The distress of Frigate Ertuğrul Fırkateyni (エルトゥールル号遭難事件)

The distress of Frigate Ertuğrul was a shipwreck that Ertuğrul, a sailing frigate of the Ottoman Navy, suffered off the east of Kashinozaki Lighthouse in Kii-Oshima Island, Kushimoto-cho Town, Wakayama prefecture, on the middle of the night of September 16, 1890. This disaster is remembered as a starting point of the friendship between Japan and Turkey.

Today, near the Kashiwazaki Lighthouse in the town of Kushimoto-cho, Wakayama Prefectuere, the Frigate Ertuğrul Memorial and the Turkish Museum stand. And, every five year residents of the town and the Embassy of Turkey in Japan jointly hold a memorial ceremony.

Progress of the disaster

In response to the visit to Istanbul by Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito and his wife from the Imperial family of Japan in 1887, it was decided that the Ertuğrul, a wooden frigate (built in 1864 with a total length of 76 m) would be dispatched, to Japan; this would also serve as a training voyage for the Ottoman Empire Navy, which lacked sufficient training at that time.

In July 1889, she set sail from Istanbul. Despite encountering many difficulties on her journey, she received an enthusiastic welcome in the Islamic countries she stopped off at on her way home; she finally arrived back in Japan the next year in June 1890, with the voyage having taken 11 months. After arriving at Yokohama Port, the party led by a special envoy Osman Pasha, who was also a commander of Ertuğrul, presented a letter from the Sultan to the Emperor Meiji on June 13 and was welcomed as the first goodwill mission to Japan from the Ottoman Empire.

However, the damage to the hull and commodity and financial shortage of the Ertuğrul had piled up so much since her departure that it was now nearly impossible for her to sail back. Since many crews had caught cholera, it was in September that they finally found a chance to sail out of Yokohama Port. Japanese thought the ship was too old to endure a long voyage and recommended delaying departure until the typhoon season ended. However, they forcibly departed homeward. Behind this irrational dispatch, there was an intention of the Sultan Abdülhamid II to show off the power of the Ottoman Empire, the leader of Muslim countries, to Muslims in India and Southeast Asian countries. It is said that the return sail was carried out because he was afraid that the reputation of the weakened Ottoman Empire Navy would spread. The disaster occurred on their way home.

In the middle of the night on September 16, 1890, the Ertuğrul was pushed by a strong wind in a typhoon and hit the rocks at Kashinozaki, Kii-Oshima Island. The Ertuğrul was stranded and water broke through into the engine room, which caused a vapor explosion and finally she sank. This led to a catastrophic incident that 587 people including the commander Osman Pasha missed or lost.

At this time, the survivors, who were washed ashore near the Kashinozaki Lighthouse, scrambled up the cliff several dozen meters high and let the lighthouse know the disaster. Receiving information from the lighthouse keeper, all the people in Kii-Oshima-mura village(now Kushimoto-cho Town)rescued and cared for the survivors. Despite few food reserves since the typhoon had stopped people from fishing, they provided clothes such as yukata, and eggs, potatoes and even chickens they had kept for an emergency, and dedicated themselves to care for the survivors. As a result, 69 people taken to a temple, a school and the lighthouse in Kashino were rescued alive.

The next day of the disaster, Shu OKI, the Oshima village mayor, was informed of the incident via the head of the Kashino ward. Oki asked help of foreign consulates in Kobe Port and arranged to transport the survivors to the hospital in Kobe City while reporting to the Japanese government via a prefectural agency. Having received the news, the Emperor Meiji was deeply troubled and directed the government to help as much as possible, as they say. Then, support was offered to the victims under the leadership of the government. The survivors were sent back by two corvettes of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 'Hiei' and 'Konogo,' which had departed from Shinagawa Bay in Tokyo on October 5, arriving in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, on January 2 of the next year, 1891.

The distress of the Ertuğrul made a great impact on people in the Ottoman Empire; however, under the rule of the absolute monarch Abdülhamid II, the incident was regarded as martyrdom due to a natural disaster and the aspect as a man-made calamity was concealed. The news was widely reported in newspapers, and condolence money for the families of the victims was collected. Since the newspapers also reported the rescue operation by the people of Oshima Village and the dedication of the Japanese government, Turkish people had a good impression on a far foreign country Japan and Japanese people, as they say.

The remains of the Ertuğrul still lie on the bottom of the sea off Oshima Island. Since 2007, the multinational underwater archaeological research group, consisting of Turkey as a leading country and several countries, has been investigating the Ertuğrul in the water and working on the salvage of her remains from the seabed.

"Kii Minpo news," January 27, 2007
Milliyet, January 5, 2007 (a Japanese translation by Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)

On June 7, 2008, the President of the Republic of Turkey, Abdullah Gül, attended the memorial ceremony during his visit to Japan.

Relations between Japan and Turkey after the disaster

In Japan, the distress of the Ertuğrul was also reported as shocking news, and a great amount of contributions and condolence money was collected via the government.

Soyu YAMADA, the successor of the Sohen school of tea ceremony, was one of Japanese who was shocked by the accident. He started a fund-raising campaign among Japanese citizens to collect contributions for the families of the victims of the Ertuğrul incident; after two years, he travelled to Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, carrying the collected donations.

