Treaty of Shimoda

Treaty of Shimoda

The Treaty of Shimoda of 1855 was signed between the Russian Vice-Admiral Euphimy Vasil'evich Putiatin and Toshiakira Kawaji of Japan in the city of Shimoda, Izu Province, Japan, on February 7, 1855. It marked the start of official relations between Russia and Japan.

In the first half of the 19th century, Japan was a secretive island, isolated from the world with its self-imposed Sakoku trade policy. This period of isolation did not allow any trade with foreign countries, with the two exceptions of China and Holland. Trade with these two nations was strongly restricted. Holland was only allowed to trade from the artificial island of Deshima in the port of Nagasaki. Entering Japan itself was strictly prohibited.

Halfway through the 19th century many colonial powers found themselves in an economic malaise and needed new markets to trade their over-produced goods with. The colonial powers quickly realised the potential of the Asian market, and with it Japan. Japan had an economic importance since it was situated as a gateway to the Pacific Ocean. It also had some strong military advantages. In the 19th century the colonial powers were fiercely trying to gain as much ground in Asia as they could. The colonial powers being, the USA, Great-Britain, France, Holland, and Imperial Russia.

Being natural neighbours, Japan and Russia had early interactions before the treaty. There have always been quarrels concerning fishing grounds and territorial claims. Various documents speak of the capture of Japanese fishermen as far away as the Kamchatka Peninsula (полуо́стров Камча́тка). Some of these Japanese captives were taken over the Siberian route to Saint Petersburg. There they were used in the education of the Japanese language and culture. A practise also not unknown to Japan itself, which used Russian captives in a same way. Itillustrated a growing curiosity between the two countries.

Early in the 18th century Japan was warned of a possible Russian expansion into the Far East. A Hungarian adventurer, named Baron Móric Beňovský, was banished by the Russian Tsar to the Kamchatka Peninsula. However, Beňovský was able to escape the desolate place and eventually showed up in a Japanese harbor on the sub-tropical island of Amami Ōshima. He alerted the Dutch on the island of Deshima of the Russian threat to the Far East. The Dutch immediately send his warnings to the Shogun and his advisers (bakufu). The Bakufu immediately formed a response by appointing intellectuals like Hayashi Shihei to take appropriate defensive measures. The story of Baron Móric Beňovský is a fantastic and exotic one. His interactions with the Japanese and his rescue of the inhabitants of Formosa out of the hands of the Chinese should not be taken too seriously. Many of the sources appeared to be false or quite simply impossible. But he did in fact alert the Bakufu on the approaching Russians.

In 1778, a merchant from Yakutsk by the name of Pavel Lebedev-Lastoschkin arrived in Hokkaidō with a small expedition. He offered gifts, and politely asked to trade, but in vain. A second Russian-Japanese interaction took place in 1792. A Russian naval officer named Adam Laxman arrived in Hokkaidō). First in the town of Matsumae and later Hakodate -shi) he would attempt a first Russian trade agreement with Japan in order to break the Dutch exclusive trade rights. The Russian delegation did not succeed due to the Japanese determination. Japan was enclosed in its Sakoku, isolating the country from any foreign contacts, except for Holland and China. The Japanese suggested Laxman leave, but Laxman had one demand: he would only leave with a trade-agreement for Russia. After a long time and annoyed by the stubborn Laksman, the Japanese finally handed over a document stipulating Russia's right to send one Russian vessel of commerce to the harbor of Nagasaki shi). Secondly, it also restricted the Russian commerce to Nagasaki. Trade elsewhere in Japan was prohibited. A final note in the document clearly said it was not allowed to practise Christianity inside Japan. Laxman returned to Russia.A.A. Preobrazhensky, “Pervoe Russkoe Posolstvo v Iaponiiu” (“The first Russian mission to Japan”), . Eventually, the Russians sent their vessel of commerce to Nagasaki, but they were not allowed to enter the harbor. The document was of no value. Should Nagasaki have decided to open its harbor to the Russians, Russia would have been the first Western country to break the trade monopoly of the Dutch. Angrily, the Russians returned to the mainland, not without consequence. Sources speak of at least two Russian officers who burned down Japanese fishing villages and fishing boats on the islands of Etorofu (Japanese: Russian:and Sakhalin (Japanese: Karafuto). These events introduced the Russian-Japanese dispute concerning the Kuril Islands. To the present day, this dispute remains.

