Umi no hi kogoru hokkoku mo
Harukaze ima zo fuki wataru
Sanbyaku-nenrai bakko seshi
Roshia wo utan toki wa kinu
Over the north country
whose seas are frozen
Spring wind blows
It is time to beat Russia
Rampant for three hundred years.
—Mori Ōgai, “Regiment Song of the Second Army,” 1904
It struck me, too, that Dostoevsky’s youth is no stranger, this youth whose mind is in turmoil because of Western ideas and who, in the midst of this intellectual agitation, has utterly lost his home. How very closely he resembles us. Indeed, I repeatedly ran into scenes that made me feel that the author was describing me, that he had me firmly in his grasp.
—Kobayashi Hideo, Literature of the Lost Home, 1933
In 1771, a Polish adventurer born in Hungary, Maurice Benyovsky, escaped his prison in Siberia, where he was sent for taking part in a Polish rebellion against tsarist Russia, and shortly afterward arrived in Japan with some bad news for the Japanese. The Russians, warned Benyovsky, were planning to attack the Japanese from the north and subjugate the Japanese nation in the very near future. Even though the country had enjoyed a period of relative security in its external borders due to its policy of seclusion since 1635, Benyovsky’s claims struck a nerve in Japan. Thus began the Japanese history of the “northern problem” (hoppō no kyōi, or the “threat from the North”), an awareness that due to Russia’s possession of territories on the Asian continent and its geographical proximity to Japan, Russo-Japanese relations must follow their own logic, distinct from those Japan would have with European powers and later the United States. The crucial part of that awareness was the early realization that Russia was a Eurasian empire in possession of vast Asian populations and territories, and that it had a long, tightly connected history of relations with the Mongol and Chinese Empires. Russia’s perplexing cultural and geographical position split Japanese attitudes toward it from then on essentially into two opposing camps: those who conceived of the Russian state and society as aggressive and expansionist and therefore a direct threat to the Japanese nation, and those who considered cooperation with Russia to be vital for the stability and prosperity of Japan and East Asia in general. As the next two chapters demonstrate, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the arrival of international communism in Asia did not significantly alter this basic framework, which defined Japan’s attitudes toward Russia as much during the imperial period of Russian history as it did during the Soviet period.
The Japanese discovered that they had neighbors to the north in the early eighteenth century.1 Russian explorers reached the Pacific Ocean in 1638, penetrating the Far East in their search for a passage to the American continent. Between 1711 and 1768, the Russians occupied a group of islands northeast of the island of Ezo, now Hokkaido, which they named Kurily, or Smokies. Benyovsky’s arrival in Japan on his way to Europe, coupled with a Russian request for trade in 1778 and Russian landings in Sakhalin five years later, prompted the military rulers of Japan to explore their northern possessions and defenses. Several Japanese expeditions to survey the islands of Ezo and Sakhalin followed in the late eighteenth century, producing the first Japanese accounts about the geography, climate, and population of Ezo, Sakhalin, and the Kurile Islands.2 Knowledge about Russia, however, was acquired mainly from Dutch and Chinese books.
One of the earliest firsthand Japanese accounts of Russia was recorded by an educated merchant, Daikokuya Kōdayū, whose boat crashed near Kamchatka in 1783. After spending several years in Siberia, he traveled to Saint Petersburg, where he was granted an audience with Catherine the Great. Upon his return home in 1792, based on the information Kōdayū provided to Tokugawa official scholars, a detailed report on Russia (totaling eleven volumes) was produced strictly for government use.3 Kōdayū’s celebrated return to Japan spurred public interest in the northern neighbor, resulting in the publication of many books on Russia, which were heavily focused on geography, history, and the military; in comparison, earlier Dutch-Western studies focused largely on science.4 It is important to note, however, that Japanese officials’ worries about Russia were less focused on the possibility of a military threat to Japan and more concerned with the expansion of Russian influence to the east, which the Japanese feared might lead to the loss of Japanese influence over Ainu lands (the northern parts of today’s Hokkaido and some of the Kurile Islands). The Tokugawa government was afraid that the Ainu people, whose position within the Tokugawa administrative system was not settled, would want to come under the control of what was perceived by the Tokugawa officials as the more civilized Russian Empire.5 To counteract this, Japanese Tokugawa officials argued that the Ainu people had been traditionally under the patronage of Matsumae, a Tokugawa domain on the southern tip of Ezo Island, and therefore the Ainu land was Japanese territory.6
Since the 1850s, Japan had to contend with Russia’s growing imperial ambitions in Asia. With the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk, Russia settled its borders with Qing China, dividing the Mongols and their territories. Taking advantage of China’s defeats in the Opium Wars (1839–42, 1856–60) and its paralysis during the Taiping Rebellion (1851–64), Russia signed the Beijing Convention of 1860 and acquired the Trans-Amur and Trans-Ussuri regions, establishing at its eastern edge a city port named Vladivostok (literally, “ruler of the East”). In 1853, Russian Vice Admiral Evfimii Putyatin and his mission arrived at Nagasaki, only one and a half months later than Commodore Matthew Perry from the United States, to start negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Shimoda of 1855. The treaty settled the Russian and Japanese national boundary in the Kurile Islands, opened three Japanese ports for Russia, and established extraterritoriality rights for both Japanese and Russians. As the result of the negotiations between the Russian government and the Tokugawa officials, the Kurile archipelago was divided between Russia and Japan, while Sakhalin was left under the joint sovereignty of both nations. Thus, Japan’s entrance into international politics coincided with Russia’s push to China, Korea, and Japan; from that point on, Japan’s view of international relations in East Asia had to revolve around Russia’s thrust into the region.7
The Meiji Restoration (Meiji ishin) of 1868 became one of those great historical events, the impact of which extended far beyond the Japanese islands and far beyond the date of its accomplishment. In 1867, a military uprising by a group of samurai opponents put an end to the long-lived Tokugawa shogunate. As a way to unite the country in the face of the Western advance into Japan and the East Asian region, the new leadership declared the restoration of imperial rule. The new Meiji imperial government, established in 1868, declared the political, economic, social, and military modernization of the country as its chief aims, exemplified in the slogan “rich country, strong army” (fukoku kyōhei). What started as a local power struggle and a local modernizing program transformed Japan into a powerful modern imperial nation-state, whose example many in the non-Western world soon aspired to emulate.
Japanese Meiji leadership, however, never felt secure about Japan’s standing. Witnessing the “scramble for China,” the new modernizing political and intellectual elite saw Western powers, including Russia, as predators ready to take advantage of weakened Japan. Fear of colonization, formal or informal, became a sort of paranoia, permeating the general public, the political elite, and the military. To widen its defense perimeter, Japan embarked on imperial expansion, first in Hokkaido in 1869 and then in the Ryūkyū Islands in 1879. Japan’s colonization of Hokkaido led to new border negotiations with Russia: in 1875 the Russian Empire obtained undisputed sovereignty over Sakhalin Island, which gave it an exit to the Pacific Ocean, while Japan retained the Kurile Islands. Unhappy with the outcome, the Japanese would remember this treaty as treacherous because Russia, they claimed, had used the weakness of Japan for its own gain.8 Hasegawa Tatsunosuke, better known under his pen name Futabatei Shimei, the “father of modern Japanese literature,” was motivated to enter the Foreign Languages School (Gaigo Gakkō) after the 1875 treaty and devote himself to the study of the Russian language out of a deep-seated “feeling of suspicion and animosity” toward the Russian imperial state.9 (Despite this antipathy, Futabatei become the chief cause of Japan’s infatuation with Russian literature, translating more than thirty major Russian literary works into Japanese.)
