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Through the eyes of the Japanese, the zeal of the Russians: how Alexander Grigoriev preserved the memory of the Ainu for us

The St. Petersburg publishing house “Arka” has published a book by Vasily Shchepkin, a Japanese scholar, senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences, “Ainu through the eyes of the Japanese: an unknown collection of A. V. Grigoriev.” It is based on Japanese handwritten documents of the 18th-19th centuries translated into Russian, stored in the Scientific Archive of the Russian Geographical Society. The publication was made with the grant support of the Russian Geographical Society.

The Ainu are a small ethnic group that has long inhabited Hokkaido, Sakhalin and the Kuriles. In the second half of the 19th century, their lands were divided between the Japanese and Russian empires. The age-old culture and traditional way of life of the Ainu have practically disappeared. Japanese manuscripts provide us with valuable information about the history, culture, customs and life of this people. And Alexander Grigoriev, Secretary of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society, collected and brought unique materials to Russia. At our request, Vasily SCHEPKIN spoke about the personality of Alexander Vasilyevich, his spontaneous expedition to Japan, and the significance of the materials received today.

“Two Good Geniuses”

In the second half of the 19th century, when the coastlines of the continents and most of the islands of the globe were already mapped, only a few regions of the planet remained unexplored, including Inner Asia and the Arctic. It was then that the star of the Russian Geographical Society rose, under the auspices of which a number of brilliant expeditions to these regions took place, literally – “from the southern seas to the polar region.”

The time of real prosperity and the golden age of the Russian Geographical Society was the period when Pyotr Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shansky held the post of vice-chairman (from 1873 to 1914), and Alexander Vasilyevich Grigoriev (from 1883 to 1903) held the post of secretary.

According to a contemporary who wrote in 1908, “every traveler, every researcher who worked in the Imperial Russian Geographical Society in the last decades, before starting his work, went to the 8th line of Vasilevsky Island to Pyotr Petrovich, and from there through all of St. on Sands to a wooden house at the corner of Slonovaya and Bolotnaya to Alexander Vasilyevich and, having enlisted their assistance, their instructions, their help, calmly and boldly set off on any most risky scientific journey, knowing that these two good geniuses … with their worries, thoughts and necessary troubles will not leave them, no matter how far from Petersburg they may be.”

Indeed, Grigoriev contributed to the implementation of many expeditions: Gombozhab Tsybikov – to Tibet, Pyotr Kozlov – to Mongolia and Sichuan, Vaclav Seroshevsky and Bronislav Pilsudsky – to the Ainu of Hokkaido, and even Fridtjof Nansen – to the North Pole. All scientists and travelers certainly noted the widest erudition, the accuracy of advice and instructions, the insight and scientific generosity of Grigoriev.

Probably, his authority would not have been so high if not for his own rich experience: the scientist was on expeditions along the White Sea and to Novaya Zemlya, collected archaeological and ethnographic material along the Dnieper and in the vicinity of Murom, participated in the first All-Russian population census in the northern provinces.

Random expedition

But, perhaps, the most significant in the work of Grigoriev as a traveler and collector of collections was his stay in Japan in 1879-1880.

Grigoriev’s expedition to Japan was unplanned. In the spring of 1879, the scientist was sent to the waters of the Arctic Ocean to assist Baron Adolf Nordenskiƶld, who had begun the first continuous passage along the Northern Sea Route a year before, but with the onset of winter, he fell into ice captivity off the coast of Chukotka.

On July 15, Grigoriev arrived safely in Yokohama and on July 20 continued his journey. However, on July 24, due to fog and incorrect calculation of the course, his schooner was thrown ashore on the northeastern tip of the island of Hokkaido. The crew was not injured, a significant part of the ship’s property was also saved, but the ship itself remained in the water. To rescue him, Grigoriev had to stay in Japan.

The ship managed to be refloated only in November, and in the winter it was already able to independently proceed to Yokohama. At the same time, Grigoriev left Hokkaido, where he had been almost continuously since the summer, but then remained in Japan for about six months to improve his health, which had deteriorated from a long stay in difficult camping conditions (in Hokkaido, he sometimes had to literally live in a tent).

