Summary of the Armenian-Japanese Relations


The article of the candidate of historical sciences Seda Ohanyan about the book of Artsvi Bakhchinyan.

In 2004, in Yerevan there was published a bilingual collection of works “Armenia-Japan” (Armenian-Japanese), which includes professional articles about different relations between Armenian and Japanese nations. It would seem that after the book the material would have been exhausted as the history of the relations of the Armenian nation with Japan is relatively new (it has started since the 19th century). But the book of Artsvi Bakhchinyan “Armenian-Japanese Historical and Cultural Ties”, which was published in 2017 and republished in 2018 shows that there is still many unrevealed information, the circulation of which will present the history of those relations in a new way.

The first publication of the book was done by the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of Armenia (Mesrop Archbishop Ashcheyan series number 161). The publication was partially sponsored by Mimi Malayan (USA) – the great granddaughter of writer and national figure Diana Abgar, who had lived in Japan.

It is known, that during its history Japan has had relations with few nations and that especially for us – Armenians it has been a faraway country covered with a fabulous veil,  exquisite, inaccessible in every sense. At first sight, it was slightly difficult to believe that during the history there had been so many relations between the Armenians and the Japanese, which had become the subject of a monograph comprising 194 pages.

However, reading the work of Artsvi Bakhchinyan your opinion would be dispelled. Having worked on the given subject for approximately fifteen years, the author has gathered huge amount of information and having summarized it in this work, he provides an enormous material about the Armenian colonies, the issues of the elucidation of the history of different relations between the Diaspora, the Armenian nation and other nations.

Of course, if there wasn’t Diana Abgar (Honorary Consul of the First Republic of Armenia in the Far East), the volume of the work would reduce much. But the rest of the material is so interesting and unknown that it would spread a new light over our knowledge of the Armenian colonies and the history of cultural relations of the Armenian nation. Naturally, a large part of the work is dedicated to the life and activity of that prominent lady of the Armenian history – Diana Abgar. The author being guided by the principle of telling the history accurately denies the opinion, which is spread and very much discussed among our nation: that Diana Abgar is the first woman in the world, who has held a diplomatic position. Meantime he notes that she has been the first woman, who was appointed as an honorary consul. Moreover, based on the Japanese sources, he notes that the appointment of Diana Abgar as an honorary consul was a unilateral action carried out by the Government of Armenia because the Government of Japan hasn’t managed to recognize her appointment.

Hardly any other nation in our region could have so different relations with Japan as the Armenian nation. By using Armenian and foreign sources Artsvi Bakhchinyan tries to give the complete image of the Armenian-Japanese historical and cultural relations: were that the first mention of the name of Japan in Armenian letters in 1695 in the first printed map in Armenian – “Wide Worldview”, the mentions of the Armenian translations of the Japanese writers, the speeches of the Japanese artists in Armenia or different manifestations of inter-state relations. It would even turn out that one of the first sushi and sashimi makers in the United States of America was Michael Abgar who was born in Japan. “After a long time those Japanese dishes were widely spread in the USA”, (page 58). Not knowing Japanese, with the help of his friends that know Japanese, Bakhchinyan has also used Japanese sources enriching the work with new facts.

The author rightfully notes, “the history of the Armenians in Japan is a story of individuals” (page 163). And those individuals have done remarkable things in the country of the rising sun: be that the foundation of one of the first factories of matches (Martin), or the creation of a new type of bread for the Japanese called “melonpan” (Ivan Ghevenyan Sagoyan), or being the leader of teaching women’s European singing (Russian-Armenian Madam Olga Karasulova) or the presentation of the Japanese martial arts in the West for the first time (American-Armenians Anthony Mirakyan and Linty Avagyan).

It turns out that today also there are Armenians in Japan, who have succeeded in professions, which are very characteristic of the Japanese (like Arthur Hovhannisyan from Gyumri, who is the first non-Japanese trainer of Karate-do school in Japan. We even have such skillful Japanologists, in Armenia and Japan, who have written articles and scientific works in Japanese (The Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia in Japan Hrant Poghosyan, Melania Baghdasaryan, Ruzan Khojikyan, Astghik Hovhannisyan, Meline Mesropyan, who are all from Armenia).

The author also gives valuable information about the few Japanese Armenologists and the Japanese artists, who are interested in the Armenian culture (it was interesting to know that the Japanese researcher and famous linguist Minakata, who has visited Etchmiadzin still in 1902, has somehow learnt Armenian). It establishes the chronology of the Armenian-Japanese cultural relations (literary, musical, painting, even theater and movie) and since 1992 it has been the chronology of the interstate relations without differentiating between the primary and secondary relations.

Being a philologist by education, Bakchinyan in a convincing way denies the evidence left by Father Ghevond Alishan about an Armenian master, who had preached Christianity in Japan in the middle Ages. He shows the misinterpretation of the skillful Armenologist mentioned in an Italian source: the misinterpretation was between the geographic name and historical name.

The volume comprises 286 pages, as it is enriched also by colorful photo illustrations, and large summaries in Japanese, Armenian, English and Russian.

Since the independence of RA, our relations with Japan have developed year by year. The number of the Japanologist Armenians increases (Bakhchinyan cites the statement of the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia in Japan that more than 200 people in Armenia study Japanese, page 137). At the same time, parallel to the creation of the small Armenian colony in Japan there is established certain interest towards Armenia and its nation.

Certainly, each reader, who is interested in them and in Japan in general, in the Armenian Diaspora, historical and cultural relations of the Armenian nation, whether he is a specialist or not, he will find beneficial the volume “Armenian-Japanese Historical and Cultural Ties”. And it should be very important to translate such a work into Japanese.

P. s. – The article was ready when the Institute of History of the Academy published another work by Artsvi Bakhchinyan “Armenians in China: the Armenian-Chinese Historical and Cultural Ties”, which is the result of many years’ research.

Author: Seta Ohannesian

the material is taken from

translated from Armenian into English by M.Vardanyan