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.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Irkutsk & Lake Baikal - Part 1

My neighbor Mitchie and I share some common interests. We both have traveled to Russia. Thus, this blog - Russia Part 3, Irkutsk & Lake Baikal. He sent me the related CD photo album dated Sept 2001. He and his wife with their close kin couple (called hereafter the Group) took the Trans-Siberian Railroad together to Moscow and Saint Petersburg and stopped by Irkutsk, the so-called Paris in Southern Siberia for 3 days. My interest was Lake Baikal, as a mythical birthplace of the Japanese race, originating from the northern Mongoloid groups, and often related to the world conqueror Genghis Kahn (1162-1227). We Japanese are born with benign skin markings ‘Mongolian Spot’, which fades and disappears as we grow. Linguistically the Japanese belong to the same Ural-Althaic Languages as the Mongolian. Japan was targeted by Kublai Kahn (1215-1294), the 5th Khan and his fleet force, not once but twice. By luck, Japan was saved each time by seasonal typhoons that sank Mongolian boats.

I liked to sing Russian folk songs when I was young. “By the Lake Baikal”, a bit bleak, was my favorite, and I still remember the song by heart. The melody belongs to an anonymous Russian folklore but the lyrics in Japanese were by the famous cellist Yoritoyo Inoue (1912 - 1996) - a returnee from Siberia as a prisoner of war. I want to say he is the best and irreplaceable lyricist of the song. Upon checking the original Russian folksong, I found the song was for the exiled Decembrists in 1825 to Irkutsk, lamenting their misfortune but pledging they would bear down and stand and return home someday. Please listen to the Japanese Dark Ducks Quartet’s melody I added for your listening pleasure.

Dark Ducks version

Russian version

The first exiled people came to Siberia since the beginning of the 17th century - with the beginning of the Romanov Dynasty. Wild, remote, icy Siberia became the place of eternal exile and death of many hundreds and thousands of people disloyal to the government. The first Decembrist group from Petropavlovskaya took almost two months to reach Irkutsk. Brave wives followed. These people stayed and died in Irkutsk rather than returning. In 1917. the revolution hit with the abolition of the monarchy. Bolshevik (Reds) eventually won over the counter-revolutionaries (Whites) in 1923. The civil war chased remnants, nobles and refugees into Siberia, far out to Baikal, drowning them in watery graves.

After their overnight hotel stay in Irkutsk, Mitchie and the Group, headed for Litsvyanka (see the map), located 70 km southeast from Irkutsk, near the point where the Angara River leaves Lake Baikal. There at the mouth of the river stands the colorful Limnological Museum. They saw not only fauna and flora but enjoyed its fabulous aquarium. In 1996, Lake Baikal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Listvyanka is an old style Siberian village famous for its trade history, fish market and St. Nikolay’s Church made of logs in 1846 . It also has many scenic spots. On the way back to Irkutsk, they stopped at the Taltsy Wooden Architecture Museum in the open air. All of the structures represent the settlements of Evenks, Russians, Buryats and give an overview of the traditional home in Siberia.