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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Old ‘Navy’ Restaurant burns down

An 1885 restaurant located in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan burned down on May 22, 2016.

Now, if you think that's all I have for you, you wound me. 

The restaurant known as the 'Navy; restaurant, but actually named Komatsu (小松), was a Japanese-style, two-story place constructed of wood, featuring a floor space of 1,320 meters.

There were no injuries, but a woman in an apartment next door did suffer some smoke inhalation . No cause has been yet offered.

Komatsu opened one year after the inauguration of the Yokosuka Naval District in 1884, in what was the main part of the old Imperial Japanese Navy.

Komatsu was opened up by Yamamoto Komatsu on August 8, 1885, which plays into the luck of Japanese numerology... eight day of the eighth month of the year of Meiji 18, which is about as close as they could get to the luck Japanese numbers of "8-8-8", because '8-8-18" just wouldn't do.

As noted, the restaurant was situated in a popular area—during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where people could come and have a nice meal after swimming in the sea.

Some famous people known to have eaten there include: Admiral Togo Heihachiro, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku Yamamoto, who were both, at different times, the commander-in-chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet.

Other diners include: former Japanese Prime Minister Yonai Mitsumasa, and Admiral Inoue Shigeyoshi.

(All names are surname first.)

I doubt any of those people were swimming in the sea before coming in for a meal, but you know what I mean.

This dining area is known as the Admiral's Room of Komatsu.
So... I mentioned that the restaurant was opened up by a woman named Yamamoto Komatsu... well... sort of.

Here's the stuff the 2-inches of newspaper copy failed to report:

The real name of the woman was Yamamoto Etsu (surname first).

Born in 1849, she was the fourth daughter of a grocer. Dowry... owtch.

Anyhow, she worked at Yoshikawa, a small inn/restaurant in Uraga (浦賀 - a subdivision of the city of Yokosuka), Kanagawa-ken, which was, at the time, a navy town... which allowed her to meet and become friends with various naval officers and admirals who would frequent the place looking for good food.

In 1875, with some torpedoes being shot in demonstration for the military, Japan's royalty was also in tow, including:
  • Prince Komatsu Akihito (小松宮彰仁親王 Komatsu-no-miya Akihito shinnō - February 11, 1846 – February 18, 1903) was a member of the Fushimi-no-miya one of the shinnōke branches of the Imperial Family of Japan, which were eligible to succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne in the event that the main line should die out.
  • Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (北白川宮能久親王 Kitashirakawa-no-miya Yoshihisa-shinnō April 1, 1847 – November 5, 1895), was the second head of a collateral branch of the Japanese imperial family. He was formerly enshrined in Tainan-Jinja, Taiwan, under the name Kitashirakawa no Miya Yoshihisa-shinnō no Mikoto as the main and only deity; 
  • Prince Fushimi Sadanaru (伏見宮貞愛親王 Fushimi-no-miya Sadanaru-Shinnō - June 9, 1858 – February 4, 1923) was the 22nd head of the Fushimi-no-miya shinnōke (branch of the Imperial Family), and;
  • Prince Yamashina Akira (山階宮 晃親王 Yamashina-no-miya Akira shinnō - October 22, 1816 – October 29, 1891), was the founder of a collateral line of the Japanese imperial family).
As the story goes... the princes competed against Etsu-chan in contests of thumb wrestling.

Apparently she won handily. Ba-dum-bum.

Thumb wrestling with royalty... this is apparently where all that inbreeding has caused genetic defects with their thumbs.

Anyhow, Prince Akihito Komatsu told the Yamamoto Etsu that he "envied her body and strength" and said he would endow her with a name.

While I am sure Etsu-chan would believe it when it actually happened, Prince Akihito Komatsu was a weak-thumbed man of his word, and the very next day he (and the other princes) ordered the formal changing of Etsu's name to Komatsu.

So now... Yamamoto Etsu is Yamamoto Komatsu... and so a few years later when she opened up her own restaurant, she named it after herself and the Prince she beat in combat while thumb wrestling.

The thing that I find even more interesting, is that the Prince... he was a dude, right... with a dude's name... first name of Komatsu... and now Etsu... a chick... now she has a guy's name.


Was that punishment for beating up a bunch of weak aristocratic princes?

I wonder, though.... along with the granting of the name - without a title, I might add, did they slip her some large amounts of cash... which was why she eventually had enough money to start up her own place?

Earlier, I mentioned that business was great until the early 20th century... when in 1913 there was a land reclamation project that caused the restaurant to lose its idyllic locale of white sands and pine trees.

Komatsu eventually closed between 1918 and 1919 - mostly due to WWI, but also because the female staff wanted improved working conditions. I have no idea if the former Etsu-chan was still alive and in charge of the place.

Komatsu was rebuilt in Yonegahama overlooking the sea in 2923.

During 1942-44, a side-location was constructed out in the Chuuk Islands (requested by Admiral Inoue Shigeyoshi (井上 成美)... but you can tell that didn't last.

The main Komatsu restaurant was, following the defeat of Japan at WWII, became an office for the settlement of remaining affairs of the Navy and a hotel for interpreters, and in October 1945, was designated as a restaurant for American military personnel.

Since 1952 when Japan regained its independence from the invading and stabilizing Allied forces, Komatsu continued to be used by naval personnel - both Japanese and American.

Anyhow... I just thought it was interesting that such an old building is no longer around.... plus, you know, an interesting story on the name of the restaurant.

Really... there was only about two inches of copy ON-LINE devoted to this place - a great place that deserved more... especially when you consider all of that thumb wrestling history.

Andrew Joseph
PS: After seeing photos of all the princes, it would be my guess that they let Yamamoto Etsu win. Then again... I can't find an image of her anywhere or birth and death dates.   

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