Consulate in Hakodate

By signing the Treaty of Shimoda in 1855, the government of Japan committed itself to providing land and housing for the Russian Consulate and by the Treaty of 1858, the right of permanent residence in the Japanese capital was granted for Russian diplomatic representatives. The first consulate of the Russian Empire was opened in Hakodate, although this has since closed. It served to acquaint the citizens of Hokkaido with European architecture.

City of Hakodate.
Former Russian Consulate.Main Entrance.

On October 24, 1858 according to the old Russian calendar, September 30 according to the western calendar, and in the 5th year of Ansei according to the Japanese calendar of the time, the first mission of the Russian Consulate, led by Iosif Antonovich Goshkevich aboard the vessel Jigit, belonging to a Russian-American Company, arrived in the Japanese city of Hakodate. The city revealed itself to the Russian travelers in its true glory; a narrow strip of flat coast adjoined picturesque mountains, over 300 meters in height, which had already begun to form a blazing red and yellow tableau of Japanese maples.

The Russian mission was temporarily housed in the local Buddhist temples of Jitsugyoji and Koryuji. According to the diary of the governor of Hakodate, "in the Jitsugyoji temple resided, temporarily, the consul; his wife; his mother; a secretary; a naval officer; a doctor; a priest; a doctor's wife; and four servants, two men and two women." The Consul, I. A. Goshkevich immediately started negotiations with the Japanese authorities to allocate a plot of land for the mission on one of the city streets.

Detailed instructions given to Goshkevich by the Russian Foreign Ministry stated in part, "On arrival in Hakodate, in accordance with plans approved at the highest level, you will lay the basis for the creation of a school and hospital in the city and take all the necessary steps for its implementation, prior to approval according to the necessary procedure. The plot of land, which, on the basis of the Russian-Japanese treaty, signed in Shimoda in 1855, will be allotted to the consular building, shall be within the city borders, according to the oral agreement made ​​with the Japanese authorities by Captain K. N. Posiet. It shall combine the necessary amenities with a rather extensive space for the construction of a house with services, necessary for the consulate, shops for goods and coal storage, and facilities for visitors. But you should not mention to the Japanese authorities in advance any number or the type of the prospective buildings. All the above instructions are transmitted to you by the highest order."

It should be noted that Captain Posiet's agreement, referred to in the instructions, was reached, as may be assumed, in 1856, when he as a Russian authorized representative made, in Shimoda, ​an exchange of ratification instruments of the treaty of 1855 (the Treaty of Shimoda) with a Japanese authorized representative, Inoue Shinano-no-kami.

City of Hakodate.
Former Russian Consulate.Backyard.

Goshkevich's negotiations with the Hakodate authorities did not go smoothly. As reported by the Russian consul to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in December 1858, the Japanese side had proposed a site three kilometers removed from the city amidst windswept foothills. Goshkevich protested to the Japanese officials: "Your efforts to get all the foreigners to live in the same place are useless. This approach which you have taken toward the Dutch in Nagasaki has been proven to be impossible." The Russian consul showed them a map with four areas free from construction, requesting that he be allowed to select one of these areas. They waited for the final answer from the Japanese capital - Edo (now - Tokyo). Meanwhile, funds allocated by the Japanese side were used for the construction of a hospital and a Russian-style sauna on the site offered by the Japanese. Today it is practically in the middle of the city, but back then it was located in distant city suburbs. Both buildings were small. There was no place for living quarters for the doctor at the hospital, and he lived with the consul in the Jitsugyoji temple. These first Russian buildings have not survived, but in the Japanese chronicles there remains mention of them, noting in particular "in the Russian hospital the windows are made of glass."

It soon became clear there was no need for the hospital anymore, but, as Goshkevich wrote in May 1859, he decided to leave the building because of the presence of an oven for baking bread and rusk. In 1861, the hospital needed to be rebuilt due to a fire. The new building was erected next to the Russian consulate. The consulate doctor, court counselor M. Albreht, later noted "our consul made great effort to acquire a site for the hospital, at first it was agreed that the land would only be allotted on the condition that the consul provide a written commitment to cease further requirements for any space for the Russian..."

City of Hakodate.
Former Russian Consulate.
Interior Stairs.

