Kipling was in Japan in the course of his long wedding journey, which began in England, went on to the American east coast, then across the American continent and the north Pacific to Japan; the intention was to continue to India, but the failure of Kipling’s bank and his wife’s pregnancy determined them to return to the United States. They arrived in Japan on 20 April and remained until 27 June 1892: most of that time apparently was spent in and around Yokohama.
The Tokyo Club, as Hugh Cortazzi and George Webb explain in Kipling’s Japan, was for men only, organized in 1884 on the lines of a London club; it is still in existence. The occasion of the speech was a dinner at which Kipling was the honored guest and Henry Willard Denison presided. Denison (1846-1914), an American, served as Legal Advisor to the Japanese Department of Foreign Affairs from 1880, or, as Cortazzi and Webb put it, was “personal advisor to successive Japanese foreign ministers” (Kipling’s Japan, 226).
The brief speech states a theme that Kipling elaborated in the second ol his letters from Japan in “From Tideway to Tideway”, later collected in Letters of Travel, 1892-1913, 1920. The letter, called “Our Overseas Men” and originally published in The Times, 30 July 1892, celebrates the “Outside Men” who do the work ol the Empire around the world, just such men as Kipling describes in this speech as “the builders of trade, the makers of ways, and the teachers of all good influences.”
The speech is also notable for its expression of Kipling’s conviction that the sources of power, for the artist and the man of affairs both, are “outside a man,” a conviction expressed not only in this early speech but in his last work, Something of Myself.
GENTLEMEN,—If you knew my private opinion of you all 1 feel sure that you would not applaud, because in this case I can truthfully use the well-worn lie of the after dinner speaker and say, in all sincerity, that I did not know a speech was expected of me tonight. I have to thank you, and I do thank you most heartily, for the kindness that has prompted you to bid me be your guest tonight and for the cordiality that you have just shown.
Mr. Denison has been good enough to say more about me than I am ever likely to live up to: but, so far as regards anything of good that I may have been permitted to do in my own business, you who have done work, as you all have done work, know as well as I do, how outside a man and beyond a man, and having nothing whatever to do with a man, a man’s best work is.
1 can make no claim to being identified with the world of strife and turmoil beyond these horizons, where men do all the wonderful things that you have just heard about. It is enough for me to belong to the outlying colonies of men whose life is severed from that of their fellows at home; the little isolated communities beyond the seas who are looked upon so curiously and sometimes so curiously misrepresented by wondering [sic] tourists. Therefore if you count me as an outsider it—it isn’t quite kind of you. For I meet here, if not the very same men, at least the very same type of men as those among whom I have been bred and trained—the men of the Treaty Ports, Singapore, Burmah, and India, men afar and apart from the surroundings and supports of their own countries, but playing no small part in their countries’ greatness; those who are the builders of trade, the makers of ways, and the teachers of all good influences; each upholding and advancing the honour and the dignity of his country whatever that country may be. And it is as such that I salute you.
[—Japan Weekly Mail, 14 May 1892, as reprinted by Hugh Cortazzi and George Webb, Kipling’s Japan: Collected Writings. London: The Athlone Press, 1988, pp. 224-26.]