As soon as Turkish people noticed that a private citizen Yamada had brought contributions, he received enthusiastic welcome and further was granted an audience with the Sultan Abdülhamid II. Then Yamada, in response to the Sultan's request, decided to stay in Turkey and started a trading shop in Istanbul. He taught the Japanese language and told of Japan to young officers at the military academy, and helped to arrange visits to Istanbul for high officials in the Japanese government; thus, he dedicated himself to cultivate international civilian and governmental exchanges when there were no established diplomatic relations between Japan and Turkey. Kemal Ataturk, who later became the first president of the Republic of Turkey, is said to have been one of his students when he was teaching at the military academy.

When Japan won the Russo-Japanese War, which had broken out while Yamada stayed in Istanbul, the people in the Ottoman Empire went wild with joy at the news, regarding it as a brilliant achievement by a small eastern country Japan, since they had long suffered the pressure from Russia and therefore grown affinity with Japan, the country which also had been troubled by the pressure from Russia. It is said that naming a child Togo after the Admiral Heihachiro TOGO, a hero of the Japanese Imperial Navy, became popular at the time.

However, despite such civilian exchanges supported by Soyu YAMADA and others, formal diplomatic relations were not realized until the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The reason for this was that negotiations over the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Ottoman Empire remained deadlocked despite both sides engaging in frequent rounds of negotiations; the Ottoman Empire did not wish to enter into another unequal treaty, but Japan was demanding the same level of treaty as the Ottoman Empire had agreed to with the great powers of Europe and America, insisting on Japan's extraterritorial rights.

In 1914, when the First World War broke out, the foreign situation of the Ottoman Empire, which had being dragged into the Central Powers consisting of Germany and others, grew tense, so Yamada closed his shop in Istanbul and returned to Japan. Japan, having sided with the Allies consisting of Britain and others in this war, became the Ottoman Empire's enemy. Through drastic changes of circumstances such as the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey after the war, Japan and Turkey finally entered into diplomatic relations following the conclusion of the Treaty of Lausann in 1924 and the establishment of the Embassy in 1925.

Memory of 'the staring point of friendly relations between Japan and Turkey'

The distress of the Ertuğrul was a tragedy caused by a foreign policy of the late Ottoman Empire and the weakened Navy; however, Japan's amity to the victims of the disaster has been long remembered by persons concerned in both countries as a starting point of friendly relations between Japan and Turkey. When Turks talk to Japanese people about the history of friendly relations between Turkey and Japan in public, they almost always mention the story of the Ertuğrul and her disaster above all things.

Contrary to Turks' discourse, the story of the Ertuğrul's distress was not well remembered in Japan and had been rarely mentioned in public for a long time. However, in the 21st century, the whole story of the Ertuğru disaster came to be introduced through electronic bulletin boards or mail magazines on the Internet along with the following incident. In 1985 during the Iran-Iraq War, when Iraq proclaimed indiscriminate attacks to any aircraft flew over Iran, the Japanese people in Iran were stuck in a crisis because the rescue by Self-Defense Force was not made according to the principle that the overseas dispatch of Self-Defense Force troops is prohibited, and Japan Airlines did not fly JAL international airplanes because of a union issue.
When Yutaka NOMURA, the then Japanese ambassador to Iran, appealed for help in resolving this issue to Ismet Birsel, the then Turkish ambassador to Iran, he responded as follows:
Okay, I will ask my country to send a rescue airplane.'
Every Turk knows Japan's kindness we received at the time of the disaster of Ertuğrul.'
Now we will repay the kindness'
Thus all 215 Japanese people were picked up by the Turkish Airlines airplane dispatched in response to the Ambassador's request and managed to return to Japan via Turkey safely. The story of the Ertuğrul disaster has gradually spread out among the people in Japan; it has been frequently talked about in many TV programs or magazines, especially after the Turkish team achieved remarkable results in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. In 2004, a children book that introduced the incident was designated as a book on which fifth and sixth grade elementary school pupils were assigned to write book reports for a writing competition. Thus, also in Japan today, the distress of the Ertuğrul is regarded as an essential episode to talk about "a pro-Japanese country, Turkey."

Another explanation that has been proposed for the above-mentioned rescue operation by the Turkish government and Turkish Airlines to save Japanese people during the Iran-Iraq War is that a request was made by the Istanbul branch office of ITOCHU Corporation and the Japanese Embassy in Teheran, to which the Turkish government gave 'their willing consent' to dispatch a Turkish Airlines airplane. On October 28, 2007, at the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Mitaka City, Tokyo, along with a retrospective exhibition of the Ertuğrul, a symposium on this incident was held with attendants of persons concerned in the incident, including the former pilot and flight attendants of the Turkish Airlines airplane that actually flew, Nomura, a former Japanese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Iran, Morinaga, a former Istanbul branch office manager of the ITOCHU Corporation, Satoru MORI, a former representative of the Bank of Tokyo in Tehran.

When NHK featured the rescue mission of Japanese by the Turkish government and Turkish Airlines during the Iran-Iraq War in the program 'The Project X,' they never mentioned the Ertuğrul incident in relation to the topic. In response to inquiries to NHK about this issue, they said, 'We asked the people who had been directly involved in the rescue operation in 1985, such as the Turkish ambassador and the Turkish Airlines captain; however nobody knew about the Ertuğrul incident. The disaster occurred 114 year ago, and in truth most Turks did not know the incident.
Also, there is no evidence that Turkish schools generally teach the Ertuğrul incident, and neither have such textbooks been found.'

In January and February, 2008, Turkish staff members of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology of the United States carried out an underwater excavation and salvaged over 1000 articles of her remains, such as bullets and remains of the body.

During an official visit to Japan, Turkish president Abdullah Gül visited the site of the disaster for the first time as the president of his country. He attended the memorial ceremony held in front of the distress memorial and offered flowers.