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Iucnan´ n 1ionaonnu I¡omonio
By Julija Patlanj
This is a translation, with slight modiﬁcations and additions, of the
author’s article “Mi venis el Rusio, fabelojn mi verkas japane, kaj miaj
amikoj nomas min japana poeto.”
Figure 1: Eroshenko in Japan, 1916
Eroshenko once told a man who was blinded in war: “I hazily remember
seeing only four things: the sky, pigeons, the church where they roosted, and
Jan. 12, 1890–Dec. 23, 1952.
Philologist, Ukrainian Roerich Society (Kiev).
my mother’s face. Not too much . . . But that always inspired and inspires me
to seek out pure thoughts—thoughts as pure as the sky—and always made
me remember my homeland as well as my mother’s face, in whichever corner
of the world Fate cast me.” Eroshenko’s blindness did not prevent him from
living an adventurous and productive life. He was known by several names.
In Japan they called him Ero-san; in China, Ailuoxianke. Blind Burmese
children called him “elder brother,” and astonished Chukchis called him
Although one can ﬁnd Vasilii Eroshenko’s name in
Japanese encyclopedias, few people in his native country or the West know
his name. Why is this so?
There are several reasons. First, his multifaceted activity and interests,
which opposed the oﬃcial Communist party line. Second, repeated and
often intentional destruction of his personal papers. Third, the inevitable
language barriers, which Vasilii Eroshenko overcame so successfully during
his life. Research on Eroshenko’s life and works began in his homeland ﬁve
years after his death, but even now there is no complete collection of his
fables and stories either in Russia or the Ukraine.
Eroshenko once wrote about the visit of Li Hongzhang,
a Chinese diplo-
mat, to the Moscow school for the blind where he was learning handicrafts
and music. The instructors taught the children to believe that “the white
race alone is superior.” However, despite belonging to an “inferior” race,
the visitor kindly permitted the children to touch not only his Manchu-
style clothing but even his queue. He seemed much nicer to the children
than their school guardian, who belonged to the “superior race.” Eroshenko
will describe—with biting irony—how the children told the teachers of their
discovery and of their subsequent cruel punishment in “Unu paˆgeto en mia
lerneja vivo” (‘A Page from My School Days’), ﬁrst published in Shanghai in
Perhaps that ﬁrst meeting with an Oriental sowed in him an interest
Eroshenko’s Turkmen students called him urus-ata (‘Russian father’), a name not
lightly bestowed on everyone (Pershin, “El la libro” 143).
Li Hung-chang [in Wade-Giles romanization] (1823–1901). Chinese general and a
leading statesman of the late Qing Empire, who was best known in the West for his
diplomatic negogiation skills.
This account is collected in Vol. 1 of Eroshenko’s selected works, edited by Mine
Yositaka (Lumo kaj ombro [‘Light and Shadow’], p. 5–18). Mine’s careful eﬀorts to compile
these volumes have saved Eroshenko from oblivion and made his works readily available
to modern readers of Esperanto literature.
For many years, researchers believed that “Unu paˆgeto” was an autobiographical work.
However, the facts do not support this interpretation: Li Hongzhang visited Moscow in
1896, when he attended the coronation of Czar Nicholas II. Eroshenko studied at the
school for the blind from 1899 until 1908. So he and Li never met in real life. It now
seems that this story is allegorical—the product of a mature, 33-year-old writer who had
in East Asia . . .
After ﬁnishing school, Eroshenko played the violin in a special orchestra
of blind musicians at the “Yakor” (1io¡i) restaurant on Tverskaya Street in
Moscow. Then he met Anna Sharapova—an English teacher and promoter
She informed him of the Royal National College for the Blind
near London, where he could continue his studies. Eroshenko soon spoke
Esperanto ﬂuently and Sharapova prepared him for the long trip.
In 1912 an article entitled “A Blind Russian’s Trip to London” (Ivfom-
ocfnno ¡vccioio caonnu n ¯onzon) appeared in the magazines Slepets (Caonon)
and Vokrug sveta (Ioi¡vi cnofu). There it said that Vasilii Eroshenko, age
22, had learned Esperanto so thoroughly—mainly from a braille English-
Esperanto dictionary, magazines and books from London, and from corre-
spondence with British Esperantists—that he also quickly learned English.
