This is a first Ottoman book on Japan, starting a long series of other similar publications. It was written shortly after Ottoman frigate Ertuğrul sank on her return from a goodwill voyage to Japan in 1890, the event, which marked the beginning of Japanese-Turkish friendship.
Over 500 people were killed in the shipwreck and the surviving 69 sailors and officers were delivered on two Japanese corvettes to Istanbul. Sultan personally met the Japanese delegation with all the honours.
The event lead in the next decades to so called Japonomania in the Ottoman Empire.
The author of this book, Mehmed Zeki Pasha, was the first officer at the military academy in Istanbul in charge for the Ottoman-Japanese relations and learning of the Japanese language at the institution.
‘Japanomania’: The Ottoman Fascination with Japan and the Russo-Japanese War
At first glance, it might seem that no two countries would have less to do with each other than the Ottoman Empire and Japan – Istanbul is almost 9,000 km for Tokyo, and until the late 19th century, the countries had almost no direct contact with each other. However, in the late 19th century and mostly during the Russo-Japanese War, a form a ‘Japanomania’ developed in Istanbul, with the political and intellectual classes admiring Japanese achievements, while the literate public thirsted for the latest news from the battlefronts in the Far East.
The intense and peculiar interest in Japan had a strong impact upon print culture in Istanbul, as 47 books on Japan to be printed in the Ottoman capital during the period from 1891 to 1917, but with most of these directly relating the Russo-Japanese War.
In addition, there were at least four Ottoman magazines dedicated to the war, not to mention ephemeral works such as separately issued maps, pamphlets and broadsides, etc., as well as innumerable stories on the war in daily newspapers.
There were three main reasons behind the development of ‘Japanomania’ in the Ottoman Empire, and they range from the conventional to the slightly eccentric.
First, the Russian Empire had been for centuries the Sublime Porte’s arch-nemesis, and the Ottomans’ fear of St. Petersburg at times bordered on paranoia. The two empire had fought over thousands of square kilometres of territory in south-eastern Europe and the Caucuses for centuries. In early times, the Ottomans had the upper hand, but since the 18th Century, Russia had succeeded in taking large swathes of territory from the Sultan’s rule. In recent times, Russia had throttled the Ottomans during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8, and since then had been actively encouraging the various South Slavic powers and Greece to fight against the Ottoman presence in the Balkans, at great cost to the Sublime Porte. Russian agents also enjoyed spreading bad rumours about the Ottoman economy, sometimes causing Ottoman stocks and bonds to tank on the markets. Quite frankly, the Ottomans despised Russia, and any map that showed one of their great military bases being besieged would have been a source of considerable delight.
Second, the Ottomans held a certain fasciation for Japan, even if the two empires had limited direct contact. Sultan Abdul Hamid II (reigned 1876-1909) was amazed by how Meiji Era Japan (1868-1912) had rapidly and successfully transitioned from being a pre-industrial society, initially ‘pushed around’ by Westerners, into a modern economic and military superpower capable of not only preserving its independence, but vanquishing its neighbours (ex. China and Korea), as well as thrashing a major European power (Russia). In this sense, Japan served as something of a role model for the Ottoman Empire, which was in the process of its own, albeit more gradual, industrial revolution, while enduring constant Western interference in its internal affairs.
Third, on a bizarre, but not unserious note, many intellectuals in Constantinople were fascinated by the theory of ‘Turanism’, the notion that certain Eurasian peoples, including Turks, Hungarians, Finns, Manchus and Japanese, amongst others, all originally hailed from a common ancestral homeland in the heart of Asia. While there were some ancient links between some of these disparate peoples, Turanism has since been largely proven to have exaggerated these ties; however, during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries the movement was all rage amongst wealthy-intellectual sets in various ‘Turanian’ capitals. Even Sultan Abdul Hamid II held a curiosity for the notion, having held several private meetings with Ármin Vámbéry, a leading Hungarian Turanian. In this regard, the Turkish Turanians would have enjoyed seeing their Japanese ‘cousins’ defeat the Russians!
We could trace three institutional examples on Worldcat (Orient-Institut Istanbul, Library of Congress, University of California, Los Angeles).
References: OCLC 13187799, 1030755110. Renee Worringer, Ottomans Imagining Japan. East, Middle East, and Non-Western Modernity at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, 2014.