Libmonster ID: JP-1432

Moscow: Yazyki slavyanskoi kul'tury, 2005, 269 p. (Studia historica. Series minor)

The book under review by Lyudmila Mikhailovna Ermakova, a well-known specialist in Japanese literature, Doctor of Philology, currently a professor at the Institute of Foreign Languages in Kobe (Japan), consists of several sections, some of which were previously published. Despite the wide range of their topics, almost all of them have a common core - the study of Russian-Japanese cultural relations in different historical epochs.

The first two sections of the book "First written information about Japan in Russia "and" News about Japan in Russia of the XVIII - first half of the XIX century " are devoted to what was known in Russia about Japan in the years when it was a closed country and direct contacts between the two countries were almost nonexistent. If rare cases of human relations between Russians and Japanese (the adventures of four Japanese sailors under Catherine II, the voyage of V. M. Golovnin, etc.) are already quite well known, then we know what written news about Japan reached Russia.

page 175

L. M. Ermakova translated from the Church Slavonic or Russian language of the 17th century and commented on four fragments dedicated to Japan from manuscript sources of the second half of the 17th century. This is the 70th chapter of the translated Cosmography of 1670, two fragments of later cosmographies of the late 17th century, and a section from the description of China by Nicolae Spafarii-Milescu (circa 1678). All these sources are almost unknown in Japanese studies, and one of the texts was previously ignored altogether, since the fragment about Japan is contained in a chapter on India. Of course, these sources, which judged Japan second-hand or third-hand, contained a lot of inaccuracies (their authors could assume that Japan is located next to India and is subordinate to it, that the Japanese do not have a written language, polygamy is widespread, etc.). They repeated legends dating back to Marco Polo (for example, about a significant gold mining in this country), passed on outdated information (it was said about the active conversion of the Japanese to Christianity, although this religion was banned in Japan half a century before the appearance of these texts). But this is not surprising; after all, and almost two centuries later, the I. A. Goncharov could argue that the language came to Japan from China, and Shinto is a common religion for China and Japan. Despite all the misrepresentations of information, in Russia, even in the pre-Petrine period, something was known about Japan.

In the XVIII and first half of the XIX centuries. Japan was still closed, but information about it was gradually accumulating. At this time, Japan was already being written about in printed works, the first of which, as L. M. Ermakov notes, was a book on geography in 1710. Both translations and works written in Russia itself are noted, in particular, a voluminous book about Japan by the German historian I. G. Reichel, who worked in Moscow, written in Latin and French. published in Russian translation in 1773 and 1778. From the beginning of the XIX century, notes of Russian travelers began to be published. And in 1817, the book "On Japan and Japanese Trade" appeared, the author of which is considered to be a Japanese Shinzo who lived in Russia for many years. By the middle of the 19th century, as shown in the book, Russia already knew quite a lot about Japanese geography, everyday life, economy, and the state of the army, and they knew something about history, but almost nothing about spiritual culture.

The next section is " Japanese literature in Russia. From Prehistory " is dedicated to a new historical era - the second half of the XIX - beginning of the XX century, the period after the discovery and beginning of the Europeanization of Japan, when the number of literature published in Russia about this country increased dramatically. L. M. Ermakova no longer writes about all publications, but only about the part of them that was devoted to Japanese classical and modern literature. At this time, there was still a stage of accumulation of knowledge, most of which came to Russia not directly from Japan, but through Western sources. Japan was written about in the "History of World Literature" of 1877, in the encyclopedia of Brockhaus and Efron (a high level of this publication for that time was noted, the author of which is unknown). And in 1904, a translation of the History of Japanese Literature by the British scholar W. G. Aston was published in Vladivostok, perhaps the best study of this topic in Western Japanese studies at that time. All these publications contributed to the expansion of knowledge about Japanese literature in Russia. There were also translations that were not yet performed from the original. However, one should not exaggerate the level of knowledge of Japanese literature in Russia at that time. M. Ermakova's publication is an anonymous and compiled essay that appeared in 1901 as an appendix to the liberal magazine Russkaya Mysl, designed for an intelligent reader [Japan and the Japanese..., 1901]. The section on literature is reduced to folklore, and the briefly mentioned classical poetry is also presented in the folklore spirit. It is said that the Japanese love fairy tales, are "naturally sensitive, prone to daydreaming" [Japan and the Japanese, 1901, p. 51]. That's three years before Port Arthur and four years before Tsushima!) One of the reasons for Russia's defeat was a very poor knowledge of Japan.

