The Fourth Portsmouth Peace Treaty Forum

Professor John Perry
The Japanese-Russian Relationship in Historical Perspective: Japanese View

I'm very glad to have this opportunity to speak to the enthusiasm, the energy and the skill of putting people together that Charles Doleac has manifested in establishing this Portsmouth process.

Portsmouth is a city, as Mayor Foley said, identified internationally and historically with success, the successful negotiation 95 years ago of terms of peace between two belligerent nations: Russia and Japan.

In looking at the overall relationship of Japan and Russia, in more than 200 years of contact, the relationship remained cool and thin. The two were "distant neighbors" in the apt phrase of Professor Kimura. In the eyes of each, I think other matters were of greater concern. China always overshadowed the other. For Russia, China was more important than Japan. For Japan, China was always more important than Russia. And during the 20th century, the United States also increasingly loomed as an overwhelming concern. So, I'm suggesting that this relationship cannot be regarded in purely bilateral terms.

Japan and Russia have each had limited knowledge of the other, but the two have experienced relations over a range of spheres, political, economic and cultural. The economic relationships, I think, have been tightly interwoven with the political, but the cultural have developed quite independently. They developed their own distinctive texture.

There are certain commonalities in the relationship I think which we should take note of. Both states, Japan and Russia, historically are outsiders preoccupied with catching up and keeping up with the center which was Euro-America, the north Atlantic oceanic world. For Russia this problem emerged far earlier than it did for Japan because Russia bordered Europe, and Japan lay remote from Europe until modern times.

Both countries experienced cyclical patterns of international relations, periods of national isolation sometimes by choice, and periods of intensive interaction with neighbors, occasionally even aggressive expansionism.

During the last hundred and fifty years or so, Japan and Russia both acknowledged the technological and material superiority of Euro- America, but they both clung to a comforting belief in the moral superiority of their own culture, of their own values. Wanting to maintain independence and to achieve influence, the two wrestled with the same dilemma having two questions: First, how to preserve the security of the national equality. This required modernization and rapid change. Second, at the same time, how to protect the identity of the culture. This meant preserving tradition.

The relationship between these two states went through phases, and the first was one of demarcation. Each struggled to establish a political frontier with the other. The two were separated by a power vacuum comprised of spaces which were sparsely populated and scarcely known. The Japanese were very much aware of the Russian expansion, a pattern of expansion to the western shores of the Pacific and beyond. And many Japanese had a continuing fear of being engulfed by what they called the Muscovite avalanche.

In the late 19th century, at a time of rapid Japanese modernization, the Japanese with their exquisite sense of hierarchy acknowledged Russia as a major power but put Russia at the bottom of that list. And so Russia is conspicuous for a lack of interactions with Japan, the flows of people and machinery, experts and teachers, information and tools of the industrial age. For Japan, these derived not from Russia but from intense relationships with Britain, Germany, the United States and France.

Then the two states, Japan and Russia, having established a frontier at least tentatively between the two, moved into an area of competition. They became competitors on the Asian mainland, beginning in the first half of the 20th century, perhaps even earlier, 1895. And this relationship was punctuated by a series of unhappy encounters, a struggle over passive Korea and China.

Russia humiliated Japan in 1895 robbing her of the fruits of victory as the Japanese saw it over China that year. In 1904-1905, Japan humiliated Russia by unexpectedly defeating her in the war. At Tsushima, the Japanese virtually annihilated the Russian fleet in one of the most decisive naval battles in history. And we are waiting for Professor Pleshakov's new book on this subject.

That war was especially brutal and bloody. As a war between two major powers, it attracted world attention. It's the first war in history in which weapons killed more men than microbes did. Now, this was less a matter of medicine than of hygiene. Hot food cut down sickness. Russians invented the mobile field kitchen. And as the horse-drawn carts trundled up to the front, the cooks were able to keep on stirring the Borscht, serving it hot to hungry soldiers. The generals were reluctant to face the full implications of Machine Age weaponry. They clung to the notion that humans alone could prevail over these new tools of war. And during a prolonged and bloody Japanese siege of the Russian fortress at Port Arthur, the Japanese General Nogi used "human bullets," men with bayonets charging against Russian machine guns and quick-firing heavy artillery. This was a contest of cold steel versus explosive firepower. It was immensely costly in human terms. And the Japanese supply of manpower became so scanty that the Army had to drop its minimum height requirement from five feet two inches to four feet ten inches.

Both sides learned that modern warfare was expensive in money as well as in lives. The Russians fought on borrowed French money. The Japanese fought on borrowed American and British money. The big Jewish banking houses such as Schiff and Kuhn, Loeb rallied to the Japanese cause. They identified Russia with racism, with intense anti-Semitism and the pogrom. Hence they were ready to lend to Japan even though the financial risk was uncomfortable, and this proved a great asset to Japan. So the heavy role of foreign capital gave the war another new international dimension.

