Commander Rezanov
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§ Japan

Relations between Russia and Japan

The first information about Japan came into Russia from Europe. Gerald Mercator, a well-known Dutch scientist and cartographer of XVI century, may be considered the first man, who aquatinted the Russians with Japan. His “Atlas” comprising maps of various lands and numerous descriptions of countries and folks around the world was issued in 1601 and sustained up to 50 editions in Western Europe. Some of its copies turned up in Moscow. In 1637 the above geographical descriptions were translated into Russian.

20 years later in 1657 the book “A Speaking Cosmography: the Description of the Whole World of Lands and Great States” was issued in Moscow, which was actually a Russian adaptation of Mercator’s text. Among many geographical descriptions taken from the “Atlas”, the book gave a very vague description of Japan under the title: “About Japan or Japan-island”. It depicts Japan as a country, where “any riches, gold, pearls and precious jewels are abundant“.

In the second half of the XVII century, since Russia had already established contacts with China, Moscow government was getting interested in Japan and began collecting information about the country. Nikoly Spaphary who was sent to China as a Russian ambassador in 1675 informed the government of some additional facts about Japan. Cossack Vladimir Atlasov, a Kamchatka researcher, delivered the first detailed information about Japan. While being in the south of the peninsula, Atlasov collected some stories about the Kurile Isles and Japan from local population and found out that an unknown foreigner -”polonennik” (i. e. a captive) — had been living in Kamchatka for 2 years. This captive called Denbey, a Japanese merchant, got in a shipwreck near the Kamchatka coast. Denbey had lived in Atlasov’s group for two years. He was studying Russian. First he was sent to Yakutsk and then in December of 1701 — to Moscow. It was the first Japanese in Russia, who had given a lot of information about his country.

Early in January of 1702, Peter had a long talk with Denbey in Preobrazhenskoye near Moscow. After the meeting Peter I issued the following edict (“ukaz”): “Denbey shall learn the Russian language in Moscow, and when he has a good command of the Russian language, he’ll teach the Japanese language, reading and writing to 3 or 4 Russian young men.” To console Denbey he was promised the permission to return to his homeland after he had finished teaching the Japanese language to the Russians (“robyata”). In 1710 Denbey, who had learnt the Russian language, sent a request to let him go back to Japan, but the tsar wouldn’t. Instead Peter I ordered to have Denbey christened in Orthodox belief.

It followed from Denbey’s stories that Japan was rather close to the Kurile Isles and the Japanese were not allowed to trade abroad but the Dutch in the unique port of Nagasaki. The Moscow government had already learnt about these Japanese customs and observances from the foreigners who depicted Japan as a country, which was rich in gold, silver and a nation with a developed agriculture, whose army had already had fire weapons.

Paying a great attention to the development of Russian trade, especially a foreign one, Peter I persistently tried to establish the relations with Japan. In 1702 he issued the edict (“ukaze”) on sending the envoy-salesman from Moscow to Kamchatka, who was also entrusted to establish trade relations with Japan: “The Moscow envoy from “stolniki” shall use all means to establish a great trade with the Japanese. The envoy shall also figure out what nice merchandise might be supplied from Japan and what Russian goods might be in demand and popular among the Japanese, and whether they wish to trade with Russian merchants, and what weapon the Japanese military have, and what army military skills they have, and what seaways lead to Japan. The envoy shall learn about these facts genuinely and write as soon as possible after his return from Kamchatka to Yakutsk and then report to the tsar in Moscow via the Siberian Department.”

At the same time the first attempts have been undertaken to find a way to Japan. These searches were carried out in two directions: from Kamchatka to the South along the Kurile ridge, and from the Uda-and-Tugura region to the East, across the Shantara Islands.

So far the numerous voyages of Cossacks and manufacturers to discover a sea way to Japan had been unsuccessful.

Meanwhile the government was getting more and more various pieces of information about Japan. In most cases Moscow received information from Japanese merchants and navigators who turned up in Kamchatka because of shipwrecking. After that they were sent to Yakutsk, then to Irkutsk, Moscow and St.- Petersburg. The obtained information reinforced the interest of the government and trading circles in Japan. The seaway to this country was discovered by the second Bering’s expedition after Peter I passed away.

The Japanese women on walk. The atlas to round-the-world voyage of Captain Krusenstern. Skotnikov E.O. In 1739 Captain Shpanberg, and in 1742 Lieutenant Valton and Midshipman Shelting made great geographical discoveries during the navigation. They were the first who had found the way to Japan from the North and visited the Japanese Islands of Hondo and Hokkaido. They passed the Kurile Isles and the Eastern coast of Sakhalin and put them on the map. While being at the Japanese coast, Shpanberg and Valton entered into relations with Japanese.

