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History of the Russian Diplomatic Missions in Japan

Consulate in Nagasaki

The history of the Russian presence in Nagasaki dates back to the summer of 1804, when, having survived a typhoon, the sailing vessel Nadejda arrived on the shores of Japan. A Russian diplomatic mission led by Chamberlain N. P. Rezanov was aboard the ship. After long discussion, the Japanese government decided to abandon negotiations with the Russians and to offer the Russian ship the chance to leave Japan. During this entire time, the Russian expedition as forced to languish for six months in the Nagasaki harbor.

City of Nagasaki.
Former Russian Consulate.Main Entrance.

From the outset of their stay at Nagasaki the Russians had requested a place on the coast to carry out repairs and give the crew a chance to walk around. The stern of the Nadejda had been heavily damaged in the storm off the coast of Japan. Captain I. F. Krusenstern offered the following description of the situation: "We were not allowed to go ashore, nor even permitted to go around the ship in row boats. Six weeks of talks only managed to persuade the Japanese to designate a small stretch of beach for walking, and this was only agreed to because of the illness of the Russian envoy. It was by the edge of the shore, a hundred steps in length and forty steps wide. On each side guards were posted to enforce strict adherence to the perimeter. The only thing of any beauty in the entire area was one lonely tree, there was no greenery or grass on any of the barren rocks in the entire site."

This piece of land, 20m x 50m in size was located far from the city on a remote steep coast near the village of Kita. The area was enclosed by a bamboo fence and sentry posts. Sick sailors were transported there immediately and repair for the whaling vessel was started. The envoy, Rezanov, was very unhappy with the arrangement and asked again to be provided with a place more fitting to his rank. Soon afterwards, the Japanese governor allotted a temporary residential complex to the Russian chamberlain that consisted of small buildings, located adjacent to the Chinese market on the outskirts of Nagasaki - in Umegasaki (referred to as 'Megasaki' in Russian sources). Thanks to detailed drawings by the naturalist Gottlieb Tilezius, the original look of the place where the temporary residence of the official representative of the Russian Empire was located can be quite accurately pictured. There were several buildings on a small coastal ledge, reinforced with stonework. The entrance led directly from the bay into a low gate with stairs descending into the water; on the sides - two small houses; at the back - a bigger house, which served as the residence of the Russian envoy. A high bamboo fence enclosed both sides of the residence, with Japanese sentries posted on three sides. The area originally selected, with its solitary tree, served as a place for the Russian crew to take walks.

Almost a half a century later a new diplomatic mission was dispatched to Japan from Russia, this time under the leadership of Admiral E. V. Putiatin. The project prepared in 1852 by the Russian Foreign Ministry which was tasked with establishing Russian-Japanese relations, provided the following guidelines to the Russian envoy: "Regarding the matter of where to locate the Russian mission in Nagasaki, Mr. Ziebold believes that the location which temporarily housed Mr. Rezanov's mission, was the most convenient, but our mission would need more space. The Dutch pay a certain amount, a form of rent, to the Japanese government, for the right to use land for the Dutch mission. In our case, we would prefer to secure the right of ownership to the land we wish to use. We should add an article to the treaty, stipulating that the Russian mission should be governed according to Russian law, and the Japanese authorities not permitted to interfere in our affairs within the mission."

The Treaty of Shimoda signed in 1855, opened the three ports of Nagasaki, Hakodate and Shimoda to Russian vessels. There was also an agreement on establishing the Russian consulate in the country. "The Russian government should nominate a consul to one of the three ports mentioned, either Hakodate or Shimoda and the consuls should be nominated in 1856. The Japanese government should allocate the actual location and housing. The Russians will be free to live according to their own customs and laws within the consular areas" (From the explanatory articles of the Treaty).

Russian sailors made their next visit to Nagasaki in 1857, entering the harbor on the frigate Askold, commanded by Admiral E. V. Putiatin. While there he signed an additional Russian-Japanese treaty. The next year, the Askold, this time under the command of I. S. Unkovsky, and needing repairs, decided to head for the familiar port of Nagasaki. Following talks with the governor, it was decided to provide a part of the grounds of the Buddhist Goshinji temple for the Russian sailors. Barracks, a warehouse for marine accessories and other facilities were built there.

City of Nagasaki.
Former Russian Consulate.

In 1860, the commander of the corvette Posadnik, N. A. Birilev, took charge of the task of securing land for the needs of the Russian Navy, going so far as to sign a rental agreement with the Japanese authorities. A report by N. A. Birilev, dated July 12, 1860, and sent to Squadron Commander I. F. Lihachev, stated that during a visit to the governor of Nagasaki, the Japanese authorities agreed to the transfer of Goshinji temple for use as a hospital as well as for the establishment of a Russian language school in one of the three rooms of the temple, at the request of the local residents.

