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The Glover's Nagasaki

The Foreign Settlements subsequently served as springboards for the modernization of Japan. During the 1st years, Nagasaki played a particularly important role in that it was the closest port to China and a stepping stone for the introduction to Japan of everything from 2nd-hand steamships to bowling balls and as a gateway for coal mining, railroads, newspaper publishing, shipbuilding and other technologies.  In the process, the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement developed its own unique style of Administration, Architecture and Economic activity and provided a venue for international exchanges on various levels.

The European Settlements

By 1893 the Nagasaki European settlement had become firmly established. European and American Consulates, Companies and Banks were housed in grand brick and stone buildings along the Bund (an Anglo-Indian term meaning "waterfront street" and borrowed from the Shanghai vernacular), while Foreign-run Hotels, Restaurants, Bars and Shops lined the side streets and back quarters. The residential neighbourhoods in Higashiyamate and Minamiyamate were now scattered with gracious houses built in the popular quasi-Western Colonial style. Flagstone walkways and steps flanked by brick walls extended throughout the settlement, while the old camphor and ginkgo trees cast shade over the rooftops and gardens. The total effect was an atmosphere more of Europe than of Japan.

The waterfront area reclaimed from the Harbour on the southern side of Oura River was called Sagarimatsu ("Drooping Pines") after the grove of pine trees on a hillock at the mouth of the river. This was the site of the Nagasaki Hotel and the Nagasaki branch office of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, both grand Western-style edifices and landmarks on the Nagasaki Bund The Oura "Bund" (from an Anglo-Indian word meaning "embankment") served as the main street of the foreign settlement and the "face" of Nagasaki that greeted people arriving in the port by ship.

Social Life in Nagasaki
Kuraba Tomisaburo's involvement in the Nagasaki International Club brought him into regular contact with the leading residents of the City and a steady stream of visitors from other parts of Japan and abroad. During the prosperous early decades of this century, he participated in various organizations and attended the many celebrations and commemorative events held in both the Japanese and foreign communities.  He served as chairman of the Nagasaki Golf Association and played an instrumental role in the Foundation of the course at Unzen, Japan's 1st Public Golf Course opened in 1913. He played halfback in the rugby matches organized by the Nagasaki Football Association in the European Settlement, and remained a lifelong supporter of Nagasaki's traditional boat races. He was also one of the leading members of the "Nagasaki Club," a club in Oura dating back to the beginning of the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement.

Tomisaburo was also an ujiko, or parishioner, of Nagasaki's Suwa Shinto Shrine, a enclave of Japanese culture and tradition on a tree-shaded hillside near the downtown area that has served as a spiritual centre for the inhabitants of Nagasaki since its foundation in the year 1634.  In addition to the usual duties associated with parishioner status, Tomisaburo was a member of the Nagasaki Jinkai ("Nagasaki-ites' Club"), a small group of wealthy ujiko. All of the members were leaders of business and politics in Nagasaki, not to mention natives and life-long residents of the City.  For decades Suwa Shrine had been a popular haunt for foreigners seeking the shade of tall trees and the exotic atmosphere of Japan. But no foreign resident had ever, or indeed could ever, become a practicing ujiko. Tomisaburo's role as a parishioner signified not only acceptance as a peer among his fellow Japanese citizens but also his strong commitment to Nagasaki and to the customs and traditions of Japan.

His commitment to the foreign community was equally strong. In May 1936, the British Consulate in Nagasaki sent out invitations to prominent Japanese and foreign residents to attend an afternoon reception on May 12 celebrating the coronation of King George VI. The reception was held at the residence of Fred E E Ringer at No.14 Minamiyamate, the building preserved today in Glover Garden and known as the "Alt House."  Small square tables covered with linen cloths were arranged on the lawn and the guests sat down in groups of 4 to enjoy a Western-style meal. A photograph taken at the time shows Tomisaburo standing beside one of the tables speaking with the Japanese guests there. He was probably in the middle of a tour around the lawn, extending greetings to his many friends and switching back and forth between English and Japanese as necessary. The photograph offers a candid glimpse into Tomisaburo's personality. It is also one of the last pictures of a peaceful Nagasaki.

The International Club
The same year as his marriage, Tomisaburo joined with a number of other prominent Japanese and Foreign residents of Nagasaki in the establishment of the "Nagasaki International Club," an institution designed after the English-style men's club.  The Nagasaki Club in Oura had served for decades as an exclusive meeting place for Foreign Residents. The only Japanese people with access to it were special guests or servants. The Nagasaki International Club, on the other hand, was launched as a way to promote interaction between the 2 communities after the abolition of the Foreign Settlement in the summer of 1899. The 1st gathering was held at the restaurant "Seiyotei" on August 1, 1899 and was attended by 125 Japanese, 5 Chinese and 20 European and American residents.  After using restaurants and public halls for 4 years, the club found a permanent home in a new building on Deshima, certainly an appropriate location considering that for centuries Deshima had served as Japan's only window to the Western world and the only meeting place for Japanese and Europeans. Although the project was financed by his employer Frederick Ringer, Tomisaburo was closely involved in all stages of the operation of the club and the construction of the new building.  The 1st monthly meeting at the new venue was held on the evening of November 10, 1904.