He even amazed the British with his knowledge of English braille shorthand.
The article also points out that on his way to London, he was greatly helped
not only by sighted people but also by the blind. “Aladdin’s lamp could not
have helped me more than the green Esperanto star. I am certain that no
genie from Arabian tales could have done more for me than the real-life
genius: Dr. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto,” Eroshenko wrote in his
sketch “La unua eksterlanda vojaˆgo” (‘My First Trip Abroad’).
In London he began studying Pali, the language of Buddhism’s sacred
books. Perhaps it was then that he decided to travel to Japan. So he re-
turned home and prepared himself for the trip; he studied Japanese, corre-
sponded with Esperantists from Japan, Korea, Burma. He may have known
that in Japan the blind are accorded great respect, and that since pre-
modern times they have had exclusive rights to play the koto and samisen
as well as being masseurs or acupuncturists. Furthermore, Esperanto en-
joyed great favor and respect in the Orient at that time.
In April 1914, Eroshenko reached Tokyo by ship from Vladivostok. There
Nakamura Kijo (an Esperantist and member of the Imperial Academy of
Sciences) met him and gave him lodging. Vasilii wrote: “Tired from the long
trip and the novel impressions, I fell asleep immediately. I awoke at 7:00
lived extensively in the Orient.
Anna Sharapova (·nnu Uu¡unonu, 1863–1923). Sister-in-law of Pavel Ivanovich
Biriukov, the disciple and biographer of Leo Tolstoy. She translated several of Tolstoy’s
works into Esperanto. When Sharapova began teaching Eroshenko Esperanto, she found
that he had an exceptional memory; after hearing something only once, he would never
forget it. He quickly became more ﬂuent than his teacher (Kalocsay 75).
Reprinted in Vol. 5 of Eroshenko’s selected works, Kruˆco da saˆgeco [‘A Jug of Wis-
dom’], p. 59–68.
a.m. with the thought that kami were awaiting me. Today I must be reborn.
Today I will become the second, the younger son of Nakamura-san and they
will give me a new name. It will be interesting to ﬁnd out what name . . . My
new family is big and friendly, just like in Obukhovka.
Here too I have a
father, mother and six brothers and sisters . . . Toshiko, the youngest of my
sisters, age 7 or 8, cared for me the most. She fulﬁlled her duties as guardian
very seriously, like an adult. I pick up an object and she says its name in
Japanese. I repeat the Japanese words with a Russian accent and sense that
it sounds funny. But she does not laugh; she carefully corrects me until it
sounds right. I write the correct pronunciation in braille on individual cards,
so that I can review them at night. The next day . . . I ﬂuently pronounced
“Ohajo gozaimasu, Toshiko” (‘Good morning, Toshiko’) but my younger
sister replied with such a long greeting that because of the multiple bows
which are required on these occasions, my back started hurting . . . ”
At the Tokyo school for the blind, Vasilii studied four subjects: medicine,
Japanese language and literature, psychology and music. His new father paid
for his studies. A massage instructor was invited especially for Eroshenko.
Japanese literature was taught by a professor who spoke Russian.
During his stay in Japan, Eroshenko was very busy; he participated in
diﬀerent organizations (often with a radical-anarchist orientation), taught
Esperanto, practiced art (he sculpted with clay), organized discussions on
art, gave frequent lectures (during which he often sang Russian folk songs)
and also was active in the theater. (Since he had perfect pitch, he precisely
understood the meaning of every role’s replies).
In January 1916 his ﬁrst stories were published; the ﬁrst, “Tale of a
Lantern,” was written only one and a half years after he arrived in Japan. He
was also interested in the Bah´a’´ı Faith; he translated Bah´a’u’ll´ah’s Hidden
Words from English into Esperanto.
Several of Eroshenko’s talks from this
time also incorporated Bah´a’´ı ideas.
