Kuniko Yamada McVey
Harvard university. Harvard-Yenching library. Librarian for the Japanese Collection

Intelligence journey up the Amur: Mamiya Rinzo's observations in 1809

In 1808, Mamiya Rinzo (1775-1844), cartographer, was dispatched by the Tokugawa shogunate to survey northern Sakhalin; he confirmed that Sakhalin was an island in 1809. In a second mission, Mamiya left Soya (northernmost point of Hokkaido) and sailed into the mouth of the Amur River; he reached the Qing Chinese trading post at Deren, and returned to Soya in November 1809. At the time, Sakhalin was receiving increasing geopolitical and imperial attentions from both Western and regional states. Mamiya himself had experienced a Russian attack when stationed in Iturup island in 1807.

These expeditions were sensitive and secret. Mamiya’s oral reports were dictated in 1810 to his colleague Murakami Teisuke (1780-1846), and presented to the shogun in Edo in January 1811 in two manuscript reports, “Hokui bunkai yowa” (Sakhalin survey report) and “Todatsu chiho kiko” (Travels in the Region of Eastern Tartary). Both included many color illustrations.

Of “Todatsu chiho kiko,” sixteen copies are known to exist, including one held by the Harvard-Yenching Library. It is unclear if the Harvard copy was made by Murakami himself. Its handwriting seems more casual, with marks and notes in red ink, compared to the official one delivered to the shogun and now at the National Archives of Japan.
Mamiya’s “Todatsu chiho kiko” might be described as an ethnography, allowing us to imagine how small and diverse ethnic communities of North East Asia co-existed in the early 19th century, before modern national borders were drawn. Mamiya’s report describes many encounters with Ainu, Orokko, Uilta, Nivkh, and Yakagir peoples. He provides observations on their customs, clothing, and habitats, many with skillful illustrations and salted with interesting anecdotes. At the Qing trading post Mamiya, wearing Japanese kimono, enjoys dining with Qing officials in a finely furnished space while seating on a tiger skin. He reports that he avoided hugging others since it’s not his native custom.

Mamiya’s report was written for government officials, but “Todatsu chiho kiko” remains relevant today in many ways.