Crossing the New Siberia

Crossing the New Siberia

新しきシベリアを横切る
(Atarashiki shiberia wo yokogiru)

by MIYAMOTO Yuriko
January and February, 1931.

Miyamoto Yuriko and Yuasa Yoshiko lived in Moscow from 1927 until 1930.  Yuasa would go on to become one of the best known Japanese-Russian translators, particularly for her translations of Chekhov. After their return, Miyamoto left Yuasa and remarried.

 October 25th (1930).

Departing Moscow at last, at last, at last!

Went to the post office a million times in the morning. After frequently presenting my unmistakably Japanese face at the registered parcels window, the female clerk with messy blonde hair said, a little annoyed,

“Haven’t I already seen you more than twenty times just this morning!”

“I’m sorry. I’ve been living in your city for three years. And tonight I’m returning home, to Japan. I shan’t be back again tomorrow, and I haven’t anything else to send off, so please bear with me.”

“I see.” The clerk took a second look at the small, round Japanese woman’s face for the first time that day.

“Will this reach Japan? All of it?”

This I did not understand.

A big calendar page with “25” in black numerals hung on a blank space, and an electric clock that moved every minute. The shuffling sound of the group walking and stopping along the floor. The Japanese woman took all this in as if classifying it, as the post office’s heavy door swung open and closed.

After Y got back, we said our goodbyes, gathered our bags, and exhausted, exhausted, we waited only for the train to leave soon and to lay down. 6:15pm.

 October 26th.

3 roubles, 10 kopeks. Set meal (obed) for two.

It’s getting awfully cheap. In November 1927, a three-course meal (soup, meat or fish, dessert) for one on the Trans-Siberian Railway was two and a half roubles. Now 30 kopeks buys a bottle of Narzan mineral water. What’s more, there’s meat in the soup! Making the full-course meal cheaper so that everyone can eat it and making ordering dishes à la carte more expensive is Soviet rationality.

Y insists that when we get to Vyatka she’ll buy boxes of the local cigarettes.

The compartment is warm. Our exhaustion shows, but we’re in good spirits, like we’re just going somewhere in the same country, not returning to Japan.

“Please be careful. Vyatka is a popular tourist destination for Japanese. I’ve had my pocket picked when I wasn’t paying attention, and it would be terrible counter-propaganda if people said it was the most well-known spot for thievery along the Trans-Siberian Railway.”

“We’ll be fine! We’re smart.”

We arrived at Vyatka after dark, the centre of the Vyatka-Yetrujesk * economic region. As soon as the train pulled into the platform, Y, fed up with a Japanese gentleman, put on her leather overcoat which caused one to suspect she had perhaps had some connection to “Kim” and got off the train.

She tried to go to the station waiting room, but there was no shop selling local goods. A man wearing the uniform of the National Security Bureau (?) who happened to pass by on the open-air platform, faintly shining in the electric light.

“Where did you happen to buy those? I’m looking for a kiosk.”

The man, with one snap undone on his shirt, was carrying two packs of cigarettes in his hand.

“Just over there. It’s in that vorota (gate). Shall I take you there?”

They left the platform altogether, went through an odd gate, and where they jumped over a mud puddle, there was a throng of people. The woman serving and doing business had sparkling eyes which gleamed through the dark roof of the shack and the undulating pitch black heads of the crowd. A wooden box made of birch, handiworks made from agalmatolite, rings, necklaces, inkstands.

Certainly for a person with a few extra roubles in their pocket this was a dangerous spacial and temporal environment. The crowd which rushed for the kiosk in the 20 minutes that the train would wait at the station were all vying for a box or inkstand, or perhaps like Y, for a box of cigarettes that she had had set her sights on since Moscow, from the one woman vendor, but all were intent on waiting to get the correct change back, jostling without ever giving way and bunching together. There was another kiosk in the same space, selling bread. It was also packed with people.

When the warning bell rang, Y came back to the train.

 October 27th.

When I opened the window in the morning, there was a dusting of snow on the yellowy early winter grass.