As Korea began to loom large in Japan’s foreign policy, so too worries increased regarding Russia’s plans for the Korean Peninsula. Various missions dispatched by the Foreign Ministry to Russia and Korea since 1870 had discovered that Russia and Korea shared a border, and that there was growing Korean immigration to the Russian Far East. The Foreign Ministry and the newly established army (1871) became alarmed by the possibility of Russia using Korean immigration to encroach on Korean territory, which would have been perceived as a direct threat to Japan’s security.10 One of the consequences of the discovery of the shared Russo-Korean border was the emergence of the “Korean Question” among the political and military elite. Outlining the basic principles of the Japanese modern military in 1871, Yamagata Aritomo (1838–1922)—then chief of the General Staff, twice prime minister, and one of the most powerful men in Meiji Japan—stated that Japan needed to expand its military capability in order to protect its territory from foreign aggression, specifically from Russia’s southward advance.11 The 1876 Treaty of Kanghwa between Japan and Korea, which gave Japan special privileges in Korea and was a classic “unequal treaty,” was also in part an outcome of Japan’s Russian policy.
More information on Russia and its people became available to the Japanese public as economic and cultural relations expanded in the second half of the nineteenth century. While visiting Russia, Japanese officials, journalists, businessmen, and travelers noted the peculiarity of the Russian state and its society, its difference from West European countries, as well as its poverty and the extreme mismanagement of its imperial territories. Many Japanese traveled through Russia by way of Siberia and were appalled by the poverty of Russian peasants, the corruption of the authorities, and the vast differences between “Asiatic” and European Russia. In the famous classification of nations published in the government organ Meiji gekkan (Monthly magazine of Meiji, 1868), Russia was ranked in the second category (kaika no kuni) along with Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the countries of Latin America.12 One of the most important and influential intellectuals of the nineteenth century, Fukuzawa Yukichi (1834–1901), who visited Russia as part of the Takenouchi mission (1860–61) dispatched by the Tokugawa government, popularized in his bestselling books the notion of an autocratic and barbaric Russia. Fukuzawa foresaw that poverty in Russia might become a major cause for antigovernment rebellions that would turn the autocratic state to even more repressive measures against its own people.13
However, the most detailed descriptions of Russia and its activities in China, Korea, and Central Asia were provided not by civilians but by military sojourners.14 One of the first accounts of Russia was written by Vice Admiral Enomoto Takeaki, the Japanese plenipotentiary in the 1875 Treaty, who stayed in Russia for three years and on his journey back in 1878 wrote Siberian Diaries (Shiberia nikki). He documented different aspects of Russian life, including information about the Russian army, possibilities of trade with Russia, and the economy and ethnic population of Siberia. Because of their intelligence value, the diaries were restricted for army intelligence use and only appeared in 1935 as an army publication.15 In 1892–93, Major Fukushima Yasumasa made a trip on horseback from Berlin to Vladivostok to gather military intelligence on the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway. His journey made him a national hero and he was documented daily by leading newspapers, which took this opportunity to inform their readers about conditions in Russia.16 One of the important consequences of these direct observations and writings was that framing Russia as backward vis-à-vis not only the West but also Japan became a common trope among the ruling elite as well as the general public. Repeated observations about Russian backwardness caused many travelers and readers to admire Russia less, appreciate Meiji Japan more, and feel pride in Japan’s achievements in modernization. The Japanese were fond of pointing out that Japan became a constitutional monarchy in 1889, seventeen years earlier than Russia, which established its first constitution only in 1905 and as a direct result (the contemporary Japanese also liked to stress) of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5. This general preconception about the backwardness of Russia and its peculiar historical and geographical conditions played a crucial role in the reception of the Russian Revolution not only among the political establishment and the general public but also the Japanese Left.
The general preconception of a backward Russia was in stark contrast to the business opportunities many Japanese saw in the Russian Far East. The Japanese community in the Far East, especially in Vladivostok, steadily grew, along with the Chinese and Korean communities. Japanese industrial trusts such as Mitsubishi and Mitsui, eagerly interested in the exploitation of timber and oil on Sakhalin, were also forerunners of Japan’s economic expansion in the region.17 Among the Japanese retailers who settled in the Russian Far East were traders, tourist organizers, joiners, smiths, tailors, and owners of laundries, and collectively they owned one-fifth of all enterprises in the Maritime Province. But the most numerous and prosperous group that had vital interests in establishing relations with Russia were fishermen and the fishing business communities. In the decade before the Russian Revolution, every year up to fifteen thousand Japanese fishermen worked in fisheries leased by Japanese companies in Russia.18 And it was big business circles, especially the powerful fishery business, that later would become the most forceful and successful advocate for rapprochement with communist Russia.
After a short period of amicable relations, the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (1891–1902) set off a fierce rivalry between Russia and Japan over the control of Korea and Manchuria. The point of contention was that a part of the Trans-Siberian Railway went through China’s territory, which became the Chinese Eastern Railway (CER), acquired through a Russian concession (“the alienation zone”). As the famous journalist Kuga Katsunan noted in retrospect, “the 24th year of Meiji  was, in fact, the year when the Eastern Question was born.”19 By constructing the railway, Russia planned to curb England’s growing dominance in the Chinese market, maintain a permanent fleet in Vladivostok, and prevent foreign control of the Far East—a region vulnerable because of population sparseness and weak lines of communication. The Trans-Siberian Railway enabled Russia to reinforce its eastern borders without reliance on a maritime route, which was constrained by the British navy. Now Russia was in a position to greatly increase its political and military influence in the East Asian region. The construction of the railway sparked concerns among the Japanese public and government. As the Japanese understood it, the new railway would not simply connect Vladivostok with Moscow and Europe; it would make possible the transfer of weapons and troops from the western part of Russia to Asia. As Kuga wrote, it was the news of the railway that “made the Japanese nation become aware of foreign affairs,” giving birth to further fears that Japan was under direct military threat from Russia. As a matter of fact, the Russians had indeed moved to the Far East in order to use the area as a base for Russian expansion into Manchuria. Foreseeing Russian intentions, General Yamagata Aritomo warned Emperor Meiji in 1892 that in a decade, the completion of the railway would enable Russia to penetrate Manchuria, Mongolia, and China proper.20 The Russian advance in Manchuria was considered by the Japanese as the first step in the colonization of Korea, itself only over 120 miles away from the Japanese island of Kyushu. Their fears climaxed with the Ōtsu Incident in 1891, when the future Nicholas II traveled to Japan to celebrate the opening of the Trans-Siberian Railway. He was attacked and injured by one of his Japanese guards, who thought his visit was intended to plan a possible invasion of Japan. The Russian government was satisfied by the measures taken, which included the resignations of the home minister and foreign minister, and the suicide of a Japanese woman who begged the Russians for forgiveness on behalf of the whole nation.21
The Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, and more so the Triple Intervention that followed, brought to the surface the basic conflict between Japan’s and Russia’s objectives for the Asian continent. Japan’s stunning victory in the war against Qing China, the spectacle of Japanese military power, and the extent of Japanese demands and ambitions induced a turnabout in Russian policy. As a result of its victory, Japan received huge indemnities from China and acquired its first colony, Taiwan, and the Liaodong Peninsula, including Port Arthur. Russia decided to intervene, and the Russian-German-French Triple Intervention (initiated by Russia) forced Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula. Shortly after the Triple Intervention, in 1898, Russia leased the peninsula and obtained the right to build a branch of the Chinese Eastern Railway, which extended southward from the newly founded city of Harbin (aptly called the Manchurian Petersburg for the great Russian presence in it) to Port Arthur. Although the CER was a private company and the land legally belonged to the Chinese state, it secured not only the Russian officials’ control of the state of affairs on the railway zone but also Russian domination of Manchuria in general. Moreover, because the Trans-Siberian Railway ended in Vladivostok, the Russian imperial state managed to increase its influence in the Pacific as well. The situation began to look even more dire to the Japanese leadership as Russian economic and military activities in Korea intensified: Russian army officers were sent to reorganize the Korean army in 1896, the Russian-Korean border was militarized, and concessions to exploit timber, mineral resources, and lumber were granted to Russian companies.