However, despite such conditions and efforts to save the ship, not knowing Japanese or Ainu languages, Grigoriev managed to extract the maximum scientific benefit from his annual stay in Japan. He directed almost all his efforts to collecting various materials about the Ainu.

Why Ainu?

For Russia, the study of the Ainu was of particular importance. According to the Shimodsky Treaty, concluded in 1855 with Japan, the islands of the Kuril archipelago north of Iturup Island were recognized as the territory of the Russian Empire, and Sakhalin remained in the joint indivisible possession of Russia and Japan. In 1875, the St. Petersburg Treaty was signed, according to which Japan renounced its rights to Sakhalin, receiving in return the entire ridge of the Kuril Islands up to Kamchatka. Since that time, a significant part of the Ainu lived on Russian territory – mainly on Sakhalin, and after the transfer of the Kuriles to Japan, some residents of the northern islands moved to Kamchatka.

Sakhalin has been a place of exile since 1869. The first Russian researchers of the Ainu came from among the convicts, as well as doctors and other employees. In 1875, the first Ainu-Russian dictionary was published, compiled by the physician Mikhail Dobrotvorsky. A little later, the collection of materials on the ethnography and folklore of the Ainu was carried out by the exiled Lev Shternberg and Bronislav Pilsudski.

In 1876, the first scientific work in Russia dedicated to the Ainu was published by Dmitry Anuchin, with whom Grigoriev was friends. Perhaps the need to spend a long time on the island of Hokkaido, the main place of settlement of the Ainu, also influenced the interests of the scientist in Japan.

What Grigoriev brought

What materials did Alexander Vasilyevich manage to collect? First of all, this is a collection of household items and the cult of the Ainu, which includes artifacts not only of the Ainu culture, but also of Japanese origin. Currently, it is stored in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Collected in Hokkaido, it is of great value to Russia, since most of the other collections of Ainu culture items stored in the MAE RAS and the Russian Ethnographic Museum come from Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. In the same Kunstkamera, the archaeological collection of Grigoriev is now kept. It includes 131 objects, about half of which come from the Omori shell mound between Yokohama and Tokyo (clay and stone products, as well as animal bones), and the rest from the Hakodate area (stone tools and mollusk shells).

Some of the items collected by Grigoriev remained in the Scientific Archive of the Russian Geographical Society. First of all, these are two photo albums: one with views of Japan, people, crafts, street life, domestic life, etc., the second with photographs depicting the life and ritual life of the Ainu. Those who follow the activities of the Russian Geographical Society today know about the wonderful projects that made these albums available for acquaintance to every Internet user.

In the same Scientific Archive of the Russian Geographical Society, sheets with 360 Ainu words are stored, which Grigoriev wrote down in the village of Yurappu on the coast of the Volcanic Bay of Hokkaido, where he went specially for this in December 1879.

The most valuable source

However, in our opinion, of all the collections collected by Grigoriev in Japan, the collection of Japanese books about the Ainu and maps of the Ainu lands is of the greatest value, uniqueness, informativeness and potential for further research.

Grigoriev donated 60 Japanese books and maps to the library of the Russian Geographical Society, as well as draft translations of some of them into Russian. Since some publications are multi-volume, and 26 maps and two appendices to them constitute, in fact, one atlas, there are 23 titles in total. Japanese manuscripts, woodcuts and maps of the Ainu lands were transferred in 1906 to the Asian Museum (now the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences), and their translations remained in the Scientific Archive of the Russian Geographical Society.

The authors of these texts were, as a rule, minor officials, whom the military government of Japan, the bakufu, sent to the lands of the Ainu to inspect trade and draw up maps. Richly illustrated, these books contain valuable information on the history and culture of the Ainu, recorded from the beginning of the 18th to the middle of the 19th century, at a time when Russian and Western scientists and travelers did not yet have the opportunity to stay in their places of residence for a long time.

At the end of the 19th century, when such an opportunity arose, the Ainu culture began to disappear literally before our eyes under the influence of the policy of the Japanese government, which set a course to turn the Ainu into Japanese peasants by banning traditional crafts, rituals and occupations. Therefore, even today, this corpus of texts remains the most important source for all Ainu scholars and other anthropologists.

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