A small station in the middle of a conifer forest. On the hill next to us, there were several pieces of farm machinery lined up, painted  in brilliant colors of blue and red. Were they in the process of turning this old land into new land somehow? This was the very embodiment of the Soviet Five-Year Plan to increase farm machinery by 400 per cent.

We were surrounded by pine trees, so much that the train window was green. Then suddenly, the view opened up. The dense forest was being felled as far as the eye could see.  High-voltage scaffolds were set at regular intervals in one direction.  If you quickly looked in the other direction, the electric cable crossed over the tracks and on the side of the dark, dense forest, like Hindenburg‘s moustache, a flock of thrushes perched on it far into the distance. Now I could see why someone could call Siberia a desolate wilderness.

We passed through Ekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk. Two hours difference between here and Moscow time. We went on. The train stopped at a stone-built station tall enough to be two stories. In the town beyond the station there were two Ford open cars. Even from just what we could see from inside the train, there were several new factories being built.

The centre of the Ural region is Sverdlovsk, and it is an important coal and farm tractor producing area for the CCCP. In 1930, when the American capitalists heard the name ‘Ural’, what they already associated it with wasn’t bear hunting.

A light blue sky with a tinge of grey. The slightly cold afternoon light reflecting back from the old town below. Scaffolding. Bricks being piled up.

 October 28th.

I watched Y get down the red kettle and disappear off toward the station’s hot water supply house with the skillful steps of a dancer from my viewpoint on the train. Snow all around us. In the USSR since many years prior it had been the custom to have hot water prepared for travelers when trains arrived at even the most rural of stations, free of charge. So I often saw this sight: great numbers of men racing up the platform bearing nickel or tin kettles, or even a single teacup. Tea. Teapot. Sugar. Cup. Spoon.  It wasn’t just the citizens of the USSR carrying these. We had them as well.

Today we saw a large kolkhoz (collective farm). The tractors were at the piles of straw left after the harvest. The farm was being covered in snow.

Oh, look, look! There’s a gigantic elyevator over there! (An elyevator is an automatic transporter for loading sacks of wheat onto freight cars.)

I got a copy of a local farmers’ newspaper called Kommoona (Коммуна). Issued twice every five days, ten pages, from the Barabinsk railway workers’ union’s uchik, where it was edited. No matter how you tried, after 25 days there would be nothing left to read in Moscow’s Izvestia or Pravda. We were on the klieskii (express). Though it had been three days since our train left Moscow, and while there was already an eight hour time lag, news from the heart of the socialist republic must have been making its way out to parts of Siberia.

This issue of Kommoona was from the 27th. I read it from cover to cover with profound interest. Just now in this area it is butter producing time. “The Barabinsk area intends to supply 190 centners (100 pounds) of butter to the Butter Producers’ Union in the month of October. As of October 20th, 135 centners have been collected. 75 per cent of September’s production plan could not be fulfilled. However, in the first twenty days of October we satisfied seven per cent of the plan. Union comrades and collective farm comrades! Don’t lose this tempo!” And there was an amusing criticism from the agricultural correspondant about butter production.

“Replace the manager of the butter factory! Manager Grodeyev of the Upper Nazlov Butter Factory does not want to engage in production. The factory is being dictated by a lack of management. There is not a day when the factory does not want for fuel. The factory water is dirty, hence the quality of the butter produced is lowered.

“In Upper Nazlov village there is another butter factory. That building is in a terrible state. The door is broken. They cannot work for the cold.

“The other day the manager set off to Klasnoyalsk village to settle the milk purchasing accounts. He spent three days there rolling around drunk and as a result, he managed to lose the horse that had been entrusted to him by the butter factory.

“Grodeyev has three horses. Previously, Grodeyev had some servants or tenant farmers. He is currently using the 19 year old tenant farmer Nikolai Klikov.”

As I was copying all this down into my notebook Y, fiddling with a red pencil and sorting through some clippings, said:

“What is that rustling sound?”

“Do you know? How does the Milk Producers’ Association collect the milk from the workers?”

