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Shchepkin V. Russo-Japanese Relations // Russian Round-the-world Voyages. From Krusenstern to the "Sedov". St Petersburg: Kriga Publishers 2013. P. 184-185.

By the early 18th century Russian pioneers had reached the shores of the Pacific Ocean and embarked on the organized opening up of that region. The northern part of the Pacific Ocean remained at that time one of the largest “blank spots” on the map of the world and not only Russian, but also British and French mariners were eager to fill it in. The great obstacle to the study and development of the Far East was, however, its remoteness from the European part of Russia. In order to provide the Far Eastern settlements with everything they needed, it was necessary to seek trade relations with the countries of Asia, first and foremost Japan. It is no coincidence, therefore, that practically all Russian round-the-world expeditions in the 19th century had the twin tasks of exploring the northern part of the great ocean and establishing good relations with the empire’s Far Eastern neighbour.

The first Russian circumnavigatory expedition was the voyage of the Nadezhda and Neva under the command of Krusenstern and Lisiansky in 1802-06. The Nadezhda carried the first Russian embassy to Japan led by the chamberlain Nikolai Rezanov. Using the permission obtained by Adam Laxman’s mission some years earlier, in 1804 the ship entered the port of Nagasaki. The negotiations on establishing trading relations lasted a full six months. Opinions on the Japanese side were divided, but in the end the decision emerged to adhere to the policy of their ancestors and strictly limit contacts with the outside world.

Between 1809 and 1813 the sloop Diana made a round-the-world voyage under the command of Vasily Golovnin. Initially its aims did not include establishing contact with the Japanese, but, while performing an assignment to study the Kurile Islands, Golovnin and several members of the crew were seized by Japanese officials on the island of Kunashir and held captive in the city of Hakodate on Hokkaido. This brought the two countries to the brink of armed conflict. Golovnin’s senior officer, Piotr Ricord, made several unsuccessful attempts to free his shipmates, until at last fate brought him together with the Japanese trader Takadaya Kahei. Together they drafted a plan for negotiations with the Japanese side which led to Golovnin and his party being released after two years of captivity. This incident provided a first instance of the peaceful solution of a bilateral conflict between Russia and Japan.

Another forty years would pass before Russia again attempted to establish relations with Japan. The mission was now entrusted to Yefimy Putiatin, who set off on the round-the-world voyage of the Pallada in 1852. The frigate was carrying some other notable people, such as the writer Ivan Goncharov and the interpreter Iosif Goshkevich, who later became Russia’s first consul in Japan. While anchored in the port of Shimoda, where the first Russo-Japanese treaty “on trade and frontiers” was finally concluded, the crew fell victim to a devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami. While being transported to Heda Bay the frigate sank, after which the Russians and Japanese together constructed a new vessel that was named after the place where it was built - the Heda. This was the first experience for the Japanese of building a ship of the European type.

While discussing Russian round-the-world voyages in the context of Russo-Japanese relations, mention must be made of the famous voyage to the Orient made by Tsesarevich Nikolai, the future Emperor Nicholas II, in 1890-91. This trip was made particularly notable by an unfortunate incident - an attempt on the Tsesarevich’s life in the city of Otsu. At the same time the visit to Japan became one of the key events in cultural contacts between the countries. The cultural and artistic items that Nicholas brought back remain treasured parts of the Asian collections of the Hermitage, the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkammer) and the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Manuscripts.

Vasily Shchepkin


The entire paper


Russian round-the-world expeditions
Russo-Japanese Relations

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