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Friday, July 15, 2016

Japan's First Airplane Pilot - Tokugawa Yoshitoshi

A few days ago, I introduced you to the first Japanese designed and manufactured aircraft, the Kaishiki No. 1.  You can read that article HERE.

I did not provide any information on who designed and built the aircaft, but it was Lieutenant General Baron Tokugawa Yoshitoshi (surname first, 徳川 好敏) who was born on July 24, 1884, dying on April 17, 1963—so the good news is that he didn’t die piloting the Kaishiki No. 1 during those very dangerous early years of pioneer aviation.

Now… if you were to take a gander above at Tokugawa’s rank, you might think that he was in the military and/or part of Japan’s aristocracy… and he was.

Waitaminute! Tokugawa? Not THE Tokugawa family?

Yup. Tokugawa was the son of Count Tokugawa Atsumori (1856–1924), who was the head of the Shimizu branch of the Tokugawa clan. Via his dad, our aviation Tokugawa was the grandnephew of the last Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu. While his father had been created a count in 1884, thanks to the Meiji Restoration he gave up the title in 1899.

Our man Tokugawa attended the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, graduating in 1903, specializing in military engineering.

In 1909, he went to France as a military attaché to study aeronautical engineering and military applications for the use of aircraft in combat.

While the American Wright Bros. were the father of heavier-than-air aviation, France was the acknowledged leader in Europe… and seemed to be willing to sell their knowledge, if not share it. The Wright Bros., bless them, were trying to make a buck, and were attempting to sell their technology to the American government. Nothing wrong with that. 

While in France, Tokugawa purchased a Farman III biplane from the Henri Farman operated Avions Farman (Farman Aviation Works). Tokugawa had the new plane shipped back to Japan.

On December 19, 1910 over Yoyogi Parade Ground in Tokyo (where the Yoyogi Park is nowadays), Tokugawa took his Farman III aeroplane out for a spin becoming the first Japanese pilot to fly a plane over Japan.

A 1911 postcard showing Tokugawa Yoshitoshi getting ready to pilot his Farman III aircraft in the first flight by a Japanese person over Japan.
Tokugawa, along with General Kumazo Hino (surname first) took the technology to the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, who helped establish the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service.

On April 23, 1911, Tokugawa set a Japanese record flying a French-made Blériot aeroplane a distance of 48  miles (77.25 kilometers) in 1 hour 9 minutes 30 seconds - that is an average speed of 66.69 kilometers per hour (41.44 miles per hour).

If it seems slow… just note that no one had ever flown a heavier-than-air machine (airplane, as opposed to a hot-air balloon, zeppelin or dirigible) prior to 1903 when the Wright Brothers did it in secret on December 17, 1903, and it wasn’t until the rest of the world began to catch up on January 13, 1908 when Henry Farman flew his Voisin Farman I plane.

See… that’s part of my point in doing all this historical stuff here in this blog and in my Pioneers of Aviation blog… people MIGHT remember who was No. 1 (quick, was it Orville or Wilbur Wright that flew first?), but they don’t remember who was No. 2 or anyone else after that regardless of their importance in getting our global society to where it is today.   

With his skill as a pioneer of aviation, Tokugawa led Japan’s
  • 2nd Air Battalion (1924-25) as commander;
  • director of research department, Tokorozawa Army Aviation School (1925-27);
  • commanding officer 1st Air Regiment (1927-29);
  • director of training department, Tokorozawa Army Aviation School (1929-31);
  • commandant of Akeno Army Aviation School (1931-34);
  • commandant of Tokorozawa Army Aviation School (1934-37);
  • acting General Officer Commanding Army Aviation Corps (1937-38);
  • General Officer Commanding Army Aviation Corps (1938);
  • attached to the General Staff (1938-39);
  • in Reserve (1939);
  • retired (1939-1944);
  • recalled (1944);
  • commandant of the Imperial Army Aviation School (1944-45);
  • retired (1945-)
Another view sans people of the Farman III aircraft Tokugawa Yoshitoshi would use to be the first Japanese man to fly a plane over Japan.
He was named a baron in 1928. How is one named a Japanese aristocrat? Read HERE, but the short story is one earned it with earnings… IE, after the Meiji Restoration (deposing of the Shogun and having the Emperor once again be the be-all and end-all) in 1868, families were given nobility ranks based on how  much rice their family could produce - the more the better, obviously… as well, families were rewarded in how they acted with regards to the disposal of the Shogun system. 

I’m going to say that our aviator Tokugawa was NOT being rewarded with aristocracy-status (even though it was only as a Baron, the lowest of the Japanese nobility) because of his family’s pre-Meiji Restoration status… seeing as though he was related to the Shogun… so it must have been because of his family’s rice riches and more than likely because he was indeed a loyal member of Japan via his aviation exploits.

The Wikipedia page (and others) for Tokugawa say that he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, 1st class—but does not indicate when it was presented.

The award was established in 1875 by Emperor Meiji and was the first national decoration awarded by the Japanese government to people who have made distinguished achievements in: international relations; promotion of Japanese culture; advancements in their field, development in welfare or preservation of the environment. 

However... since I wanted to place the date he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun - I looked for it... and looked for it... and looked for it. 

There is a listing for a different Tokugawa getting the Order of the Rising Sun, but not for our aviation buddy.

I can not find any evidence that Tokugawa Yoshitoshi was ever awarded Japan's Order of the Rising Sun. Show me I'm wrong or fix that web page and get the history correct.

A 1960 First Day cover and Japanese stamp honoring the 50th anniversary of Tougawa's historic first flight.
Tokugawa is known by those who know, as the father of Japanese aviation.

Andrew Joseph
PS: After a coin toss, Orville was the lucky Wright brother to fly first. His first attempt was unsuccessful on December 14, 1903 and damaged the aircraft requiring three days to fix. On December 17, 1903, Orville was successful… leaving the relative safe confines of  Mother Earth for 12 seconds before landing in the sand 120 feet (36.6 meters) away. Each brother flew three times that day, with Wilbur flying for nearly one minute over 852 feet (259.7 meters). In three years, look at the leap in distance flown - and know that Tokugawa’s flight wasn’t even the world record.

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