4. The Romantic Roots of an Unlikely Friendship Between Distant Countries
The Poles and Japanese are not exactly two peas in a pod, but Poland and Japan shared 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 afterward, Russia suppressed repeated rebellions by Polish nationalists who sought to revive and free Poland. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japan emerged as a power in the Far East, whose ambitions in the region clashed with Russia’s. The two countries eventually fought the Russo-Japanese War, that ended with an upset Japanese victory over the far bigger Russian Empire. Mutual antipathy towards Russia thus drew the Poles and Japanese together.
In the late nineteenth century, a Japanese officer named Fukushima Yasumasa made an epic horseback ride across two continents, from Berlin to Vladivostok. He passed through Poland, grew fond of the Poles, and was moved by the tragedy of the partitions that had extinguished their country. When he returned to Japan, Fukushima’s reports struck a chord, and inspired The Memory of Poland, a sentimental 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 WWI, 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.