1. P J Buckland (Holme Ringer & Co.)
2. Oscar Watts (U.S. Army Quartermaster Dept.)
3. F E E Ringer (Holme Ringer & Co.)
4. P. Rosomon (Holme Ringer & Co.) 
5. F.A. Kofod (retired ship captain)
6. D.F. Robertson (Consulting Engineer and Marine Surveyor)
7. Wilson Walker (Cliff House Hotel)
8. S D Hepburn (Standard Oil Co.)
9. Carl Boeddinghaus (C.E. Boeddinghaus & Co.)
10. Robert I. Bowie (physician)
11. H. Wolf (Sciba & Co.)
12. Unknown
13. J. Leisecke (Kunst & Albers)
14. Unknown
15. Unknown
16. Kuraba Tomisaburo - T.A. Glover (Holme Ringer & Co.)
17. C. Kring (Great Northern Telegraph Co.)
18. K. Mechlenburg (German Consul)
19. Matt Adams (China & Japan Trading Co.)
20. A.C. Heron (Lloyd's Register of Shipping)
21. August Gese (Kunst & Albers)
22. Unknown
23. Unknown
24. Knut Jordan (Holme Ringer & Co.) 
25. W E Harston (Holme Ringer & Co.)
26. G.H. Ardron (Hongkong & Shanghai Bank)
27. R F Inman (Holme Ringer & Co.)
28. Unknown
29. Unknown
30. T C Robertson (Holme Ringer & Co.) 
31. Unknown

Tomisaburo spoke to the members on behalf of the Founding Committee. Although he probably did not mention it, the evening had great personal significance for him because it promised the realization of his highest ideal: the union of the Japanese and Foreign Communities the elements of his own ancestry in a bond of friendship and understanding.  The meetings and dinners of the Nagasaki International Club continued uninterrupted during the following years. The club made a great contribution to the commerce, industry and culture of Nagasaki while bringing together the multinational community of Nagasaki and serving as a welcoming place for visitors from abroad. But the spirit of friendship promoted by Kuraba Tomisaburo was like the flame of a candle burning in a calm protected grotto as dark storm clouds gather on the horizon.


Holme Ringer & Co

Frederick Ringer was recruited by Glover & Co. to supervise the Company's Tea trade in Nagasaki, the great sea port on the western coast of Kyushu, Japan. In 1868, he joined with fellow Englishman Edward Z Holme to found Holme Ringer & Co.

The dominant British Firm in Nagasaki in the Meiji period was Holme, Ringer & Company which was controlled by Frederick Ringer (1838-1907).  

Ringer & Co. Office (right) at No.7 Oura and the British Consulate beside it at No.6 Oura

At No.7, Oura, between the British Consulate and Nagasaki Club, stood the large 2-storey offices of Holme, Ringer & Co., a trading firm founded in 1868 by British Merchants Frederick Ringer and Edward Holme. The firm remained in the hands of the Ringer family including sons-in-law until they were forced to leave or were arrested on the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941Frederick Ringer was born in Norwich where he died and was buried at 67.  He had firm views and imposed his own rules on the company. He insisted that “all Japanese employees maintain their integrity by wearing only Japanese clothing and footwear and, similarly that Foreigners refrain from unsightly forays into Japanese Culture and Society.”  He frowned on interracial marriage. One partner working with the Ringer subsidiary in Shimonoseki, Neil B. Reid, had to hide his liaison with a Geisha and only had limited contacts with his natural son. The latter took the name Fujiwara Yoshie and went on to found the Fujiwara Opera Company.  The Ringer family residence known as ‘Niban’ [No.2] at Minamiyamate in Nagasaki is preserved in Nagasaki’s Glover Garden and has been designated an “Important Cultural Asset.  Ringer’s business interests covered a wide range from an opulent 4 Storey Nagasaki Hotel, Shipping, the Tea Trade, Flour Mills to Kerosene Tanks. The latter were for Samuel, Samuel & Co. from whose Japan Trade the Rising Sun Oil Company developed and evolved into the Shell Oil Company.
Inset Fredrick Ringer centre with sons Sydney and Fred both born in Nagasaki.