Obukhovka (Oovxoniu) is a village located in Belgorodskaya oblast’ (administrative
region) in the south of the European part of Russia, bordering on the Ukraine. Pershin
notes that Eroshenko’s father, Jacob, bought meat in Staryi Oskol (21 km to the north-
west), cured it and then sold it in Obukhovka. The area had poor soil but rich pastureland,
so cattle raising developed there (“Facetoj” 124).
The translation was done with the assistance of Agnes B. Alexander (1875–1971),
who was the ﬁrst Bah´a’´ı in Hawaii, a missionary to Japan and fellow Esperantist. She
met Eroshenko in Tokyo and through him, she was able to teach the Bah´a’´ı Faith to
blind Japanese as well as Japanese women. Eroshenko’s translation of the Hidden Words
appears in Malvasta kaˆgo ([‘Cramped Cage’], p. 61–74). For more information on his
involvement with the Bah´a’´ı Faith, see Chapter 3 of Alexander’s book (p. 10–22), which
is also available online.
Figure 2: Eroshenko and Agnes B. Alexander (Tokyo, 1915)
In 1916 there was a heated debate between Eroshenko and Rabindranath
Tagore. (The Hindu writer was lecturing in Tokyo on diﬀerences between the
religions and cultures of West and East). Eroshenko disagreed with Tagore’s
main argument, which was that Western civilization is a materialistic civi-
lization, but that Indian culture is completely spiritual. The Russian writer
proved that materialism is not a foreign concept in Indian philosophy.
Tagore, amazed by his blind opponent’s knowledge, said “Perhaps you
are a Christian, so let a Buddhist priest oppose you.”
“No, I am a nonbeliever,” replied Eroshenko. “You see, I have my own
relationship with the church.”
“A nonbeliever?” Tagore was surprised. “But what is troubling you in
“It seems to me that in your analysis of Buddhism and Christianity, you
place the cultures of Europe and Asia in opposition to each other. Just like
Kipling, who wrote that ‘East is East, and West is West, and never the twain
shall meet.’ I cannot agree with that. Our cultures have many similarities
and if we sometimes do not understand each other, that is because we are
ignorant of the other’s language. And also because of nationalists, who incite
one people against another.”
The Hindu writer asked after the debate, “Tell me who you are.”
“I came from Russia, I write fables in Japanese, and my friends call me
a Japanese poet,” concluded Eroshenko to everyone’s applause.
In his letters, Eroshenko wrote: “Last Sunday I was in a strange mood.
I wanted to ﬂy in an aeroplane and I went to the famous American Smith
and asked him to take me but he turned down my request.
He said that
in Japan he does not take on any passengers because there would be a risk
to him and no gain (Apr. 1916). I must leave Japan as soon as possible but
several obstacles are holding me back, and perhaps I will stay here a few
more months. The school is not demanding payment, so I can stay as long
as I wish . . . I am not paying for lodging and my hosts are even asking me
to live with them forever. See, I can now study and live with no worries.
Many men might perhaps dream of that, but not me . . . ”
I do not seek happiness, nor do I desire success. Now while everything is
going so well for me, more than ever I think of ﬂeeing, I renounce happiness,
I disregard my well-being, I do not appreciate my success in Japan. Having
achieved success, I refuse it with no regrets.
Very often I would like to have a crown only so that I could throw it at
the feet of passers-by with a smile. How often I would like to be in paradise,
with gods and angels, only to refuse heavenly joys and to join the suﬀerers
burning in the eternal ﬂames . . . The only thing which saddens me is that
soon I will be forgotten by those whom I so loved and whom I will never
forget . . . ”
Eroshenko sometimes said of his stay in Japan: “Too little space and too
much happiness.” He left Japan on July 3, 1916 to begin his travels through
Southeast Asia: Siam (now Thailand), Burma, India . . . Vasilii Eroshenko
learned languages, became familiar with the state of education and teaching
of the blind in those countries, he organized schools for the blind, researched
local traditions and folklore, collected popular legends. He donated his
meager savings to the local blind.