When the USSR began to move toward the communal farming system, the most difficult thing for both the farmers and the government was the issue of livestock. From grain farming collectives to livestock collectives. This was always something that was actively encouraged. From looking at this newspaper, the milk agreement was a strong gauge of and influence on the farmers’ wellbeing. The previous year’s milk agreement had not taken the farmers’ consumption into account. In short, without counting how many people lived in each farm house, they had set the production rate for the entire Barabinsk region at 5.5 centners per cow per year.

And for individual farming families:

1 cow     4.5 centners
2 cows   6.0     ”
3 cows   7.5     ”

However, this year the average standard per animal for this region is 5.666 centners, and the norm for individual farming families per head of cattle is:

1 cow   5 person family   3.0 centners
2 cows    8 people              4.4 centners

A large river. Muddy dark color. White with snow on both banks. I looked at the map. This was the Irtysh River. Omsk City begins on the other side of the railway bridge.

We stop in Omsk for 40 minutes.

There is a souvenir shop just outside the station.

With a lot of butter.

I bought three tomatoes at 15 kopeks. As I walked down the snowy path with them in my hands, they looked like snake gourd. They weren’t actually very good. I took an empty bottle of Narzan mineral water and bought 50 kopeks of milk. A big, round loaf of bread like a rubber pants’ lining was one kopek. The woman with children next to us on the train bought two, giving one to her daughter called Sonya who was just six, and one to her not-very-smart three year old son with a faddish but not international name like Novomir (new world).

It was so cold my ears hurt. In the dining car, a black party member that we often saw was strolling around most pleasantly with a white female party member he was always with, puffing out white breath. One group on the train is a mixture of Germans and Americans, and at mealtimes the female party member will announce it in German, English, and Russian. (Before we left Moscow, there was an incident. A factory somewhere had invited an American engineer to visit. The engineer brought some people along with him, including a black worker. The white workers got in a dispute over something and suddenly one raised a hand and hit their black friend. He didn’t understand that at a time when black people were being lynched in his own free country, America, that he could be in a civilized country where police officers directed traffic and would help him. But he watched the actions of the Soviet proletariat that surrounded him. Quickly they called a general meeting and an employees’ tribunal on the spot. The white worker, after a vote by the factory workers, was sent back to America.)

Just two hours from Omsk, a brand new grain transport station is being built. A freight car with icicles hanging down from the top is being pulled up to the soaring elyevator by a locomotive.

What a image of the brand new Siberia.

3:30 in the afternoon.

The setting sun shines down on the fields, the snow is purple. The forest is copper.

A small station. White birches. A wooden station painted yellow. Chekhov-esque. A lone station master wearing a red hat emerged, picking up a parcel from the mail train and dusting the snow off the top of it. The parcel had so many postage stamps on it.

 October 29th.

At about one in the morning, Sverdlovsk time, we entered Novosibirsk. When we bought our tickets from Moscow to Vladivostok, we had still been considering whether or not to have a stopover in Novosibirsk. It is the axis of culture and production in the new Siberia.

At night it’s -15 degrees so what could we do? Pulling open the blind on the window in the compartment and peeking out while still under covers, the lights in the approaching town flickered prettily.

We drifted off and when we opened our eyes, the train was still stopped. At the next compartment, someone had come up from the town to visit.

“It’s four in the morning here, are you joking?” a man said.

Set the clock ahead two hours again. We had not been able to buy a timetable on this journey. I took a large economic map out of my satchel to have a look. Moscow had stamped it in red at the top. Day by day we were traveling a long way through the fields and forests of Siberia.

We stopped at a station. Above the entrance to the station building there was a red placard.

LET’S PREPARE, COMRADES, FOR THE COMPLETION OF THE THIRD YEAR OF THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN!

In front of it, a cluster of male and female workers were lined up to see the train and the passengers who came walking out of it. Today I’ve seen yet another a new elyevator. It hadn’t been completely finished yet. A red flag flew from the top.

 October 30th.

At one in the afternoon, just before stopping at Nizhny Nojinsk, I heard an awful sound and as I scrunched my neck without thinking, the outside pane of glass on the window right next to where I was sitting was broken.

Malchick!”

“Did you see him?”

“There were three of them. I only saw one of them throw a stone, though…”

The conductor from when we had left Moscow came in and, hurriedly pulling the window shade down, said: “We must not lose this.”

“Why?”

