In 1806 two Russian naval vessels burned several settlements and kidnapped several citizens in far northern Japan ("Russians in Alaska" by Lydia Black).

Did Japan take any military action in response to these raids?

  • 2
    I doubt that Japan in 1806 had any capability to proceed with a military retaliation. It is not that they even had a "real" navy at the time, so the best they could do is set up a few castles and fortify defenses.
    – xuq01
    Apr 16, 2017 at 6:37
  • 4
    Can you tell what territories are we talking about?Hokkaido? Sakhalin? The Japanese had no firm control even over Hokkaido till about XIX th, so (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matsumae_clan). The first Russian expedition to Hokkaido to meet the Japanese was only a decade before (1792) and the treaty that actually established the border between the two countries was drawn much latter (Shimoda treaty, 1855)
    – Greg
    Apr 16, 2017 at 13:52
  • @Greg the author Black does not specify -- probably one of those two islands. nonetheless, the villages were Japanese. Sep 14, 2017 at 5:47
  • @AaronBrick Practically no Japanese were living in those areas in the given time. Also, how would a country without guns and boats and with explicit laws forbidding their citizens to visit any foreign land retaliate anything on Russia?
    – Greg
    Sep 14, 2017 at 6:44
  • @Greg I accepted an answer describing the Japanese retaliation. Sep 14, 2017 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


In 1811 they captured a Russian captain and some of his crew. Captain V. M. Golovnin was on a reconaissance mission, officially disguised as a cartography expedition.

The Japanese managed to capture him and a part of his crew, and held in captivity two years. It is clear from Golovnin's memoirs that they did not believe his peaceful mission exactly because of this incident that you mention. And he tried to convince them that the 1806 attack was not authorized by the Russian government. Finally they released him. As I understand in the negotiations which led to his release, the Russian representatives maintained the same version: that the 1806 attack was not authorized, in other words the attackers were simply pirates.

Remark. This was a common pattern in colonization. Russian conquest of Siberia was a private enterprise. (As was Cortes' conquest of Mexico and British East India Co. conquest of India). If such enterprise is a success, the state recognizes it, if not, it could always claim that this was a piracy.

  • 1
    I find the piece about private enterprises in order to be able to claim "a piracy" in case of a failure as naive. Simply put, there were and are private enterprises because the state does not have a desire/resources to do something. Then private "entrepreneurs" emerge and put their own resources into the venture. And this is the exact reason why they were private — because they put their own money, not the money of the crown/state. To suppose that the state allowed/forced individuals to do something like colonization in order to be able to deny its involvement?
    – d.k
    Apr 17, 2017 at 11:45
  • I found this not believable, since the state could and even today can to deny or state anything, especially then, when there were no such means of information spread, and it was not possible to check the claims.
    – d.k
    Apr 17, 2017 at 11:45
  • It is indeed not clear if this attack was formally authorized. Most Russian historians think that it was not, but that Russian emissary to Japan, Nikolay Rezanov, did not do well when trying to "open up" Japan for Russian trade, and so he stupidly (and cruelly) retaliated by ordering his officers Khvostov and Davydov to raid the villages in order to try and threaten and pressure Japanese authorities. About fifty years later Cmdr. Matthew Perry did almost the same thing - but thankfully without resorting to killing and burning fishing villages.
    – JimT
    Jul 27, 2017 at 22:06
  • I wonder if this qualify as retaliation: since entering Japan itself was forbidden by law, and cartographic efforts were considered military operation / espionage anyway (see Siebold Incident). So the fact that Golovnin survived the expedition sounds much more of careful diplomacy, than retaliation.
    – Greg
    Sep 15, 2017 at 4:30
  • @Greg but compare his treatment with that of the previous Russian envoy, Rezanov; Japan made Golovnin suffer more. Dec 7, 2017 at 0:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.