the police station recorded that a little after five in the afternoon of August 11th, an unknown man with a sword at his waist entered and shouted “Hear me!” The constable describes this opening gambit as ‘hilarious’.
He narrated that he had killed a foreigner a moment ago and by way of verification produced a watch and a hat. Instead of relating this from beginning to end, he produced from his bosom an invocation and was about to read it when Shoji Yukishi took it from him and we perused it together……. He wished to borrow a brush. I handed it to him … and he put down his name and his official seal upon the invocation.
Again he stated that he feared “confounded foreigners” would abolish the rule of the Emperor.
The note taker – 2nd grade constable Ichihashi Katsuyoshi - together with one other – then rushed to the scene of the murder.
… I remained there, driving away the curious passers-by and ordered the house owner to shut the door….He [the house owner] told me he had seen a foreigner jump over the hedge and run into his property, seriously wounded, escaping he did not know what from. He ran this way and that, but finding both sides walled by briars, hesitated for a moment. A man ran after him and as he [the foreigner] had no way of defending himself he was slain to death in the vegetable garden. The murderer said he would report …. himself and left…. I myself could not bear [to look at] this heart-rending atrocity. I heard them [the house owner’s family?] say they had secretly peeped at the body.
One of the constables ordered to guard Hidechika reported:
We asked Hidechika (who was placed under our strict guard) if he was hungry. He said he … would gladly accept an offer of a meal. Having regaled himself with five or six bowls of rice he asked the favour of borrowing a brush and slate and on a piece of paper put down something of a waka poem and added a statement that he had done with one foreigner. He folded [the poem] and put it in his wallet and kept it in his bosom. 
The poem has not been preserved. Waka or tanka is a traditional form of poem consisting of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 syllables.
Other members of the local police were apparently not yet aware that the assassin had surrendered. They took steps to prevent his escape and that of possible associates.
I immediately took steps to suspend all ships from leaving the harbour as a measure for catching the culprit and on land dispatched constables to kamada gate to prevent flight. But as the culprit [has] surrendered I may remove control on outgoing ships.
The same officer rapidly came to the conclusion that
We found that he had committed this reckless act out of his misguided conception without any help from others……..[However] there is no assurance as yet that no unexpected things will happen….There are many former soldiers [samurai] converted [downgraded?] to plebeians in the prefectures and if special attention is not paid, any unexpected thing may happen…. Hidechika may….[remain] one of the followers … of the stubborn ‘Expel the barbarians, revere the Emperor’ [movement] who raised their voices … around 1853
The police knew that the down-graded and impoverished warrior caste represented a danger. Indeed, there were several samurai risings in 1874. All were put down comparatively easily. The Hakodate murder was, however, not part of such a rising.
The police placed guards on a second residence that Lady Parkes – the wife of the British ambassador - maintained at Hakodate. They also put patrols on the town’s beaches whenever foreign children were playing there.
A senior official, director-general Miyaki, was sent post haste to Tokyo to report to the authorities on the situation at Hakodate.
Police interrogated a large number of people who had had contact with the assassin: the owners of the inn where he had left his belongings, the captain of the boat that had brought him to Hakodate and the women in two brothels with whom he had slept. All confirmed that he appeared to have no fellow conspirators. Despite this the authorities of his home town, Akita, were ordered to keep a ‘close watch’ on the stepmother and grandfather as well as on his tutors.
Several further policemen made statements over the next day or two.
When delivering the culprit to the court we put handcuffs on his hands and another constable tied his waist with a rope. On his way up the Shimo-daikucho slope, Hidechika asked me if the shrine over there might be a Shokonsha shrine and when I answered in the affirmative, he said that all those enshrined there had died for the sake of the Imperial country and gave two bows before passing. Having arrived at the court, we were ordered to bring him straight to the place for examination on the white sand.
The assassin himself was interrogated repeatedly between August 11th and 17th and eventually was made to seal the interrogation documents with his thumbprint.
I myself, a former retainer of Akita province …. had nowhere to serve my country since the emperor’s army conquered its enemies in the north in 1868.
He was referring to the end of the brief civil war between supporters of the last shogun and those of the emperor.
I lived long months in vain and in chagrin. In order that I might perform a meritorious deed I put myself in January 1871 under the tuition of Onozaki Michiaki, Shinto priest, and lecturer at the secondary religious academy at Akita and studied kogaku…I buried myself in my studies, day and night, perusing scriptures from time immemorial and realised the greatness of Shintoism….. I found great pleasure and honour in revering the gods and in loving my country. In January  ….. the academy … began admitting students regardless of their social standing – over two hundred.
