William Adams, the ‘Blue-eyed Samurai’, otherwise known in Japan as ‘Miura Anjin’, which translates as ‘The Honourable Pilot’, was born in Gillingham on 24th September 1564. He was baptised in St. Mary Magdalene Church, Gillingham. He was shipwrecked in Japan in 1600 and was saved from death by the local warlord who recognised his skills in ship building and navigation. He went on to show the Japanese how to build Western-style ships, and became, in effect, the father of the Japanese navy and much respected and revered in Japan. This connection led to the linking of Gillingham with Ito and Yokosuka as sister cities.
Last year Medway Council held its 7th William Adams’ Festival to celebrate the historic links between Gillingham and Japan. The festival began on the Friday night with a special seminar to mark the 150th anniversary of the Anglo-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce. The Japan Local Government Centre arranged for Michio Hemmi, the priest from William Adams’ family temple in Yokosuka to speak at the seminar which was chaired by Cllr. Sue Haydock, Honorary Mayor of Yokosuka. Also speaking at the seminar was Mr. Wataru Nishigahiro, Minister Plenipotentiary and DMC at the Embassy of Japan in London.
The festival on Saturday was opened by the Mayor of Medway, and was a celebration of Japanese culture covering a number of martial arts, dancing, Omen (mask making), origami, hanga, kabuto, sumie, ikebana, calligraphy, chado, geisha dressing, musicians, historical re-enactment, and the very popular manga. Traditional Japanese food was available for lunch, and costumed characters mingled with the crowd.
Mr. Hemmi visited the festival and met members of the Japanese Group of the Medway International Relations Committee, and exchange students who had visited Yokosuka the month before.
On Sunday the members of St. Mary Magdalene Church, led by the Rev. Suzanne Pattle, held a special service in the church to commemorate the life of William Adams, at which the Mayor, the local MP, and Cllr Sue Haydock were present. The service was followed by lunch in the church hall.
The 2009 festival will be held on Saturday 12th September. Plans are advancing well and include more capacity for manga, by popular demand. It is likely the venue will be Gillingham Park due to extensive building work at the Black Lion Leisure Centre.