St. Petersburg: tipo-lit. M.F. Paykina, 1898. Item #829
, 219 pp., 12 ill. 22.8x16.6cm. Period half-leather. Pale stamp of the private library “Pkhakadze” on the front endpaper, previous owner’s ink inscription on the front endpaper and title page, stamp of “Stavropol Spiritual School” on the title page. Otherwise good.
Scarce first edition. Second edition published in 1903.
This book, with 12 charming engravings, provides a unique vision of Japan at the end of the nineteenth century. The author Anna Cherevkova – a Russian doctor of Ukrainian origin – traveled around the world as a naval surgeon on the “Khabarovsk” vessel in 1895-1896. Her first visit to Japan was on the steamship “Petersburg” in 1888. Cherevkova returned to Japan in 1889 and stayed there for almost two years, going back to Russia on April 26, 1891. Her next trip to the country was in 1895.
The timing of Cherevkova’s voyage is in itself quite interesting. Following the Treaty of Shimoda (1855) which effectively meant the end of Japan’s 220-year-old policy of seclusion, by opening the ports of Nagasaki, Hakodate and Shimoda to Russian vessels, the number of Russian visiting Japan increased rapidly. Their gaze was broader and better informed, and the “contact zone” became ever larger as the nineteenth century progressed. Accounts of Contemporary Japan was written during a warming of relations between the two countries and just a couple of years before the outburst of the Russo-Japan War (1904-1905).
In the book Cherevkova describes her voyage to the different cities of Japan (Nagasaki, Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Osaka, Yokohama, Nikko, etc.), giving interesting notes on the nature, architecture and customs of the country. Accounts of Contemporary Japan consists of 19 chapters, with each chapter focusing on a specific area of Japanese culture and daily life: Japanese theatre, Buddhist funerals, Japanese prison, Feast of snakes, etc. The narrative is marked with an abundance of Japan/Russia and Europe comparisons: “How big is the difference between this cheerful picture and that dreary desert, which is called Russian Far East”, “Japanese children, in my opinion, are far from attractive and, of course, cannot stand any comparison with little Europeans”, “The city is obviously large, yet it seems like something is missing, there isn’t enough noise, that indefinite hum that is heard from afar when approaching every European settlement”. The travel writing unveils at the time relatively unknown features of the eastern country and gives a hint about the relations between the people of the two empires: “The host greets us with kind bows and, recognizing right away that we are Russians, starts a conversation in Russian”. Cherevkova’s comments on various aspects of Japanese life are especially engaging: “Japanese music and singing, in my opinion, are so torturous that, having heard them once, you do not feel the slightest desire to undergo this torment again”.
The book includes 12 engravings depicting children-nannies, Suwa Shrine, traditional Japanese dinner, geisha, tea-picking, tea house, rice planting, Kōtoku-in, a part of Nikkō Tōshō-gū shrine, grave of Ieyasu, Lake Chūzenji, and a hotel. The engravings were made in A.S. Suvorin typography (1877-1917) established by the noted Russian book publisher and journalist Aleksey Suvorin (1834-1912).
Overall, a very interesting firsthand account of the female-doctor’s voyage to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Cherevkova issued a number of publications based on her travels: "With the Mormons" (ib., 1901); "Marriage and Divorce in Japan" (1900); “Chicago, Niagara, and New York” (1902); "Boston and Public Education in America”, etc.