Russia was the biggest imperialist offender, in Japan’s view, along with Britain, but the attitude toward Russia was rather complex and went through major swings from positive to negative, and back to positive—not least because both, as emerging major powers, had to settle territorial claims in the East Asian region. The Triple Intervention thus saw the emergence of an anti-Russian faction among Japanese policy makers, as well as an influential pro-Russian faction. The pro-Russian faction included Prime Minister Itō Hirobumi, the elder statesman Inoue Kaoru, who had extensive connections to the business world, and Yamagata Aritomo. This faction was soon reinforced by Gotō Shinpei (1857–1929), Itō Hirobumi’s protégé, whose interest in Russia arose while he served as the first president of the South Manchurian Railway (1906–8). Itō, Yamagata, Inoue, and later Gotō opposed confrontation with Russia and instead sought peaceful cooperation in Korea and Manchuria. In 1896, Yamagata attended the coronation of Nicholas II, where the Yamagata-Lobanov agreement was signed, later succeeded by the Nishi-Rosen agreement of 1898. Both agreements provided a basic framework for a divided sphere of influence in the region, which would recognize Russia’s special interests in Manchuria and Japan’s in Korea. These efforts, however, were thwarted by the unfolding events in China: the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, which prompted Japan’s and Russia’s military intervention into Chinese affairs along with that of other Western powers.
After the suppression of the antiforeign movement in China, the Russian troops remained stationed in Manchuria, which exacerbated Japanese public concern for the fate of China, and by extension Korea. Distressed by the Boxer Rebellion, the socialist Kōtoku Shūsui penned the instantly famous book Imperialism: Monster of the Twentieth Century (Nijū seiki no kaibutsu tekokushugi, 1901), in which he argued that Japan’s mission was to be a model and guide for China, preserve its territorial integrity, and act as a mediator between China and Western powers.22 The seeming reluctance of the Russians to evacuate (the evacuation also was forestalled by logistical difficulties in the mismanaged Russian Empire) convinced many in the Japanese army and the government, including Yamagata Aritomo, that Russia was entertaining predatory plans for Korea by establishing control over Manchuria. The voices for adoption of a strong foreign policy toward Russia gained momentum. Konoe Atsumaro, president of the House of Peers, and his followers assembled in 1903 a group of seven university professors, six of whom were from Tokyo Imperial University’s prestigious faculty of law, and made them call on government leaders individually to lobby for war. The professors made their program public, which made an impact because at that time it was highly unusual for civilian outsiders to express openly their opinion on foreign policy.23
The most formidable pressure on the government came, however, from within the army. The most consequential outcome of the army’s agitation was its new fixation not simply on Korea but now on Manchuria, both as a defense perimeter for Korea and as a valuable goal in itself. In 1903, high-ranked army and navy officers with responsibility for war planning and some middle-ranked members of the foreign ministry formed a secret society, the Kogetsukai.24 Tanaka Gi’ichi, future prime minister, minister of war, and foreign affairs minister, was instrumental in its activities. A protégé of Yamagata Aritomo, Tanaka had intimate knowledge of Russia and its military capabilities. He was sent to Russia as an observer from the Second Section (intelligence) of the Army General Staff, and served in the Russian army, in the Novocherkassky Infantry Regiment, for five years between 1897 and 1902. Upon returning home in 1902, Tanaka, who by then was fluent in Russian, became head of the Russian Section of the Army General Staff, and his views were very influential in the development of Japan’s plans for waging war with Russia. Tanaka argued that a successful war with Russia would secure the territorial integrity of Korea and establish Japan’s position in northeast Asia—that is, in the whole of Manchuria. This was a consistent objective of Tanaka’s, which became evident in his later push for the Siberian Intervention in 1918. Kogetsukai members lobbied for their cause behind the scenes, approaching statesmen and finding support from Foreign Minister Komura Jutarō, War Minister Terauchi Masatake, and future Home Minister General Kodama Gentarō, chief of staff of Japan’s Manchurian army. The strong anti-Russian views of middle-grade officers had thus been incorporated into the official position taken by military leaders, which in turn put considerable pressure and influence on government policy.25
Grassroots nationalist organizations that sprang up in the same decade also constituted a formidable lobby and exerted continuing pressure on the government. The most notorious of these was the Kokuryūkai (Black Dragon Society, also known as the Amur River Society, 1901), whose intention was to drive the Russians to the Amur River, then the frontier between Manchuria and Siberia. Other notable nationalist organizations included the Rōninkai (Society of Masterless Samurai, 1908), and the pro-government Tairo Dōshikai (Society of Comrades against Russia, originally called the People’s League, 1900), which was also created with the assistance of Konoe Atsumaro. The unifying philosophy of Japanese nationalists was that Japan must contain Russia, expel it from the East, and “lay the foundation for a grand continental enterprise taking Manchuria, Mongolia, and Siberia as one region.”26 Part of their influence was based on continuous support from army headquarters, the Ministry of War, and the Foreign Ministry. In exchange for information and public agitation, the Ministry of War often secretly subsidized these organizations. Politicians also used nationalist organization for their own aims. Konoe, for example, was a close friend of the “father” of Japanese radical nationalism, Tōyama Mitsuru, leader of the Gen’yōsha. Konoe rallied Tōyama’s support for his aggressive line, so that Tōyama visited Itō Hirobumi and threatened him for his alleged sympathy with Russia. Following rumors of assassination plots, Itō received police protection.27
Agitation in Japan for war with Russia, as well as Russia’s inflexible diplomatic position, made war seem unavoidable.28 War fever encompassed both countries. Spoiled by Japan’s gains after its victory in the Sino-Japanese War, many in Japan agitated for a declaration of war. Moreover, for educated elites, the existing image of backward and despotic Russia made it easy to argue that the Russian people were in need of liberation and help from the Japanese army. The poet Ishikawa Takuboku and the liberal professor Yoshino Sakuzō believed that the imminent war with Russia was “for justice, for civilization, for equality, for the ultimate ideal.” Later, Yoshino even characterized the 1905 Russian Revolution as the consequence of Japanese liberation efforts.29 Tokutomi Roka, in his letter to his literary idol Leo Tolstoy in 1906, wrote: “I firmly believed we ought to defeat Russia. I loved the Russian people introduced by you and by other great writers of your country, but I enthusiastically insisted that we should never tolerate the tyranny of the Russian government. I was therefore satisfied with Japan’s so-called victory and regretted during the peace negotiations that Russia did not bow low enough.”30 Many thus shared a conviction that Japan represented the civilized world and needed to take on its historical mission to fight backward—but at the same time imperialist—Russia in the name of progress, and peace in Asia. The war fever also revealed changing Japanese attitudes toward their empire: not only was territorial expansion welcomed, but warfare as the means to accomplish that became acceptable.
