Lincoln's Inn logo

November 2018 – Goronosuke Yoshiyama, the first Japanese national to be called to the Bar

On 11 November 1871, a twenty-five year old from Nagato named Goronosuke Yoshiyama, was admitted to the Inn by the Treasurer, Sir Richard Malins. He was the second son of the late Achigo Yoshiyama, who had held a high ranking local government office in southern Japan.

He arrived in England in 1868, funded by the Japanese government, to study English law and constitution and stayed in Grantchester. The Admissions Register gives his English address as Bateman St, Cambridge as he had moved there with the intention of becoming a member of the University. This proved impossible due to his lack of knowledge of Latin and Greek but he was undeterred remaining there to attend lectures on international and English law and on constitutional history. He also hired a law tutor, Thomas Waraker, a law lecturer at Trinity Hall and Lincoln’s Inn member, with whom he had daily lessons.

He moved to London (5 Lidlington Place, Camden) and, after being admitted, he commenced keeping term. This was one of the conditions of call and involved attending a specified number of dinners at the Inn during the four short legal terms in the year. These dinners were not merely a ritualistic gesture towards a bygone age but helped to introduce students to the traditions and collegiate spirit of the Inn they had joined and the profession to which they aspired. In November 1873 he petitioned Council to be excused keeping three terms due to uncertainty about his continuing ability to stay in England. The Japanese government had given him notice to return but he had obtained a slight prolongation of his leave of absence. He was still afraid that he might suddenly be recalled to Japan before he was able to be called to the bar. The petition proved unsuccessful since any compliance with his application would have been contrary to regulations. However this set back had little effect as his government did not intervene further in his studies.

Goronosuke Yoshiyama’s entry in the Bar Book, 6 June 1874

Not only did he face hurdles from his home country but also from ours. The different climate in England almost put an end to his legal ambitions. In a further petition for a dispensation from keeping term he argued “I have suffered intently from the effect of the climate which has rendered me liable to illnesses to which I was not formerly subject. A severe cold in June 1872 prevented my leaving my house [for three weeks] in order to attend in Hall to keep Trinity term and a severe feverish cold in January last [1874] hindered me [confining him to bed for a week] from eating my dinners… Should it be necessary for me to keep the two terms I have missed, I shall be obliged to remain eight months longer in this country including another winter which I fear may dangerously effect [sic] my health”. This time he was granted his request and he was also allowed to dispense with one of the three customary introductions to barristers that had to take place before call.

At the time of Yoshiyama’s admission the requirement for call with regard to legal education could be met in several ways and did not necessarily entail passing law exams as is the case today. He chose to learn in a more practical way by spending a year as a pupil in the chambers of a practising barrister. He worked with Edwin Pears and Thomas Randall Bennett in Temple and Thomas de Courcy Atkins at 3 New Square. On completion of his pupillage and fulfilment of the other conditions for call, he was called to the bar on 6 June 1871. Thus he was the first Japanese national to be called to the English bar and not, as widely believed in Japan, Toru Hoshi who was called at Middle Temple in 1877.

Yoshiyama returned to Japan and became head of foreign affairs at the Ministry of Justice. Later he was transferred as a judge to Osaka where he presided over 251 cases in three years. He ended his short career as a judge in Japan’s Supreme Court of Judicature, and died, at the age of thirty-six, in 1882.