If the geography of Japan by the beginning of the XX century was well described in Russia (D. N. Anuchin et al.), and D. D. Smirnov, D. M. Pozdneev and other Orientalists studied Japanese independently, then the situation with Japanese literature was much worse. In this area, as in Japanese studies in general, the situation changed only with the appearance in the 1910s of a new generation of talented Russian Japanese scientists, who were truly educated and knew the material, and whose research interests were formed after and under the influence of the Russo-Japanese War. L. M. Ermakova concludes this section of the book with a review of a remarkable analytical article by one of these scientists, S. G. Eliseev, "Japanese Literature" (Eliseev, 1920). In this work, for the first time in its entire existence, Japanese literature has become the subject of serious study. L. M. Ermakova also describes the scientific path of this scientist who left his homeland and

page 176

he became the founder of scientific Japanese studies in France and in the USA. The study of Japanese literature in our country was continued by N. I. Konrad and the school he created.

The section "Some dilemmas and strategies of poetic translations from Japanese in the XX century" is devoted to the problem of translation of poetry from Japanese.: how to translate Japanese poetry into Russian. The author shows that the tradition of poetic translation from Japanese in our country is significantly different from the traditions of translation from many other languages. First of all, the translation from the subscript was not widely used here, and the leading translators since the 20s of the XX century were specialists who knew the original language. Secondly, under the influence of N. I. Konrad, the founder of the school of Soviet Japonists (including the school of translators), these specialists were never inclined to literalism and philology, which is common in the traditions of translation from other languages. N. I. Konrad wanted the translation to open up the world of Japanese poetry to the general reader, and passed on his desire to his students, among whom A. E. Gluskina and V. N. Markova were best known as translators. Their translations have become a phenomenon of cultural life in our country, and Japanese poetry is much better mastered by the Russian reader than the poetry of most other Asian peoples. True, this applies more to classical than to modern poetry. However, as stated in the book by L. M. Ermakova, in recent decades the accumulated traditions have begun to weaken. On the one hand, the desire for a heavy "philological" translation designed for narrow specialists increased, and on the other hand, very free "variations on the theme" and imitations of Japanese classical poetry, sometimes of poor quality, spread.

I will add to this one more aspect that is not covered in the book. In some ways, we began to return to the era before the beginning of the twentieth century, when knowledge about Japan, including knowledge about its literature, came not directly from Japan, but through other countries, now primarily the United States. The place of Japanese culture in our consciousness, especially among the masses, is being replaced by the Japanese segment of the culture of globalization. And justly condemned by L. M. Ermakova "variations on the theme" like the collection "Erotic Tanks" (so!) they are caused by this very fact.

The last part of the book is devoted to very interesting finds of L. M. Ermakova herself in Japan. She managed to find a sheet with the first translation of the psalms into Japanese, made in the Vatican at the request of the Polish representative by Japanese Christian ambassadors in 1585. This text was found in the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow, and the note that spoke about the request and its execution was found earlier in the museum in Kobe. Two documents that have been stored in different countries for several centuries were linked together only thanks to the author of the reviewed book.

The rest of Ermakova's research concerns the archive of the Russian Japanist Orest Viktorovich Pletner (1892-1970), who lived in Kobe for many years until his death. The work of this scientist, who is little known among us due to his early emigration, is discussed in detail for the first time in this book. Many interesting documents were found in its archive. Earlier it was known that he corresponded with N. I. Konrad until the end of his life, but Konrad's letters to Pletner were not available and therefore were not included in the collection of Konrad's letters published in our country in 1996 [Konrad, 1996]. Now seven of his letters for 1962-1969, 9 of S. G. Eliseev's letters from 1917-1969, and letters from two other prominent Japanese scientists are being introduced into scientific circulation: M. N. Ramming, who lived in Germany, and Orest Pletner's brother Oleg Pletner, who remained in his homeland and died early.

These emails themselves are very interesting. Here is at least the reasoning of 1925. Oleg Pletner, unlike his brother who embraced the revolution: "Oriental Studies, which gained great fame abroad, is not popular in the USSR. It has one foot in the coffin, while with the other it tries now to hobble after the Komsomol, now to kick Communism" (p.244). Now, of course, we evaluate classical Russian Oriental studies differently, but Oleg Pletner's assessment is remarkable. An enthusiastic review of N. Y. Marr in a 1927 letter by the same author, concluded with the words: "And let the Westerners-Indo-Europeans laugh: it (japhetidology. - V. A.) still turns " (p. 244-245), also very characteristic of that era. And N. I. Conrad in 1962 wrote about the famous French linguist A. Martin as follows:: "Do you know what Martinet repeats at all?.. Polivanova" (p. 248). We are talking about the well-known book of the French scientist of 1955 "The principle of economy in phonetic changes", the main ideas of which, including the "principle of economy" itself, really echo the ideas expressed much earlier by E. D. Polivanov, a friend of N. I. Konrad during his student years.

page 177

Another find of L. M. Ermakova in the archive of Orest Pletner is letters addressed to him by the famous Japanese writer Tanizaki Junichiro. Five letters and postcards of Tanizaki from the late 1920s related to the publication of his novel "Love of a Fool" in Russian in the USSR, initiated by N. I. Konrad, are published and commented on.

Of course, in a publication of this kind, which is not a complete monograph, but a collection of essays and essays united by a common theme, any reviewer can point out the absence of certain sections that are necessary from his point of view. But it hardly makes sense to do this. Each available section of the book is interesting and contains a lot of new information.