In January 1861, the governor of Nagasaki officially informed N. A. Birilev that he had permission to rent a house in the village of Funatsu, which would be built by his order in February 1861. This was the beginning of the Russian settlement in Nagasaki, located at the foot of Mount Inasa. This settlement soon came to known as "the Russian village." It is interesting to read an eyewitness account from a visitor to Nagasaki in 1890:

"The appearance of Inasa is no different from the others districts of Nagasaki: the same one and two story buildings, the same architecture. But there are some details that inadvertently catch the eye ... when you look closely at this native village, which, in fact can be called a Russian-Japanese village ...

The signs make an impression - you see pubs named Kronstadt, Plevna ... the Russians are much more frequent and regular guests in Nagasaki compared to the British. Here in Inasa, far away from the bustling city, our brave sailors had built their solid nest even in those comparatively recent times, when the closest of our ports to Nagasaki, the port of Vladivostok has only just barely started to be populated by Russians.

At a time when all the other foreigners had made their settlements in Nagasaki, during their stay in the city, the Russian sailors set out for this location to settle and arrange temporary apartments in Inasa, on the opposite banks of the bay of Nagasaki.

This preference for a humble village in favor of a lively, vigorous, big city reflects, perhaps, an aspect of the Russian character - the love of nature, the vast expanses, beautiful views and scenic landscapes...

In this respect Inasa was really the most appropriate place. It is located almost at the foot of the highest mountain ranges bordering the bay and covered with evergreen. Around it there are primeval pine and bamboo forests, canyons, gorges, breaks, which are interrupted with narrow silvery ribbons of mountain streams and rivers ... More recently even a permanent Russian naval hospital with Russian doctors and others was set up here."

In1866, on an informal basis, M. F. Tsivilkov took up the post of honorary consul in Nagasaki. And starting in 1868, A.F. Fillipeus served as honorary consul. The Russian diplomats rented a neat one-story house, located on a small hill, and called Higashi Yama-no Te Ju-niban-kan (the building on the 12th block of the East Foothills). It has been restored by the local authorities and is now classified as a monument of national importance.

The Russian consulate in Nagasaki began the process of acquiring its official status in 1871, on the eve of the visit to Japan of the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich, who visited the city in October 1872, on the ship Svetlana.

An experienced diplomat, A. E. Olarovsky, the former consul in China, became the first official Russian consul in Nagasaki in 1876, serving in the post until 1881. The Russian Foreign Ministry instructed him to purchase a property in Nagasaki to use for consular purposes. Mr. Olarovsky was fortunate to be able to purchase from the American consul a complex of buildings, which included not only the consular house and chancellery but also a hospital, rooms for interpreters and other services. The houses were of good quality and located at a convenient location and in a prestigious area with a nice view on the bay.

The next official Russian representative in Nagasaki was I. Ryumin. V. Y. Kostylev, who succeeded him in 1883 served until June 16, 1900, when he was dismissed from the service at his own request. Mr. Kostylev left a valuable literary heritage, namely the historical treatise Essay on the History of Japan, which was published in 1888.

At the beginning of the 1890's, during preparations for a visit to Japan by Russian Crown Prince Nikolai it was discovered that the consular buildings were in need of major repairs. The repairs were made, and the heir to the throne of Russia, Nikolai Aleksandrovich became one of the first visitors to the consulate in May 1892.

City of Nagasaki.
Former Russian Consulate.Interior Room.

A. A. Gagarin was appointed consul following the departure from Japan of V.Y. Kostylev, at the beginning of the Russian-Japanese War in 1904. During his term, the amount of consular work increased significantly. Russian ships entering Nagasaki were bringing a huge amount of documentation and various correspondences. A continuous flow of high-level delegations arrived and it was decided that A. A. Gagarin's petition for the construction of a new building for the consulate would be approved. The old buildings were replaced by three large new buildings: a consular residence with an attic and side wings for different services, a two-story building for the Consulate with 12 rooms, and a Japanese-style building with apartments for interpreters. The grounds themselves were also expanded, because the hospital and the doctor's house, previously owned by the marine department, were transferred to the Russian Foreign Ministry. Construction of the complex began in 1901 and was finished on the eve of the Russian-Japanese War. The war prevented further expansion of the consular work in Nagasaki.

From the turn of the century donations had been collected for the construction of the Orthodox Church on the territory of the consulate. In 1909, in the foreign cemetery at the Goshinji temple, near the gravestones of Russian sailors, a small chapel was built and consecrated by Bishop Nikolai.

The Russian Consulate in Nagasaki was closed in 1925. The buildings were empty, although in 1942 the Japanese government acknowledged that it remained the property of the Soviet Union.
The Russian Consular building was later destroyed in the atomic bombing of the city in 1945. A witness recalled: "...There was a lot of debris all around. An attempt to find the former Russian consulate, built in tsarist times ... was unsuccessful. All of the former foreign quarter buildings on both sides of the Urikami River were swept away by a blast wave and fiery avalanche of fire."

An apartment complex now stands on the site where the building of the Russian consulate used to be located.

Based on the book
Russia - Japan: A Historical Path to Trust
From the Moscow publisher, Japan Today, 2008

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