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Today, Japanese maps (and world maps) take for granted that Hokkaido and Sakhalin are islands. This is not surprising. But there was a time when a common understanding of geography in Japan had it that the islands we now call Hokkaido and Sakhalin were connected to the Asian mainland. This week, we’re going to talk about the survey that changed that understanding with regard to Sakhalin, how it can challenge our assumptions about the Edo period, and how it laid the groundwork for Japan’s current borders.
First and foremost, we need to bear in mind that in the late 18th century, the Shogunate knew about, and was concerned about, the growth of Russian imperial influence to the north. There was an earlier strategic concern in the 17th century of potential Manchu invasion from the north, but by the 18th, the threat had shifted to the Russians, whose ships often appeared there during survey missions and amidst colonial expansion. While the Shogunate’s policy of national seclusion remained in effect, even diehard supporters understood that something needed to be done in order to ensure the security of the northern border.
Mind you, there was Japanese settlement and even a feudal domain across the Tsugaru strait in what we now call Hokkaido, but this was not part of Japan proper at the time.
Let me say that again.
Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper at the time, and modern Japan– the modern imperial state that wasn’t the patchwork of semi-independent feudatories anymore– didn’t exist yet. Hokkaido wasn’t annexed until 1869.
Okay, I hear you ask, so what was it until then?
Let me introduce you to the concept of a march. A march is a borderland. It’s a concept that’s well established in European history and beyond. In the Edo period, the Matsumae controlled territory of what we now call southern Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper but was a march. Elsewhere in Ezochi, the Shogunate asserted direct control, and had the domains of northern Honshu, most notably Sendai, Aizu, Akita, and Morioka domains, administer territory on its behalf as their people and resources had less of a distance to travel.
In other words, to the Shogunate, the lands where Japanese people lived and where house Matsumae ruled, was a march. And be that as it may, it was still deemed to be at potential danger from Russian incursion. And while the land around the Matsumae territory was pretty well known, points further north were less clearly and reliably surveyed, and the Shogunate wanted to assert better control over those territories. This was especially the case starting in the early 19th century, when encounters with Russian vessels became a little more common, and the house Matsumae proved itself to be less trustworthy than the Shogunate would have desired. So I should take a moment here to do due diligence and say, let’s be real, while national defense was part of the equation here, empire building and colonization was also a motivation. We’ll come back to that in a little more detail later.
One of the most important things for planning an effective defense is knowing the terrain. While there were increasingly accurate maps of the main islands (Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu) and the smaller islands around them, maps of Ezochi– Hokkaido and Sakhalin and the Kuriles– were less accurate. Inō Hanzaemon’s work in mapping the Japanese coastline helped significantly improve that, but his work– unfinished at the time of his death– was completed by Mamiya Rinzō, one of his students, whose work is going to be our focus today.
Mamiya Rinzō (1780-1844) was born into a peasant family in Tsukuba county of Hitachi Province (modern day Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture), but was elevated to warrior caste by adoption, owing in part to his distinction as a student of mathematics and surveying. He was assigned to the Shogunate administrative offices in Hokkaido in 1800, where he became a student of Inō Hanzaemon. Mamiya surveyed Etuworopsir (better known by its Japanese name of Etorofu-tō) in 1806, but in 1808, departed from what’s now the city of Wakkanai with his assistant Matsuda Denjūrō to survey Sakhalin, to the north. They split up at the southernmost point, with Mamiya going up the eastern coast and Matsuda going up the western coast, meeting at the northernmost tip. Though Mamiya had a decent amount of skill in the Ainu language, the further north he traveled, the less people he found who spoke the Ainu he would’ve known– i.e., the Ainu of what’s now Hokkaido– much less any Ainu at all. This is unsurprising, as he would’ve also been encountering Nivkh and Orok people, that far north. At the point they met, and confirmed that Sakhalin was an island, Mamiya and Matsuda erected a marker that read Dai Nihon koku Kokkyo National Boundary of Great Japan.
Yes, this didn’t go unchallenged– Imperial Russia eventually colonized Sakhalin too. Yes, in practical terms, there wasn’t much the Shogunate could do to enforce that kind of mindblowingly bold claim to all of Sakhalin. But again, let’s be clear. This wasn’t exploration for the sake of exploration, and it wasn’t simply a matter of defense. Mamiya worked for the Shogunate, and he was contributing to its expansion of power to the north.
