Russian Views of Japan, 1792-1913: An Anthology of Russian Travel Writing

Russian Views of Japan, 1792-1913: An Anthology of Russian Travel Writing

Russian Views of Japan, 1792-1913: An Anthology of Russian Travel Writing

Russian Views of Japan, 1792-1913: An Anthology of Russian Travel Writing

Synopsis

Before Japan was 'opened up' in the 1850s, contact with Russia as well as other western maritime nations was extremely limited. Yet from the early eighteenth century onwards, as a result of their expanding commercial interests in East Asia and the North Pacific, Russians had begun to encounter Japanese and were increasingly eager to establish diplomatic and trading relations with Japan. This book presents rare narratives written by Russians, including official envoys, scholars and, later, tourists, who visited Japan between 1792 and 1913. The introduction and notes set these narratives in the context of the history of Russo-Japanese relations and the genre of European travel writing, showing how the Russian writers combined ethnographic interests with the assertion of Russian and European values, simultaneously inscribing power relations and negotiating cultural difference.

Excerpt

Russians came to know Japan later than other Europeans and by different paths. They were not involved in the commercial and missionary activities which brought the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch and the British to Japan from South-East Asia in the mid-sixteenth century. They came, rather, from the north, and their approach to Japan was distinctly shaped by this northern perspective. The first real contacts between Russians and Japanese occurred at the margins of power towards the end of the seventeenth century as Russian fur-trappers and adventurers at the eastern limit of Russian expansion across eastern Siberia to Kamchatka came into contact with Japanese castaways and the Ainu people of the Kurile Islands and of Ezo (Hokkaido). The southern Ainu at this time were coming increasingly under the influence of the Japanese expansion to the north, and were thus a significant filter for information about Japan. The first Russian embassy to Japan in 1792 approached the country not through Nagasaki, the port traditionally designated for foreign contacts, but again from the north, and even after the 'opening' of Japan to Westerners in the mid-nineteenth century, the major centre of Russian influence remained Hakodate on the island of Hokkaido. In the broader context of Russian economic expansion in the Far East as a whole, Japan became important as a source of convenient warm-water ports in the Pacific, where Russian fleets could spend the winter months.

Russians' attitudes towards Japan also differed from those of other Europeans and the Americans because of their different position in regard to modernisation. While Tokugawa and Meiji Japan was often seen as lagging behind the West in its social, political and industrial development, from a Russian point of view the Meiji reforms in fact offered a model which could equally well be applied to the modernisation of Russia's own outmoded political and economic structures, which were also widely seen as inferior to those of Western Europe. This point was brought home particularly clearly by Japan's unexpected victory in the Russo-Japanese War, but can also be seen informing the admiration for Japanese industry and efficiency found in some Russian accounts.

The twelve Russian accounts of Japan which are included in this volume range chronologically from Adam Laxman's journal of the first Russian

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