Japanese Travels in Iran

By Mimi Hanaoka
Submitted to Session P4814 (Looking East: Knowledge, Travel, and Friendship Between the Middle East and Asia in the 19th Century, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Distinctive in its use of Arabic, Persian, Japanese, and English language primary sources, this paper explores late 19th century and early 20th century relationships forged between the Middle East (or West Asia) and East Asia by focusing on Iran-Japan relations. Specifically, “Japanese Travels in Iran,” examines a 1923-1924 Japanese delegation to the Middle East led by Eishiro Nuita, focusing on the extended time that Nuita and his delegation spent in Iran, the contacts he made there, and ways in the Japanese delegation was received and perceived in Iran. Relations between Iran and Japan during 19th and early 20th centuries had profoundly important repercussions, yet they have been neglected and understudied, largely due to the niche combination of languages required to adequately assess these phenomena.

The diplomat Eishiro Nuita and his delegation departed Tokyo for their nine-month exploratory mission from Japan to the Middle East in late summer, one day before the cataclysmic Great Kanto Earthquake devastated the region on September 1st, 1923. The 37-year old Nuita’s journey took him through the Middle East, with extended ventures in Iran and Turkey. Nuita was particularly struck by Iranians’ great fascination with Japan as a small modernizing Asian nation that defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

Analyzing Nuita’s 1924 presentation to the Japanese House of Lords, this paper argues that Nuita’s journey, which followed Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War and during a crescendo in Japanese imperialism, were guided by two major goals: to gauge the perception of Japan in the Middle East and to build a rapport with various constituencies in order to lay the groundwork for treaties and pacts that would secure economic and political advantages for imperial Japan.

Japan reopened to the West during the Meiji period (1868–1912) and instituted major overhauls as part of Meiji reforms, which endured during the Taisho period (1912-1926). Muslim reformers in the Middle East and South Asia paid close attention to the ways in which Meiji leaders enacted modernizing reforms. At the same time, Japanese imperialism in China and Southeast Asia meant that the Japanese government wished to learn more about the Muslim peoples now under its control. As fellow non-Western peoples, the Japanese government and military wished to foster relationships with empires within the Middle East as a safeguard against Anglo-American power, Soviet Communism, and European dominated networks of global trade.