In August of 1783 a Japanese vessel “Sinsemary” was cast away at the Kamchatka coast. In 1789 the survived Japanese sailors were brought to Irkutsk. The Irkutsk general governor I. Pill, a researcher and a naturalist E. Lacksman, G. Shelekhov and a few other Irkutsk merchants took care of them. Since that time the project to establish trade relations with Japan had emerged in their community. The above project was developed by E. Lacksman and G. Shelekhov, presented by I. Pill and then sent to Moscow. On the 13th of September, 1791 the edict “On the establishment of trade relations with Japan” was signed by the tsar. It stated that “In case of returning these Japanese to their home country it makes possible to establish trade relations.” The expedition on behalf of the Irkutsk general governor was supposed to set off on a journey to Japan. It was obviously done on purpose not to lower the Russian empress’ prestige in case of failure of the embassy mission to establish relations and to avoid suspicion of England and Holland in respect of the whole Russian policy in the Pacific Ocean. It is necessary to say that in St.-Petersburg they looked rather skeptically at the opportunity to establish strong relations with Japan. “… Not only all foreign merchants, but the most part of noblemen criticized this Japanese undertaking in every possible way. So in Petersburg I was a subject of sneer as well as here (in Irkutsk) I was the subject of hatred and persecution.” The latter lines refer to the conflict between Lacksman and Shelekhov and some other Irkutsk merchants. Shelekhov could not forgive Lacksman that in the end the government had supported his plans to establish more restrained, scientific and political development of relations with Japan. But Shelekhov pursued only commercial objects. Lacksman was afraid that Shelekhov “… looked at the promising primary trade with a monopolistic eye.”

The Lacksman embassy mission carried out the program, which was embarked by Lacksman. Shabalin F., already known to us, also participated in it. The mission lasted for about one year. (13.09.1792 — 09.09.1793) Besides that new information about Japan was collected. Hokkaido and other islands of the Kurile ridge were described and put on the maps. The collections of flora and fauna samples along with the seeds of agricultural crops were brought. Russians managed to go further into Japanese territorial waters. They were the first who had visited not only Hakodate but also the main city of Hokkaido — Matsmay. After long negotiations with representatives of local authorities and the sheogoon (shaogun) itself, the Japanese declared that the access to the Japanese islands was still forbidden for Russians. However “one vessel of the Great Russian state was given permission to visit Nagasaki for further negotiations. Japan evaded signing of diplomatic and trading contracts but left a hope for continuation of a dialogue. The Russian ambassador was given a written document, which allowed Russian trading vessels to call at the port of Nagasaki. A special written permission ’on the Emperor’s certificate’ was issued for this purpose.

The government differently evaluated the political outcome of the embassy mission. Catherine II expected that the mission should have turned out to be more successful and in her letters she didn’t try to hide her feeling of disappointment in the outcome. In 1796 Catherine II ordered that a new expedition should be prepared to Japan. And again Irkutsk merchants showed a great enthusiasm in preparation for the voyage, especially S. Kiselev, A. Polevoy and Vlas Babikov. But the unexpected death of Shelikhov, Lacksman and then the Empress herself put an end to these preparations.

The Lacksman embassy mission and the development of relations between Russia and Japan raised an interest in the merchant community in Russia. It showed itself in a memorandum “The notes on sea voyage description done by lieutenant Lacksman and citizen (”petty bourgeois“) Shabalin, giving careful consideration to establish trade relations in Arkhangelsk in 1796.” The memorandum displayed a critical evaluation to the outcome of the envoy mission. It called to approach the development of these relations not from the viewpoint of current advantages and benefits but from the state interests in the Far East.

While being involved in the European matters and events, the Russian government didn’t take advantage of the given sanction. And only 10 years later while organizing the first global voyage to Russian America, the government decided to send N. Rezanov to Japan for negotiations.

Penetration of Europeans into Japan

Japan was completely unknown in Europe up to Marco Polo (XIII in.) who got to know from Chinese about existence of an island empire situated to the east from the Asian continent, rich in gold and named “Jipangu”. Europeans discovered Japan after three centuries. In 1542 one of the Portuguese ships loaded with goods was seized by the Chinese pirates, when they were going out from Macao. Three Portugueses, who had escaped from the captivity by a Chinese boat, after long wanderings were thrown out on the coast of the island Tonega-Sima. There they were warmly received by the natives and a local prince. The Portuguese visited the island Kiu-Siu, then came back home and brought news about extraordinary treasures of the country they had discovered. After discovery of the Japanese Islands, Portuguese and then Spaniards started trade relations with them.

It was an epoch of sea power of Portugal and Spain, which owned enormous fleet and colonies.

Catholic missionaries came to Japan along with Portuguese and Spaniards. The Pope gave numerous privileges and the right of missionary work in Japan to the Order of Jesuits. The interference of missionaries in the internal affairs of the country resulted in the terrible imperial decree in 1639 that expelled all Portuguese and Spaniards from Japan for ever.

The end of the XVI century, marked with the struggle of Holland for its independence, brought the Dutch a political freedom and made them dangerous contenders for sea power of Spain. The capital of the Dutch East-Indian company — Batavia, situated on the island Java prospered especially. For the first time the Dutch vessels were sent to Japan from Batavia. In 1611 the company received the right of trade from the Japanese government. The first Dutch trading station in Japan was established on the island Hirando, near Nagasaki.