The war also illustrates the importance of information and perception, the possibly dangerous consequences of tight control of information. Japanese censorship was very effective, and foreign correspondents, of whom there were many on the battlefields of Manchuria, got more information out of the Russians than they did out of the Japanese. They were frustrated and the Japanese cause, I think, thus suffered in the eyes of the foreign public avidly following the course of the war.

More important in this war was the gap in Japan between popular perceptions which saw the war as one triumph after another with the bitter realities known only to the government.

When Foreign Minister Komura sailed for the United States in Portsmouth in 1905, the crowds gathered at the pier in Yokohama shouting "Bonzai!" And Komura turned to an aide and he said, "Now they cheer. When I return they will shout "Bakayaro." (stupid fool). And he was right. Such was the level of disappointment in the Japanese public that riots protesting the treaty broke out in the streets. Neither side, of course, was satisfied with the peace nor with the United States as intermediary.

Theodore Roosevelt, "Theodore Rex" as Henry James called him, was the first United States president to concern himself actively with international affairs. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts but little thanks actually from either the Japanese or the Russians. Roosevelt, understandably pursuing American interests, sought to achieve a balance of weakness between Japan and Russia in northeast Asia to allow entry for the United States commercial interests there. And from this time I believe the United States developed a psychological frontier on the Asian mainland in China, especially in northeast China (Manchuria), a sense of concern for that region despite its remoteness from the real reach of American power. And this of course ultimately caused rivalry, tension and conflict with Japan. And this tension between Japan and the United States was linked to a broader issue. Both the United States and Japan wanted to guide and shape Chinese modernization.

After the Russian revolution of 1917, Japan invaded Siberia and stayed six years. This embittered the Russians. In the late 1930's, Japan and the USSR fought an undeclared war again in Manchuria. And the Soviet Army showed that Russian tanks and Russian artillery were superior to the best that Japan then had. And in 1945 after Japan was already defeated in World War II, the Soviet Union entered the war in August between the dates of the dropping of the two atomic bombs: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This entry into the war plus the harsh Soviet treatment of POW's and others who had the misfortune to be caught in the Asian mainland at the end of the war, embittered the Japanese.

The Cold War then virtually severed all ties. The Cold War is now over, of course, but we are still waiting for the formal peace treaty. Hence we find no resolution, no catharsis for these many decades of hostility.

Thus we find that politics presents a rather grim, bleak picture of the relationship between these two nations, and softened somehow by cultural and intellectual affinities which flourished independently despite the tension and war. Interactions developed on many different levels. And this I think is a nice illustration of the complexity and the profundity of international relations.

Russia had more impact on Japan than vice versa in music, in dance -- ballet, for example -- and the visual arts, but especially overwhelmingly in literature. Turgonev Dostoievsky, Tolstoy, all were translated into Japanese of exceptional beauty. And these giants therefore defined the novel for the late 19th and early 20th century Japanese, just as Chechov would define modern theater for the Japanese.

The Japanese appreciated that Russia was producing the greatest body of literature of that age. And in literature, Russians were asking questions analogous to those that were interesting the Japanese at the same time, speaking to the commonalities of the two cultures. Novels and plays were a means of examining how an individual can cope with a rapidly changing society, the search for a spiritual home in modern life.

Today, Russia in 2000 is a geographic giant, nuclear power, rich in material resources, rich in intellectual resources, but teetering, it seems, on the edge of chaos. Russia is consumed by internal problems of staggering dimension and suffering from the loss of international authority. Boris Yeltsin said very aptly, "Russia is a country in search of an idea."

Japan in 2000 is an economic colossus, the second largest economy in the world, a nation of political stability, a functioning democracy uniquely -- constitutionally -- committed to peaceful solutions to international problems. But Japan is currently suffering administrative and financial weakness and irresolution.

What Japan and Russia share I think today is uncertainty over the world role that each should play. They distrust each other. And yet Japan at least recognizes that the relationship is too important to allow territorial disputes to stand in the way of some kind of reconciliation. But the bilateral inevitably yields to the multilateral. The actions of others may ultimately be the deciding, the determining factor.

China and the United States are now major actors, whereas in 1905, China was a sheet of sand, a mere pawn in international politics, and the United States was already the world's richest nation but without military sinew and without global influence.

Today, of course, the position of each, China and the United States, is vastly different and vastly more important. Hence I think we can think today about the problem of Russia and Japan only in quadrilateral terms. China and the United States are inevitably part of the equation. Thanks.

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