“They’re throwing stones.”

I didn’t understand so, again, I asked him, “But why?”

“There are some men making mischief. As you can see.”

When we went out to look when the train stopped, another window at the back of the train had been broken, too. That window had just a small hole, like it had been hit with an air rifle, and a crack in it. It was ruined.

We heard a child had been caught. His friends will likely get a hefty fine.

The train stopped somewhere in the forest. It seemed they could see hares. In the corridor:

Man’s voice: “The people ’round here don’t eat rabbit.”

Woman’s voice:  (without thinking) “But they sure catch a lot, don’t they? I wish they’d build a canning factory or something…”

And with that, it was silent. The sun shone weakly on the snow. Today we’ve stopped somewhere without a station and had to go back so many times.

It’s cold because of the broken window, so I slid over to sit next to it, putting my hat and one sleeve of my overcoat on and sat there, dressed like a waif.

We’re taking turns using the typewriter just to document it.

 October 31st.

Pine trees above the snow. A dark and strongly impressive scene. Somehow Oriental. Mongols using horses to pull carts, their long hems flapping in the wind, moving swiftly through the snow.

Irkutsk. One hour forward.

The conductor’s room is in the corner of each car. It has a samovar. It has a small box filled with Russian charcoal which gives off terrible amounts of carbon dioxide. And behind a barrier, cups with bases and spoons and so on. The conductor dispenses the tea to the passengers. There is a small, strange appliance as well. I came across it on a catalog of carriage contents posted on a wall.

“When we return to Moscow, will there be an inspection?”

“That’s right. Everyone will be inspected. We’ll both have to pay eleven roubles because that glass got broken. You’d better do it since you caught the criminal and filed all the paperwork.”

With that they broke it. The day before yesterday, when the glass in the door of the corridor to the dining car was broken, I heard someone ask casually,

“Who broke this?”

Then the conductor, the young party member, said in an unusually ill humor,

“I do not know.”

Conductors receive a monthly salary of 75 roubles. Workers in the USSR have a lot of rights – for example, except in cases where work at the factory has been reduced, where the worker has taken three days off in a month without a reason, or where the worker has been imprisoned for more than two months, the worker’s consent is generally required before he can be dismissed. On the other hand the responsibility rests firmly on their shoulders.

 November 1st (clear).

We passed through Chita while we were sleeping. The clock’s gone forward an hour.

It’s five minutes past midnight.

The train has stopped over a small wooden bridge.

If you put your head to the window and looked left, you could see something that looked like a depot. But the long train had stopped near a hill, buried in snow.

“What station is this?” Novomir asked in the corridor.

“It’s a station for trees!” said his sister, standing beside him, doll in hand.

Behind them, another little boy asked his father the same thing.

“It’s a station that nobody knows about.”

The conductor, shoes covered in snow, red-nosed, came in and took his gloves off.

“Whew!”

“What happened?”

“The axle of one of the sleeper cars back there snapped. A little further and we would’ve turned over.”

When I looked out at the disembarking passengers from the rear going out on the bridge, clinging to each other with both hands going forward, they were starting a bonfire in the middle of the deep snow. The train technician in his tall boots and green cap was peering under a car and giving instructions. A stick had been tossed out. A pitch black iron thing was brought and set down in the snow. Putting a goat-skin overcoat down on top of the snow, a man who looked like a peasant crawled under the train. Only the soles of his snow boots are visible from here.

The sun is shining. The snow is thawing. Cold. A Mongol boy wearing a three-cornered hat with red tufts pushes his way through the snow, walking off towards a house on the other side of a low fence. A dog follows behind.

When I came back down the corridor, a woman from a compartment on the other end stuck out her neck.

“What’s happened?”

Her husband, his broad back turned to his wife, legs wide, smoking a pipe in the corridor, replied:

“An anecdote.”

In Mongolian villages there are so many dogs everywhere.  ………

The train has been stopped in the middle of this snow for repairs for over two hours.

Nearly all day, we’ve been traveling alongside the Shillka, upstream of the Amur river. Snow, deep snow. This is a scrub area, no evergreens visible. A mountain. Unlike in Siberia, the houses here have thin shingle roofs. Every house has a fence around it, with cows, horses, pigs, goats, and so on. The houses are low, as are the enclosures. And there’s the snow.

