The Story of the First Russian Foreign Mission to Japan Under the Leadership of Lieutenant Adam Laksman


By the mid-17th century, Russia had expanded across Siberia to the Pacific Ocean. By the end of the next century it had explored and begun to colonize Alaska. In becoming an Asian and Pacific power, Russia became interested in other Pacific countries, including Japan. By coincidence, the Russians had captured a group of Japanese fishermen who had been blown off course in 1782–83 and shipwrecked on Amchitka Island in the Aleutian Islands off the Alaska coast. The unofficial leader of this group was Daikokuya Kodayu, whom the Russians ultimately brought to Saint Petersburg. Kodayu proved to be a sensation at the Imperial Russian Court, where he received an audience with Empress Catherine the Great and provided theretofore unknown information about Japan, which had long been a closed society. Prompted by her advisors, Catherine developed an interest in establishing trade relations with Japan. Lieutenant Adam Laksman, an officer in the Imperial Russian Army, was chosen to lead an expedition to Japan in 1792. His mission was to return the Japanese castaways (including Kodayu) in exchange for trade concessions. Laksman received his commission because his father, Erik Laksman, a prominent Russian naturalist of Swedish-Finnish extraction with influence at court, had promoted the idea of establishing trade relations with Japan by returning the castaways. This book tells the story of this first Russian mission to Japan. Laksman arrived in Hokkaido, where he met to negotiate with representatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Although he was treated well, he was not allowed to travel to Edo (present-day Tokyo) to see the Shogun personally. He nonetheless held out for trade concessions and was granted, at least on paper, access to the port of Nagasaki, for years the only Japanese harbor open to foreign vessels. But even these very limited trade promises were not realized. Another prominent Russian mission to Japan, undertaken by Nikolai Rezanov in 1804–5, also ended in failure. The opening of Japan to substantial foreign contacts only occurred with the mission in 1853‒54 of Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States.

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Subject Date

Publication Information

Platon Beketov, Moscow


Title in Original Language

Известия о первом Российском посольстве в Японию под начальством Поручика Адам

Type of Item

Physical Description

30 pages

Last updated: December 11, 2017