2017 is the year of Japan in Ukraine.
The Tokyo government became one of the first to recognize the independence of Ukraine in 1991. But the history of Ukrainian–Japanese communications has a much older history, reaching its roots back in the nineteenth century.
By the 1850s, Japan was in a state of complete self-isolation.
Any contacts with the outside world were banned and severely punished. But after its “discovery” by the Western countries (1853) and internal changes (the transition of factual power into the hands of the emperor, in 1868), the question of the need for an active study of the world, the establishment of equal political and economic relations with foreign states arose in Japan. To achieve this goal, the Tokyo government used various instruments, including diplomatic and consular institutions. The active period of creating the first ones took place in the 1870s. By the 1890s, Japan had only about 20 consulates in foreign countries, including three of them to operate in the territory of the Russian Empire. One of them was in the city of Odessa. Its creation and its activity can be regarded as the first step towards the establishment of socioeconomic and cultural relationship between Japan and Ukrainian society (at that time — with the south of the Russian Empire).
The first evidence of these contacts dates back to 1885, when a Japanese mission arrived in Odessa to study the economic potential of the city. In 1889, the Foreign Minister of Japan approved an order to establish an Imperial Consulate in Odessa. But the first representative of Japanese interests in the region was not ethnic Japanese. It was the local businessman, O. V. Raksheyev, who, being in the status of honourary consul, defended the interests of the Far Eastern country during 1892–1897. His main achievement was the discovery of an exposition of samples of Japanese products at the consular institution.
In 1899, these things were transferred to the local Museum of Fine Arts, which demonstrated to the Ukrainian society the rapid pace of the Japanese economy development and the prospects of bilateral relationship.
Kametaro Iijima, ethnic Japanese and a career diplomat, became the next imperial consul in Odessa.
His activity came in 1900–1904, 1906–the period of the escalation of Russian-Japanese relationship on the eve and after the war of 1904–1905. It is believed among the scholars that the official was actively engaged in intelligence activities. The Consul has consistently reported to Tokyo on the social and economic life of the Ukrainian South, on merchant and military ships in the Odesa port, and so on. Japan was worried that Russia would use the Black Sea Fleet for combat operations, and therefore constantly monitored this issue. The official tried to avoid conflicts in relationship with the local administration. As a result, at the departure of Kametaro Iijita and other consular officers from Odessa in connection with the onset of war (1904), the reaction of local residents was not accompanied by aggression, but was limited to general interest.
Such attitude was a guarantee that after the end of the war, the Japanese Consulate in Odesa quickly resumed its activity in April 1906.
One of the topical problems for Japan at the end of the XIX and early XX centuries was the absence of a sufficient number of qualified diplomats and consuls, so their activity was often accompanied by the transfer to new places of service. In the summer of 1906, K. Iijima informed the local administration about returning to Japan on vacation, but the official did not return to Odessa, having received a new appointment.
Consulate was headed by his secretary — Naohiko Fukuda.
The activity of the new official had certain peculiarities, the Russian gendarmes set up secret surveillance over him to confirm that the Japanese was actively involved in espionage. But the counterintelligence failed to prove their suspicions.
During 1900s, Japan substantially expanded the number of its consular offices, verifying the feasibility of their activities. But the problem of insufficient number of qualified personnel did not allow ensuring the full operation of all institutions. As a result, in 1909, the Consulate in Odessa temporarily suspended its functioning. N. Fukuda was transferred to a newly established institution in Moscow. Nevertheless, Odessa did not turn out to be outside the zone of Japanese interests. The new stage of the Consulate’s activity began after 1925, and the previous experience of interaction between the local Ukrainian population and the representatives of Japan’s interests created a favourable climate for this, although new political realities left traces.
Svitlana Pavlenko, Candidate of Historical Sciences, academic specialist of the Dnipro National Historical Museum named after D. I. Yavornytsky