The Russian public was also guilty of agitation for war. There were those among the educated public who believed that Russians were liberators to Asians oppressed by the Chinese yoke, and that Russia’s mission was to defend Europe against “the sea of the yellow race,” which at that time designated imperial Japan. Japan stood for the generalized Asiatic hordes and came to be viewed as modern, cunning, intelligent, and therefore a more dangerous threat to Western Christian civilization. It was in Russia during the years leading to the Russo-Japanese War that the idea of Japan as a country of “Yellow Peril” took off and became a common phrase among the intelligentsia, members of high culture, and high-ranking bureaucrats.31
The impact of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5 on both countries cannot be overemphasized. Russia’s loss in the war shook the empire to its very foundations, precipitating the Russian Revolution of 1905, the granting of the first constitution, the fracturing of Russian society and the Russian Empire, and ultimately, the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty in 1917. Russia’s defeat exposed its weakness to the whole world. Once in awe of the Russian tsars—Peter the Great, for example, was a very popular figure in early Meiji Japan as a great modernizer—the Japanese soon abandoned sentiment for further ridicule of Russia’s feudal and reactionary ways. Japan’s victory had a particularly strong impact in the non-Western world—setting an example of what was perceived as a successful struggle by an Asian country against the “white man’s domination,” against Western predatory imperialism. Many in Japan agreed with this interpretation, but importantly, this sentiment was coupled with the feeling of national pride in Japan’s final elevation to the status of a Great (by definition imperialist) Power. Heightened popular nationalist sentiments expressed themselves in public outrage over the provisions of the Treaty of Portsmouth, according to which Japan did not receive indemnities from Russia. However, in the protests that followed (one of the most famous being the Hibiya Riot of September 1905), one thing became clear: popular anger during the riots was directed at the government and the police but not at the emperor. Governments could be changed and blamed for troubles and failures, but for the public, the emperor endured beyond governments, politics, and class distinctions. The emperor was thus singled out by the ordinary people in their quest for justice and protection. If prior to the Russo-Japanese War the emperor was the symbol of national unity, after it he came to be regarded as the ruler of a great imperial power, on a par with or superior to other world empires.32
The Russo-Japanese War marked a shift in Japan’s foreign policy toward establishing a strong foothold in Manchuria. According to the Treaty of Portsmouth, Japan acquired recognition of its paramount interest in Korea and possession of the southern half of Sakhalin. But the most momentous change was Japan’s acquisition of the Russian rights to and concessions in southern Manchuria, leasehold of the Kwantung Territory (comprising 3,400 square kilometers of the Liaotung Peninsula, including the city of Dalniy, renamed Dairen by the Japanese), and a narrow railway zone from Port Arthur to Changchun, about 150 miles south of Harbin. Although the Portsmouth peace treaty was negotiated without official participation by the Chinese government, the Qing government later agreed to the terms of the treaty, additionally giving Japan the right to build a railway from Antung, near the Korean border, to Mukden; opening various timber preserves; and secretly agreeing it would not build lines parallel to the South Manchurian Railway (SMR). The Kwantung Territory governor-generalship, under the leadership of a general or lieutenant-general, administered the new acquisitions and commanded the army stationed in the areas between 1906 and 1919. In 1919, the Office of the Kwantung Governor-General became a civilian administration, while the Kwantung Army went under the jurisdiction of the newly established Kwantung Army Command, which became responsible for the protection of the Kwantung Leased Territory and the railway zone. As a result, the Kwantung Army Command began to consider, as its self-appointed task, that the economic development of Manchuria depended on it. Moreover, senior staff officers of the Kwantung Army held a strong conviction that Russia would attempt to regain control over southern Manchuria and took as its main task to prepare for such a “revenge war.” With this aim in mind, the Kwantung headquarters demanded expansive military and administrative rights in Manchuria, much wider than railway zones would normally have.33
Responsibility for economic development in the Kwantung Leased Territory and railway zone was entrusted to a semigovernmental organization called the South Manchuria Railway Company (SMRC, in Japanese Mantetsu). Gotō Shinpei was appointed as its president, but he also was the army’s pick. The army’s chief of staff, Kodama Gentarō, who was also the chairman of the committee to establish the SMRC, pushed Gotō’s candidacy. Kodama instructed Gotō that the tasks of the SMRC—the management of the railway, opening up of mines, improvement of agriculture, encouragement of Japanese settler migration to southern Manchuria—all these were means toward achieving the ultimate goal, which was to ward off Russia’s southern advance.34 Gotō, however, went beyond the call of duty, and as president of the SMRC formulated a policy of rapprochement with Russia. As the first step under Gotō’s presidency, the SMRC’s research department was established in 1906, becoming the most powerful center in Russian (and Chinese) studies, and providing crucial data and analysis for governmental and military foreign policies. Simultaneously, the Japan-Russia Association (Nichiro kyōkai) was established in Tokyo in 1906, with the direct support of the government, the military, and the imperial court.35
Gotō’s undertakings in establishing more amicable relations with Russia symbolized, in fact, the start of a new phase in Russo-Japanese relations.36 Itō Hirobumi and Gotō Shinpei succeeded in concluding the first Russo-Japanese agreement of 1907, which stipulated mutual recognition of each other’s spheres of interest in Manchuria, Russian recognition of Japan’s control over Korea, and Japanese recognition of Russia’s special status in Outer Mongolia. Even the army conceded that working relations should be established with Russia. In 1907, the Army General Staff worked out a basic plan for Japan’s national defense, authored by Tanaka Gi’ichi and redrafted by Yamagata. The “Imperial National Defense Plan” of 1907 stipulated that while Russia was still the main target of Japanese military preparedness, measures must be taken to settle the old feud and reach an understanding.37 Not only did Japan’s victory change the structure of power politics in East Asia, satisfying for a while Japan’s ambitions on the continent, but the amicable phase was mainly due to the arrival of a third power in the region, the United States. The second Russo-Japanese agreement was signed in July 1910. The Foreign Ministry, previously skeptical about rapprochement with Russia, this time pushed for the entente, motivated to jointly protect Russian and Japanese interests in East Asia from the United States. In 1910, U.S. Secretary of State Philander C. Knox proposed to “neutralize” the SMR and CER, now controlled by Japan and Russia respectively, by creating an international syndicate to loan China the funds to purchase the SMR and CER. Until the loan was repaid, the railways would be controlled by an international body dominated by foreigners. Greatly alarmed by the United States’ aggressive proposition, Japan and Russia strongly rejected the proposal, which prompted Britain and France to withdraw their initial support. The US proposal eventually died, but this incident demonstrated how developing Russo-Japanese cooperation, and their united opposition to any external pressure, became the foundation of a new order in East Asia. As a result, both countries were willing to overlook quite serious actions by the other side. In 1909, when Itō Hirobumi was assassinated by a Korean nationalist from Vladivostok at a train station in the Russian-Chinese city of Harbin during his meeting with Russian Minister of Finance V. N. Kokovtsov, the Japanese government took no diplomatic actions against Russia. When Japan annexed Korea in August 1910, Russia did not express any objections.38
The momentous event in China in 1911—the fall of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of a republican government—in effect destroyed China’s political unity for the next two decades, the consequences of which both imperial Russia and imperial Japan had to grapple with instantly. During this period, China was run by various rival regimes, while its northern territories were controlled by competing warlords, whose chances for survival and dominance greatly depended on their cooperation with either Russia or Japan. The Japanese army jumped at this opportunity with proposals to establish pro-Japanese puppet-states in Manchuria and now-independent Mongolia but was checked by the Foreign Ministry and the government, who did not want troubles with Russia, Britain, and the United States, and preferred to secure economic rights by political means. Outer Mongolia’s declaration of independence from China in 1911 prompted Japan’s Foreign Ministry to sign the third agreement with Russia in 1912, which sought to separate Japanese and Russian interests in Inner and Outer Mongolia.39
The outbreak of World War I was another “golden” opportunity for Japan to solidify its political and economic power in East Asia. Japan declared war on Germany in August 1914, as did Russia, and moved rapidly into Shandong Province in China, acting on behalf of the Allies. While European powers were fighting the war in Europe, Japan consolidated its power in China. Partially satisfying its notorious “Twenty-One Demands” from January 1915, Japan signed the Sino-Japanese Treaty of 1915, which granted it special rights in southern Manchuria and Shandong Province, prolonging the term of exploitation of the SMR and the right of Japanese citizens to mine, live on, and rent land in the railway zone. Highly dependent on Japan’s military aid, especially munitions, and looking for guarantees to help protect its eastern border and preserve a status quo relationship with Japan, Russia issued a statement in regard to the demands: “The Russian government considered the Demands as appropriate to be claimed to the Chinese government.”40
Besides China, there was another issue (albeit less prominent and visible) that the Russian and Japanese governments had to deal with.41 Although after Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War, and especially after the annexation of Korea in 1910, Russia relinquished its intention to meddle in Korean affairs, the Korean question remained on the table, simply because colonial Korea had shared borders with Russia. Russo-Japanese relations were marred mainly by the issue of Korean immigration.42 Since the 1860s, Russia had offered incentives to attract Korean and Chinese immigrants to make up for the lack of cheap labor in the sparsely populated region. Korean immigrants settled in the Russian Maritime Province as early as the 1860s, but the big influx of population happened after Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War, especially in 1908–9, when large numbers of regular Japanese troops forced Korean guerrillas out of their homeland and into China and Russia. In 1902, there were 32,410 Koreans residing in Russia; in 1910, this number grew to 80,000; by 1923, there were some 107,000 Koreans in Russia (17 percent of the total population); and by 1926, that number had risen to 168,000.43 Vladivostok became the center of congregation for Korean political refugees and participants in the struggle against the Japanese regime, including top opposition leaders. Beginning in 1908, regular skirmishes took place between Korean guerillas operating from Russian territory and Japanese troops stationed on the Korean side. Attacks on the Japanese significantly intensified after Japan annexed Korea in 1910.44 The Japanese government not only pressured the Russian government to police Korean insurgents, but also acted on its own. Japanese troops often shelled Korean villages on the Russian side of the border from Korean territory. The Japanese consul-general in Vladivostok and the Japanese Vladivostok Resident Association made attempts to establish control over Koreans in the Maritime Province and to prevent the growth of an anti-Japanese movement among Korean immigrants. Assaults on and murders of Japanese residents in the Maritime Province by Koreans were also steadily increasing.45 After Itō’s assassination by a Korean nationalist, the authorities of the Maritime Province, anxious to preserve good relations with Japan, worked on curbing Korean insurgent activities. In 1911, Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Extradition, allowing the extradition of political criminals who aimed to suppress the activities of Russian socialists in Japan, as well as rebellious Koreans in Russia.46 However, the Russian government did not agree to extradite guerrillas to the Japanese administration in Korea. In 1914, the Japanese embassy in Petrograd requested the extradition of twenty-one leaders of the anti-Japanese movement. Russian authorities arrested a number of the leaders and deported some of them to Manchuria, but no one was extradited to the Japanese authorities in Korea.47 Russia found itself in the middle of a struggle between Japan and Korea and, despite the rapprochement, did not openly take Japan’s side in the conflict. Korea and Korean insurgents were the Japanese Empire’s weakest issue in 1917, and it was there that the Russian Bolsheviks struck first.