The race to be the first to have the prestigious honour of opening Japan to the world, still was a Russian dream. Tsar Alexander I of Russia had started a worldwide Russian representation mission under the lead of Adam Johann von Krusenstern Крузенштерн). With Japan in mind, Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov was appointed to the mission. He was the founder of Russian-Siberian trade in fur and the ideal man to convince the Japanese. In 1804, Rezanov got a chance to exercise his diplomatic strength in Japan. On board the ship Nadezhda, he had many gifts for the Bakufu. He even brought along Japanese fishermen who had been stranded in Russia. But neither Rezanov could do what so many had tried before him. An agreement was never reached. During the negotiations, the Shogun remained silent for months; next, the Shogun refused any negotiations and finally gave the Russian gifts back. Now Russia acted more assertively, and soon Russian navigators started to explore and map the coasts of the Kuril Islands. In 1819, the Russian colonel Vasily Golovnin was exploring Kunashir Island on behalf of the Russian Academy of Sciences. During these operations the Russians clashed with the Japanese. Golovnin was seized and taken prisoner by samurai. The following 18 months, he was a prisoner of the Tokugawa Shogun and meant to learn more about Russian language, culture and the state of the European power struggle and Western science. Through Golownin (and the Dutch), Japan could update its knowledge of nations and the world. Golovnin's memoirs (Memoirs of Captivity in Japan During the Years 1811,1812, and 1813) illustrate some of the methods used by Tokugawa officials.

Later on, these unsuccessful attacks would be disavowed by Russia and its interest in Japan would drop for a full generation. This would be the case until the Opium Wars in 1834. The Russian Tsar Nicholas I of Russia realised the territorial expansion of Great Britain in Asia and the expansion of the USA in the Pacific Ocean and Northern America. As a result, he founded a committee in 1842 to investigate Russia's power in area's around the Amur and in Sakhalin. The committee proposed a mission to the area under the lead of Putiatin. The plan was not approved because officials did not believe Russia had a great commercial asset to be defended in these cold and desolate places. Nonetheless, a small expedition was set up with destination the Amur region. A small plan, but a step closer to a bigger plan. Japan itself didn't remain untouched by the events in Asia. The highly esteemed China was surprisingly (in the eyes of the Japanese) beaten by England in the Opium Wars. An event opening the eyes of Japan regarding the military strength of the Western powers. In light of these events, Japan gradually modernised its army. Artillery fortresses, artillery schools and a revision of the coastal defense are some examples. This modernisation was supported by the Bakufu, intellectual groups and even the Japanese emperor himself strongly supported a revision of the defences. Although Japan was in an airtight isolation from the outside world, it refused to be blind to Western capabilities and dangers.

The Putiatin Mission

Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858).] A few years later, Russia learned that the U.S. was preparing an expedition to Japan. This expedition, under the lead of Commodore Matthew Perry, would provide more American influence in the Pacific region and Asia. Russia immediately reactivated its former plans to send a mission to the Far East. As was intended before, Putiatin was reassigned as lead to the Russian mission. He left Europe with his squadron early in the year 1853. The order was to return with a treaty only equal or superior to what the Americans would achieve. Also high on the agenda was a clear statement of the Japanese on what was Russian and what was Japanese in the Kurile Islands and on Sakhalin. Putiatin was accompanied by famous Russian writer Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov, who served as his secretary. Goncharov was the author of "Fregat Pallada" (1858) in which he described the details of the voyage and the negotiations. A valuable description on how the Japanese received and processed foreign trade vessels and the Russian view on this.