In January 1917 Eroshenko arrived in Burma (now Myanmar), where
he was oﬀered the directorship of a school for the blind but declined it and
worked as a classroom teacher. He visited several ancient Burmese cities.
When the news of the February revolution in Russia reached Burma,
Eroshenko attracted the attention of the colonial British government; he
was put under surveillance. In November, when he himself learned of the
Russian Revolution, he wished to return home but was not issued a visa.
Soon thereafter he was arrested—as a German spy!
In September, Eroshenko travelled to India (for the second time), hoping
Arthur Roy Smith (1890–1926). A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana known by the
nicknames “The Smash-Up Kid” and “The Bird Boy.” He was oﬀered $10,000 by the
Japanese for a series of ﬂying exhibitions in 1916–17. He was the toast of Japan and
was entertained by dignitaries and royalty. Roberts’s online article (linked below) can be
consulted for additional information.
to reach Russia overland, but the government authorities forbade him from
leaving the country and placed him under house arrest. However, Vasilii
managed to escape. He travelled around the country, recording Indian leg-
ends (in Japanese). He was arrested after several months and taken to
Calcutta, where he caused his own deportation. He sang the Internationale
in a movie theater, translating the lyrics into Bengali. The results were fore-
seeable; Eroshenko was deported from the realm of the British Empire as a
Bolshevik. With the aid of his Esperantist friends, during a stop in Shang-
hai he slipped aboard a Japanese cargo ship and secretly returned to Japan.
There he continued to be actively involved in socialist and revolutionary
After the Japanese Socialist Party was outlawed in May 1921, Eroshenko
was arrested for the second time. The authorities demanded his exile and
“treated him worse than a homeless dog.” They even tried pulling his eyes
out to make certain he was blind. “If they were men, they would immedi-
ately kill themselves out of shame,” the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun wrote
indignantly. None of Eroshenko’s numerous friends were allowed to bid him
farewell. News of the blind poet’s torture quickly spread outside Japan as
At that time a civil war was also raging in Asian Russia, and Eroshenko
was not allowed to enter his homeland (but he miraculously avoided arrest!).
So he travelled to China on foot because there was not yet a trans-Siberian
railway. In Shanghai he was invited to teach at the Orienta Esperanto-
Propaganda Instituto (‘Oriental Institute for the Promotion of Esperanto’).
While there, his literary output in Esperanto grew steadily.
In October 1921, a literary supplement to a Peking magazine was pub-
lished which was devoted entirely to Eroshenko’s life and works. The famous
Chinese writer Lusin [Lu Xun] became interested in Eroshenko due to this
supplement. They remained steadfast friends until the end of Lu Xun’s life
despite the distance separating them and their frequent inability to stay in
touch . . . Lu Xun did much to help Eroshenko; he not only translated his
works into Chinese but also recommended him to the rector of Peking Uni-
versity, where Eroshenko taught Esperanto and Russian literature for a brief
He participated in the 14
World Congress of Esperanto [Universala
Kongreso] in Helsinki (1922) as a representative of the Chinese Esperanto
League. A year later, during the 15
World Congress in Nuremburg, he
recited his poem “Anta˘ udiro de la ciganino” (‘The Gypsy’s Prophecy’) and
received ﬁrst prize for the best Esperanto pronunciation.
The president of
the jury, Edmond Privat, said that Eroshenko was awarded the prize “not
only for his work but for his whole life . . . ”
In spring 1924 Eroshenko met in Paris with the president of the World
Blind Union and attended courses at the Sorbonne. In the summer of that
year he participated in the World Congress in Vienna, during which the
Universala Asocio de Blindaj Esperantistoj (‘Universal Association of Blind
Esperantists’) was founded.
Eroshenko lived in the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death (he only
went abroad in 1932 to attend the World Congress in Paris). He ﬁrst worked
as a university professor, then as a Japanese translator. He indignantly
refused the Soviet Secret Service’s proposal to collaborate with them by
eavesdropping on foreign hotel guests’ telephone calls. After his refusal,
he began experiencing problems with his correspondence and his personal
papers were burned “for some reason.” (Unfortunately, those were not his
last papers to be destroyed by ﬁre). We do not know much about this period
of Eroshenko’s life, so we often have to read between the lines.
