Wacław Sieroszewski and Bronisław Piłsudski’s Expedition to Hokkaido


Sieroszewski recalled his meeting with the highly anticipated in Hakodate Piłsudski as follows:
(…) Bronisław showed up unexpectedly. Cheerful and animated, he told me extremely amusingly what panic among Sakhalin officials was caused by the categorical order from St. Petersburg to issue to him a foreign passport. (…) 
 – “They are convinced that this is a Polish plot and that you are not Sieroszewski, but my brother Józef, the great revolutionary who came here for me! (…) However, they did not dare to resist any longer and here I am! (…) I also brought with me a Sakhalin translator, half-Ainu, half-Japanese, who speaks both languages and even Russian. (…) His name is Taronci. (…) A very decent man! He will make it very easy for us to deal with the Japanese authorities, because neither you nor I can speak Japanese” (…)

(Among the Hairy People, “Raj” Publishing House, 1938)

It is fascinating that not only did they take notes, make recordings, and take photos, but also filmed the Ainu people. Unfortunately, the films were lost after being shipped to Paris, and we know nothing about them. Perhaps some researcher will succeed in finding Sieroszewski’s lost films in the future.

The two explorers’ mission unfortunately had to end before they could achieve their objective of reaching the Ainus on the northeastern coast, as tensions in the relations between Japan and Russia were so great that there was concern about their safety. They received urgent instructions from the Russian consulate to leave the island.

Cover of the book

Piłsudski returned to Sakhalin on 24 September 1903. He was very pleased not only because he enriched his knowledge, but also because Sieroszewski left him equipment for anthropomorphic measurements. From that moment on, Piłsudski continued his own mission equipped with the latest technical instruments. The first reports about the researchers’ expedition to Japan appeared in September in the periodical “Amurskiy Krai”.

Having settled in Korsakovo, he first dispatched new artifacts he collected for the Museum of the Academy of Sciences on the known to him ship “Yaroslavl”, on the last passage during the Volunteer Fleet’s season, and afterwards he proceeded to edit the collected texts. He noticed how great the differences between the various dialects of the Ainu language were even in different parts of Hokkaido. Sometimes he was helpless; there were few Ainus in Sakhalin who knew the dialects of the Ainus of Hokkaido. Nevertheless, he compiled a list of the differences in the vocabulary of the various regions of the Japanese island.

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