Shipwrecked Japanese in Russia;
a Richly Illustrated Manuscript

Manuscript on Japanese paper, complete, entitled “Kankai Ibun” [“Observation in Foreign Countries; the Story of the Travels of Four Shipwrecked Japanese, as told to Gentaku Otsuki”].

63 full-page color illus., 26 double-page color illus., 8 full-page black & white illus., & several maps including a finely colored world map that continues for three pages. 16 parts in nine vols. Large 8vo (236 x 168 mm.), later brown wrappers, new stitching. [Japan]: from the last page of the final volume, in trans.: “copied 1815.”

An early copy of this famous and sensational text, which circulated in manuscript in Japan throughout the 19th century. Its account of travels outside of Japan remained effectively a “clandestine” work until it was ultimately published in 1899. The earliest surviving manuscript is dated 1807.

This beautiful calligraphic manuscript, which is richly illustrated, chronicles the extraordinary experiences of a group of 16 Japanese seamen who were carried by a storm in November 1793 to the Aleutians, where they were shipwrecked. After being rescued, they were summoned to St. Petersburg by Tsar Alexander I. There they remained until 1803, when five of them were sent on Krusenstern’s famous voyage into the Pacific — the first Russian circumnavigation. One of the principal objectives of Krusenstern’s voyage was to establish diplomatic relations between Russia and Japan. The five seamen, the first Japanese to circumnavigate the globe, finally arrived back in Japan in September 1804.

On their arrival home in Japan, the Japanese seamen were interrogated by authorities before being released. Their account of the outside world was astonishing and threatening, at a time when Japan was still very much closed. The scholars Otsuki and Kokyo Shimura recorded the seamen’s story, following repeated interviews, in an illustrated manuscript, which became a work of great fascination to Japanese readers. It was widely circulated in manuscript throughout the 19th century, thus the number of surviving manuscripts. This is a particularly early example and is written in a very fine calligraphic hand.

“Kankai Ibun” offers a vivid visual record of the Japanese men’s experiences in Russia and the Pacific. The introductory volume contains an important world map (based on a map presented by Rezanov, the Russian diplomat, to the Japanese), which depicts Krusenstern’s route to Japan, and a reproduction of the Cyrillic alphabet, along with Otsuki’s Preface and a detailed subject index. The early volumes describe the shipwreck, the topography of the Aleutian Islands, and the journey across the cold expanses of the Arctic. There are depictions of seal-hunting and a large seal. We also find illustrations of native people, their costumes, houses, dog sleds, and accessories including hunting equipment.

Parts 3-8 are concerned with life in Irkutsk, and there are illustrations of housing and heating systems, costumes, furniture, steam baths, cooking utensils, interiors of churches, a carousel, a horse-drawn sleigh, fire equipment, musical instruments, local animals, an abacus, lumber mills, images of the local currency, etc.

Parts 9-11 are concerned with life in St. Petersburg and Moscow. There are depictions of carriages; windmills; portraits of Catherine the Great and Tsar Alexander I; a Montgolfier balloon and an ascent; a hothouse; the St. Petersburg Kunstkammer, with a splendid double-page depiction of the giant globe, the centerpiece of the world’s largest planetarium at the time; the elaborate preparations and meeting with the Tsar; palaces; the theater; etc.

The remaining parts deal with the Krusenstern voyage and the Japanese seamen’s return to their native country after an eleven-year absence. We see views of the Canary Islands; the Marquesas, with a wonderful depiction of a woman and a fully tattooed man; islander’s canoes; natives of Hawaii; the seamen’s return to Nagasaki; a map of the greater Nagasaki bay; the Russian ships’ flags; the Russian ships entering the Nagasaki port surrounded by boats containing representatives of the most important Japanese clans; sailors, soldiers, and Rezanov in uniform; the Russian residence in Nagasaki; a Russian-Japanese dictionary, etc.

Four of the fishermen returned home to Sendai; the fifth, who had become an interpreter, returned to Russia with Rezanov.

The first volume contains a Preface by Otsuki and a detailed index of the remaining parts. The three-page world map in color depicts the path of the voyage from Russia to Nagasaki.

Fine and fresh set.

❧ Colin Franklin, Exploring Japanese Books and Scrolls, pp. 130-36–(in which he describes another manuscript, in his possession, dating from about 1850).

Price: $12,500.00

Item ID: 6931