The most imposing of the hotels built during Nagasaki's golden age as an international port was undoubtedly the Nagasaki Hotel, a 3-storey brick and stone building erected on the Sagarimatsu (present-day Matsugae-machi) waterfront in 1897 by a group of foreign investors led by Frederick Ringer. The Nagasaki Hotel boasted a panoramic view of the harbour, telephones in every room, private electric plant, expensive European furnishings, appliances and tableware, richly stocked wine cellar, hairdressing salon and French chefs.  However, Nagasaki fortunes as an international port declined after the Russo-Japanese War and one hotel after another closed in the former foreign settlement. The Hotel de France succumbed in 1909 and the Cliff House Hotel in 1918. The Bellevue Hotel, the oldest Western-style hotel in Nagasaki, closed in 1920.  Meanwhile, the company running the Nagasaki Hotel declared bankruptcy in 1904.  Holme, Ringer & Co. took over and revived the Hotel, but it closed down again in 1908 and remained empty until 1918 when Japanese Merchant Mori Arayoshi assumed Management.  However, the hotel faltered again and was closed permanently in 1924.

Frederick Ringer had a particular attachment to the Nagasaki Hotel whose company he founded and which opened its doors in September 1898 only a few months after the opening of the Royal Hotel in Norwich to which Frederick Ringer returned before he died. The Nagasaki Hotel was designed by the British Architect Josiah Conder who has been described as the father of Japanese Architecture. It had 56 rooms furnished with large brass beds and teak furniture and private telephones but it charged 4 yen a night “or the average cost of a month’s room in a Japanese inn.”  It opened at a time when the port of Nagasaki was still booming, but Nagasaki’s importance soon declined sharply and the Nagasaki Hotel became an ever increasing drain on Ringer’s resources. Eventually in February 1908 the Hotel and its contents including a stock of fine wines were sold. They had a problem when it came to disposing of the expensive tableware which was marked NH. Fortunately the Nara Hotel which opened in the same year came forward as a buyer.

The former house of William J. Alt and family has been designated an Important Cultural Asset by the Japanese Government and is preserved today on its original site (now part of the Glover Garden complex). Built from stone (the pillars were imported from Italy), the house was used for only 5 years by the Alt family and saw a colourful variety of uses over the following years. In 1903 it became the property of the Ringer family, who resided there up to the outbreak of World War II. Damaged by the atomic bomb, the building served for many years as a tenement house before being purchased by Nagasaki City in 1970, refurbished, and opened to the public as part of Glover Garden.

The atmosphere of peace and international understanding that had always enveloped Nagasaki dissipated quickly during the following months. The foreign enterprises that had not already folded were forced to close down after Japan formed an alliance with Germany and Italy and the German Armed Forces invaded Poland in September 1940. The foreign employees hastily gathered their belongings and left Nagasaki behind, watching from the steamer decks as the familiar hillsides faded from sight.

Among the firms that closed down in 1940 was Holme, Ringer & Co., which had operated in Nagasaki without interruption since 1868. Fred E E Ringer, the eldest son of founder Frederick Ringer, died in his residence at the age of 56. His illness had no doubt been compounded by the stress of seeing the Company close and his life-long connections with Nagasaki suddenly dissolve. Fred's younger brother Sydney managed to leave the country in October, but his 2 sons Vanya and Michael were arrested on suspicion of spying. They later escaped overseas and joined the British Army in India. Like many other former Nagasaki residents, Sydney Ringer and his wife waited in Shanghai hoping that the hostilities would come to a quick conclusion, but they were later arrested by the Japanese Army and spent the rest of the war in Chinese Concentration Camps.  As in other Japanese Cities, severe privations were imposed on the citizens of Nagasaki from around the beginning of 1940. There was a growing shortage of rice, barley and other staple foods, and luxury items such as charcoal and sugar became virtually impossible to obtain. Kuraba Waka described these increasing hardships in a letter to a nephew in Tokyo:
The lack of various products is becoming very distressing. For several days now there has been no charcoal available in Nagasaki, although huge loads of it can be seen piled on ships and trains coming into the City. All of the charcoal has been purchased by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and not a single bag can be obtained by anyone else. Next month they say that they will start rationing it, but I hear that the rations will be far from sufficient. Eggs have also completely disappeared from Nagasaki. I haven't tasted one in more than 2 months... I wonder where all the eggs in Nagasaki Prefecture could have gone. Potatoes can no longer be seen in the Markets either. Everything has become so difficult. But I know that we have no choice but to endure the hardships and to accept all this as part of Government Policy.

After World War II, the homes, offices and hotels used by the residents of the former Nagasaki Foreign Settlement disappeared one after another under the wave of development and urbanization. Now only about 1/10th of the original buildings remain and memories have mostly faded in the old neighbourhoods, but the area - and however indirectly the Foreigners who once inhabited it - continue to contribute to the Economy and Culture of Nagasaki through its ongoing role as one of the City's most important tourist attractions.

Sydney Ringer did not return to Japan until after the departure of the occupation forces in 1952. His main purpose was to retrieve the various assets that had been frozen by the Japanese Government and to begin the process of selling off his Property in Nagasaki. While here he lived in his former home on the Minamiyamate hillside. People who were guests at the house during that short period say that he often became distracted in the middle of conversations and muttered "poor Tommy," shaking his head and gazing out over the harbour into the distance.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013