Commercial rights of the Dutch were very great at that time: they might market the goods all over the country and send unlimited amount of ships to Japan. The trading station were growing richer and richer very fast. The Dutch began to put up European buildings little by little. The small colony began to look like a European settlement. In 1640 suddenly a representative from Jeddo arrived in Hirando and declared to the Head of the trading station the imperial order to demolish up to the basis all constructions and buildings, which had the name of Jesus Christ on. So the Dutch as well as Portuguese were under the threat of exile from Japan.

The Head of the trading station Karon implicitly executed the order and began to tear down buildings, houses and shops. This obedience saved the Dutch. The Japanese government softened and transferred the trading station from the island Hiranda to Nagasaki. For this purpose an artificial small island Desima was constructed in the harbour of the city, which became famous in the history of the Dutch settlement in Japan. The Dutch managed to live with real Flemish patience on this small island for more than two hundreds years, up to the beginning of relations between Japan and Europeans in 1853.

The gold period of Dutch trade finished after they had to move the trading station to Nagasaki. The trading privileges of the Dutch were considerably reduced, because of suspicion of the Japanese government. Their life in Japan became extremely burdensome. However, in spite of it the East Indian Company didn’t want to lose favorable exclusive trade and constantly prescribed its residents in Desima to submit implicitly to all Japanese requirements. Meanwhile, the requirements were very heavy and offensive for Europeans.

The small island Desima (in Japanese Desima Matsu — “a street of the advanced island”) was a sandy shallow in the Nagasaki harbor, connected to the city with a small stone bridge. The whole island was like an opened fan, 182 m long and 75 m. wide. It was surrounded by a high wooden fence, which didn’t allow to see what was happening in the city and bay. At the end of the bridge connecting the island with the city there was a gate with a guardhouse. Here the main guard team “mom-bam” (the guard of the gate) was located. They were vigilantly watching everyone entering and leaving the island. The image of the Japanese guard vessel and fortress. The atlas to round-the-world voyage of Captain Krusenstern. Osipov Vasily. In the northern side facing the sea there was so called “a water gate”. They were opened for mooring of Dutch vessels, which came from Batavia. At this gate there was a special guard team “fana-bam”, which kept up loading and unloading Dutch ships. In several meters from the island there were thirteen high columns/posts put into water. The notices on boards with governor’s orders put on them forbade unauthorized boats and vessels to come nearer to the island under the threat of strict punishment. At the gate leading to the city there were also orders and decrees for inhabitants and Japanese visiting the island.

The Head of the trading station or its Director and fifteen-twenty persons serving the company lived in a very small space. There were shops and services here and the only street passing through the whole island. And at the end of it, there was a small platform with a flattering Dutch flag. Any Dutch had no right to leave Dasima without a special authorization from the main officer of the island. This police officer was a chief supervisor of the trading station. He kept up the order, supervised the delivery/shipment of necessary supplies, watched sale of goods, and gave out blotting-tickets, administered justice and punishment to both the Japanese and Dutch. The Japanese government established the whole staff of the Japanese interpreters (up to 150 persons). They studied the Dutch language to supervise inhabitants of the trading station and simplify their relations with the local merchants. All buildings constructed on the island by the Dutch belonged to Nagasaki: the authorities of the city imposed huge tax duties, which they might change at their own discretion.

The only event, which broke up the painful monotony of inhabitants’ life at the trading station was a trip of the Dutch mission to the emperor in Jeddo. According to the established custom these trips had a purpose to present gifts to the emperor’s court in Jeddo. In the beginning they used to happen every year but since the end of XVIII century — one time in four years. The Head of the trading station received the rank of an envoy for this occasion and came to Jeddo as a representative of the East-Indian Company to bow the taikun or the shiuogun. He was followed by a secretary, a doctor and Japanese retinue.

During these trips continuing for about two months the members of the embassy had an opportunity to have relations with local people and study their customs, get acquainted with history and topography of Japan. Since 1609 till 1830 travel magazines had remained the best sources for acquaintance with Japan of that time. The doctors of the trading station who had come in Desima to study this little-known country usually kept diaries of their travels and issued them after returning to Europe. So works on history, ethnography, botany of Japan by Kempfer (1690), Tunberg (1775), Ziebold (1823) were issued and at the present time they are considered to be classics.

At one time the Englishmen, who had arrived with letters from the British King to the Japanese emperor and brought goods on one of the East-Indian Company’s ships, traded equally with the Dutch in Japan. The Head of the expedition captain Sorzh managed to enter into the trade relations and start the negotiations with the government; as a result he received the patent with wide rights. The Englishmen founded a trading station in Hirando but in 1623 they had to leave Japan for unknown reasons. Another attempt of the Englishmen 30 years later to renew the relations was accepted unfriendly. Their further efforts did not come to a good result until the middle of XIX century, when it became possible for them on a level with Russians and Americans to conclude the treaty which opened several Japanese ports for foreign trade.

Additional materials on a theme

Translated by Larisa Kuznetsova