24 brush & ink illus. (some double-page), many in fine color or heightened in red ink. 95 folding leaves. 8vo (238 x 168 mm.), orig. decorated wrappers, new stitching. [Japan]: “copied 1805.”
An early copy of the Japanese account of the first official Russian mission to Japan, headed by the Russian military officer Adam Kirillovich Laxman (or Laksman) (1766-1806?). With this mission, Russia became the first foreign country to request a secluded Japan to broaden its trade relations beyond China and the Dutch. Commissioned by Catherine the Great to return three Japanese shipwrecked sailors to their home country, Laxman’s expedition would in reality serve as a pretext for the opportunity to initiate a commercial relationship with the island nation.
After their ship had been wrecked on one of the Aleutian Islands in 1782, the castaways were taken to Siberia, where they lived for a time.
Laxman landed at Hokkaido in October of 1792, where he was met by members of the Matsumae clan, who were responsible for defending Japan’s northern borders. Demanding that he be allowed to deliver the castaways to Tokyo, Laxman was soon met by two envoys and 500 hundred men sent from the capital city. After considerable negotiations, Laxman was allowed to sail, with a Japanese naval escort, to the port of Hakodate in Hokkaido, from which his party marched to the Matsumae Castle.
Laxman and his party remained for the winter of 1792-93, trying to negotiate a trade treaty. They found the Japanese to be surprisingly hospitable and were given a guest house near the castle, three swords, and a hundred bags of rice by the envoys. Eventually, a compromise — entirely in Japan’s favor — was reached, which allowed one Russian ship to land at Nagasaki. Laxman was obliged to agree that no Russian ships would land anywhere else in Japan and that Christianity would not be tolerated.
The manuscript includes a list of the crew members on Laxman’s ship, an account of the arrival at the castle of the Laxman party (with dates), a description of the gifts presented to the Tokyo envoys, an account of the negotiations (with names of the participants), copies of the official letters between Russia and Japan, letters between the provincial government and Tokyo, etc.
The illustrations depict Russian officers having a party, smoking pipes and drinking (vodka or sake?); the ship on which they arrived; the route the Japanese castaways took to St. Petersburg, where they had an audience with Catherine the Great; portraits of Catherine and her husband; and the most interesting belongings the Russians brought on their expedition (barometers, samovars, navigation instruments, an hourglass, scales, swords, musical instruments, weapons including cannons and muskets, military costumes, dog sleds, anchors, and lifeboats).
There is a very substantial section concerning the Japanese authorities’ interrogation of the two surviving castaways about their experiences in Russia. This interrogation provided a more detailed and complete picture of Russia than Japan had of any European country at that time. The castaways also describe the Russian language with a short vocabulary. A Japanese inspector provides a report on the contents of the Russian ship.
Accounts of travels outside of Japan and of foreign visitors to Japan remained effectively “clandestine” works, limited to manuscripts.
The owner or scribe has signed his name at the front and at the end: “Tadasuke Kaneya, residing in Karigawa village.”
Fine copy, written in a highly legible and well-trained hand, and preserved in a chitsu.
❧ William McOmie, The Opening of Japan, 1853-1855 (2006), pp. 10-12 & 477.
Item ID: 7685