The snow that covers the riverbank is rife with the little footprints of hares or some other little animal. The river is frozen over.

The land has a stark Eastern beauty, utterly different from the rich black soil around Moscow and the dense forest-covered central Siberia. On the other side of the extensive mountains was the Mongolian People’s Republic.

 November 2nd (partly cloudy).

There was a rock hillside just outside the train window. In the afternoon, if you looked out the window you could have been deceived into believing that it was the same part of rocky hillside.

“What boring scenery!”

“That’s why Bezais said, ‘Oh, I’m so fed up with this already!’ at pretty much this same mountain.” **

A historical play called “Our Youth”, about the feelings of civil war-era Komsomol officers, the mistakes they make due to their youth and the heroic acts they undertake to redeem themselves, was being put on on small stages. Bezais, who is secretly traveling to Khabarovsk, gets on a painted freight train. The above is from a conversation he has with a girl he helped on board.

It’s been nine days since our train left Moscow. We are just outside of Khabarovsk.

When we passed through one small station, I saw a woman carrying a long pole with wooden buckets on either end to get water. There was a square well in the field next to the station, with a cover over it. It had a device which was a large circle with a smaller circle attached that turns and loosens a rope, bringing the water out. In Siberia as well, the wells in the countryside are like this.

In Japan it is women who must go to get the water. In Russia it is the same. And in the village of the woman carrying the pole, the town’s red Soviet flag is flying in the snow.

As the scenery was so boring, I read Kolkhoz Zarya (Kholkoz Dawn) all day, feeling as if I was just sitting at home.

From 1928 to 1929, the Soviet Five-Year Plan for increasing production was launched, and those engaged in the beginning of the push for the creation of a Socialist society weren’t just those directly involved in production. Artists, writers, and film producers were all mobilized. For these artistic laborers, it was their important duty as a class to vividly reflect the reality of the production increases in the new Soviet Union, as well as the tremendous changes that were taking place in the daily lives of the peasant workers and social sentiment – as well as to transcend art and advance the people’s class consciousness by some degree to complete the construction of a Socialist society.

The young film producers went out into the farming villages, the coal mines, and deep into the forests. (And Japanese cinema enthusiasts saw the masterpiece Turksib in Tokyo.)

And the writers and reporters, armed with their chemical pencils that when their notebooks got rained on made the words look as if they were written in purple ink, went out to the rural villages where a new life centered on the collective farm was beginning, out to the fishing areas and to remote regions (Central Asia and Siberia). The writers’ organization recruited volunteers, and together with Meyerhold‘s young actors and theater workers (TRAM) they set off from Moscow on a specially-run train to spread culture.

So many interesting works full of information about the new way of life in rural areas came out. The national publishers brought out 5 and 20 kopek bargain editions.

Kolkhoz Zarya cost me 15 kopeks. Kolkhoz Zarya contains a few brief sketches showing objectively, with no adornment, what kind of difficulties were faced in organizing in the many villages which faced opposition from rich landowners, what kind of people were involved, in what way — or the passion with which even a stupid milkmaid called Wassika decided to move a tractor, or the “October” in villages where some couples had split up in order to support collective farms.

It depicts the reality of the situation, where the new force is set by strong, ancient roots, but where old rural customs will in due course be reformed by it. You don’t need a dictionary to read this kind of book.

November 3rd.

The clock has gone forward by yet another hour. Now we’re on Far Eastern time – the same as Japan. In Moscow, sometimes when we’d be up doing something until late at night I’d suddenly think to ask:

“What time is it now in Japan?”

“It’s… two o’clock now, so it’s nine o’clock in the morning. School’s already starting.”

This nonstop service to Vladivostok is already delayed by twenty-some hours. We were supposed to arrive in Vladivostok this evening, but it might well take until tomorrow night. When you ride on a train for ten days, you don’t think much of being half a day or even a day late. Everyone is quite buoyant. As well as looking forward to when our journey will finally be over.

Two men in the corridor were saying:

“How much longer will it take to get to Vladivostok, at this rate?”

