16:21 GMT02 December 2020
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    This Monday, a new book by Russian historian Alexander Kulanov hit Japanese bookshelves. The name of the novel is “Spies who loved Tokyo.” The author says he wanted to show Japanese readers that Russians who'd became spies in Japan by some quirk of fate were in fact admirers of their country.

    In the foreword to the book, Kulanov writes that initially he hadn't intended to write a book about spies. His plan was to recall the history of Japanese studies in Russia, but when he studied the biographies of Russian specialists in the sphere, he discovered that many of them were permanently or temporary working for the intelligence services. These people hadn't planned to become spies; they'd intended to be specialists in Japanese studies and translation. Kulanov stressed that he wanted Japanese readers to understand that Russian secret agents did not hate the country.

    Kulanov told Sputnik Japan some of the details of his new book. The research covers an impressive period of time: from 1907 to 1985, and is dedicated to Soviet spies who worked in Tokyo in different years.

    Vasili Oshchepkov was one of the first. He is well-known in Russia as the founder of Sambo, a martial art developed in the Soviet Union. After the transfer of South Sakhalin to Japan in 1905 under the Treaty of Portsmouth, the young Vasili, then an orphan, was sent to study in Japan, where he took judo lessons. After finishing his studies 1913, he returned to Russia and worked as a translator. In 1924-1926 he worked for Soviet intelligence in Tokyo. In 1926, he was accused of official embezzlement, and had to sell almost all his property in order pay back the money he spent paying his agents.

    Oshchepkov was arrested in 1937 and charged with being a Japanese spy, amid a wave of Stalin-era purges and paranoia. He died in prison shortly afterwards; according to the official report, he expired from a heart attack.

    Vasili Oshchepkov
    © Sputnik
    Vasili Oshchepkov

    “For Oshchepkov, Japan was the country of his childhood, but he could never say a single good word about it as it would cost him his life. However, the historical truth is that he never forgot about Japan and the years he spent there,” Kulanov said.

    Roman Kim was one of Oshchepkov’s successors. He was born to a Korean family and spent his childhood in Japan, where he attended university before moving to Russia. In the 1930's, he returned to Japan to conduct clandestine activity on behalf of the Soviet Union. However, in 1940 he was arrested in the USSR and charged with spying for the Japanese; in 1945 he was released.

    “Roman Kim was in Love with Japan. Being already terminally ill, he weeped when he got a present from Japanese journalist Kabayaki as a last reminder of Tokyo,” Kulanov said.

    Roman Kim
    © Sputnik / Vitaly Armand
    Roman Kim

    Richard Sorge is the most well-known Russian spy to have worked in Japan. He started working there in 1936 and supplied Soviet intelligence with troves of important information at the outbreak of World War II. Posing as an ardent Nazi, Sorge was welcome at the German Embassy in Tokyo. As the war progressed, Sorge's life in the country became increasingly perilous, but he continued his service. He was arrested in 1941. Initially, the Japanese believed Sorge was spying for the Abwehr, the Nazi intelligence agency. The Germans, of course, denied that he was one of their agents.

    Sorge eventually confessed after being tortured by the Japanese, but the Soviet Union, understandably, refused to admit that he was working for them. Richard Sorge was hanged on November 7, 1944 in Sugamo Prison in Tokyo and buried in the prison’s graveyard; his remains were later relocated to Tama Cemetery in Tokyo. However, the Soviet Union did not officially acknowledge Sorge until 1964.

    “Sorge is buried in Tokyo and his name cannot be separated from the name of this city,” Kulanov said.

    Richard Sorge
    © Sputnik / RIA Novosti
    Richard Sorge

    “The name of my book echoes that of the novel ‘A Spy Who Loved Japan’ by Konstantin Preobrazhensky, another secret agent who was truly fascinated with Japan,” Kulanov added.

    The author specified the genre of his book as “history travelog,” adding that it can serve as a guide for tourists visiting Tokyo. Kulanov conducted a detailed study of city maps when writing the book, to discover where secret meeting places and “dead drops” were.

    “This book is about Tokyo and people who loved it, but never could confess. I am lucky not to be a spy, so I can say out loud that Tokyo is like a second hometown for me,” Kulanov concluded.

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    spy, history, book, USSR, Japan, Russia
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