Hidechika may have seen this new policy of admitting members of the ‘lower’ orders as humiliating for a samurai. It was another blow to their status, like the military call-up of ‘plebeians’ to the new army.
More than a small portion consisted of kogaku students. In early June, however, these students were suddenly driven out of the academy [as a result of] a government circular that a religious academy and an ordinary [secular] school were to be kept apart. He rashly took this as a measure to encourage Western studies and to exterminate kogaku. He heard rumours that the teaching of Christianity would soon begin to influence this country……Students of Shintoism lost their way … and lamented the miserable time….All this came from the signing of our treaties ….. of friendly relations with foreign countries, which had brought about our great moral deterioration. I have been much displeased since the expulsion of the kogaku students…… There were many resident foreigners in three prefectures and five big ports…… I thought it a real shame to leave things as they stood. .. I was determined to kill a foreigner by my own will and to show my loyalty to my country….. I did not aim to kill a particular person. I loitered in the town for three days observing the behaviour of foreigners. Opportunities never visited me. …. On August 11 I was determined to carry it out that day. With an invocation in my bosom, which I had prepared under the pretence of having had a divine dream in which the Great God requested me to kill foreigners, I sallied forth……at about 2 p.m. with a sword at my waist….
It seems likely that the note taker’s preconceptions influenced some of the wording of this document. Would Hidechika unprompted have described his dream as a ‘pretence’. Similarly, would he himself have described his fear for the future of kogaku as ‘rash’?
I sallied forth at about 2 p.m. with a sword at my waist to call at a pleasure house owned by Kojima Jubee. After some drinks at his house I set out at about 5 p.m. to visit the Shokonsha shrine in order to offer prayers first and then to kill a foreigner…… I was at the foot of the stone steps to the shrine when all of a sudden I saw a foreigner walking ahead….. When I was within two metres behind him I threw my umbrella at him and the moment he turned back I struck my sword twice at his shoulder. Terror-stricken he bolted away. I followed him. ….I saw him run into the property of .. a farmer….. Finding himself at bay he put his hands together as if begging me to save his life but I was the more obdurate… I struck my sword upon his head. He fell down, deeply wounded but not yet dead. I gave him several further cuts from various angles…. Thus I attained my purpose…
At this most critical moment, Ludwig Haber’s talent for making friends with a great variety of people availed nothing, nor did his facility for languages. We can assume that he had by then learnt at least some Japanese.
I called at the police station…. While I was being examined I first knew the name of the victim…. As I did not know Mr. Haber [personally], grudges on my part did not exist.
A different hand added a paragraph to this document in red ink. Again it appears unlikely that it expressed Hidechika’s own views, unprompted. Could this have been obtained under torture?
I was obdurate and stupid. Not keeping abreast of the times, I firmly believed that the decline of kogaku came from the comings and goings of foreigners in this country. 
A communication from the chief judge at the Hakodate court, Inoue Yoshitake addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, does indeed suggest torture may have been used:
He stated that he would be truly sorry and would deserve death if he had compromised the constitution of the country. So far we could not make him confess the circumstances. We will inquire further and put him to torture to make him speak.
Since Hidechika had surrendered voluntarily, had handed over a document explaining his actions and had given several further statements it is difficult to see what more the chief judge wanted to hear. Perhaps he still hoped to elicit the names of fellow conspirators. Unlike the judge, the police interrogators had come to the conclusion quite early that Hidechika had acted alone.
Foreign consuls were, however, kept away from one interrogation, despite earlier promises to the contrary. This suggests that something was being hidden from them.
The consuls of the foreign countries were not fully satisfied with the account. They asked us to examine him in every minor detail. Whenever the accused was interrogated, they never failed to be present. Hidechika was in a state of fury and looked at them with hatred and anger….. he saw them as ugly foreigners and would not speak a word under their observation. If he were put on the rack, he would be even more adamant and keep silent. Accordingly we contrived a plan by which we brought him out of the house of detention early in the morning of 17th to the presence of the prosecuting officers and forced him to confess his true intent. When we had successfully obtained his confession, we sent him back. We accordingly informed the [foreign] consuls, not mentioning how we had obtained the information [but insisting] that we had got the whole truth out of Hidechika….. The consuls, however,… accused us of having broken our promise, demanding further joint examination. We….persuaded them to [come to a] mutual understanding.
What was “the whole truth”? Eusden, the British consul, writes in his diary notes later that same day - 17th August:
The judge said he had confessed he had five accomplices in Akita, giving their names, two were his teachers and one, 47 years old, dissuaded him from already (sic) committing the crime attempted as it was too early and would injure their plot.
