Sunday, April 19, 2020

Irkutsk & Lake Baikal - Part 2: The Adventures of Kodayu Daikokuya

Mitchie and the Group took a half-day bus tour of Irkutsk before reembarking on the Trans-Siberian Train, which included visits to cathedrals, monasteries, parks, Academic Drama Theater and others. There were two spots they visited related to Japan - 1) a road sign “Kanazawa Street”, honoring the Irkutsk friendship relations with Ishikawa Prefecture and 2) a footprint epitaph of Kodayu Daikokuya (1751-1828) who spent 5 years in Irkutsk waiting for the Tsar’s permission to return to Japan. Captain Kodayu and his 17 “Heishomaru” crew, was transporting rice from Ise to Edo, when they suffered a shipwreck and became castaways at one of the Aleut islands. It was in 1782, more than half a century prior to the legendary John Manjiro’s return from the US, who served as interpreter for Commodore Perry. It took a decade for both Kodayu and Manjiro to sail back to Japan.

This blog traces Kodayu’s checkered journey highlighting his life at Irkutsk as the pivotal stopover point.

1786: Escape from the Aleut island (Kodayu crew decreased) A boat to pick up Russian seal fur hunters arrived, but was heavily damaged from a storm. Together with Russians, the Kodayu crew repaired the boat to make it sailable. During 4 years on the island, Kodayu and the crew acquired basic communication skills.

1787: Camchatsk Reporting to the Tigil-Camchatsk Governor, the crew was endowed with a cost of living as foreign nationals but rejected their plea to return to Japan. Kodayu met Barterlemy de Lesseps, uncle of Ferdinand de Lesseps here. Barterlemy was a Russian interpreter of La Peruse Pacific Survey Mission of France. He wrote about Kodayu and the Japanese castaways in his journal in 1790 - “the crew had special feeling of attachment and respect for Kodayu.”

1788: Leave for Irkutsk via Okhotsk, Vasilli, Yakutsk (2,400km) using boats, sleighs, horses, etc.

The Kodayu crew took advantage of Russian official Xotokevich who transferred to Irkutsk. Kodayu reported to Irkutsk Governor with their plea to return - to no avail and requested instead that they teach Japanese in Irkutsk. The five Japanese crew discussed how to live here for the moment without receiving a subsidy from the government. They determined to work here, or daily employment like blacksmith, copper work, dyer, etc. Meanwhile Xotokevich, who helped Kodayu travel to Irkutsk, introduced him to Kirill Laksman, a naturalist and a member of St. Petersburg Science Academy. He knew high ranked persons in the capital. Kodayu showed the copy of petition submitted to the Governor-General. Kirill promised Kodayu to do his best to realize his return to Japan, and prepared a new petition, where Kirill added the crew's return would open the way to a new trade relationship between Russia and Japan. Kodayu and the crew started to work for Kirill, developing trust and a close friendship.

Kodayu met “Tagamaru” boat castaways at Irkutsk who were teaching at the Japanese school.

1791: St. Petersburg/Tsarskoy Seio

When Kodayu met with Kirill on New Year’s day, Kirill said to Kodayu that it was strange to experience such a delay to get a reply. The petition might have been neglected on the way and had not been delivered to the Empress. There was no way other than appeal directly with the Empress. Kodayu felt that the idea was good and he was teary with joy. Kirill and Kodayu set to sleigh to St. Petersburg, 6000 km away, 200km each day, via Moscow. Kirill submitted the petition for Kodayu in February. Kirill became sick after the exhausting trip. Kodayu attended to Kirill until he fully recovered. In May the two received an invitation from Ekaterina the Great and hurried to Tsarskoy Seio. Listening to Kodayu, Ekaterina shed tears with compassion saying “how pitiful” and promised their return voyage.

Kodayu made it finally to Japan after 10 years. Contrary to Manjiro, however, Kodayu and Isokichi, one and only survivor (proving their harsh Siberian travel from frostbites mostly) had to go through semi-life prison and isolation in Edo, under Tokugawa Shogunate surveillance. One great thing was Kodayu recorded daily journals as captain and had dictated his adventures to Edo reporters which in turn became a number of modern novels. I noted an opera Kodayu which was produced in Moscow a few years ago, featuring a beautiful duet sung by Kodayu and Laksman.

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