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The Collection (II)
There’s a bigger list of sources and further reading at the back of the book, and a lot of my research was done online (thanks Covid) or in the Yokohama Archives of History, but the two most important sources were Brunton’s own words, and the editorial gloss placed on them. Brunton wrote a memoir not long after returning from Japan but it wasn’t published until 1991, the 150th anniversary of his birth. There are a number of reasons for this but the chief one being that it isn’t very good. Brunton was an excellent engineer but not a natural born writer. His insights on Japan were nowhere near as insightful or original as those of others, notably Sir Ernest Satow and Isabella Bird. The engineering side made for good academic papers, but not so much a page-turner. Even after being published in 1991, his memoirs quickly went back out of print.
To make matters worse, two different editions were published in the same year. This one:
is based on a heavily edited text, done by William Elliot Griffis in 1906. He cut a few chapters out but added voluminous notes. The notes are especially useful since he actually knew Brunton while in Japan, and bought the manuscript directly from his widow later. It also contains an introduction and further notes by Hugh Cortazzi, most of his academic papers, and many of the official lighthouse documents including schedules, budgets, materials, and much engineering detail that was far above my head. This edition:
is more scholarly, does a good job of fact-checking some of Brunton’s wilder claims, and puts it in a more modern context. It also returns the excised chapters, for better or worse. If anyone is considering doing a proper biography of Brunton, these are invaluable. I really wouldn’t recommend that they be added to your tbr pile.
The other book I relied on was this bilingual history put together by the Yokohama Archives of History. It is also out of print but I managed to track down a secondhand copy in the backstreets of Tokyo. Brunton’s grasp of names and dates was sketchy at best, but the archives dug into the Japanese sources and added clarity where none had been. It’s safe to say that without this book, mine would have been impossible.
It came with this handy pullout double-sided poster:
Some other books that were useful for context and background:
I’d particularly recommend John Dougill’s book on the Japanese Christians, Satow’s memoir, and for the love of God will someone at Netflix make a multi-season series about Isabella Bird’s life? I’ll happily do the script.
Finally, the Yokohama Archives of History sold me this 1870 map of Yokohama. Brunton arrived in 1868 and one of his first tasks was a complete survey of the town. Over the next eight years he helped reshape the city into some of what it is today. The lighthouse establishment, his office, and home, were in the bottom right corner of the settlement and today that area is a pretty ugly car park.