Diplomatic, economic, and military cooperation between Russia and Japan reached its acme in 1916 with the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese Alliance, which specified measures to be taken in case a third power, namely the United States, tried to establish its influence, whether political or economic, over China. The mastermind of the alliance was none other than Yamagata Aritomo. In February 1915, Yamagata submitted to the Cabinet a memorandum in which he proposed to form an alliance with Russia that would obligate the two nations to lend military support to protect the territorial integrity of China. To break the resistance of the reluctant Foreign Ministry, which was mindful of the existing Anglo-Japanese Alliance, Yamagata arranged the visit of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, a member of the Russian imperial house, in January 1916. The royal “charm offensive” was aided by Japanese popular media and agitation by financial circles for an alliance with Russia. Not only were Japan and Russia formally allies in the war against Germany, but it was also widely realized that such an alliance would bring great economic benefits, specifically through the conclusion of new, important fishery agreements and the promotion of extensive trade in arms and food.48
Japanese attitudes toward Russia therefore were conditioned by multiple factors, not least geographical. Mutual economic and political interests determined by their geographical proximity and shared ambitions in the region, mainly in Korea and China, were responsible for wide swings in the attitude toward Russia on the part of Japanese policy makers, from antagonistic to friendly and back. The most important factor in Russo-Japanese relations was what lay between them: China, the “sick man of Asia.” Yamagata’s warming up to Russia in 1915 was part of the government’s new tactic to strengthen Japan’s position on the continent through the newly defined policy of coexistence and co-prosperity (kyōzon kyōei), in which Japan would act as a benevolent partner to republican China. Gotō, as home minister in Terauchi Masatake’s Cabinet, formulated the idea of an “east Asian economic alliance,” and in October 1916 he began working on establishing a Sino-Japanese investment bank.49 Coexistence and co-prosperity in East Asia obviously could not be done without the inclusion and/or understanding of Russia.
In sum, the Japanese political, military, diplomatic, and business establishment had divergent motives and interests regarding Russia.50 The army was consistent in its agitation for war and in considering Russia, whether imperial or Soviet, as an existential threat to the security of the Japanese nation and its economic interests in China and Korea. As we shall see, the navy disagreed with this view and regarded cooperation with Russia as essential to an anticipated war with the United States. The Foreign Ministry supported the army’s anti-Russian position, but largely because it gave priority to cooperation with the Anglo-American powers, Britain and the United States. As the Foreign Ministry had great influence over the SMRC and the Kwantung Army, and since it was committed to Sino-Japanese cooperation as the only key to Japan’s stability, the ministry was able to restrain the Kwantung Army’s agitation against Chinese Manchurian warlords and imperial Russia for a while. However, it is important to note that anti-Russian policies among the decision makers were not based on any higher principle but were largely used as leverage in Japan’s negotiations with Russia and Western powers to secure Japan’s interests on the Asian continent. The balance of power in East Asia between Russia and Japan was based on the division of “spheres of influence” and the shared desire to stop a third party advance in China, which remained in place until October 1917.51 As Siberia and the Russian Far East were plunged into political chaos afterward, Japan was prompted to reconfigure its sphere of influence in northeast Asia once again.
Parallel to the official Russia policy, which veered between negative and positive attitudes based on the geopolitical considerations of the day, there existed another trend that regarded Russia in a more positive light. Historians and literary scholars have noted the rich cultural relations that developed between Russia and Japan from 1868 onward. Sho Konishi, for example, has compared the influence of Russian culture on Japan between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the impact of China on the intellectual life of Tokugawa Japan prior to 1860 and to the American cultural presence after the Asia-Pacific War.52 Although his scholarly focus is on revolutionary anarchist encounters, Konishi demonstrates that a vital point of convergence between Russia and Japan was the fact that intellectuals and social critics in both countries worked out alternative progressive visions to Western modernity. One should add that many educated Japanese people were powerfully attracted to the critique of the West developed in Russia and sought to find connections between this critique and Russia’s revolutionary energies, which the Japanese found useful in their own critique of Japan’s modernized state and Western imperialist powers. Members of the Japanese intelligentsia, students, feminists, antiestablishment activists, government bureaucrats, colonial administrators, Pan-Asianist agitators, and even occasionally army officers developed a strong and lasting interest in Russian intellectual, cultural, literary, and social revolutionary movements, especially those informed by anti-Western sentiments. They astutely recognized that Russian anti-Westernism derived from the empire’s peculiar cultural, historical, and geopolitical position, which for many Japanese resembled their own country’s peculiar position vis-à-vis the West and the rest of Asia. While the popular fascination with Russian culture and revolutionary thought had a limited impact on Japanese foreign policy, I argue that the long-standing Japanese interest in Russia’s cultural and intellectual production nevertheless paved the way for the favorable reception of ideas and ideologies, including socialism and communism, originating in Russia.
