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Svenskar till japan
Svenskar till japan
Svenskar till japan
Svenskar till japan
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Svenskar till japan


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  • 1. Some points on Swedish-Japanese contacts of the past At the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery there is a tombstone with the inscription CAPT. J. WILSON. However, the buried person was a Swede, previously named Fredrik Wahlgren. Like many other Scandinavian seafarers of his time, he became acklimatized in the British merchant navy. There they got much better pay, and also much better food than the notorious Swedish pea soup. In 1883, John Wilson married a Japanese lady, Naka Yamazaki, who changed her name to Sophia Wilson. For a period of time, they settled in Nagasaki. John Wilson became instrumental in the building up of NYK, Nippon Yusen Kaisha. Today, NYK Line is one of the leading shipping companies of the world. Most Stockholmers are unaware of the fact that this giant shipping company has its reefer division on Katarinavägen, Stockholm. During the First Sino-Japanese war of 1884, John Wilson made a heroic effort on the Yalu river between China and Korea. For this one and other exploits, the emperor awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun. Of course, John Wilson is remembered at the NYK Maritime Museum in Yokohama. Wilson was acquainted with a Swedish compatriot and master mariner colleague, named Peter Hallström, who also made a career in Japan. I don't know much about him, except that he's buried in Kuchi no tsu on the southern main island of Kyushu. He's also said to have received the Order of the Rising Sun for bravery in Japan's wars of that time against China and Russia. Our treaty of 1868 was the very first one concluded by the new Meiji leadership. Like the earlier ones - signed by the old Shogun government with other western powers - it was in fact an unequal treaty to the disadvantage of Japan, but I leave to scholars to elaborate on this subject. It's also important to keep in mind that the treaty was not just between Japan and Sweden. It was concluded between the Empire of Japan and the
  • 2. United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway. That also counts for the diplomatic relations until 1905, when the Scandinavian couple divorced. Even before then, the Norwegian ships outstripped the Swedish ones in Japanese ports. During 1901, 182 Norwegian ships but not a single Swedish one called at Japanese ports. In 1905, there were 16 Swedish and 1.200 Norwegian ships' calls at Japanese ports. At the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery, another tombstone is marked William Copeland. Locally he's known to have been an American who had settled in Yokohama. In 1869 or 1870 he started the very first Japanese brewery, named Spring Valley. As a matter of fact, he was a Norwegian seaman, previously named Johan Martinius Thoresen. Later on he sold the brewery to new German and British owners, who from 1888 on labeled his beer Kirin. In a way, the leading Japanese beer brand is also a fruit of the treaty between Japan and Sweden-Norway! Every year on the day of Copeland's or Thoresen's death, the 11th of February, the Kirin company honors him in front of his grave. NYK Line and Kirin Brewery are both parts of the company group Mitsubishi. This name means "three water chestnuts"; originally a crest - in Japanese mon - of the founding samurai family. In a stylized form, three water chestnuts are still the corporate symbol of Mitsubishi. Swedish industrialists were very eager to establish trade relations with Japan. Trading houses like Gadelius and Elof Hansson were pioneers. In 1907 the Swedish East Asia Company was founded for this purpose. Exactly 50 years ago, I was working on one of the beautiful white ships of this company, with the Swedish three crowns as its funnel mark. The ships had names like Fujisan, Hakone, Hirado, Hokkaido, Hondo, Japan, Kyoto, Nagasaki, Nara, Nihon, Nippon, Tokyo and Yeddo. Unfortunately, the Swedish East Asia Company was discontinued in 1978. Another important shipping player is the Swedish company Wallenius Lines. This shipping company, founded in 1934, is still going strong. For
  • 3. the last several decades Wallenius Lines has had its focus on transportation of new cars and other vehicles around the world. Wallenius invented special ships for this purpose. As a matter of fact, during the nineteen sixties the Swedish flag Wallenius ships took care of most of the increasing Japanese car export. Wallenius is still a very important player in export of Japanese vehicles. The main office is in Stockholm, in front of Södra Station. Much has been written about the scientific explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, and rightly so! But far less is written about the Vega captain or commander Louis Palander and his crewmembers, although the trip along the Northeast Passage first and foremost was a nautical exploit through unchartered icy waters. When Vega arrived at Yokohama on September 2nd 1879, almost exactly a year after parting from the escort ship Lena, Palander could go ashore and cable the very first sign of life to the outside world. In my opinion, most of the credit of the expedition should be given to the professional seafarers onboard. However, Vega wasn't the first Swedish vessel to call at a Japanese port. Most probably the steamer August Leffler became the very first one when she called at Yokohama back in 1873. The previous year she was the very first Swedish ship to pass through the Suez Canal, which was inaugurated in 1869. In 1791, a Russian expedition under the leadership of the FinlandSwede Adam Eriksson Laxman sailed to Nemuro in Ezo. (That is the northernmost main island, which was renamed Hokkaido after the restoration). On behalf of Russia, Laxman tried to establish trade relations with seclusive Japan, then under sakoku isolation since more than 150 years. It was to no avail, even if he was treated politely. It might be a bit far-fetched, but as a Finland-Swede, Laxman also belongs to the prolonged Japanese-Swedish mutual history. At the time, Finland was a part of Sweden.
  • 4. Translated to English, the title of a book on the Swedish nobleman Frederick Coyet is "The first Swede in Japan". But it's not true. He arrived at Deshima in Nagasaki on November 4th 1647 as a colonial official in service for the Dutch. Already on August 8th 1647, the Swedish seafarer Johan Olofsson Berg arrived at Deshima with another Dutch East India Company ship. Little is known about his stay in Japan, but he deserves the credit of being the very first Swede known to have visited Japan. The reason for the inaccuracy might be a traditional Swedish disregard for seafarers. As compared to our very sea minded Norwegian neighbors, we were a quite rustic people. Later on Berg was raised to the nobility with the name Bergenstierna, due to his exploits in several naval battles back home. Other early Swedish visitors in Japan were Anders Toresson, Nils Mattsson Kiöping, and Olof Eriksson Willman. Perhaps also an elusive person named Peter Salan, who is said to have been exiled from Sweden for some offence. Like Berg, they were all seafarers sailing for the Dutch East India Company. Two Stockholmers, Johan Schedler and Aegidius Hartman, are also said to have visited Japan around 1650. But for the time being I don't know anything about them. Most renown of them all is the Linnaeus disciple Carl Peter Thunberg, Tsunberugu-sensei - sometimes called "the Linnaeus of Japan". He came to Japan in August 1775, as the ship's surgeon of a Dutch East Indiaman. Thunberg made a heroic achievement under extreme conditions. During his trip to Edo in 1776, the Japanese guards were quite annoyed by his reiterated "make water" breaks. Actually, he just wanted to study the vegetation of the neighborhood. During his lifetime, the Swedish East India Company was a success story. But the focus of the Swedes was on China. Japan was still closed for the outside world, with the exception of a limited number of Dutch and Chinese traders - and a few Swedes who, like Thunberg, pretended to be Dutch.