"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things

that you didn't do than by the ones you did.

So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor.

Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.”

 — Mark Twain





Reference Series

Captive in Japan

By Vasily Golovnin


Vasilii Golovnin (1776-1818) was already a celebrity when, in the spring of 1811, twenty years into his career in the Russian Imperial navy, he was commissioned to captain an expedition to map the Kuril Islands from the Strait of Hope to the island of Kunashir, just off the north-east coat of Hokkaido. Only two years earlier, having been seized at the Cape of Good Hope, he had outwitted the British and managed to escape with his ship the Diana.

He was less lucky, when, having reached Kunashir, he took the fateful decision to land on shore to take in fresh provisions. What followed was an extraordinary adventure of capture, escape, recapture, and endless interrogations by the seemingly insatiably curious Japanese.

The highly educated Golovnin now decided on a remarkably different approach and used his next two years in captivity to master the Japanese language and to learn all he could about the Japanese and their customs. The result is a mesmerizing account that is a testament to his and his men's bravery, as well as his respect for the Japanese and their culture.

Golovnin's account of his adventures in Japan was an overnight bestseller among the Russian reading public. Even today, his account, unblemished by the prejudices of so many of the later Western visitors to feudal Japan, still makes for riveting reading.


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