29. The Nineteenth Century Song That Aroused Japanese Sympathy for Poland
Japan and Poland are not exactly peas in a pod, but the Poles and Japanese had a common enemy: Russia. Russia had participated in repeated partitions of Poland that erased it as an independent country in the eighteenth century. For generations thereafter, Russia suppressed repeated uprisings by Polish nationalists seeking to revive and free Poland. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japan emerged as a rising power in the Far East, whose ambitions in the region clashed with Russia’s. Mutual antipathy towards the Russians thus drew the Poles and Japanese together.
In the late nineteenth century, Japanese officer Yasumas Fukushima traveled through Poland. He liked the Poles, and was moved by the tragedy of the partitions that had extinguished Poland. When he returned to Japan, Fukushima’s writings struck a chord, and inspired “The Memory of Poland”, a poem about a country that had lost its freedom. When it was set to music, “The Memory of Poland” became a smash hit that took Japan by storm and aroused sympathy for Poles. When Poland regained her independence after World War I, Japan supported her admission to the League of Nations. In the interwar years, the two countries cooperated, especially in espionage against Russia’s successor state, the Soviet Union.