Russian literature became the main conduit for Japan’s burgeoning interest in Russia, revealing to Japanese readers similarities in cultural circumstances between the two countries. From the 1880s onward, translations of Russian writers became extremely popular, selling out almost immediately after publication. Every educated person in Japan knew the names of Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Turgenev, Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Between 1868 and 1950, almost three hundred Russian writers were translated into Japanese.53 As some historians have suggested, although “Russia lost the war in 1905, it soon conquered Japan through its literature.”54 Tolstoy was by far the most translated foreign writer in the entire history of modern Japanese translation practice, and the enormous impact his writing and religious thought had in Japan has been discussed thoroughly by Sho Konishi.55 Japanese editions of Dostoevsky were one of his first foreign translations; prior to World War II, the number of copies sold of Dostoevsky’s works in Japan was the highest in the world.56 Dostoevsky’s popularity peaked in Japan in the 1930s, in part due to the translations of the works of Leon Shestov, the existentialist philosopher and commentator on Dostoevsky and Friedrich Nietzsche. The philosopher Miki Kiyoshi noted that Dostoevsky and Shestov, and their engagement with European modernity, aptly captured the anxieties and contradictions of the 1930s in Japan and dubbed this period the era of “Shestovian Angst.”57 Famous Japanese literary figures such as Uchida Roan, Tokutomi Roka, Mori Ōgai, Shimazaki Tōson, and Arishima Takeo acknowledged the profound influence Russian literature had on their own literary engagement with Western modernity. As the literary scholar Paul Anderer writes, “late-nineteenth-century Russian life, like that of Japan since the Restoration, seemed up in the air, removed from concrete experience, and Dostoevsky was widely regarded as the great chronicler of this cultural homelessness. His characters were abstracted from life by reason of imported dreams of progress and civilization; his city seemed inhabited not by the living but by the possessed.”58
The popularity of Russian literature in Japan also had a lot to do with the investment of many Russian writers in exploring the suffering of the common people and exposing the ethical and social contradictions of a society in transition. By offering complex social critiques, such writings contributed to the birth of social science in Japan. Largely responsible for introducing Japanese readers to the Russian literature of the “insulted and humiliated” was Futabatei Shimei (1864–1909), a prolific translator and teacher of the Russian language. Futabatei has been called the first modern Japanese writer, and his novel The Drifting Cloud (Ukigumo, 1887) is said to be partially based on Ivan Goncharov’s 1859 novel Oblomov. One of Futabatei’s students was Yokoyama Gennosuke (1871–1915), one of the founders of social research in Japan, whose highly influential and still valuable The Lower Strata of Japanese Society (Nihon no kasō shakai, 1898), exposed poverty and poor working conditions around the country. The famous poet Ishikawa Takuboku, who before his death in 1912 claimed to have become a socialist, wrote that it was Russian writers who opened his eyes to social problems in Japan. Russian literature—its penetrating depiction of cultural homelessness and the suffering of commoners in the modern age—resonated with many people in Japan and contributed to the favorable reception of Russian revolutionary ideas among the Japanese reading public.
Russian populism (narodnichestvo) played an enormously important role in the Japanese political imagination of the late nineteenth century. Russian populism developed as a critical engagement with and active resistance to capitalist development in Russia and Western Europe and was one of the first attempts in Russia to put into practice radical alternatives to Western capitalist modernity. In Japan, Russian populist ideas became known in 1878, when the first very sympathetic reports of the Russian nihilist movement (Rokoku kyomutō) reached Japan. Russian populist ideas were disseminated by a growing number of translations. Between 1881 and 1883 alone, sixty-five books on Russian populism were published in Japan. After the Sino-Japanese War in 1896, Tokutomi Roka published Sergei Stepnyak-Kravchinsky’s novel The Career of a Nihilist in the influential newspaper Kokumin shinbun, run by his more famous brother Tokutomi Sohō. Translations of the populist Pyotr Lavrov’s writings, Stepnyak’s Underground Russia, and La Russie politique et sociale, by the member of the terrorist organization People’s Will Lev Tikhomirov, followed. In 1902, Kemuyama Sentarō published the first academic study of populists and anarchism in Early Modern Anarchism (Kinsei museifushugi). Taking Russian populism as a model, Japan’s own genre of the political novel also began to emerge.
Russian populist ideas found a warm reception in the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement (Jiyū minken undō, 1874–84), which, although inspired by the French and American revolutions, found the current Russian populist movement more relevant to its cause. Japanese political activists felt an affinity with the Russian populists because both were from the newly formed class of intelligentsia and had a self-appointed task to fight for the good of the common people. Russian populists’ quick slide into terrorism, most notoriously exemplified by the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, made an enormous impact on Japanese political activists and the general public, as well as state officials.59 Proponents of the People’s Rights Movement immediately pointed out that the Japanese government’s continuous refusal to grant political rights to a broader population might result in the same terrorist outcomes as they witnessed in Russia. Covering the trial of Vera Zasulich, who shot the governor of Saint Petersburg in 1878 in protest against the maltreatment of a political prisoner, one Japanese newspaper asked: “Is not it just by chance that this heroic woman was born in Russia?”60 Who knows, the Japanese democratic agitators continued, where such actions could be replicated next?
Their warnings were justified because there were people in Japan who sympathized with the Russian populists’ terrorist actions. Not only did they approve of political violence in Russia, but they also endorsed political violence per se. In 1882, for example—in imitation of the People’s Will, the terrorist group behind the assassination of Alexander II—the Nihilist Party of the Far East was formed in Nagasaki.61 The extent of the Russian populist terrorist influence on Japanese radical imagination became evident during the so-called High Treason Incident of 1910 (discussed later), when a group of Japanese radicals were accused of plans to assassinate Emperor Meiji with a bomb. During the notorious trial, the only woman executed for the conspiracy, Kanno Suga, acknowledged that her role models were Vera Zasulich and Sofia Perovskaya, who was also executed in 1881 for her role in the assassination of Alexander II.62
Even Meiji nationalist groups took notice of Russian populism. Uchida Ryōhei, cofounder of the notorious nationalist Kokuryūkai in his book On Russia (Roshia ron, 1901), based on his travels from Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg, expressed admiration for Russia’s political aggression—even its potential for violence. “An extremist nation demands an extremist revolution,” he wrote of Russia. “Their revolution will spill incomparably more blood than the French revolution.”63 Uchida also praised the radical student movement in Russia and lamented the faint-hearted Japanese students who, he believed, were obedient servants of a bureaucracy and lacked courage and independence of spirit. In addition to predicting a revolution and the collapse of tsarist Russia, Uchida suggested that Japan should assist in these developments, acting as a paternalistic benefactor to an immature and disorderly state. “In accomplishing the aim of liberating and guiding Russia,” he wrote, “we should not refrain from war if it should seem a timely means.”64
Prior to 1917, Japan’s political and cultural engagement with Russian revolutionary thought and movements peaked around the time of the Russo-Japanese War. The war became especially transformative for Japan’s own socialist movement, radicalizing it and bringing it into the fold of the international socialist movement.
Socialist ideas were first introduced in Japan in the 1880s and 1890s, but in the context of the larger democratic People’s Rights Movement, which strove for the people’s right to participate in the political and economic life of the country. Western socialism was understood, first and foremost, as an explanation of the cause of social problems (shakai mondai) and as a means and a program of social and moral regeneration.65 Troubled by the corruption and cliquism of contemporary politics and the growing impoverishment of the people, the early socialists believed that a social revolution (kakumei), which would overthrow corrupt politicians and inject fresh blood into the government, was a necessary step in returning to the principles of the Meiji Revolution. Their aspirations, they believed, did not contradict the kokutai—the official ideology centered on the imperial family and the body politic. In fact, they regarded themselves to be in a struggle against the exploitative structure of the capitalist economy, which threatened the economic and moral health of the kokutai. They envisioned socialism as paving a path to national economic prosperity without posing a threat to the Meiji constitutional monarchy.66
The beginning of the Japanese socialist movement is considered to be the establishment of the Society for the Study of Socialism (Shakaishugi kenkyūkai) in 1898, which was organized to “study the principles of socialism and whether or not they may be applied to Japan.”67 In 1900, the society was renamed the Socialist Association (Shakaishugi kyōkai), and took a more active stance in disseminating knowledge about Western socialism. In the spring of 1901, the members of the association—among them the future JCP representative to the Comintern Presidium Katayama Sen, Kōtoku Shūsui, and Abe Isoo—established the Shakai minshutō (Social Democratic Party), whose platform was modeled after the Erfurt declaration of the German Social Democratic Worker’s Party (later renamed the Social Democratic Party, or SPD). Employing the Public Order and Police Law of 1900, which curtailed radical social movements for the next two decades, the Japanese government banned the country’s first socialist party within hours of its establishment. The Meiji government was deeply concerned by the party’s quite radical demands, which included the abolition of the House of Peers, the adoption of universal suffrage, and a reduction in the number of armed service personnel. The government, however, was greatly alarmed because it feared that the party might come under the direct influence of the SPD of Germany, which by 1900 was the biggest party in the world. In 1906, the socialists made another attempt to create a legal party, the Nihon Shakaitō (Japan Socialist Party), but it was banned within a year.