After setting up that marker, Mamiya crossed the strait aboard an Ainu vessel, and went to the mouth of the Amur River, entering its estuary and further confirming that Sakhalin was an island and not part of the continent itself. In 1812 he returned to Ainu lands to finish the unfinished work of Inō, making possible the 1821 publication of Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu, Inō’s survey. You can check out Inō’s Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu here, digitized and viewable in the collection of the US Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2001620020/ — for the podcast listeners, check out the blogpost and follow the link. It’s big.
Shogunate policy in Hokkaido and points north benefited from both Mamiya and Inō’s work, but oddly enough, Mamiya’s work also became involved in an international incident in fairly short order. Philip Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) is a man who honestly deserves an episode of his own, and I’ll probably do that down the road. But for now, let’s give the brief summary: he was Prussian, in Japan with the Dutch trading mission at Dejima in Nagasaki, where he served as physician and taught Shogunate retainers about Western medicine while conducting observations and some of the first European cataloguings of Japanese flora and fauna. But thanks to his professional contacts with Japanese scholars he also obtained Japanese maps of the northern frontier, including the then-recent work of Mamiya and Inō. von Siebold had planned to smuggle these maps out of the country when he left in the autumn of 1828, but the ship that was to carry him was wrecked in a storm immediately on leaving harbor. von Siebold and the other survivors returned to Dejima, the Dutch enclave and trading post in Nagasaki, and their ship’s cargo was salvaged and inspected by Shogunate authorities, which is when the authorities discovered the map. If von Siebold thought he was homebound at the time, he was sorely mistaken, as the Shogunate confined him to Dejima for the ensuing year while its court case wound its way through. By the end, von Siebold was deported from Japan for having nearly compromised national security, though he was allowed to take his collection of local flora, fauna, and books along with him, first to his residence in Jakarta (which was then called Batavia), and thence to Holland.
The Shogunate ordered Mamiya to take part in a number of other projects focused on national security, though closer to home, in the form of coast defense for the waters around Edo. You might recall some of the earlier episodes where we talked about the intentional American missions and accidental British incursions into the waters at the mouth of Edo Bay, in the 19th century– this is some of what concerned the Shogunate at the time. Mamiya died in 1844, 9 years before the Perry mission and the subsequent dramatic shift in Shogunate priorities regarding foreign policy, coastal defense, and national security. Like his mentor, Mamiya is commemorated with a bronze statue, though Mamiya’s is in Wakkanai, where he departed together with Matsuda Denjuro, on his famous trip that confirmed Sakhalin was an island.
The border between Japan and Russia has often changed since Mamiya’s time, as have the governments of both countries. Hokkaido was, as noted above, annexed in 1869, and has remained Japanese territory ever since. For about 40 years, from the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 to the Soviet invasion just prior to the end of the Second World War in 1945, Sakhalin from the 50th parallel on south was controlled by the Japanese Empire, which also controlled the Kuril Islands. Today, there is a lingering dispute over the Southern Kurils, but Russia administers all of that territory.
And yet, one of the common names for the strait separating Sakhalin from the Asian continent and the Amur River estuary– sometimes called the Strait of Tartary– is still Mamiya-kaikyo. The Mamiya Strait.
If you’ve been in the Army longer than five minutes, you’ve probably been called “warrior” already. Or maybe “hero,” usually used sarcastically when referring to basic trainees. But “warrior” is not used sarcastically. We have the “Best Warrior” competition. Soldiers injured in combat or in training go to “Warrior Transition Units.” Thankfully, training for new non-commissioned officers is no longer the “Warrior Leader Course,” but the “Basic Leader Course.” We in the Army managed to somehow geta “warrior ethos” into our lexicon. This word has even seeped into our Soldier’s Creed, with, “I am a warrior and a member of a team.”Another part of the creed talks about remaining “proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.”
But there’s a problem with all this “warrior” rhetoric; warriors are not soldiers. Warriors don’t transition, because warriors are part of a class. Warriors don’t have tasks, because tasks are antithetical to…
It has been said that people should know their history or be doomed to repeat it. That is one reason why historians are so important. Historians who can utilize new ways to teach others and share their passion are doing some very important work, particularly right now.
