I visited Moscow in December 2011, and during this trip Anatoliĭ V. Torkunov, rector of Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), told me about the published results of a joint historical research project between Russia and Poland that had adopted a “parallel history” approach. I was particularly intrigued to learn of this because several scholarly groups in Japan had also attempted to conduct such parallel history studies with their colleagues in China and Korea, with varying degrees of success.

Parallel histories do not seek to reach agreement on a common history, rather they aim to present different perspectives on various aspects of history. Although this might appear a relatively easy task in that experts are simply asked to offer scholarly opinions, in actual fact it is quite challenging. Scholars on both sides develop a certain historical perspective based, in part, on a sense of strong pride in the history of their own country. It requires a high level of intellectual maturity to be able to listen to and understand another viewpoint. This is especially true when seen against the backdrop of recent events such as invasions and occupations, and when calls for justice might overshadow the need for intellectual open-mindedness. While patriotism is important, the challenge of a parallel history such as the present study is to balance this patriotism with a respect for each other’s country. An analogy might be drawn to Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s 1922 short story Yabu no naka (In a Grove), which was later made into the film Rashomon by the famed Japanese director Kurosawa Akira. In the tale, three men discuss a murder in a mountain forest, but interestingly, they all have completely divergent views. The expression “Might makes right” might well be overstating the case; in essence, when there is no intellectual basis for the acceptance of diversity in a multicultural world and there is a tendency toward narrow-minded nationalism, the likelihood of conflict is inevitable. But the opportunity to examine history from the standpoint of another country and its historians is not only enjoyable but also gives rise to parallel history studies as demonstrated in this publication.

Another aspect that all historians must share is a respect for well-grounded facts and rationale. While any country possesses its own values and its own narratives about its own history, in any joint historical research there must be a mutual, deferential respect for empirical evidence in order to avoid descending into a war of words that can surround national histories. Initially, I contemplated whether such lofty aims would be possible when embarking on this joint Russo-Japanese historical research project. I grew increasingly confident of the success of this collaborative endeavor when I discussed the issue of Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) in Siberia post-WW II with my Russian colleagues. There have been a number of incidents in the past that have caused the Japanese people to distrust Russia, such as the Soviet Union’s breeching of the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact, the entry into war against Japan, or the continued attacks against Japan even after its surrender on August 15, 1945, that resulted in the seizure of considerable territory. But the incident that the Japanese people found unforgivable was the capture and forced relocation of 600,000 Japanese living in Manchuria and elsewhere to the Soviet Union where they were made to work under inhumane conditions, with tens of thousands dying as a result.

In the essays by Japanese scholars, I anticipated a stinging indictment of the actions by the Soviet Union and conversely a defense of past events in the contributions by Russian scholars. Yet quite the opposite was true. Tomita Takeshi’s essay on Russo-Japanese relations in the 1920s in Part 5 did not circumvent criticism, instead it presented a balanced and measured view based on facts. Aleksei A. Kirichenko and Sergey V. Grishachev’s piece on Japanese POWs in Part 8 did not apologize for the actions of the Soviet Union; in fact, it was even more critical, succinctly interpreting the events using factual information. I came to see the Russian authors as independent scholars in their own right, individuals filled with reason and conscience, and not swayed by the points of views of their respective governments.

If the issue of POWs in Siberia was the greatest problem for the Japanese, for the Russians the largest disappointment vis-à-vis Japan in historical terms was the latter’s intervention in Siberia during the Russian Civil War. Yuriĭ S. Pestushko and Yaroslav A. Shulatov in Part 3 clearly demonstrate in their essay on Russo-Japanese relations from 1905 to 1916 that following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 Japan and Russia deepened their cooperative relations through a series of agreements in 1907, 1911, and 1916, to the point that they appear to approach the status of allies. This situation was similar to the situation after the Pacific War between Japan and the United States, in which the two former enemies came to understand each other better and developed a strong friendship and a cooperative relationship. Japan and Russia followed this same trajectory after the Russo-Japanese War, which made Japan’s intervention against the Bolshevik’s revolutionary forces all the more bitter. Japan’s occupation of large swathes of Siberia later became one reason for Joseph Stalin’s entry into war against Japan near the conclusion of World War II and a rationale used by the Soviet Union for the attempted occupation of Hokkaido once the war ended.