In 1929 he travelled to the Arctic Circle, to the Chukotka Peninsula,
where his brother Aleksandr was working as a veterinarian and studying
the tundra reindeer. For a short time he studied the Chukchi language.
Eroshenko was able to guide a dogsled team and hunt (orienting himself by
sound alone!). Once a trip to the tundra almost ended tragically; he was
caught in a blizzard seventy kilometers from home but was rescued by a dog
who found him in the snowdrifts. The literary result of this adventure was
his book El vivo de la ˆcukˆcoj (‘From the Life of the Chukchis’), originally
written in Esperanto.
Returning from the Far North, he worked brieﬂy as
a teacher in the Ukraine.
Later he travelled in the Arctic Ocean aboard an icebreaker. “He is in-
deed an eternal vagabond,” was the reply in a letter to his Chinese friend. (A
Chinese Esperantist who was missing his friend Eroshenko wrote to Russia
in order to ﬁnd out what had become of him).
His later life took place in Central Asia. Eroshenko lived in Kushka, in
the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic between 1934 and 1944, where he
founded and directed the ﬁrst institute for blind children. He learned the
Turkmen language and developed a braille alphabet for it, which was later
recognized as the best of any project conceived until then. But until the end
In Vol. 1 of Eroshenko’s selected works, Lumo kaj ombro, p. 20–22. Also reprinted in
Kalocsay, p. 72.
See Vol. 2 of Eroshenko’s selected works, La tundro ˆgemas (‘The Tundra Moans’).
of his life, the Soviet Secret Service never left the “suspicious” Eroshenko
alone—above all because of his involvement with Esperanto and for “overly
It is highly ironic that in India he was believed to be a German spy, in
Japan—a Soviet spy, in China—a radical anarchist. For whom did the Sovi-
ets think he was spying? What was the cause of the constant surveillance?
Why was his correspondence always opened? What was the reason for the
persistent inquiries and the burning of his personal papers? Perhaps we will
discover that before long.
When World War II began, he was removed from the directorship of
the Turkmen school and was made a classroom teacher. The institute was
relocated far away from the Afghan border . . .
In 1951 Eroshenko’s health took a dramatic turn for the worse. When the
doctor made his diagnosis of stomach cancer, little could he guess that this
modest patient knew more than ten European languages and several Oriental
languages, as well as the Latin in which he uttered his grim prognosis.
Aware that he would not live much longer, Eroshenko began his ﬁnal
round of travel to bid farewell to his friends and relatives, who were scattered
throughout the Soviet Union. Although he managed to hunt with a guide
in the Yakutian taiga, unfortunately he never realized his dream of walking
with a guide dog across Russia, from Obukhovka to Vladivostok.
Translated by David Pardue.
Translation with permission of the author.
Note: The second reference list contains external links to Web-based re-
 Alexander, Agnes Baldwin. History of the Bah´a’´ı Faith in Japan, 1914–
1938. [Osaka?]: Bah´a’´ı Publishing Trust of Japan, 1977.
 Eroˆsenko, Vasilij. Cikatro de amo. (‘Love’s Scar’) Trans. Shi Chengtai
and Guozhu. Comp. Mine Yositaka. Toyonaka, Japan: Japana Esper-
anta Librokooperativo, 1996.
 Eroˆsenko, V. Kruˆco da saˆgeco. (‘A Jug of Wisdom) Comp. Mine Yosi-
taka. Toyonaka, Japan: Japana Esperanta Librokooperativo, 1995.
 Eroˆsenko, V. Lumo kaj ombro. (‘Light and Shadow) Comp. Mine Yosi-
taka. Toyonaka, Japan: Japana Esperanta Librokooperativo, 1979.
