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The Mist-Covered Borderland – Early Modern Ainu-Japanese-Russian Relations in Ezo

Sat, April 2, 5:15 to 7:15pm, Washington State Convention Center, Floor: 2nd Floor, Room 201

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel


From the 1750s, the region known as Ezo (encompassing present-day Hokkaidō, Kunashir, Iturup Urup, Shikotan and the Habomai Islands), homeland of the Ainu, and the rest of the island chain stretching north to Kamchatka (known as Chishima in Japanese, and the Kurils in Russian), witness the establishment of Russian and Japanese settlements. For the next century, economic and territorial sovereignty over these isles is the object of speculation, negotiation, and rising tensions. Ezo’s unique status as a bridge and a borderland, a locus of inter-ethnic contacts, played a crucial role in the development of distinctive cultures and practices, political, economic and diplomatic systems, and currents of thought.

This trans-disciplinary and multinational panel analyzes key moments in 18th and 19th century Ezo and Kuril/Chishima history, contextualizes the national and transnational implications of economic and political control of the region, and examines its nature as a transcultural borderland and site of cultural, diplomatic and political performance. Vasilii Shchepkin explores the 1778-1779 Antipin-Shabalin trade delegation’s initiation of informal dialogue with regional Japanese merchants and the collection of tribute from local Ainu. Noémi Godefroy examines late 18th century Ainu-Japanese-Russian relations, economic interdependencies and tensions through the lens of the Kunashiri-Menashi Uprising. Viktor Shmagin investigates the second Russian American Company Urup colony (1828-1855) as the lynchpin of a transcontinental borderland and investigates its role in Russo-Japanese relations. Ann-elise lewallen analyzes Ezo as a cultural borderland by focusing on the role of Ainu women as transmitters of traditional culture during Japanese colonization.

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