Armenians in Japan: Historical Perspectives

Title: 1245 | Armenians in Japan: Historical Perspectives
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Astghik Hovhannisyan, Russian-Armenian University, Armenia (organizer, presenter)
Shinji Shigematsu, Otemon Gakuin University, Japan (chair, presenter)
Meline Mesropyan, Tohoku University, Japan (presenter)


Given Armenia’s geographical location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, as well as historical circumstances, Armenian history has often been defined by migration, border crossing, transnational interaction and international trade. Japan, however distantly located, has also become a destination for Armenian travellers, traders, and even refugees, who arrived in Japan after the Meiji Restoration. This panel attempts to shed light on Japanese-Armenian historical connections through a focus on border crossing, circulation of people, goods, and ideas. The aim is to explore conditions that have shaped relations of these countries.
Astghik Hovhannisyan explores representations of Japan in Heghine Melik-Haykazyan’s travelogue published in 1905. Shinji Shigematsu’s talk focuses on Armenian traders in Meiji era Kobe, and particularly the Apcar family. Finally, Meline Mesropyan’s work discusses the problem of Armenian refugees who predominantly arrived in Japan after WWI.

Panel Abstracts:
An Armenian Woman Traveller in Meiji Japan: Heghine Melik-Haykazyan's Traveling Around Japan, 1905
In 1905, Heghine Melik-Haykazyan, a young Armenian woman born in Shushi (Nagorno Karabagh), educated in England and France, and engaged in journalistic and literary activities in Tiflis (Georgia), published a book called Traveling Around Japan (Mi ptoyt Japonum), where she described her thoughts and impressions of Meiji Japan. In this travelogue, which is perhaps the only one written in the Armenian language in the given period, Melik-Haykazyan goes beyond depictions of sightseeing spots and scenery, giving detailed descriptions of everyday life of Japanese cities in the Meiji era, customs and habits of Japanese people, her interactions with them, as well as the changing position of women in modernizing Japan. Although Melik-Haykazyan’s work is not entirely devoid of stereotyping, it is sympathetic, open-minded, and written in a way that would nowadays be described as culturally relativistic. This presentation is the first attempt to introduce Melik-Haykazyan’s work to English-speaking audiences, detailing her impressions of Meiji Japan, and positioning it within other women travelers’ representations of Japan.

Armenian Maritime Traders in the Kobe Foreign Settlement
Since the early 19th century, many Armenian people in Asia were at the forefront of industries such as commerce, maritime trade, international insurance, auctioning, sea pilotage, and mining. Although they constituted a small ethnic community, they spanned multiple territories and industries, working with several other ethnic groups; this is also one of the factors making Armenian ethnographic history fascinating.In this presentation I will focus on Armenian trading communities which were based on the foreign settlement in Kobe in the late 19th century. Among them the Apcar family, those of Michael Apcar and his sons, were acknowledged as pioneering merchants in those days. They started their business in Yokohama as Apcar & Co., and the Apcar Line, and later expanded their office branch in Kobe. Some articles in Japanese have described the family situation and their business activities in Yokohama. However, their family life and their unique “family business” in Kobe has not yet been introduced.Here, I will overview multiple aspects of the Apcar family and particularly Michael Apcar as a trader of the Apcar & Co., as a hotel owner of the Great Eastern Hotel and as a leader of an athletic club of KRAC and philanthropist.

Japan as a Crossroad for the Armenian Refugees in the Beginning of the 20th Century
This paper focuses on the Armenian Refugees, who came to Japan in the period between 1915 and late 1920s, as well as the Japanese government’s treatment towards them. Furthermore, it estimates the number of refugees who passed through Japan between 1915-1930. During WWI the “refugee status” problem had drawn the world’s attention for the first time. At that time people who were called “refugees” were mostly Russians and Armenians escaping the 1917 Russian Revolution and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. At that time the status of refugees had not yet been determined internationally, which meant that refugees all around the world, including those in Japan, were facing various challenges.There is very little research on the Armenian refugees in Japan. Therefore, the first part of the presentation tries to elucidate on the Japanese refugee policy of the time and its background. The second part sheds light on what kind of problems the Armenian refugees were facing in Japan. This includes what passports or traveling documents they had, whether those documents were accepted by the Japanese authorities or not and whether the Japanese consulate issued visas for those documents or not. Finally, it analyses the existing data about the amount of the Armenian refugees and estimate how many Armenian refugees arrived in Japan between 1915-1930

This panel is on Tuesday - Session 03 - Room 3

Go to Room 3