“We are at least five hours behind schedule.”

“Oh well, it’s not like this train can go anywhere past Vladivostok anyway.”

The scenery told me we really had gone east. The snow on the trees swelled softly.

In the dining car tonight, the man who sat down next to the four of us was eating a broiled kuropatka (a kind of wild bird) with a tremendously loud crunching sound and, licking his fingers, he asked himself out loud:

“Was there already snow in Siberia?”

Honestly! He was going to the maritime provinces.

The dining car was bustling tonight. People who have been on board since Moscow are in a joyous mood on the night before their long journey ends. Those who newly boarded the train today were enjoying their first dinner on the train. (The diners on trains are a bigger treat than the usual ones.) The man who asked if there was snow in Siberia started talking to a man wearing glasses and eating kuropatka at a table across the aisle.

“How’s yours?”

Raising his shoulders nearly unnoticibly,

“Well, it is what it is.”

“It’s good with butter, but it does take its toll on the stomach, though of course that’s not all bad…”

Half of a broiled kuropatka is one rouble, 50 kopeks.

People at tables here and there were asking comrades they did not know about the weather in various areas.

At night, when we were making Japanese tea, when we went to the conductor’s quarters to get cups of hot water, the conductor (an older, non-party member) asked if he could have some if there was any leftover.

“You know about Japanese tea? Green, and drank with no sugar?”

“Of course I do! I know all about it. When I was in Central Asia, Tashket, we drank it all day.”

They always drink green tea there, to help them cool down in the heat.

When I brought him what was left in the bottom of the small can, he took a small pinch and put it between his front teeth.

“I’m very grateful! This is good tea, real green tea.”

 November 4th.

We will arrive in Vladivostok at last tomorrow, but at exactly what time, we don’t know. Perhaps around two in the morning. But then I’ve also heard it could be around five in the morning. Last night, Y was worrying whether there would be rooms available at hotels if we arrived at two. She said we should send a telegram to a certain friend in Vladivostok, and she was just about to fill in the telegram form but stopped when the conductor said we would probably arrive at five.

“At any rate we’ll be in a rush tomorrow so we should do up the luggage today.”

The ferry leaves at noon. It only runs once a week.

As we were approaching a station we were due to pass through, I saw a large wooden overpass suspended above the train. It was unfinished, the white snow piling up on the surface of the new wood which nobody had yet set a foot on. It was beautiful. Part of the Five-Year Plan is to expand the Soviet transportation network from the 80,000 kilometers it covered in 1928 to 105,000 kilometers. Soviet rail freight in 1930 was 281,000,000 tons. (By 1933, it should be 330,000,000 tons.) In the time between us passing through Siberia and coming here,  the reality of this was being proved at the main station, just by how they made preparations for freight for how many freight trains and how much cargo they could take, writing all kinds of signals in chalk, and remembering which lines had departures arranged. The same with this bridge. There wasn’t a long line of freight trains waiting at this station. Probably because those on foot happily crossed the trackbed in their rubashkas and tall boots.

However, because with increasing numbers of freight trains coming, it is already becoming difficult to come and go, this new wooden bridge is being built.

This wasn’t the first new bridge that I’ve seen. I’ve seen just two before somewhere else.

 November 5th.

It’s still dark out. After I washed my face beneath the light in the washroom, a knock came at the door:

“Twenty minutes to Vladivostok!” the conductor announced as he walked.

Y had said it wouldn’t do to sleep to pass the time, so she spent last night just laying there in her clothes. Coming down from the top berth, she said, “Ahh, it’s so cold!” sounding terribly cold indeed.

“It’s still early, you haven’t slept enough.”

She was somewhat excited. The light was on in the compartment. When I peered outside, I could see the stars in the darkness before the sunrise. Far off, the city’s lights were shining.

We went slowly for a long time, stopping where the red or green signal was visible, steadily making our way to the platform in Vladivostok. An empty baggage carrier waited on the frozen concrete. Two or three station staff members came out dozily carrying torches.

“Is nobody else coming out?”

“No.”

