Seeing Japan through Swiss eyes Two centuries ago Johann Caspar Horner (1774-1834) became the first Swiss to set foot in Japan. An astronomer by trade, Horner arrived in Nagasaki in October 1804 on board the Nadezhda, sent by Alexander I of Russia to explore northeast Asia and the possibility of diplomatic relations with Japan. swissinfo.ch presents a selection of the water colours Horner painted while in Japan. The sketches recently turned up at Zurich University's Ethnographic Museum after lying forgotten for more than a century. swissinfo.ch The crew of the Nadezhda were not the only foreigners in Nagasaki. The Dutch had already established a trading agreement with the Japanese and their enclave – complete with Dutch flag - is seen here in the background. "During our research, we discovered that the perspective in this picture is wrong," says Philippe Dallais of the Ethnographic Museum. "It would not have been possible to see the Dutch enclave at the angle from which this image is drawn, so we suspect that Horner may have painted this from other sources." swissinfo.ch This sketch captures the moment when the Russians hit on the idea of trying to impress the Japanese by launching a hot-air balloon using locally-made paper known as 'washi'. The spectacle on February 6, 1805, drew a large crowd, but nearly ended in tragedy. "Everything started well, the balloon went very high and the wind pushed it in the direction of Nagasaki city. But suddenly it started to lose height and crashed onto the roof of a house," says Dallais. "The roof started to burn, there was a huge panic in Nagasaki and firemen raced to the scene. News of the incident reached the governor and word got out that the balloon was some kind of fire machine and a deliberate attack by the Russians." The matter was resolved, but the incident did little to help negotiations with the Japanese. swissinfo.ch A Japanese military garrison located in the middle of Nagasaki Bay. One of the Russian crew members expressed his surprise that the Japanese soldiers had no artillery or cannon and only a limited supply of guns. "The soldiers were probably brought out just to impress the Russians," says Dallais. "You can see some of them training on the hill and guarding the entrance to the bay." A reproduction of this sketch was presented to Emperor Akihito when the Swiss economics minister, Joseph Deiss, visited Japan in 2004. swissinfo.ch A section of Nagasaki city located not far from the Dutch enclave, just below a wooded area. The two large grey buildings in the upper half of the picture are believed to be temples. A ship similar in size and colour to the one in the foreground can be seen in more detail in the next picture. The Swiss government presented the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, with a copy of this sketch in 2004. swissinfo.ch This boat was owned by a Japanese prince who often sailed into Nagasaki harbour to watch the Russians. The colourful protective canopy was used to keep the crew warm during the winter – and to keep prying Russian eyes from seeing what was inside. Two flags are raised at one end of the boat: one is thought to be the prince's own blue-and-white family crest, while the other – possibly added by Horner - depicts a double-headed Russian eagle. "We know that there were Japanese drummers inside the boat who helped the oarsmen to keep time," says Dallais. swissinfo.ch The exact location of the mountainous area in this picture is unknown, but researchers believe it is close to Nagasaki harbour. The cluster of buildings in the bottom left is a fishing village. swissinfo.ch After six months moored in Nagasaki, the Russian frigate - pictured here in a sketch by Horner - turned on its heels and left for the northern island of Hokkaido. All attempts to negotiate with the Japanese had failed. The Nadezhda sailed away without accomplishing its mission. But Horner would go down in history as the first Swiss to leave a record of having visited Japan. swissinfo.ch A series of sketches made by the first Swiss to visit Japan. This content was published on March 11, 2005 March 11, 2005 minutes More More Switzerland: the land of cooperatives The cooperative business model not only permeates the Swiss economy, but also forms the roots of its politics. Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us! If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Newest first Oldest first Load more More More Swiss Film Selection SWI swissinfo.ch offers a selection of Swiss films in English chosen from the Swiss streaming platform Play Suisse. Share this story
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