This is at variance with all previous and later evidence. Could someone who tried to dissuade him from the murder be considered an accomplice? On the other hand, if this 47 year old had advised delay so as not to endanger a more elaborate plot, he would indeed be an accomplice. But no evidence for such a plot was ever found. How good was Eusden’s command of the Japanese language? Did he perhaps misunderstand the judge? He appears not to have used an interpreter. His notes, preserved in the British National Archives, show signs of having been scribbled in court.
At any rate investigators were sent to Akita. Hidechika’s tutors, his fellow students and his family were interrogated. All were found to be uninvolved and no charges were laid against any of them.
Was Hidechika sane? The naval doctors, commissioned by the German ambassador, said that in their view he was. Captain Will thought the same. However the evidence is conflicting. The constable to whom he first surrendered noted that
However, any man who had just cut another to pieces might well appear highly agitated.
The British consul’s court notes are also conflicting. On the day of the murder he notes:
The above was elicited by the prisoner stating in the calmest manner possible all that occurred. 
A later note the same evening appears to contradict this:
The judge told Hidechika he had ‘ brought disgrace to his country.’ The prisoner replied that our fine country has been ‘desecrated by the treaties’ [admitting foreigners]
‘On the contrary,’ said the judge, ‘our country has flourished since foreigners came here.’
Thereupon the prisoner went into ravings about the glorious days gone by of the tycoons [i.e. the shoguns] and began talking such nonsense that the examination was discontinued at midnight.
The British consul’s notes say that the judge had difficulty understanding the prisoner’s dialect. The notes continue –
Yesterday the sword was shown which the murderer used. It is 18” long and much indented. About the middle it is cracked and must have been very roughly used for it is so bent that it is impossible to force it altogether into the scabbard.
Eusden’s notes say that the prisoner had fought against the present government – presumably during the brief civil war between supporters of the shogun and supporters of the Emperor. Indeed, he spoke of the ‘glorious days of the tycoons’. This is puzzling since elsewhere Hidechika stresses his love for the emperor. He was perhaps not as level headed as some of the observers had thought.
He informed the court that he had hoped to join the Formosan expedition. This is contradicted by his letters to his tutors which say he was on his way to join the Korean campaign.
Questioned by the judge about his education he said he wrote and read ‘all sorts of Japanese characters’. In other words, he was literate – as samurai normally were. However he did not know any foreign language. He would have liked to have learnt a foreign language.
Judge: Would you not have done better to have waited until you knew something about foreigners before murdering them?
Prisoner (after a little hesitation :) Yes.
Hidechika stated that he had planned to commit sepukku – disembowelment – immediately after the murder. This would indeed have been expected behaviour. He had, however, decided against it as he feared the reasons for his action might then remain unknown. No doubt he hoped to encourage others to emulate his deed.
He knew he would be condemned to death but he welcomed martyrdom. His contempt for death is typical of the ‘way of the samurai’. An 18th century book on the samurai ethic writes
Your day must begin with a meditation upon death as the ultimate event. Every morning with a calm mind, form a picture in your head of the last moment of your life… Every morning be sure to take time to think of yourself as dead.
Ambassador von Brandt, not surprisingly, had little understanding of men like him.
…In most cases foreigners simply fell victim to acts of bestial brutality…..the perpetrators were evil and depraved fellows who had been guilty of many earlier
crimes against their own compatriots of which theft and robbery were probably the least.
As examples of this depravity he says that Hidechika stole from his family, spent his nights in ‘houses of ill repute’ and never paid his ship’s fare. As we have seen, he was wrong about the ship’s fare, but correct about the other charges.
Hidechika himself saw no reason to hide that he had spent two nights in ‘pleasure houses’. We are faced here by two very different attitudes to sexuality. Numerous occidental writers underline this difference in attitudes. To quote only one - a German scholar writing in 1911:
The Occidental looks at Japan through occidental glasses. He sees moral degeneracy where there is, in naked reality, nothing but unmediated joy of life and irrepressible joy for sexual matters combined with a lack of any kind of hypocrisy. 
But to return to the assassination. A report was published in the London Times. This came from a reader, ‘H. of Haverstock Hill’ - not from a professional journalist reporting for the paper. ‘H’ had received a letter ‘by today’s mail’. Like most of the foreign accounts this exaggerates the role of the dream. The assassin…..