The Russo-Japanese War transformed Japanese socialists into true radicals. In the wake of the government’s suppression of their activities, they abandoned the idea of moral reformation of the government within the imperial institution and instead began to agitate against the economic (capitalist) and political (imperial) system of Meiji Japan. As the cost of the war mounted and disappointment grew on both sides, pioneering feminists and socialists in Japan and Russia began to voice more forcefully their skepticism not only of the war but also of the imperial governments behind it. Kōtoku Shūsui, Sakai Toshihiko, and a few others organized Japan’s first antiwar movement, founding the antiwar newspaper Heimin shinbun (1903–5) and the Heiminsha (The Commoner’s Association), the publishing company behind the newspaper.68 The Heiminsha came to national attention when it translated and published in its entirety Leo Tolstoy’s famous antiwar pamphlet “Bethink Yourself!” (June 1904). Tolstoy’s declaration that the “war was [being fought] for an alien land over which Russians have no right” was an attack on Russian colonialism, and it powerfully stirred Japanese antiwar and anti-imperialist sentiments. Tolstoy’s essay inspired the most famous Japanese antiwar proclamation, the feminist writer Yosano Akiko’s 1904 antiwar poem “Never Let Them Kill You, Brother!” (Kimi shinitamō koto nakare). The poem radically suggested that the interests of the individual must not be subordinated to the interests of the state. Other famous pacifists, including the Christian Uchimura Kanzō and Christian socialist Kinoshita Naoe, whose novel Pillar of Fire (Hi no Hashira, 1904) was an open attack on the Japanese government, worked in close collaboration with the Heiminsha.69 Besides Tolstoy, the Heiminsha produced editions of Russian revolutionary and antiwar literature, introducing to Japanese audiences the writings of Vladimir Lenin, Alexander Herzen, Mikhail Bakunin, Georgy Plekhanov, and others. The Heiminsha’s translation and publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1905 was the final straw for the police. The editors were fined and jailed, and the newspaper was disbanded. But the cat was out of the bag at this point, so to speak. Numerous socialist circles, Marxist reading groups, and similar organizations began to develop from Hokkaido to Kyushu, as did a number of successor publications, such as Chokugen, the Marxist Shakaishugi kenkyū, and the Christian socialist Shin kigen.
The Russo-Japanese War also brought the Japanese socialist pacifist movement into a close relationship with the international socialist movement, including Russian, Asian, and American radicals. Russian revolutionary thought had a great impact among early Japanese socialists, who in their struggle against the imperial government found many affinities with Russian radicals’ fight with the tsarist government. On March 13, 1904, the Japanese socialists issued a proclamation of solidarity with the oppressed Russian people:
Yes! We are comrades. Brothers. Sisters. Never have we reason to fight each other. The demon that is our common enemy now pours forth his evil flames … reaches out his poisonous hands, and outrages the living millions. Now is the time for us, and socialists the world over, to band together in strength. Marx’s words, “workers of the world, unite,” shall now, indeed, be realized.70
The text was reprinted in an American socialist paper, and a welcoming response from the Russian Social Democrats was printed in their publication Iskra, which was translated into Japanese and published in July 1904 in Heimin shinbun. Iskra, the first all-Russian illegal Marxist newspaper, was founded in Geneva by the young Russian Social Democratic Party, established in 1898. It had a board of six editors, among whom were the more famous and moderate Georgy Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich, and the still-unknown junior editor, Vladimir Ulyanov, who wrote under the penname of Vladimir Lenin. Iskra’s response stated in part:
Hearing their voices [the letter from the Heiminsha] among the cries of war in both Japan and Russia, we truly feel as if [we are] touching upon the exquisite music of a messenger from the world of goodness and beauty. And that world of goodness and beauty will inevitably be realized tomorrow, although it exists as present only in the class-conscious minds of the submerged masses. Even though we do not know when this tomorrow may come, our social democratic parties all over the world are endeavoring to bring it forth as soon as possible. We are digging the grave for … the present social organizations, and are organizing the power which ultimately will bury them.71
This exchange resulted in the invitation of the Japanese delegation to the Sixth Congress of the Second International in Amsterdam in August 1904. Katayama Sen was nominated the first vice-president of the congress, and his public embrace of the famous Russian Marxist Georgy Plekhanov, who acted as the second vice-president, was an apt demonstration to those attending of the success of socialist internationalism.72 The dawn of the much-awaited “tomorrow” finally came (or appeared to have arrived) with the Russian Revolution of 1905, which had a tremendous impact on Japanese and other non-European socialists. Kōtoku saw the Russian Revolution of 1905 as the forerunner of all the coming social revolutions in the world, including the one in imperial Japan. “The Russian Revolution will not be confined to Russia, and the flames of the proletarian revolution will escalate all over the world,” he wrote in Hikari in January 1906.73 The Russian Revolution of 1905 was hardly noticed in Europe; while in contrast, in Japan, China, India, Persia, and Turkey it was regarded as the first successful part of a worldwide struggle against political despotism.
The Russo-Japanese War and the Russian Revolution of 1905 became occasions for Japanese, Russian, and Asian socialists to meet and band together. The Russian populist revolutionary Nikolai Sudzilovsky-Russel (1850–1930) came to Japan from the United States in 1905 to conduct revolutionary propaganda among Russian prisoners of war (POWs). His Nagasaki publication Volya closely cooperated with the socialist Hikari, as well as with Kakumei Hyōron and the Chinese revolutionary newspaper Minbao. In response to a personal request from Lenin, Kōtoku had Heimin shinbun publish hundreds of documents that Russian revolutionary émigré groups had distributed among Russian POWs.74 Propaganda literature intended for Russian POWs was smuggled from Siberia to Hokkaido, then delivered to the Russian camp in Nagasaki on the southern island of Kyushu.75 Japanese socialists often acted as intermediaries between Chinese, Russian, and other European revolutionary exiles. Grigory Gershuni (1870–1908), a member of the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party, met Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) in Japan in 1906. Song Jiaoren (1881–1913), the future Guomindang leader, met in 1906 through his Japanese friend Miyazaki Tamizō (1865–1928) the Polish revolutionary Bronislaw Pilsudski (1866–1918).76 Kōtoku’s group delivered lectures to Chinese students in Tokyo as part of the Socialist Lecture Series (Shakaishugi Kōshūkai), as well as to the Chinese Society for the Study of Socialism, established in 1907 in Tokyo. In 1906, the anarchist Ōsugi Sakae opened the first school of Esperanto in Japan, which attracted many Japanese and Chinese students with its vision of a supranational society. Japanese socialists were among the founding members of the Asiatic Humanitarian Brotherhood (Ashū Washinkai), organized in Tokyo in 1907 by Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Philippine, and Indian anticolonial activists. As Rebecca Karl remarks, the Asiatic Brotherhood was an unprecedented attempt to forge a vision of an anti-imperialist Asia that would consciously avoid “replicat[ing] would-be hegemonic Japanese state Asianisms of the time, which were often defined against China and intended to distance Japan theoretically and historically from its neighbors in order to tie it more firmly to Europe and capitalist/imperialist expansion.”77 Undoubtedly, these early (1905–10) attempts at regional cooperation planted the seeds for later socialist anti-imperialist movements.
By 1917, Japan had considerable knowledge and experience with socialism as a theory and a revolutionary program, including the versions that originated in tsarist Russia. Japanese socialists also identified themselves as such, producing several works on the history of their own movement by the early 1900s. They also considered the Japanese socialist movement as an important member of the international socialist movement, actively participating in the workings of the Second International. Japanese socialists looked up to Russian populists and to the makers of the Russian Revolution of 1905. The main draw for Japanese socialists and the emerging intelligentsia was the Russian radical critique of both political despotism and Western capitalism. It struck a great chord with many in Japan, who grappled with similar issues of worsening “social problems,” a sense of cultural homelessness, and relentless pressure from the modernizing state to comply with its goals. At the same time, as we will see in the following chapters, Japan’s immersion in European socialist discourse, according to which Russia’s political and economic backwardness disqualified it from being a frontrunner in a future proletarian revolution, caused confusion among Japanese socialists when in October 1917 Lenin announced that the first socialist revolution in history had been accomplished in Russia.
