[KRUSENSTERN’S CIRCUMNAVIGATION] 環海異聞 Kankai Ibun [i.e. Exotic Tales about the Surrounding Seas]. Otsuki, Gentaku, Hiroyuki Shimura.
[KRUSENSTERN’S CIRCUMNAVIGATION] 環海異聞 Kankai Ibun [i.e. Exotic Tales about the Surrounding Seas]

[KRUSENSTERN’S CIRCUMNAVIGATION] 環海異聞 Kankai Ibun [i.e. Exotic Tales about the Surrounding Seas]

Item #385

[Japan], Bunka 4 [1807] date of original manuscript in vol. 1, Tempo 13 [1842] (date of the present copy in vol.15). Original manuscript. Complete in 16 parts, bound in 9 vols. 26x19 cm. Black ink on rice paper. 68, 47, 47, 62, 63, 53, 59, 27, 61 doubleply leaves; with 26 double-page and 68 single-page hand-coloured illustrations (some placed on recto and verso of the plate leaves), and several hand-drawn schemes in text. Text and illustrations without borders, main text ten vertical lines. Occasional corrections in red kanji in text. Original Japanese fukuro toji bindings: yellow paper covers with leaves sewn together with strings and paper title labels on the front covers. Each volume with red stamps of a prior owner on the first and last leaves. Housed in a later Japanese cloth folder. Text with minor sporadic worming throughout, back cover of vol. 9 with minor losses on the side margin, otherwise a very good set.

Very rare complete 1842 copy of this famous 19th century Japanese travel account which describes the first circumnavigation performed by the Japanese people and became the only open original source of information about Russia in Edo-era Japan.
‘‘Kankai Ibun’’ is based on the reports by four Japanese sailors who in the end of December 1793 left Ishinomaki (northeastern Japan) for Edo on board the coastal ship ‘Wakamya-Maru’ with a cargo of wood and rice. The ship with seventeen crew members was caught in a storm and after several months at sea arrived at the Atka Island (Andreanof group, eastern Aleutian Islands). The crew, supported by local Aleuts, stayed on the island for over ten months, burying the captain who died shortly after arrival, and was eventually rescued by a fur trading vessel of the Russian-American Company. The remaining crew was taken to Okhotsk and thence to Yakutsk and Irkutsk where they lived for eight years.

In 1803 the Japanese castaways were summoned to Saint Petersburg where they were received by the Russian Emperor Alexander I and asked if they wanted to return to Japan. Four Japanese expressed the desire to go back home (the rest returned to Irkutsk where most of them already had families), and subsequently joined the crew of the sloop ‘Nadezhda’ under command of Captain Adam von Krusenstern, which went on the first Russian circumnavigation (1803-1806), accompanied by the sloop ‘Neva’ under command of Yury Lisyansky. ‘Nadezhda’ took four Japanese sailors via the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil, around Cape Horn, to the Marquesas and Sandwich Islands, Kamchatka and thence to Nagasaki where it also delivered the Russian embassy headed by count Nikolay Rumyantsev. Although the sloop arrived at Nagasaki in September 1804, it was only in the end of March 1805 that the Japanese sailors were handed to the Japanese authorities. Being frightened of possible oppressions, one of them tried to cut his throat, but survived. The three remaining sailors then went through a long process of interrogation by Otsuki Gentaku - a doctor who was fluent in Dutch and a rangakusha [scholar of Dutch learning] Shimura Hiroyuki. Otsuki and Shimura then thoroughly checked the information from the castaways with the Chinese and Dutch sources and consulted with
Japanese geographers and cartographers. Released in 15 (sometimes in 16) parts in 1807, ‘‘Kankai Ibun’’ was not confidential, like all previous accounts about Russia, and quickly became very popular with the warlords of Northern Japan and government officials across the country. After the attacks of Russian ships under command of Captains Khvostov and Davydov on the Japanese trading posts on the Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands Russia was considered as a potential war enemy, and all possible information about her was important.

There are several known copies of ‘‘Kankai Ibun’’ dated from 1807 up the end of the 19th century, deposited in the libraries of Japan, Russia, United States, and Great Britain. There were several Japanese editions (1900, 1943, 1986, 1989 et al.), but its first translation from Japanese was published only in 2009 (in Russian, by a noted Russian specialist in Japanese studies Vladislav Goreglyad).
The manuscript consists of sixteen parts (including the Preface), thoroughly describing the 13-year adventures of the castaways starting with them being taken away by the storm in 1793 and finishing with their return to Nagasaki in 1805. Very interesting are their notes on their life on Atka Island (part 1), illustrated with the images of a sea lion, a local bird, the ‘hole’ entrance to a native house in the ground, a view of (apparently) a Russian-American Company ship near an iceberg, a walrus, Aleutians hunting fish at sea from kayaks et al.); notes about their travel to Siberia and life in Irkutsk (parts 2-7), with detailed description of Russian towns, trade, prisons, manners and customs, houses, food, dress, et al (with the illustrations showing a dog sled, a horse-driven winter cart, interior and exterior of a steam bath house, utensils, a bell-tower, interior of a church, soldiers, coins, musical instruments, a sable, abacus, a windmill, et al); a detailed Japanese-Russian dictionary (part 8), account of their visit to Saint Petersburg (parts 9-11, illustrated with portraits of Alexander I and his wife Empress Elizabeth, two scenes of the first launch of balloons in Russia which took place in Saint Petersburg in 1803 in the presence of the Emperor, views of the giant Globe of Gottorf in the Kunstkamera, streets and winter gardens of Saint Petersburg, a theatrical performance, famous equestrian statue of Peter I in the Senate Square, a panorama of the fortifications of Kronstadt, and others). The last five parts are dedicated to ‘Nadezhda’s’ voyage to Japan, illustrated with pictures of bananas, Brazilian fish ‘‘looking like a fugu fish’’, South American alligator named ‘crocodile’, full-length portraits of a Marquesan man and a woman, images of Marquesan tools for tattooing, three Marquesans in a native boat, a portrait of a woman and a man from Oahu Island in Hawaii (the Hawaiians being described as people with white dyed hair and two front teeth missing); a view of Petropavlovsk harbour, a world map with the track of ‘Nadezhda’ (based on the map presented by Count Rumyantsev), Russian flags, Cyrilic alphabet, a view of ‘Nadezhda’ in the Nagasaki harbour, the house where the Russian embassy stayed on shore, numerous items of Russian dress, a map of the Ob River with tributaries, a view of fishing on Lake Baikal, a close-up image of a Russian sailing vessel, and others. It is interesting that the Japanese-Russian dictionary contains a large number of dialect words from Siberia; the other noteworthy fact is that the religion of the Russians was characterized by Otsuki and Shimura as a form of Buddhism which reveals their sympathy to Russia – after Christianity had been banned in Japan no mention of Christians could be considered as positive.

Overall a beautiful rare historically significant Japanese manuscript travel account.

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