… was said to be on his way to Edo to finish his education. It seems that this man had, while staying at Hakodati (sic) a dream in which he saw one of the kamis who prophesied evil to the Emperor through foreigners. The fanatical youth
thought it his duty to avenge the wrongs the kami had pointed out to him in his dream, but as he did not know where to find foreigners to sacrifice he went to a temple to ask the Gods to point out to him the right victim. It unfortunately happened …. poor Mr. Haber walked by quickly. The Japanese, to make sure of his victim being a foreigner, asked two women who were standing near if the man he saw was such, and on their replying in the affirmative, he tried to attract Mr. Haber’s attention by throwing his umbrella at him, but the latter, without noticing it, passed quickly on. The Japanese then … drew his sword and made a cut. His victim took alarm and fled through a house and garden and while climbing over a hedge was overtaken by his pursuer, who with his sword, hacked him literally into pieces…. The assassin, under threat of taking their lives, ordered some Japanese to throw water over the corpse of the victim; then the murderer went to a teahouse and there recounted his achievements with great complacency, after which he surrendered himself to the authorities.
The writer added his comments: Haber had fallen victim to the sword of a semi-lunatic or fanatic. This was a ‘melancholy example of the ease which the carrying of murderous weapons afforded the crazy or evil disposed to wreak their malevolent intentions.”
The comment shows little familiarity with the psychology of the disinherited samurai of that period.
After receiving approval from the authorities in Edo, sentence was pronounced on September 26th. Hidechika was stripped of his samurai status ….
It is an abominable deed, so shameful that according to the law against the taking the life of another person, the court declares that he be dispossessed of [his status as a member of] the soldier class and be beheaded.
While awaiting execution, was Hidechika ever informed about what was happening at the Imperial court at Edo? The German ambassador wrote:
The Japanese government were in a high state of agitation and sent Aoki, later Japanese ambassador in Berlin, to ask me what I demanded. My reply was “The punishment of the man according to law.” Soon thereafter Iwakura appeared and put to me the question what would be done in Europe in such a case. I replied that probably the head of state would summon the ambassador, express his regret
concerning the incident and request him to convey this expression to his government. An hour later I had an invitation for an audience with the Mikado and the affair proceeded as I had indicated.
A very formal exchange of courtesies is on record:
Emperor: We deeply sympathize with you and hope you will convey to your Emperor and government that we are deeply concerned and worried.
Ambassador: I shall immediately report your sacred words to the Emperor of Germany …. Regardless of this affair I hope our two countries will deepen our friendship still further.
It is perhaps ironic that the assassin believed he was protecting his emperor by slaying foreigners while the emperor and his advisers saw it so very differently.
The Japanese army, too, issued a statement to say that neither emperor nor army could tolerate such behaviour and demanded that provincial administrations exercise vigilance to prevent any repetition.
The Prime Minister, Sanjo Sanetomi sent similar messages to all prefectures denouncing “abominable deeds committed against foreigners” which offended against “the sacred promises of the Emperor and against the friendship with foreign governments.” He demanded that local officials keep themselves well informed.
A second circular from the Prime Minister announced that the death sentence had been passed:
In times before the penal reforms he would certainly have been gibbeted and exposed to the public, but today he will be beheaded according to the principles of criminal law.
Another prime ministerial edict followed shortly after. This said that the verdict was not to be announced until after the execution. Did the authorities fear stirrings of opposition?
If Haber had been a mere trader, it is unlikely that these high dignitaries would have become involved. After all, traders had very low status in traditional Japanese society. But Haber was a consul – even if confirmation from Berlin had not yet reached Edo. In Japanese eyes his status was that of a diplomat. One wonders whether such detailed records would have been kept and preserved if he had not had this rank.
Hidechika Tazaki was executed in the presence of the surviving foreign consuls in Hakodate – British, U.S. and Danish. His decapitation was badly botched. An eyewitness report was published in the Japan Daily Herald , an English-language paper which appeared at Yokohama. The details following are better skipped by the faint-hearted!
The prisoner was carried to the place of execution in a kago guarded by twelve policemen….. At one side sat the witnesses, consisting only of the three foreign consuls and several native officers…. In the middle was a trench about 6 inches deep and 3 feet in length. The murderer was brought in blind folded and made to kneel on a mat by the side of the trench. Two executioners stood by with their swords which were dipped in water. The first executioner advanced and struck, missing his aim and hitting below the neck; the body fell forward with the head in the trench, seeming to suffer much. A second blow was struck and then the assistant executioner advanced and delivered a heavy blow which, being unsuccessful, a fourth attempt to sever the head from the body was made but failed. One executioner then took the head by the hair and commenced to saw the head off with his sword in a most terrible fashion but was stopped by the chief officer. Water was thrown on the face in order to show the face to the witnesses, the head not being entirely severed, it was necessary to partially lift the body with it…. The time occupied by the decapitation was about two minutes.
Seppuku would have been less agonizing!
* A considerable sum at the time. A supply of rice to feed one person for one year cost 6.35 yen (Information from Dr. Takao Saijo).