 Eroˆsenko, V. Malvasta kaˆgo. (‘Cramped Cage’) Trans. Miyamoto
Masao. Comp. Mine Yositaka. Toyonaka, Japan: Japana Esperanta
 Eroˆsenko, V. Stranga kato. (‘Strange Cat’) Trans. Konisi Gaku . . . [et
al.]. Comp. Mine Yositaka. Toyonaka, Japan: Japana Esperanta Li-
 Eroˆsenko, V. La tundro ˆgemas: el vivo de ˆcukˆcoj. (‘The Tundra Moans:
From the Life of the Chukchis’) Comp. Mine Yositaka. Toyonaka, Japan:
Japana Esperanta Librokooperativo, 1980.
 Kalocsay, Kalman. “Eroˆsenko, la blinda mondmigrulo.” (‘Eroshenko,
The Blind Globetrotter’) Dek prelegoj. Ed. Vilmos Benczik. Budapest:
Hungara Esperanto-Asocio, 1985. 71–77.
 Patlanj, Julija. “Mi venis el Rusio, fabelojn mi verkas japane, kaj
miaj amikoj nomas min japana poeto.” (‘I Came from Russia, I
Write Fables in Japanese, and My Friends Call Me a Japanese Poet’)
Trans. fr. Russian into Esperanto by Zhenya Zvereva. Kontakto no. 204
 Pershin, Viktor Gerasimovich. Interview. “Facetoj de personeco.”
(‘Facets of a Personality’) By Igor Fejgin. Impeto ’91: soci-politika kaj
beletra almanako. Ed. I. Zajcev, A. Shevchenko. [Moscow]: Eldonejo
“Progreso,” 1991. 123–28.
 Pershin, Viktor Gerasimovich. “El la libro de rememoroj pri Vasilij
Eroˆsenko.” (‘From the Book of Recollections of Vasilii Eroshenko’)
Impeto ’91: soci-politika kaj beletra almanako. Ed. I. Zajcev,
A. Shevchenko. [Moscow]: Eldonejo “Progreso,” 1991. 129–50.
 Alexander, Agnes Baldwin. History of the Bah´a’´ı Faith in Japan,
1914–1938. Osaka, 1977. History of the Bah´a’´ı Faith in East Asia.
Scanned and formatted by Jonah Winters and proofread by Bar-
bara Sims. 30 Mar. 2005 http://bahai-library.org/east-asia/
 The Anarchist Encyclopedia: a Gallery of Anti-Authoritarians &
Poets, Saints & Sinners, Movements & Events. “Vasily Eroshenko
(1890–1952).” 21 Oct. 2001, updated Dec. 2002. 30 Mar. 2005
 Poulson, David. “Eroshenko.” Online article. Suite101.com.
22 Dec. 2000. 30 Mar. 2005 http://www.suite101.com/article.
 Poulson, David. “Eroshenko. Part Two.” Online article. Suite101.com.
29 Dec. 2000. 30 Mar. 2005 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/
 Poulson, David. “Eroshenko Deported!” Online article. Suite101.com.
12 Jan. 2001. 30 Mar. 2005 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/
 Poulson, David. “Eroshenko in China. Part One.” Online article.
Suite101.com. 26 Jan. 2001. 30 Mar. 2005 http://www.suite101.com/
 Poulson, David. “Lusin. Part One.” Online article. Suite101.com.
9 Feb. 2001. 30 Mar. 2005 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/
 Poulson, David. “Lusin. Part Two.” Online article. Suite101.com.
23 Feb. 2001. 30 Mar. 2005 http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/
 Roberts, Rachel Sherwood. “The Smash-Up Kid: Fort Wayne
Aviator Art Smith.” Online article. 30 Mar. 2005. http://www.
 Iucnan´ n 1ionaonnu I¡omonio n oio n¡o:n: Vasilij Eroˆsenko kaj lia
epoko. (‘Vasilij Eroshenko and His Era’). International Electronic Con-
ference. 2002–2003. http://www.eroshenko-epoko.narod.ru/
Chieﬂy Russian-language material—with a few articles in Ukrainian
and Esperanto—on Eroshenko, from an international Web-based con-
ference organized by Patlanj and Sergei Prokhorov (Kolomna State Ped-
Articles contributed by Ms. Patlanj can be found at http://www.