Diplomacy and Force, Borders and Borderlands: Japan-Russia Relations in the Transformation of Japanese Political Culture in the Edo and Early Meiji Periods


Viktor Shmagin

PhD defended at: 

University of California Santa Barbara


This dissertation examines the influence of 18th and 19th century Japan-Russia contacts on the development of Japanese political culture. These contacts prompted a spatial and conceptual reorganization of the Japanese polity by leading to the creation of a firm boundary between it and Russian-controlled political space. The inclusion of Ezo, a foreign borderland to the north of the core Japanese polity that was home to the indigenous Ainu people, within the Japanese zone, caused a fundamental change in the way Japanese authorities exercised control over land and people. This process actually led to the creation of an “imperial network” that systematized economic, political and military control over the Ainu and their native land. This network became a core feature of the early modern Japanese polity and later influenced the evolution of modern Japanese imperialism. In addition, early contacts with Russia also contributed to two successive transformations of Japanese foreign relations. Contacts during the late 18th and early 19th century gave rise to the idea that Japanese foreign relations were governed by an “ancestral law” that prohibited establishing official contacts with new powers, which later gave rise to the narrative of Japanese “national seclusion.” Later contacts with Russia during the mid-19th century helped to overturn the “ancestral law,” incorporate Japan into a Western-dominated international order and prompted the absorption of Ezo into the rapidly evolving unitary Japanese state.