The most significant point that can be made is the lack of references in the book to a number of important publications, including domestic ones. For example, the reader may get the impression from the text of the book that S. G. Eliseev was not studied at all by us. However, no mention is made of the work of A. A. Babintsev (Babintsev,1968), who published information about the lives and activities of future emigrants S. G. Eliseev, Orest Pletner, and M. N. Ramming in the pre-revolutionary period. And in 1999, on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of Yeliseyev's birth, an international conference in his memory was held in Moscow, based on the materials of which a collection was published [S. G. Yeliseyev and World Linguistics, 2000]; an article by L. M. Ermakova was also published in it, but the collection is not included in the bibliography. The above-mentioned edition of N. I. Konrad's correspondence is also not mentioned (Konrad, 1996). I cannot but mention the absence of my monograph [Alpatov, 1988], which provides a number of information about what was known about Japan in Russia in the XVIII-XIX centuries.

Among more specific comments, I will point out some controversial wording and factual inaccuracies. I cannot agree with the characterization of R. Benedict's well-known book "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" as a "compilation" on the grounds that the author did not speak Japanese and wrote based on translations and retellings (p.109). It became famous not by compiling other people's sources, but by the author's interpretation based on it, which was very controversial, but became influential for a long time. Kholmogory is not located at the mouth of the Northern Dvina River (p. 16), but more than 100 km upstream. On page 218, it is stated that the collection of N. A. Nevsky's works was published in Japan in 1971, "earlier than his works were published in his homeland." This is true only for his works on Japanese studies, but his main work on Tangut philology was published in the USSR in 1960 and was awarded the Lenin Prize two years later.

All these comments do not affect the overall assessment of the book. L. M. Ermakova managed to say a new word in Japanese studies. The book is well written and can attract not only specialists, but also anyone who is interested in Japan.

list of literature

Alpatov V. M. Izuchenie yaponskogo yazyka v Rossii i SSSR [Studying the Japanese language in Russia and the USSR].

Babintsev A. A. From the history of Russian Japanese studies//Japanese Philology, Moscow, 1968.

Eliseev S. G. Japanese literature//Literature of the East. Issue 2. Pg., 1920.

Konrad Nikolai. Unpublished works. Pis'ma [Letters], Moscow, 1996.

S. G. Eliseev and World Linguistics, Moscow, 2000.

Japan and the Japanese. New Library of "Russian Thought", Moscow, 1901.


Permanent link to this publication:

Similar publications: LJapan LWorld Y G


Nikamura NagasakiContacts and other materials (articles, photo, files etc)

Author's official page at Libmonster:

Find other author's materials at: Libmonster (all the World)GoogleYandex

Permanent link for scientific papers (for citations):

B. M. ALPATOV, L. M. ERMAKOVA. NEWS ABOUT YAPAN ISLAND IN ANCIENT RUSSIA AND MORE // Tokyo: Japan (ELIB.JP). Updated: 06.07.2024. URL: (date of access: 19.07.2024).

Found source (search robot):

Publication author(s) - B. M. ALPATOV:

B. M. ALPATOV → other publications, search: Libmonster JapanLibmonster WorldGoogleYandex


Reviews of professional authors
Order by: 
Per page: 
  • There are no comments yet
Related topics
0 votes
Related Articles
6 hours ago · From Nikamura Nagasaki
6 hours ago · From Nikamura Nagasaki
7 hours ago · From Nikamura Nagasaki
12 hours ago · From Nikamura Nagasaki
Yesterday · From Nikamura Nagasaki
2 days ago · From Nikamura Nagasaki
2 days ago · From Nikamura Nagasaki
2 days ago · From Nikamura Nagasaki
2 days ago · From Nikamura Nagasaki
2 days ago · From Nikamura Nagasaki

New publications:

Popular with readers:

News from other countries:

ELIB.JP - Japanese Digital Library

Create your author's collection of articles, books, author's works, biographies, photographic documents, files. Save forever your author's legacy in digital form. Click here to register as an author.
Library Partners


Editorial Contacts
Chat for Authors: JP LIVE: We are in social networks:

About · News · For Advertisers

Digital Library of Japan ® All rights reserved.
2023-2024, ELIB.JP is a part of Libmonster, international library network (open map)
Preserving the Japan heritage


US-Great Britain Sweden Serbia
Russia Belarus Ukraine Kazakhstan Moldova Tajikistan Estonia Russia-2 Belarus-2

Create and store your author's collection at Libmonster: articles, books, studies. Libmonster will spread your heritage all over the world (through a network of affiliates, partner libraries, search engines, social networks). You will be able to share a link to your profile with colleagues, students, readers and other interested parties, in order to acquaint them with your copyright heritage. Once you register, you have more than 100 tools at your disposal to build your own author collection. It's free: it was, it is, and it always will be.

Download app for Android