Putiatin, having left in a haste, saw his personal rival Perry reaching Japan before he himself would. Therefore, in the light of Perry's arrival, he proposed a partnership to Perry. The American Commodore rejected the Russian proposal. On 8 July 1853, Perry appeared in the Tokyo Bay. The Japanese government reacted shocked and throughout the city of Edo there was a heavy commotion. At this very moment, Putiatin was well on his way to Nagasaki and was already between Hong Kong and the Bonin Islands. He careffully awaited the events to unfold and observed from a distance. Eventually, Putiatin landed in Japan on August 21, 1853. On this very day Putiatin arrived in the harbor of Nagasaki with his squadron, composed of the mothership Pallada and four other vessels. He arrived in Japan only a few weeks apart of the departure of Perry's four American war vessels.

The appearance of the "Kurobune" (Black Ships) of Perry in the Tokyo Bay would be the start of a new era in the history of Japan. Note that Putiatin's arrival and his own war vessels on the other side of Japan and around the same time certainly contributed to the foreign pressure on Japan and its Sakoku. However, Perry and Putiatin were offered a clear "no". Records on how Putiatin and Japanese officials negotiated are rare and vague. Perry's negotiations were recorded and for obvious historic reasons well preserved. Perry's negotiations are analog with those of Putiatin and thus serve as a good comparable example. Furthermore, the results of Perry's mission would benefit all future foreign delegations in securing treaty's, including those of the Russians. In his visit, Perry handed over the demands of American President Millard Fillmore to the Bakufu, with great discontent of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi

Four days after the departure of Commodore Perry out of the Tokyo Bay, the Shogun died due to a sudden illness. The political scene in Japan now was an empty one. The Rōjū ("Elder") Abe Masahiro, who in fact had all the political power within the Bakafu, surprisingly councelled the daimyo's, aristocrats and even the Imperial Court. This was not done, especially because the Bakufu never allowed any interference into its governing activities. It was perceived as a sign of incompetence and would be the beginning of the end for the mighty Bakufu who had reigned for hundreds of years. The aristocrats, daimyos, and emperor gave negative advice: to reject the demands of the Americans and to withstand any foreign interference. And so this was also the case for the Russian proposals. Putiatin and Perry had a somewhat differing approach to negotiating with the Japanese. Perry stressed the power of the American marines and possible consequences for Japan. Perry threatened the Japanese that if the Bakufu would give a negative answer, the 100 Kurobunes already on their way to Japan, would force an opening of Japan. Putiatin choose a more diplomatic and strategic approach in the hopes of undermining the American efforts. Russia offered protection against the Americans in case of an American attack. There was only one condition, an agreement on trade. Putiatin stayed for three months in Japan, opposed to the short stay of Perry. Perry had left as quickly as he had come. Putiatin left Japan in November 1853 and sailed for Shanghai with the same promise as the Americans. Namely, that he would return in the spring to receive the answer of the Bakufu.

He kept his word and returned in January 1854 and continued his negotiations. At the end of February, he sailed to Okinawaand finally to Siberia, where he had to change flagships: from the "Pallada" to the "Diana". The Russian delegation was back in Japan in late 1854, much later than the Americans. The Americans had succeeded in opening Japan with the Treaty of Kanagawa in early 1854. Furthermore, in 1854, the French and British were doing a manhunt in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Japanese Sea for Putiatin and his squadron in order to destroy it. To prevent a Russian treaty and Russian influence deep in Asia, the British approached the Bakufu to ask for Japanese neutrality should the British attack the Russians. Because of a bad translation the British obtained an unintended Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty in 1854. The French and British would never find Putiatin.

Although Putiatin was the smarter one, a tsunami would be able to find him. On the 23 December 1854, the big Ansei Tokai Earthquake would shake Japan and surroundings. It had an estimated magnitude of 8.4 Richter. A 7 metres high wall of water destroyed 900 homes in Shimoda and even more along the Pacific coastline of Japan. Also Putiatin's ships, carefully hidden and docked in Shimoda were destroyed. The Russian delegation now found itself stranded in Japan. During the tsunami, before the ships were destroyed, the Russian vice-admiral Putiatin ordered his forces to rescue the Japanese out of the water. However, the flagship "Diana" was heavily damaged and would eventually sink. In an attempt to study the Russian way of building vessels, the Tokugawa ordered Japanese carpenters to build a new ship helped by the Russians. And so Putiatin was able to sail back to Russia, on May 8 1855, on board of the Russian-Japanese vessel, baptised Heda. The significance of this event is found in the fact that, for the very first time in Japan's history, a long term project was established with a Western nation comprising Russians and Japanese under a same cause. Extraordinary in a time of Sakoku which obviously was coming to an end.

