Japanese Search British Bandsman

March 9th, 2006  

Topic: Japanese Search British Bandsman

Japanese seek family of bandsman Fenton
By Colin Joyce in Tokyo
(Filed: 09/03/2006)
Researchers in Japan have appealed to readers of The Daily Telegraph to help shed light on the fate of the British soldier who gave the country its national anthem.
Toshio Akiyama, a conductor and head of the Japanese Band Directors' Association, has spent more than a decade trying to find out what became of John William Fenton.
But the trail ends after the soldier left a teaching post with the Army in Scotland in 1883.
Fenton arrived in Japan in 1868 as bandmaster of the 10th Regiment of Foot 1st Battalion in Yokohama.
When the battalion left in 1871, he stayed for another six years as director of the Japanese navy band, the country's first, and the band of the imperial court. The Japanese now want to locate his grave and find out if he has any living relatives or descendants, whom they hope to invite to Japan.
A monument to Fenton was erected at the Myoukoji Shrine in Yokohama, where he trained a group of cadets whose average age was just 19 into Japan's first band.
He also composed the first version of the Japanese national anthem and performed it before the emperor in 1870.
His version was later replaced but as a tribute to him it is performed annually at a concert in his honour at the Myoukoji Shrine.
Today band music is a strong tradition in Japan with close to half a million people registered with professional, amateur and school bands.
"It all started with Fenton," said Mr Akiyama. "When he took on the very first band they didn't even have instruments.
"We consider him to be our father and we all want to know how our father died and where his grave is."
Fenton was born in Kinsale, County Cork, in 1828. His father was a sergeant in the British Army and he was baptised into the Church of Ireland.
His first wife, Annie Maria, died in Japan but he later married an American, Jane Pilkington, while in Yokohama.
After leaving Japan he went to Bureau County, Illinois, with his wife and a daughter, Jessie, from his first marriage.
But he appears not to have settled there, writing unsuccessfully to the Japanese government asking for a job before heading to Scotland in 1880.
"He lived in so many countries and travelled so far that we can't guess where he went after Scotland," said Mr Akiyama, who contacted The Daily Telegraph after it published a story on Fenton last year.
"But it is my sincere wish to find out what became of Fenton in my lifetime."
Masajiro Tanimura, a retired navy band leader and historian, also praised Fenton's legacy.
"It was a humble start," he said.
"They didn't even have proper instruments, just little ceramic trumpets, until Fenton organised a shipment from London.
"But his pupils went on to be good bandsmen."
March 9th, 2006  
sven hassell
How did you find that out?