Written by Recep Kankal



Turkey, which built bridges of peace and friendship to many places in the world from Asia to Europe, South Africa and the Far East, has used diplomacy as a tool to develop bilateral friendship. These steps of friendship that are sometimes taken with gifts, have been effective in developing mutual relations. The diplomatic relations between Turkey and Japan, “Our Close Friend in the Far East”, were established in 1924, and our first representation office in Japan became active in 1925. Taking a general look at the relations between Turkey and Japan, the foundations of this friendship go back to the 19th century. The amicable relations with Japan that developed during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II continued with the interview held between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the G-20 Leaders’ Summit that convened in Osaka, Japan.

The Japanese Prince in Istanbul

The delegation considered to be the first representative of Turkish – Japanese relations came to Istanbul in 1871 to obtain information on the operation of the capitulations. 7 years later, the Japanese school ship Seiki’s arrival in Istanbul and Yoshida Masaharu’s visit to Istanbul are considered the initial steps of the development of relations with Japan. The first official visit stemming from Japanese Emperor Mikado Meiji’s policy of foreign expansion was occasioned by a visit by Meiji’s uncle Prince Akihito Komatsu and his wife to Ottoman lands in 1887. During his visit, the Prince gave Abdülhamid II the Japanese Empire’s grand medal, the Chrysanthemum (Kikuki- Daijusho) Medal, as well as a letter written by Meiji. When the relations between the two countries developed after Prince Komatsu’s visit to Istanbul, Abdülhamid II decided to send the Frigate Ertuğrul commanded by Brigadier Osman Paşa to Japan.

Ertuğrul Firkateyni.

The Frigate Ertuğrul: from Calamity to Friendship

The sending of the frigate was a move aimed at strengthening amicable relations with Japan. Approximately eleven months after leaving Istanbul on 7 June 1890, the Frigate Ertuğrul commanded by Osman Paşa reached Yokohama. Osman Paşa was given an audience with Emperor Meiji at his palace in Tokyo, presenting a letter written by Sultan Abdülhamid’s hand as well as an Ottoman privilege medal, while Meiji gives various gifts and medals to the members of the delegation.

Setting out on its return journey on 15 September 1890, the Frigate Ertuğrul, while on route from Yokohama to Kobe, hit rocks near the Kashinozaki Lighthouse off shore of Kushimoto in the Wakayama Province the next day, suffered severe damage and then sank following a tremendous explosion. 531 of the Ottoman crew died in this unfortunate and sad accident. As soon as news of the accident reached the Kashinozaki village, the local people ran to their rescue. The Turkish casualties were interred in the vicinity of the Kashinozaki Lighthouse, where a large war grave was immediately created. Emperor Meiji and his wife issued the necessary orders for the treatment of the survivors, followed up on them, and informed Abdülhamid II of the disaster via telegram. With material and moral support by both the Mikado Meiji and his wife, and the people of Japan, who were very upset because of the disaster, the 69 survivors who were rescued by the people of Kushimoto were brought to Istanbul by a Japanese delegation headed by Tsunatsune Tanaka, commanding officer of the Cruiser Hiei and Sonosuke Hidaka, commanding officer of the Cruiser Kongo. Abdülhamid II gave an audience to the commanding officers and officers of the Hiei and Kongo on 4 January 1891. During the ceremony, the Japanese Coloner presented a valuable sword sent by Meiji to Sultan Abdülhamid. Among the officers of the cruisers Hiei and Kongo, which brought the Ottoman survivors to Istanbul, were Adminar Michitune Tanaka and journalist Shotaro Noda, who would play an important role in establishing trade relations between the Ottoman State and Japan. Admiral Tanaka stayed in Istanbul for a month, and on his return he played a part in Yamada Torajiro’s visit to Istanbul. Noda, who came on board of the Hiei, however, stayed in Istanbul to teach Japanese to Ottoman officers at the Harbiye Military Academy.

The First Japanese Dictionary

Noda, who stayed in Istanbul upon request of Sultan Abdülhamid II, taught Japanese to 7 Turkish officers with his Japanese language lessons that lasted two years. A Turkish – Japanese – French dictionary was printed in 1893 by Lieutenant Mustafa Asım Efendi, who taught Japanese at the Harbiye Military Academy in the following years. Also containing information on the Japanese language, the dictionary was dedicated to Abdülhamid II. This work entitled Mecmua-i Lügat is the oldest known Turkish – Japanese dictionary in Ottoman literature.

