Umegasaki Stories


NAGASAKI POST OFFICE AND TELEGRAPH BUREAU

In 1884, the Nagasaki Post Office, located previously in the Japanese town, was moved to a 
Western-style brick building at No.1 Umegasaki, beside the office of the Great Northern 
Telegraph Company, a Danish company that had laid Japan's first international underwater 
telegraph cables in 1871. This location made it easy to cooperate with the Great Northern 
Telegraph Co. and to enjoy the convenience of proximity to Nagasaki Harbor.

Two years later the post office absorbed the Nagasaki Telegraph Bureau and became the 
Nagasaki Port Office and Telegraph Bureau, Japan's first government facility combining the 
two functions.

The building was torn down in 1918 and replaced with a modern post office building on the 
same lot. This served as the hub of Nagasaki's postal service until being moved to the 
present building in Ebisu-machi in 1970 and renamed "Nagasaki Central Post Office."

Click here for a photograph of the building erected in 1884. Nothing remains of either 
building today, and the reclamation of land from the harbor has completely erased the 
former waterfront. 
 

GREAT NORTHERN TELEGRAPH COMPANY

In 1868, the Russian government invited tenders for a contract to lay cables connecting 
Russia with China, Japan and Hong Kong. The Great Northern Telegraph Company of 
Denmark won the contract and set up a subsidiary firm, the Great Northern China and 
Japan Extension Company, to carry out the work.

In Japan, the Meiji Government guaranteed access to Nagasaki and allowed the company to 
manage the cables between Japan and the continent. The Great Northern China and 
Japan Extension Company laid cables from Vladivostok to Nagasaki, Shanghai and Hong 
Kong, a distance of 2,300 nautical miles, and established a station in the Belle Vue Hotel at 
No.11 Minamiyamate. This hotel was Nagasaki's best accommodation at the time, an 
imposing two-storey structure designed in a square shape around an inner courtyard and 
standing at the tree-clad foot of the Minamiyamate hillside, near the customs jetty where 
foreign visitors came ashore.  

Japan's first overseas telegraph service began on August 12, 1871 with a notice In The
Nagasaki Express telling readers that the company was "prepared to forward telegrams 
from the station at this port to all parts of the world in telegraphic communication."   

In 1874, the Great Northern Telegraph Company established its Nagasaki headquarters in a 
new Western-style building at No.2 Umegasaki and became one of the pillars of the Nagasaki 
Foreign Settlement, while at the same time clutching the aortic artery of international 
telecommunications in Japan.

When the clouds of war darkened Nagasaki in the 1930's, the company still enjoyed the 
rights to the underwater telegraph cables and also held perpetual leases to a number of 
choice lots in the former settlement including the main office at No.2 Umegasaki, next door 
to the Nagasaki Post Office. The Japanese government had tried several times over the 
years to buy out the company's operations and to gain control of the cables, but these 
attempts had invariably failed. As international tensions came to a head in 1940, the 
company finally acquiesced and transferred its rights and property to the Japanese 
government. Japanese authorities took control of the Nagasaki facilities on June 1, 1940, 
snipping the last thread of privileges enjoyed by foreigners under the umbrella of 
extraterritoriality.

Click here for a photograph of the building at No.2 Umegasaki.


GERMAN CONSULATE

During the first two decades after the opening of the port of Nagasaki, "merchant consuls" 
filled the role of German consul, handling communication with Japanese officials and looking 
after the interests of German residents and visitors on a part-time basis. In 1865, the 
German merchant Louis Kniffler accepted the position of acting consul for the first time 
and orchestrated diplomatic affairs from his office at No.4 Dejima. Over the following years, 
the responsibility passed to other German merchants including Richard Lindau (1866-1868), 
G.A. Schottler (1869-1870), Max Militzer (1870-1873), George Westphal (1872-1873), and 
Hermann Iwersen (1874 and 1877-1889).  

In January 1889, a time when an increasing number of German ships were visiting Nagasaki 
and Germany was increasing its commercial and military presence in East Asia, F.G. Muller-
Beeck became the first German Foreign Service officer appointed consul at Nagasaki.  
Muller-Beeck took a keen interest in the history and culture of Nagasaki and published 
several papers on the subject, including a widely read dissertation on the "Shokunin Zukushi,
" a series of relief carvings depicting various Edo Period occupations installed along the wall 
of the main hall at Matsunomori Shinto Shirine. In April 1900, he moved the German 
Consulate into the Western-style wooden building on the waterfront at No.11 Oura, built 
originally by Textor & Co. and used for many years by the famous British firm Jardine, 
Matheson & Co. Juris G. Specks replaced Muller-Beeck as consul in 1907 and remained in 
office for two years. Specks was followed by A. Mudra (1909), K. Mechlenburg (1910-1911) 
and E. Orht (1911-1913).

Juris G. Specks returned to the post of German consul in Nagasaki for a second time in 
April 1913. On January 27 the following year, he hosted a reception at the consulate to 
celebrate the birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II. This event was attended by the governor of 
Nagasaki Prefecture, the mayor of Nagasaki City, and many other prominent Japanese and 
foreign residents. But it was destined to be the last. Specks and his family and staff left 
Nagasaki after the outbreak of World War One in the summer of that year, and the Nagasaki 
German Consulate was never re-opened.


BETH ISRAEL SYNAGOGUE

On September 3, 1896, the Beth Israel Synagogue was dedicated at No.11 Umegasaki. The 
two most important figures in the construction of the two-story red brick building were the 
Jewish merchants Haskel Goldenberg and Sigmund Lessner. Leb Lessner, Sigmund's father, 
was appointed gabay (administrator) of the new synagogue.
  
The following is a list of some of the events that took place at the synagogue in the first 
decade of the twentieth century. In March 1901, Joseph Samuel (American) married 
Regina Smith (Austrian). The ceremony was performed by Wax Lewis Lifschitz. In May of 
the same year, Edward Kohen (American) married Jennie Gertrude Fleck (Russian). The 
ceremony was performed by Leb Lessner. Bella Goldenberg of Nagasaki, married James 
Oxberry of Hongkong in July 1902. In February 1903, there was a service at the synagogue 
for Lewis "Joe" Moore, a Jewish merchant who had died earlier in Shanghai. In November 
1904, there was a funeral service for A.S. Newman, a Jewish physician who had practiced in 
Nagasaki before moving to Moji in 1901. His remains were brought to Nagasaki for burial in 
the Jewish cemetery. The funeral was conducted by J. Serper. Finally, in January, 1909, a 
memorial service was held for Marcus Mess, a former Nagasaki merchant who had passed 
away in St. Petersburg. 

The synagogue at Umegasaki continued to operate during World War I, as can be seen in an 
ad for Yom Kippur services carried by the English language newspaper in September 1918.

After the death of Sigmund Lessner in 1920 and his wife Sophie three years later, very few 
Jewish people remained in Nagasaki. Some ex-residents living in Shanghai decided to 
empower the Shanghai Zionist Association and the Oihel Moishe Synagogue to dispose of 
the Beth Israel Synagogue in Nagasaki. Acting upon instructions from these groups, the 
Japanese government auctioned the property and building and sent a cheque for $2,618 to 
N.E.B. Ezra of the Zionist Association in Shanghai. In September 1924, the Nagasaki 
synagogue was sold to the Japanese government by the Shanghai Zionist Association.
The old building was used thereafter as a warehouse and remained with its distinctive pear-
shaped window awnings intact until being torn down in the 1960s. Today the site is occupied 
by a cluster of modern buildings that gives little indication of Japan's first synagogue or the 
life and times of Nagasaki's former Jewish community. 

Click here for photographs.