Events of such magnitude were handled in the essays by Japanese scholars, which described the Japanese “Siberian Expedition” as an “unjustifiable war.” When Japan and the United States jointly decided to send in their forces, it was meant to be a “limited dispatch.” However, as Tomita Takeshi points out in his aforementioned essay, “Japan sent the largest military contingent (70,000 troops), which was a violation of the agreement between the partners of the joint military expedition (United States, United Kingdom, and France).” Just as the Russian contributors criticized their own country’s handling of the issue of Siberian Japanese POWs, Japanese contributors criticized the manner in which their government decided to dispatch its forces. The empirically based discussions presented by Tomita and Aleksei A. Kirichenko are far from heated, conflictive exchanges that might cause offense: both the Japanese and Russian sides readily offered self-criticism and reflection.

How did the Russian contributors pass judgment on Japan’s past actions regarding the Siberian Expedition? The essay by Sergey V. Grishachev and Vladimir G. Datsyshen in Part 4 discusses the influence the Russian Revolution on the Siberian Far East, drawing upon known facts and how this impacted the Japanese military in the period from 1918 to 1922. They summarize Japan’s decisions by stating that “Japan’s move was not anti-Russian, but simply the result of its inability to understand accurately the direction of the development and realities of Russian national society.” From a Japanese perspective, this is truly a generous appraisal.

I would like to refrain from introducing all of the myriad issues in this volume, which are covered in wide-ranging discussions about bilateral images and perspectives between Japan and Russia. Many chapters rely on the use of primary documents, and a number can be seen as cutting edge in terms of their research and analysis. It is a ground-breaking parallel history of Russo-Japanese relations, and although the focus is on the 20th century the essays offer a comprehensive treatment of Russo-Japanese history beginning in the 18th century and continuing until modern times.

Bilateral relations were not fully developed or institutionalized in the 19th century, for example, and a number of individuals from this era stand out, men including Adam Laksman, Evfimiĭ V. Putyatin, and Takadaya Kahei, who were trusted and respected in each other’s countries despite their nations not previously having had close interaction. But this period was not all rosy. Contrasting national views were manifest in certain gruesome incidents that would lead to mutual distrust. And this was a harbinger of events in the 20th century. The two countries nonetheless overcame these problems to sign the Treaty of St. Petersburg in 1875 regarding Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands. I can only wonder if bilateral relations in the 21st century might not proceed in the same way, and if the challenge of the territorial issue will continue to prevent the development of better relations. No matter how important territorial issues might be, it is not the only driving force in the relationship between the two countries. It is my sincerest hope that the present publication will provide us all with the wisdom to avoid the unfortunate cycles of the past and to better comprehend the points of contention while at the same time allowing us to appreciate the richly diverse aspects of this bilateral relationship.

This project is the result of a close collaboration of eminent scholars and experts, including the Russian and Japanese diplomats, Tōgō Kazuhiko and Alexander N. Panov, who have been deeply engaged in promoting bilateral relations. They provided valuable information, not generally known in the public domain, to the joint research group regarding recent bilateral negotiations. They also expressed their enthusiasm and dedication to the promotion of Russian-Japanese bilateral relations—they inspired our joint research project and their efforts are greatly respected. Many people assisted in the realization of this project but Shimotomai Nobuo and Dmitry V. Streltsov must be singled out for bringing this publication to fruition, and I am truly grateful for their efforts.

A History of Russo-Japanese Relations

Over Two Centuries of Cooperation and Competition


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