An Ottoman Traveller in Japan

 Among the Ottomans who learned Japanese was the famous traveller Abdürreşid İbrahim Efendi. Learning Japanese in Tokyo between 1903 – 1908, he wrote letters to the Japanese emperor Meiji and Abdülhamid II, and established a friendship with the imperial family. Abdürreşid İbrahim settled in Konya’s Böğrüdelik Village after Tokyo, but he travelled to Japan once more in 1933. He started work on a mosque in Tokyo, and the Tokyo Mosque was opened for worship in 1937 through his efforts.

Three Ottomans in Tokyo

The Ottomans fostered amicable relations with the Japanese, and sent students to the Far East for education. In the early 1910s, three young men were sent to Tokyo by Abbas Hilmi Paşa to receive education and obtain a better knowledge of the Japanese people. One of these was Münir İbrahim, son of traveller Abdürreşid Efendi mentioned above, and the others were Kerim Efendizade Hasan Efendi and Kayserilizade Mehmed Tevfik Efendi. Learning Japanese and English in Tokyo, these young men studied the sciences of commerce, electricity and finance.

A letter sent by one of these students to his father is exemplary of the trust the Japanese had in Turks. The letter mentioned the closeness the Japanese people showed Turks for the purpose of providing benefits and facility in trade relations. Indeed, Yosin, the director of the Yosin Kaisin Maritime Company told Baron Field Marshal Arisa that he was interested in forming a large Bahr-ı Sefid Seyrüsefain Company by making a deal with a Turkish maritime company. Baron Arisa, who volunteered to become the honorary commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was an important personage in the eyes of the Japanese people. He mentioned that he was prepared to send any of the steamers in his own fleet to Turkey through charter or sale, and that he would accept any conditions laid down by the Turks.

Three Japanese Men in Istanbul

As with the Ottomans who visited Japan, there were also important Japanese people who were inspired by Turkey in many of their works. Along with the merchant Yamada Torajiro, Ito Chuta and Otani Kozui also visited Istanbul during the same time, in the late 19th – early 20th centuries. Businessman and a master of the tea ceremony, Yamada Torajiro wrote a work entitled “A View of Turkey Through Pictures”, which read Istanbul through the lens of a modern Japanese citizen. Also, Professor Ito Chute, the first architectural historian of Japan, left behind him a travel book describing the Ottoman country, as well as drawings on architectural works and photographs. Buddhist priest and researcher Otani Kozui established first the Ankara Sanayii Ziraiye company with Atatürk, and then a silk weaving factory in Bursa with Mehmet Memduh Bey and Kavalalı Hüseyin Bey. From the reign of Abdülhamid II to the period of Atatürk, these three Japanese citizens made important contributions to our country, the effects of which are still felt.

Turkish – Japanese Relations that Developed in Recent History

 The relations between Turkey and Japan, which have a history of over a century, awoke from the 1990s through the loans made available by Japan to Turkey. It is seen that the Turkish – Japanese relations picked up speed in the early 2000s, and developed even further in the sense of both commerce and culture. The Turkey Year celebrations that took place in Japan between 17 February 2003 and 31 May 2004 gave rise to one of the best memories of the amicable relations between the two countries. Both countries minted commemorative coins on the occasion of these celebrations. This was an important step in the name of cultural diplomacy.

Just as 2003 being declared as “Turkey Year in Japan”, 2010 was declared as “Japan Year in Turkey” in order to improve the deeprooted relations between the two countries, and to contribute to Turkey’s advertisement. Prospective cooperation opportunities and projects that were carried out between the two countries were important steps, the most concrete example of these steps being the “Marmaray Project”, one of the most prestigious projects in the world, which joined Asia and Europe through tunnels built under the sea. Also, our political relations that were brought to the level of “Strategic Partnership” in 2013 are developing rapidly through recent high-profile visits. During 2015, the 125th anniversary of the disaster of the Frigate Ertuğrul, both countries organised various commemorative events and visits. The same year a historical and dramatic film entitled “Ertuğrul 1890”, produced jointly by Japan and Turkey, was screened.

the Ottoman Empire” exhibition. President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who attended the G-20 summit that was to be organised in the Japanese city of Osaka, visited the exhibition with his spouse Emine Erdoğan after the programme. Giving a statement before the G-20 summit, President Erdoğan emphasised that they are encouraging Turkish and Japanese companies to carry out projects in various sectors in third countries and are providing valuable opportunities to Japanese investors, and that they are determined to deepen their cooperation with Japan in the field of energy. The amicable relations between Turkey and Japan with a past of over a century have been continuing progressively from the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II to the present in the financial, political and diplomatic fields.



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Recep Kankal

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