The Treaty of Shimoda

One tsunami and three days after the destruction of Putiatin's fleet, the Japanese and Russians continued with their negotiations. The reason for Russia's determination for a treaty was the idea that it needed Japan to further develop Siberia. Russia had expanded its empire from Europe over Siberia and Alaska all the way into northern California on the American continent. In order to stimulate development of these far away territories it desperately needed an ideally situated country like Japan for local trade. Another, almost timeless, reason was the USA. Russia wouldn't allow itself to lose any power to the Americans, who had obtained a treaty of friendship with Japan in early 1854 thanks to Commodore Perry. The Japanese found Putiatin to be a civilised and righteous man. A remark of Putiatin to his Japanese colleague Tsutsui:

:"If we would compare our age, you have the wise age of my father for I only have the age of your son. I offer my hand so I can serve my father and this way will not lose the way of trust."

On 7 February 1855 the long awaited Russo-Japanese treaty of friendship was signed at the Chōraku-ji Temple in Shimoda by Putiatin as Russian Imperial Ambassador and Japanese representative Controller Toshiakira Kawaji. The treaty was based on mutual trust and understanding and would be the start of relations between the two countries. The treaty comprised a trade agreement which opened three Japanese harbors to Russia, one more than the Americans did. Article V stipulated that trade would be performed through the harbors of Hakodate, Nagasaki and Shimoda. These harbors would provide goods (wood, water, ...) and reparations. Also worth mentioning is Article VI, allowing Russia to appoint consuls in Hakodate and Shimoda. Furthermore, the treaty also partially defined the northern borders of Japan. A great burden in Russian-Japanese relations concerning the Northern Territories.

The Russo-Japanese border in the Kurile Islands was drawn between Etorofu and Uruppu. Everything north of this line was Russian and everything south Japanese (Etorofu, Kunashir, Shikotan and the Habomais).

Both parties also agreed to consider Sakhalin subject to Russian and Japanese influence. Russia would therefore destroy its military base in Ootomari in the south of Sakhalin.

Even though the treaty defined an agreement concerning the Kuriles, it would remain a point of discussion to the present day.


ee also

*Relations between the Empire of Japan and the Russian Empire
*History of Japan
*History of Russia
*Convention of Kanagawa

External links

*Sources are found in the discussion.
** [ Massachusetts Institute of Technology interactive site on the history of Japan starting from Commodore Perry]
** [ Portrets of modern Japanese historic figures on a site of the National Diet Library, Japan]
** [ The Kuril Islands Dispute on the website of the Trade and Environment Database]
** [ Article concerning Northern Territories Day in the Koizumi Cabinet E-Mail Magazine]
** [ MOFA (Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) site dealing with the Northern Territories issue]
** [ MOFA (Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) site dealing with the Northern Territories issue]
** [ Subject dealing with the Southern Kuril Islands- Northern Territories Dispute by Andrew Andersen, Department of Political Science, University of Victoria]
** [, Timeline of Sakhalin]
** [ Russian article about Putiatin]
** [ Lieutenant James D. Johnston in chapter 16 of his book "China and Japan" on ""Golownin's Captivity in Japan and Release (1811-1813)"]
** [ "Relations with Russia", Asahi Shimbun newsarticle]
** [ German blogg on the Kuril Islands]
** [ Open syllabus "Moderne geschiedenis van Japan" property of the Japanese Studies section, University of Louvain (KULeuven)]
** [ History of the Northern Territories on the website of the prefectural government of Hokkaidō aimed at argumenting the Japanese right in the Northern Territories]

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