Three months had passed since Goshkevich had arrived in Hakodate, but the issue concerning the site for the Consulate was still pending. He sent a letter to the Governor of Hakodate with a plea to expedite the request. Finally, the Japanese authorities agreed to allot land in the coastal zone in which, recently, active development had started. A witness recounted the events, "the Russian Consul needed a site for building a house, and an order was adopted forbidding the newcomers permission to settle within the city. The Hakodate authorities pondered their next move. There was a magnificent cypress grove in the mountains beyond the city. The place was perfectly consistent with the intent of the decrees from Edo and the views of our government, but the biggest challenge was how to build on the steep slope of the mountainside. It would not permit typical Russian construction carried out on a large scale. What should we do? The governor of Hakodate assembled a huge team of workers, and in a short time cut out of a huge section of the mountain some seventy feet in length and width, just big enough to level a huge flat surface on which to put the consular house with all the services, even including a church and houses for the secretary and the doctor."

The Russian consul himself and a consular officer, the naval officer P. Nazimov, were involved in drawing up the plans for the buildings. Only Japanese workers, familiar with the Japanese style of architecture, could be hired for the construction. It was decided therefore to make the interior in the Japanese style, and the exterior in the European manner. Along with the plan for a two-story consulate building, four one-story buildings for accommodating the Russian families were built. The construction was carried out at a very fast pace with the Hakodate governor personally overseeing the construction and fulfilling all the requests of the Russian representatives.

In April 1860, the Russian Consulate staff moved into the new buildings. We should mention, perhaps, the impression of a witness: "We are anchored in Hakodate, but we can see only one piece of European architecture, commanding the entire city, and the most beautiful and comfortable of all the buildings, the house of our consul." Thus, the reference point for the Russian consulate was established. The Russian Foreign Ministry instructed Goshkevich as follows: "And now, your task is to meet with the influential people and authorities of Japan, and to learn more about the Japanese tycoon." However, the Russian consul was already very busy.

City of Hakodate.
Orthodox Church of the Christ Resurrection.

Soon after arriving in Hakodate, Goshkevich started the construction of an orthodox church. After first being set up in one location it was then moved and re-erected adjacent to the consular building. In June 1859, a priest, Vasily Makhov, arrived in Hakodate. He had earlier received an official appointment from the Holy Synod to administer the rites in Japan and in fact he had visited Japan before, aboard the frigate Diana as part of E. V. Putyatin's expedition and had witnessed the demise of the ship, the construction of the schooner Heda, and the signing of the Treaty of Friendship in Shimoda in 1855. It should be noted that the priest Makhov did not remain in Hakodate for long, about a year, before returning to Russia. His cousin Ivan, who was thoroughly familiar with the church service, was then sent to Japan in his stead.

In Hakodate he was appointed Priest Nikolai and was later canonized for his activities in Japan as St. Nikolai of Japan. In a letter to the chief procurator of the Synod A. P. Ahmatov, written in 1863 he says "Having arrived here in 1861, I found a completed church building, consecrated in the name of the Resurrection of Christ - the name was given by the local consul Iosif Goshkevich who was also its architect and churchwarden." Consecration of the church took place, probably, in March or April 1859. One of the participants in those events wrote, "ladies were making decorations, and our artists were painting the icons. Everybody was emotionally involved in the construction of the first Christian church in Japan, 221 years after the expulsion of the Christians."

In 1865 the Russian consulate suffered a misfortune. Careless handling of fire in the residence of the British consul resulted in a strong fire, which quickly spread to the Russian consul's residence. The mission building was almost completely destroyed by the fire. However those fighting the fire managed to preserve the church. The fire caused great damage to the Russian office; destroying the rich collections that I. A. Goshkevich had been collecting over several years in Japan. The next year -a new scourge: the city of Hakodate was struck by a powerful typhoon that severely damaged the consular building and the Russian diplomats were provided with temporary housing. It became clear that a sturdy stone building would have to be constructed. But this was only built in 1908. And in 1916, a stone building for the Orthodox Church was built - it has survived to this day.

Recently in Hakodate a branch of the Russian Consulate General in Sapporo was opened. It is located in the building of the Japanese branch of the Far East Federal University. The former Russian building is currently run by the Hakodate City Hall and is being preserved as an architectural monument after an exchange of notes in 1962 confirming the dismissal of Russian and Japanese mutual claims following the Second World War. In accordance with this agreement, the building of the Russian consulate was transferred to the Japanese side balance.

Based on the book

Russia - Japan: A Historical Path to Trust

From the Moscow publisher, Japan Today, 2008