In this chapter I have identified two most important perceptions of Russia, which, I believe, help us make sense of Japan’s complex attitudes toward Russian communism. First, Japanese policy makers were always conscious of the geopolitical “destiny” of the imperial and Soviet Russian state. No matter what regime was in power in Russia, the Japanese contended, as a Eurasian state it would always act to preserve and safeguard its geopolitical interests. Viewed from this perspective, there was a remarkable continuity in Japan’s approaches to imperial and Soviet Russia. This leads us to the second prevalent assumption among Japanese decision makers and the general public—that Russia was neither West nor East—which determined its peculiar cultural anxieties. Like Japan, Russia was a latecomer not only to the process of industrialization but also to political and social modernization, producing penetrating analyses and critiques of modern predicaments that resonated deeply with the sentiments of the Japanese across different social classes. As we see in the next chapter, Japan’s initial response to the revolutionary events in Russia in 1917 was determined by the framework established in the previous decades.
. For a detailed account of early Russo-Japanese relations, see George A. Lensen, The Russian Push toward Japan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959); and Lensen, “Early Russo-Japanese Relations,” Far Eastern Quarterly 10 (November 1950—August 1951): 2–37. For early modern Japanese views of Russia, see Bob T. Wakabayashi, Anti-Foreignism and Western Learning in Early-Modern Japan: The New Theses of 1825 (Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, 1986), 58–99.
. Adding to this new Japanese interest in Russia, a study based on the interrogation notes of the Russian explorer Vasily Golovnin, who was captured by the Japanese in 1811 and held as a prisoner for two and a half years in Hokkaido, was published in Japanese a few years after his release. Japanese officials also used Golovnin to train their first Russian experts and expand their area studies material. See Vasily Golovnin, Memoirs of a Captivity in Japan, 1811–1813 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973). Incidentally, Golovnin’s memoirs were the first extensive description of Japan by a Russian. Within a decade, they were translated into Japanese and several European languages.
. It is suggestive that the Qing Empire had had similar anxieties about the Mongol population vis-à-vis the expanding Russian Empire. See Jonathan Schlesinger, A World Trimmed with Fur: Wild Things, Pristine Places, and the Natural Fringes of Qing Rule (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017).
. Lensen, Russian Push toward Japan, 442–46; Key-Hiuk Kim, The Last Phase of the East Asian World Order: Korea, Japan, and the Chinese Empire, 1860–1882 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 218–19.
. Wada Haruki, “Japanese-Russian Relations and the United States, 1855–1930,” in A Hidden Fire: Russian and Japanese Cultural Encounters, 1868–1926, ed. Thomas J. Rimer (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univerity Press, 1995), 205.
. Shinichi Fumoto, “Russia’s Expansion to the Far East and Its Impact on Early Meiji Japan’s Korea Policy,” in Russia and Its Northeast Asian Neighbors: China, Japan, and Korea, 1858–1945, ed. Kimitaka Matsuzato (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2018), 2–3.
. England, France, the Netherlands, and the United States (later joined by Austria, Prussia, Denmark, and Sweden) belonged to the highest category of “civilized countries” (bunmei no kuni). After the second category, the list descends as follows: China, India, Turkey, Persia, and the African nations north of the Sahara were classified as “semi-enlightened countries” (hankai no kuni), while the nomadic tribes in Siberia, Central Asia, Arabia, and Africa were classified as “countries of uncivilized manners and customs” (izoku no kuni). Last were the “barbarians” (yaban): the American Indians and the natives of Africa and Australia. See Togawa Tsuguo, “The Japanese View of Russia before and after the Meiji Restoration,” in Hidden Fire, 215.
. For the list of books published on Russia by the sojourners from the army, the navy, and the Foreign Ministry, see Berton, Langer, and Swearingen, Japanese Training and Research in the Russian Field, 18.
. Sven Saaler, “Fukushima Yasumasa’s Travels in Central Asia and Siberia: Silk Road Romanticism, Military Reconnaissance, or Modern Exploration,” in Japan on the Silk Road, ed. Selçuk Esenbel (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 69–86.
. Hosoya Chihiro, “Japan’s Foreign Policy toward Russia,” in Japan’s Foreign Policy, 1868–1941: A Research Guide, ed. James W. Morley and James B. Crowley (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 371–72. Tanaka served in Manchuria, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel as an aide to General Kodama.
. Sandra Wilson, “The Russo-Japanese War and Japan: Politics, Nationalism, and Historical Memory,” in The Russo-Japanese War in Cultural Perspective, ed. David Wells and Sandra Wilson (London: Palgrave Macmillian, 1999), 175.
. The historian Andrew Malozemoff has argued, however, that the worsening of relations was not predetermined. It was left to Nicholas II to decide to intervene in 1895, as the Russian government was split on this question. However, it was up to Emperor Meiji to make the decision to conclude the anti-Russian Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1902 because the pro-Russian faction was quite strong and the Japanese counsels were divided to the last about whether to work with or against the Russians (Russian Far Eastern Policy, 1881–1904 [New York: Octagon Books, 1977]).
. David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Toward the Rising Sun: Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001). On the discourse of the “yellow race,” see Lensen, “Japan and Tsarist Russia”; and Rosamund Bartlett, “Japonisme and Japanophobia: The Russo-Japanese War in Russian Cultural Consciousness,” Russian Review 67, no. 1 (2008): 8–33.
. William G. Beasley, Japanese Imperialism, 1894–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 90–100; Alvin D. Coox, Nomonhan: Japan against Russia, 1939 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985), 1–16.
. The association organized diplomatic meetings, encouraged development of trade between the two countries, provided a trade inquiry service and lectures in the Russian field, served as an information center for the Russian press, and sponsored research on the Russian economy.
. Hara Teruyuki “Nichiro sensōgo no Roshia kyokutō—chiiki seisaku to kokusai kankyō,” Roshia shi kenkyū 72 (2003): 6–22; Vasilii Molodiakov, Rossiia i Iaponiia: Zolotoi vek (1905–1916) (Moscow: Prosveshchenie, 2008).
. Wada Haruki, “Koreans in the Soviet Far East, 1917–1937,” in Koreans in the Soviet Union, ed. Dae-Sook Suh (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987), 32; Boris Pak, Koreitsy v Rossiiskoi imperii (Moscow: Moskovskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 1993).
. Teramoto Yasutoshi, Nichiro sensō igo no Nihon gaikō: Pawā poritikusu no naka no Man-Kan mondai (Tokyo: Shinzansha, 1999); Sakamoto Masako, Zaibatsu to teikokushugi: Mitsui Bussan to Chūgoku (Kyoto: Mineruva Shobō, 2003).
. On the recent assessment of Russo-Japanese relations in this period, see Kurosawa Fumitaka, “Meiji sue, Taishō shoki no Nichiro kankei: Teki ka mikata ka, hatamata tomo ka?” Journal of the Diplomatic Archives 30, no. 3 (2017): 57–74.
. In its first year, Heimin shinbun sold an impressive two hundred thousand copies, in addition to numerous copies distributed through socialist networks. The Heimin association organized 120 socialist meetings in 1904, including 13 women’s socialist association meetings, and established socialist organizations in over 20 cities and towns across Japan. It helped finance the Ashio copper mine riots in Hokkaido and organize the resettlement of those involved (Konishi, Anarchist Modernity, 189; Wilson, “Russo-Japanese War and Japan,” 174–75).
. There were ninety thousand Russian POWs scattered in twenty-eight camps across Japan, but the most numerous one was in Nagasaki, where the POWs intersected with a Jewish émigré community (Konishi, Anarchist Modernity, 197–203).
. While the Japanese police suppressed the publication of Heimin shinbun and harassed Kōtoku and his fellows, they deliberately overlooked Russo-Japanese socialist cooperation in regard to socialist propaganda among prisoners of war. The Japanese authorities hoped that Russian revolutionary activities would weaken and undermine the Russian imperial state.
. For more detailed discussion, see Vladimir Tikhonov, “A Russian Radical and East Asia in the Early Twentieth Century: Sudzilovsky, China, and Japan,” Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 18 (2016): 51.