JAPANESE OFFSHOOT OF MENDELEEV’S FAMILY TREE. INQUIRY
The 170th anniversary of Dmitry Mendeleev has been recently observed. Last week Masanori Kaji, a professor with the Tokyo Technological Institute, delivered a lecture called “The branch of sakura in Mendeelev’s family tree” at the Moscow University of Chemistry and Technologies. The lecture was read by request of Academician Pavel Sarkisov, a rector of the above university.
Dmitry Mendeleev had 6 children. Yet only one of his grandchildren survived and lived in Russia. It was Ekaterina Kamenskaya. All the other Mendeleev’s grandchildren died at birth or in infancy. Ekaterina Kamenskaya died at the beginning of the ‘90s leaving a childless Alexander, her only offspring. Is he going to be the last descendant of the Mendeleevs?
“All the gentlemen who saw our sweet Ofuji agree that she’s your spit and image,” reads the letter addressed to Vladimir, Mendeleev’s first son. The letter was written by one Taka Hidesima from Nagasaki. Masanori Kaji spotted it a few years ago amid the entries in the Mendeleev archives in St. Petersburg. He was on his post-doctoral degree trip to Mendeelev’s museum under the aegis of Igor Dmitriev, a professor with the St. Petersburg University. The Japanese researcher decided to conduct his own inquiry into this intriguing story.
Vladimir, Dmitry Mendeleev’s much loved firstborn, was born in 1865. He graduated from Naval Academy and joined the Navy in 1884. His father’s connections landed him a position of a warrant officer on the frigate “Pamyat Azova” in 1890. He spent most of his time onboard the ship making long voyages. The frigate was cruising around the Pacific and Mediterranean on the instructions of the government. Prince Nikolai Alexandrovich, a future Russian Emperor Nicholas II, arrived in Japan on board the frigate in 1891.
The frigate made frequent calls to the port of Nagasaki. The ship would lie alongside from a few days to a few weeks. Masanori Kaji specified the times by checking Vladimir’s statement of service and vessel’s log books kept in the state archives. One of the port calls occurred in 1892 when the frigate attended exercises of the Japanese Navy. The ship stayed in port from April 12 through May 10. The Russian seamen spent almost a month ashore yet far from home. Though they could enjoy the amenities provided by the authorities for the benefit of seafarers walking down the gangway. Masanori Kaji told the audience that Japan was a closed country until 19th century, and the port of Nagasaki was the only link to the outside world. It was heavily used by merchant shipping. Foreign ships would be lying alongside for weeks. The authorities made arrangements to keep sailors from boredom and within the port limits. A man-made island with stores, restaurants and brothels was built for that matter. Semiofficial rules required a certain degree of decency applicable to both parties involved in amorous relationships. A naval officer could even arrange a marriage contract between himself and his love interest effective during a ship’s stay in port. Vladimir Mendeleev concluded one of those contracts. Taka Hidesima became his temporary wife as by contract. She gave birth to a baby girl on January 28, 1893. The offspring was a dead ringer for Vladimir. She was given a name of Ofuji after Mount Fuji. She was the first granddaughter of Dmitry Mendeleev.
The rest is pretty murky. There’re only two letters of Taka Hidesima in the Mendeleev’s archives. The first one informs Vladimir of the birth of his daughter and the death of little Ofuji’s granny who passed away shortly before the girl was born. Taka also writes in that letter that she can hardly make her ends meet. “Upon your departure from Nagasaki, I took my watch, ring and other items to a pawnshop. I also borrowed more than 200 yens from my friends. I just can’t explain to you all the pain I’ve had because I didn’t get a single letter from you. There’s a custom in Japan to throw in a party in honor of a newborn, parents should buy new swaddling clothes, send some presents to a temple, next of kin and friends. A special dinner should be served to mark the occasion. I still can’t do none of the above because I’m out of money. I’m very ashamed for this to my friends.” The final line if the letter goes like that: “Our daughter and I are praying for your health so that you will always remember that you are our strength.”
Vladimir’s attitude toward that Japanese wonder is unknown. But Dmitry Mendeleev showed concern for his Japanese granddaughter by sending a monthly allowance to Taka, according to Olga, Vladimir’s sister. He obviously sent a letter or two to Taka too. Her second letter kept in the archives holds enough evidence to support this point of view. The letter dated July 6, 1894, reads: “Dear Dmitry Ivanovich! Please accept my apology for keeping silent for such a long time. I dare ask you about your state of health. Our sweet and precious Ofuji and myself are feeling fine. She already began walking. Please find attached a photograph of myself and Ofuji. Please forward to me your photograph in return. I’ve been suffering without having any news from Volodya for so long. Therefore I’d be very much obliged to you if you could brief me about my dear Volodya by your next letter. Wishing you good health and remain your obedient servant, Taka Hidesima.”
That’s it. Vladimir Mendeleev married Varvara Lemokh, a Russian painter’s daughter, three years after the birth of his Japanese offspring. The fate didn’t seem to favor him much, though. Dmitry, his only son born to that union died shortly after birth. Vladimir died a premature death three years later.
What happened to Mendeleev’s daughter in Japan? Did that branch of sakura bear fruit? Any descendents of the Russian chemist possibly walking about the Land of the Rising Sun? Did Ofuji happen to know about the greatness of her granddad? The answers to these questions are yet to be found. On the face of it, it’s easy to check the records kept in Nagasaki regarding Ofuji and her children if there were any. Masanori Kaji: “It’s not that easy. Everything relating to privacy is under lock and key in Japan. The public records are kept in the temples and municipal offices. Only the relatives of a person will be granted access to such sort of information after submitting a proper request to the officials”. The research will go on, anyway. “Our university is named after Dmitry Mendeleev. It’s our duty to complete the inquiry. We’ll probably learn more details about the Japanese branch of Mendeleev’s family tree in the near future,” said Academician Pavel Sarkisov.
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