Treaty of Shimoda

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Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Japan and Russia ("Treaty of Shimoda"), 7 February 1855. Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Japan).

The Treaty of Shimoda of 1855, formally Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Japan and Russia (日魯通好条約, later called 日露和親条約), 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.


The first contacts between Japan and Russia were made with the Matsumae clan in Hokkaido by the merchant Pavel Lebedev-Lastoschkin in 1778 and by official envoy Adam Laxman in 1792.

The Russian expedition around the world led by Adam Johann von Krusenstern stayed six months in the port of Nagasaki in 1804-1805, failing to establish diplomatic and trade relations with Japan.

Putiatin mission[edit]

The Russian frigate Pallada that carried Vice-Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin to Japan.

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 recommenced its former plans to send a mission to the Far East. As was intended before, the Russian minister of Foreign Affairs Karl Nesselrode assigned Putiatin as lead to the Russian mission. He left Europe with his squadron early in 1853. The order was to return only with a treaty at least as good as the US. Also on the Russian agenda was a clear statement from the Japanese as to what in the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin was Russian and what was Japanese. Putiatin was accompanied by the Russian writer Ivan Aleksandrovich Goncharov, who served as his secretary. Goncharov would use the experience in his Fregat Pallada (1858), in which he described the details of the voyage and the negotiations. It is a valuable description of how the Japanese received and processed foreign trade vessels and the perception of the experience of the Russians.

Putiatin, having left in haste, saw his personal rival Perry reach Japan before that of himself. Therefore, in light of Perry's arrival, he proposed a partnership to Perry that the latter rejected.[citation needed] On July 8, 1853, Perry appeared in the Tokyo Bay. The Japanese government was 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 carefully waited for 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 after the departure of Perry's four American war vessels.

Putyatin in Nagasaki, Japanese painting 1853.

The appearance of the 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 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 well-preserved. Perry's negotiations are analogous with those of Putiatin and thus serve as a good comparison. Furthermore, the results of Perry's mission would benefit all future foreign delegations in securing treaties, including those of the Russians.[citation needed] In his visit, Perry handed over the demands of US President Millard Fillmore to the Bakufu, to the great discontent of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi.

Four days after the departure of Commodore Perry from Tokyo Bay, the Shogun died due to a sudden illness and there was political abeyance in Japan. The Rōjū ("Elder") Abe Masahiro, who in fact had all the political power within the Bakufu, surprisingly counseled the daimyos, aristocrats and even the Imperial Court. This was not done, [clarification needed] especially because the Bakufu never allowed any interference into their governing activities. It was perceived as a sign of incompetence and would be the beginning of the end for the Bakufu. The daimyos gave negative advice: to reject the demands of the Americans and to resist 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 US marines and the possible consequences for Japan. Putiatin chose 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, as opposed to the relatively 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.

The sinking of Diana, Illustrated London News 1856.

He kept his word and returned in January 1854 to continue his negotiations. At the end of February, he sailed to Okinawa and 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.

On December 23, 1854, the major Ansei Tokai Earthquake shook Japan and surroundings. It had an estimated magnitude of 8.4 on the Richter magnitude scale. A 7-meter-high tsunami destroyed 900 homes in Shimoda and even more along the Pacific coastline of Japan. Putiatin's ships, carefully hidden and docked in Shimoda, were also destroyed and the Diana badly damaged. 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 from the water. However, the heavily damaged flagship Diana would eventually sink as she attempted to sail to Heda for repairs.

Building of the ship Heda[edit]

Main article: Heda (schooner)
The Russian-Japanese schooner Heda.
Launch of Heda. Heda Shipbuilding Museum (沼津市立戸田造船郷土資料博物館).

In an attempt to study the Russian way of building vessels, the Tokugawa ordered Japanese carpenters to build a new ship with Russian help. And so Putiatin was able to sail back to Russia, on May 8, 1855, on board the Russian-Japanese vessel, baptised Heda (ヘダ号) after the city of Heda where it was built. The ship was a schooner, 24 meters in length, 7 meters wide, and with a draught of 3 meters. The complement was 48 sailors. Towards the end of the Sakoku period, Japan had started manufacturing Western-style ships on her own only slightly earlier, such as the 1854 Shohei Maru.

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 European power comprising Russians and Japanese under the same cause. This was extraordinary in a time of Sakoku which obviously was coming to an end.[citation needed] In the early 17th century though, the English sailor William Adams had built ships with the Japanese (the San Buena Ventura), and the Spanish had helped the Japanese build the San Juan Bautista.

Soon, the Japanese government ordered 6 more ships to be built on the model of the Heda, thereby contributing to the development of western-style shipbuilding in Japan.[1]

Three days and one tsunami after the destruction of Putiatin's fleet, the Japanese and Russians continued with their negotiations. Russia wanted the treaty because 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 the 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 would not allow any loss of 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 civilized and righteous man. Putiatin remarked 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 had. Article V stipulated that trade would be performed through the harbors of Hakodate, Nagasaki, and Shimoda. These harbors would provide goods 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. The Northern Territories were a great burden in Russian-Japanese relations.

Successive borders in the Kurils.

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

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

The Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1875) would attribute all the chain of the Kurils to Japan, while Russia obtained full recognition of its possession of Sakhalin.

Even though the treaties defined an agreement concerning the Kuriles, it remains a point of contention to the present day, after Russia invaded most of the chain of the Kurils at the closing of World War II at the time of the surrender of Japan.

Monument to the treaty[edit]

A memorial sign in honor of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian-Japanese relations was opened in Kronstadt in 2005. The monument is a black stone where on the Russian and Japanese languages described a brief history of the Putiatin mission and starting the Sino-Russian relations. The monument was opened by the Consul General of Japan in St. Petersburg and St. Petersburg Governor.

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