One such person is Dr.Nyri Bakkalian. Dr.Bakkalian is an Armenian-American queer woman whose field of study and training is military history. That is, in and of itself, just really cool! The study of military history gives so much insight into what a country valued at the time, where it’s money was going and how citizens were really thought of at the time. Like many historians Dr. Bakkalian has been publishing her findings in multiple places, a list of which can be found in the article linked above. Something a little different that she is doing however is a podcast. There the…
Movses Silikyan (1862-1937) was an Armenian general of Udi origin who led the victorious defensive action at Sartarabad, on May 21-29, 1918. He wrote a rousing message to rally people to action. After years of slaughter by the Ottoman Empire’s hand, there was a final push against survivors in the eastern reaches of the old Armenian heartland. Silikyan aimed to defend that remnant against what was believed, by many, to be the decisive battle: had the Ottoman Forces won, it was quite likely that they’d have steamrolled over the rest of the new Republic of Armenia and destroyed everything and everyone in their way.
Below is Silikyan’s message, translated by me several years ago. The patriarchal tone of this document is obvious and problematic, but the ultimate message, to “rise onward to work, to sacred battle,” should be relatable to any Armenian of any gender today.
In the homeland’s hour of need and battle for survival, it seems timely to share this.
We have fought. We still fight.
ARMENIANS! HURRY TO SAVE YOUR HOMELAND!
The moment has come when every Armenian man, forgetting themselves, in the name of the great cause, must put to work his last measure of energy to strike at the enemy: in the name of saving the homeland and protecting his wife and daughters’ honor.
We did not want to fight, in the name of peace and reconciliation we were ready to come forward and offer all manner of sacrifices, but our inhuman enemy is moving ahead with his planned path. That, by all appearances, is to enslave us, but in reality it’s to exterminate our tortured people. So because we are to be exterminated, is it not good to die with weapon in hand, defending ourselves? Perhaps by fighting, we might be able to secure the right to go on living.
That we are able to defend was demonstrated by the last few battles on our front, where numerically superior enemy forces were put to flight before our army’s heroic attack.
One final effort is necessary, and the enemy will be evicted from our land’s borders, where our fathers and forefathers have worked with blood and sweat for long years, only to secure a simple means to their daily sustenance.
Armenian men! It is no time to dally. All, even to those over fifty, must go under arms. I demand that all of you appear with your weapons and ammunition for the defense of the homeland.
Armenian women! Remember the delicate noblewomen of the fifth century, who encouraged their husbands to the great work during the days of the immortal Vartan’s wars. Follow their example if you do not wish your honor to be trampled underfoot. Encourage your husbands and denounce those cowards, who for various excuses aim to avoid going to the front. Gather military equipment, bread, clothing and other materiel for them. I am deeply convinced that my call must not go unheeded: that in two or three days there must be formed such a powerful army, that it will succeed in evicting the enemy from our homeland’s borders and secure the continued existence of the Armenian people.
In the name of the much-tortured Armenian people’s continued physical existence, In the name of the truth that has been trampled underfoot,
Arise! Onward to work, to sacred battle! All men who bear arms are required to report to General Bezhanbeg in Yerevan, and all military materiel are to be handed over to the local National Councils.
There are people– even those who are (or were) otherwise well known in their day– who get overshadowed in history. The last few weeks on #FridayNightHistory we’ve talked about US Navy Commodore James Glynn, as he pertains to the story of Ranald MacDonald’s Japan sojourn. Glynn has some measure of lingering renown through MacDonald but also as the immediate predecessor to the Perry mission of 1853. Glynn’s predecessor in the US Navy’s failed attempts to force the opening of Japan, Commodore James Biddle, does not have the same lingering renown.
Biddle and his mission, and the Japanese leaders who faced him, are our subject this week!
On 7 August, Grey Dawn: A Tale of Abolition and Union, had its world premiere. It’s been an eventful first month-and-a-half, during which it hit #1 on the trans romance category and #21 in the timetravel romance category. Not bad for a debut novel!
If you haven’t read it, please consider picking up a copy today. Don’t forget to leave a rating and review on your platform of choice!
Thank you so much for your support, everyone. You can find bonus art and other material expanding the Grey Dawn universe, and updates on my next book project, at http://patreon.com/riversidewings