[Japan]. 1807. Approximately 842pp., illustrated with a three-page map of the return journey and eighty-eight hand-colored drawings in pen and ink (five double-page). Fifteen volumes (of sixteen, lacking volume fourteen). Japanese language, on rice paper. Original blue wrappers, paper labels. Some wear and rubbing to covers. Very good. Item #WRCAM51299
An early Japanese manuscript set of the KANKAI IBUN, the extraordinary tale of Japanese shipwrecked sailors from the Wakimiya-maru, and their journey from 1792 to 1804, documenting their time in the Aleutians and in Siberia and their journey to the Court of the Tsar in St Petersburg. Rescued by agents of the Russian American Company, the sailors travelled in Russian Asia, and some of them were brought to St. Petersburg and the court of the Tsar. They were returned to Japan by the voyage of Krusenstern in 1803-6, and this manuscript also gives an important account of that voyage. In December 1793 the ship Vakamia-Maru sailed from Edo, Japan, with a cargo of wood and rice, and a crew of seventeen. A storm in the Pacific damaged the ship and eventually wrecked the crew in the Aleutian Islands. All but one of the crew managed to survive over a ten month period, when they were found by the agents of the Russian American Company and taken to Okhotsk. The Japanese sailors spent eight years in Irkutsk, before four of them went on to Saint Petersburg. There they came to the attention of the Tsar Alexander I, and visited his court. At that time Japan was still closed to Russia and most other European countries, and the Japanese sailors would have been as exotic to the Russians as the life of the court was to them. While there they saw many remarkable things, including the first Russian hot air balloon ascension in 1803. They remained in Saint Petersburg for over a year, when they were sent on Krusenstern's famous voyage into the Pacific - the first Russian circumnavigation - arriving back in Japan in 1805, after visiting various Pacific islands, including Hawaii. Krusenstern's voyage, one of the principal objectives of which was the establishment of diplomatic ties between Russia and Japan, was made under the patronage of Tsar Alexander I and Nikolai Rezanov, Russia's first envoy to Japan, who sailed on the expedition with his diplomatic mission. The two ships on this expedition, once they had rounded Cape Horn from the Atlantic, took slightly different routes across the Pacific: both visited the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), but the Nadezhda (under Krusenstern, and with the Japanese on board) also visited the Marquesas, while the Neva (under Lisianski) visited Easter Island. The ships arrived in Japan in 1804, but the Japanese passengers did not disembark until early the next year. On their arrival home, the Japanese seamen were closely interrogated by authorities before being released. Their account was a rare, astonishing (and probably threatening) glimpse of the outside world, at a time when Japan was still to a large extent in cultural isolation. They were not treated well, and were considered almost treasonous; one tried to commit suicide. But their story was of great interest. The scholars Otsuki and Shimura recorded the story in an illustrated manuscript, which became a work of great fascination to Japanese readers. It circulated in manuscript throughout the nineteenth century, but remained effectively a 'clandestine' work until it was ultimately printed and published in 1899. The present manuscript dates from about 1807. KANKAI IBUN gives a vivid visual record of the Japanese men's experiences in Russia and the Pacific. The illustrations cover the journey across the cold wastes of the Russian Arctic (ethnographic and topographical scenes, and depictions of animals, beginning in the Aleutians), kayaks and Inuits, and life in St Petersburg: a visit to the St Petersburg Kunstkammer with a splendid double-page depiction of the giant globe there, the centre of the world's largest planetarium at the time, palaces, a fairground, the theatre, an ascent in Montgolfier balloons - the earliest manned Russian flight, portraits of Catherine the Great and Tsar Alexander I, drawings of western-style clothing, military uniforms, musical instruments, everyday objects such as coins and cutlery, and the Cyrillic alphabet; an important colour map of the world (based on a world map presented by Rezanov to the Japanese) which shows the route to Japan taken by Krusenstern, a South American alligator (labelled as a crocodile), as well as a marvellous depiction of a Marquesan man with full body tattoos and a Marquesan canoe. Early images show natives, objects and natural history of the Aleutian Islands. Other native peoples are illustrated with a great sense of wonder. There are magnificent depictions of Krusenstern's ships. Manuscripts of KANKAI IBUN are extraordinarily rare. A close study of a similar manuscript in a Russian collection has been made by Professor V.N. Goreglyad (The Manuscript of "Kankai Ibun" in the Collection of the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, in Manuscripta Orientalia. Vol. 3, No 2, June 1997, pp. 58-67; available online at http://www.orientalstudies.ru/eng). A wonderful, highly illustrated example of the first widely circulated Japanese account of the outside world, for many people in the Edo period.