15:05 GMT +318 August 2019
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    The Revolution of 1917: Why Japan Honors Its Russian Immigrants

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    Flashback to 1917: The Stories of the Russian Revolution (9)

    2017 marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, which plunged the country into a civil war and prompted hundreds of thousands from Tsarist society's upper ranks to flee for their lives. About 10,000 of them arrived in Japan, including journalist Nikolai Matveev and translator Mikhail Grigoryev.

    The 1917 Russian Revolution, which witnesses its centenary this year, is seen by many as a turning point in the history of Russia.

    Over a million people fled the country in the wake of this revolution and ensuing civil war, including noblemen, skilled professionals, business owners, faithful Christians and others who'd seen their property confiscated by Bolsheviks.

    These refugees were predominantly from Russia's educated classes, and were known as white émigrés.

    In an interview with Sputnik Japan, Professors Kazuhiko Sawada of Saitama University specifically mentioned Russian refugees Nikolai Matveev and Mikhail Grigoryev, who he said added significantly to Japanese culture.

    "I began to study the history of 'white Russian immigration' in Japan about 20 years ago, when many facts on the matter were yet to be revealed. I found that many Russian immigrants helped each other despite the difficult situation. They made a great positive impact on Japanese society and culture, which prompted me to tell more about their achievements," Sawada said.

    He praised Matveev and Grigoryev as the two Russians who had left the most noticeable trace in the history of Japan.

    Nikolai Matveev (R)
    Nikolai Matveev (R)

    Nikolai Matveev, who was born in the city of Hakodate in Hokkaido in 1865, is thought to be the first Russian to have been born in Japan. After his father's death he returned to Russia, where he became a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party.

    In 1919, Matveev emigrated to Japan, fearing for his life amid political upheavals in Russia. In Japan, he founded a Russian publishing house, and was also engaged in the sale of old books in order to make ends meet. He was highly respected by his Japanese friends, who even paid for his treatment when he fell ill. Matveev died in 1941 at the age of 75.

    As for Mikhail Grigoryev, he was widely known for his brilliant knowledge of the Japanese language. He started to study it when he was in a military school in the Russian city of Chita in Siberia.

    In 1920, he had to move to Japan, where he married a Japanese woman and became a citizen. In 1938, he moved to the Chinese city of Harbin, where he worked at the South Manchuria Railway Company Office.

    When in Harbin, Grigoryev also worked at the literary magazine Eastern Review, translating the works of many prominent Japanese writers into Russian, something that added greatly to the popularization of Japanese literature. He died suddenly at the age of 44, in what some said was a road accident, while others claimed was a result of a heart attack.

    Kazuhiko Sawada says that he is going to continue his research into the lives of Russian refugees in Japan.

    "Following the footsteps of Russian immigrants has proved to be a very profound and interesting task," he said, touting history as a kind of reflection of ordinary human relationships.

    Flashback to 1917: The Stories of the Russian Revolution (9)


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    turning point, situation, society, immigrants, history, culture, Russian Revolution, Japan, Russia
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