There were no more than a few porters to unload the baggage. One by one. Standing above this lonely platform the conductor kept guard of the unloaded baggage. I lost feeling in the tips of my feet.

“Cold, isn’t it?” said a man with a fur hat on and a rifle on his shoulder, standing guard in front of the mountain of baggage.

“The wind is very strong here.”

We finally caught a porter, moving the baggage over to a holding area piece by piece.

“Where is it you’re going to?”

“We’re taking a steamship to Japan, but where is the wharf? Could you possibly take us there?”

The old porter in a hemp apron with a nickel tag hanging from his chest said distractedly,

“The wharf is another matter entirely.”

“Is it far? From here.”

“Considerably.”

It looked as if we had no choice but to look for a coach.

“Wait here, all right?”

Y went off to look with the porter in tow. After about ten minutes only the porter returned. As he attended to carrying the last piece of baggage, a Chinese person on a wagon pulled by a Mongolian horse which looked like a donkey stopped in front of the station, packed full of our luggage.

Seeing the Chinese man’s wagon was so odd, it made me remember scenes I had seen three years before in Harbin. China has changed as well in the past three years. There are now workers soviets in more than 100 prefectures in China.

“Didn’t I do well? It’s seven roubles to the wharf.”

It was already light. We went off in the coach through the town. It wasn’t only the train that infrequently passed through – there were very few people on the street as well, about half Chinese and half Russian. On the left, I could see the sea. And the steamer. ――

It was a long way to the wharf. Y jumped off from the coach, which would be going on ahead, and pulled our satchels and document cases off from the back where they were tied on, ably putting them and herself sidesaddle on a thick pole which then emerged. The long-tailed Mongolian horse took off down a stony road, loaded with our various bags and Y in her leather overcoat. I set off on the footpath as always. As always. ――

I descended the gentle slope down to the shore. There was a row of storehouses there, with rails laid out. There was horse dung in between the cobblestones. When I got to the shore, the coach had stopped in front of the merchant shipping associations’ buildings, which halfway looked like offices which halfway looked like storehouses. The ancient freighter was mooring just before my eyes. This was the Amakusa-maru, which would take us to Japan.

And now, we can see the surface of the sea we are heading into and on the other side, the mountainous headland, covered with buildings. The sun is shining warmly down on the sea and the headland, and on the back of the Chinese woman pushing a trolley back on the wharf.

The people of Vladivostok are also thought of as being wild. If you visit, you will see that is not true. Depending what time it is, the town is quiet. The harbor is quiet. The sun beams down on the sea.

I’m looking out at the gleaming surface of the sea with inexpressible emotions.

This is the true edge of the USSR.

From Moscow to Vladivostok is 9,235 kilometres. Under the Five-Year Plan the Soviet Union is building great new hemp spinning factories here. At the same time, the capitalism and imperialism that crosses over the Sea of Japan is being washed from this shore. It was Vladivostok from which Kolchak‘s army, the Japanese Imperialist Army which tried but did not succeed in crushing the proletariat’s Soviet Russia, and the unknowing, conscripted proletariat sons of Japan came and went. And then, the profiteers, the prostitutes, and the restaurant proprietresses left. — And today, in 1930, within the metal-barred windows of Korea Bank, there is a cashbox with the seal of the Soviet authorities.

—-

* I have no idea what this is supposed to say, nor could my feeble research turn up a region that even vaguely resembles what she’s written.

** As Miyamoto sort of explains, Bezais is a character from the 1928 short novel Po tu storonu (translated variously as ‘Over the Border’, ‘On That Side’, etc) by Viktor Kin. “Entertainingly written, it opens with a description of one of those endless train journeys of the civil war (the time is 1921). Two young Komsomol officials – Matveyev is twenty, Bezais is eighteen – are travelling to Khabarovsk in the Far East. Their conversations, the girls they meet, the general tone of the novel, are initially witty, laconic, even a trifle facetious. No other novel of the period treats the civil war in such a light-hearted manner. In Khabarovsk, however, Matveyev is shot in the leg and it has to be amputated. Though he makes a good recovery, the lightness of heart has gone.” (Richard Freeborn, The Russian Revolutionary Novel: Turgenev to Pasternak, p 160)

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