Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Yasnaya Polyana, Russia

I wish to thank first the "Roka" Society in Kumamoto for the inspiration of the article, and secondly, Mataro (Matt) Miyazaki and Koji Kanatani, my mutual friends in presenting to you the artwork of “The House of Tolstoy”. Matt Miyazaki traveled to Yasnaya Polyana in Russia in June 2019, as a member of Yasuko Tanaka’s (Honorable Professor of Osaka University) “Russian Writers Study Circle Tour”. Matt painted his artwork while visiting Yasnaya Polyana and exhibited it at his coterie circle in Kyoto.

Visit to Yasnaya Polyana

The saying goes “All roads lead to Rome" or “Once out of home, you tread numerous ways to reach your destination”. Roka Tokutomi (1868-1927), a famous writer, proved it 100 years ago when he traveled alone, with conviction, from Japan to Russia at the prime age of 38. Roka’s brother, Soho Tokutomi, and a companion, visited the same place ahead of time and Roka was well versed on how they traveled. Roka took another way, a questionable one.

In April 1906, he sailed from Yokohama onboard the ss Bingo Maru (NYK Line) around the Indian Ocean. After a month and a half, Roka landed at Port Said, Egypt and wrote to Leo Tolstoy that he safely arrived at the Mediterranean. He then rode a camel to see the Nile and Great Pyramids for a few days for a breather after his long ocean journey. Roka was surprised by an unexpected 24-hour quarantine confinement at Port Said. It reminds us of the Corona Virus quarantine of the Cruise Vessel in Yokohama early this year.

Roka then spent over a month, May to June, in Jerusalem for the primary objective of this trip. He likely would've carried a number of introductions to Christian Churches. His “Pilgrim Travelog”, published in December 1906 from the Keiseisha, detailed his Jerusalem activities. My Japanese American friends in California visited Jerusalem some years ago for about a week. They said they visited Jericho, the Wailing Wall, Dead Sea, Nazareth, Sumaria. etc.

After Jerusalem, he intended to sail from Port Said and Istanbul to the Black Sea, Odessa in particular. I am curious how he conquered various barriers like time, borders, languages, etc.

Roka was accompanied by Nakamuraya (a shop owner from Istanbul) to Bosporus Strait. In those days, the bridge was yet to come. The question was how he found Nakamuraya. I guess Roka just found the store by coincidence. I had a similar experience of bumping into a Japanese American in a Mexican village and our conversation was vivacious.

Again, Nakamuraya recommended Roka to take a train to Sofia, Bulgaria and his companion saw him off at the railroad station. On board the train, he was the focus of passengers’ attention. They called him “Togo”, apparently in reference to the Japanese admiral who beat the Baltic.

It’s not clear how Roka traveled through Romania, but he reached Galati and crossed the River Donau where it almost exits to the Black Sea. At Reny, Uklaia, closely facing the Donau, Roka succeeded in purchasing a train ticket all the way to Tula! 'Banzai'! He almost made it. The rest would be an easy train ride. He could sleep for the entire trip of 1600 km!

There was one small problem. His brother Soho repeatedly reminded him that the station of Yasnaya Polyana is one small station after Tula, where the express train will not stop. Roka came from the south and arrived in Tula around midnight. The Tula station staff tried to explain to him, in Russian, in vain. Roka spoke in French to be understood, but failed. People gathered. One woman who understood English showed up at the last minute, solved the puzzle. Roka barely caught the first southbound local train before dawn.

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