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An event that greatly influenced the development of friendly Japanese-Turkish relations was the loss of the imperial frigate Ertugrul, which sank off the Japanese coast in 1890 after an arduous goodwill trip to the Emperor of Japan. One of the earliest contacts between the two countries had been a visit in 1886 by Prince Komatsu, the nephew of Emperor Meiji, and Princess Komatsu during a trip to Europe. Their arrival in Istanbul in the fall of 1887 apparently led to a desire by Abdulhamid III to pursue closer relations relations with Meiji Japan, considered the rising new star of the East by Ottoman public opinion. The government therefore sent the imperial frigate Ertugrul with Commander Osman Pasha and his crew of 609 men to Japan; Osman Pasha was empowered to represent the Sultan.
In return for the 1887 visit of Prince Komatsu, the ship and her crew began their goodwill trip to the Emperor of Japan in July 1889. The voyage, however, proved hazardous, with recurring technical problems and mishaps. These were due in part to the fragility of the ship, an old-fashioned wooden vessel that was considered unfit for the journey by the British engineer who was a technical aide in the Ottoman navy. In hindsight the disastrous journey was considered by many Turks as a typical reflection of the pathos of last-ditch efforts of the Ottomans for a show of force.
After sailing in Asian waters for more than a year, a time filled with various mishaps and difficulties, the Ertugrul arrived in June of 1890 in Japan, where Osman Pasha and his crew had a successful visit with the authorities and the imperial family. On the return voyage, however, the Ottoman frigate sank in a severe typhoon on the 16th day of September after foundering on dangerous sharp rocks off the coast of Wakayama in southwest Japan. Except for a mere 69 survivors, the waves of the Pacific Ocean claimed the Pasha and his men.
According to official narratives, the Japanese government, deeply saddened by the tragedy, sent the few survivors back to Istanbul, together with condolences of the Meiji emperor and the government, on the Japanese frigates Hei and Kongo. The Japanese delegation set out in October and arrived in Istanbul on January 2, 1891, with Oyama Takanosuke as the Commander. The visit also brought Yamada Torajiro, who was the first resident merchant and unofficial emissary of Japan in Istanbul for the next twenty years. (based on “The Rising Sun and the Turkish Crescent“ by Selcuk Esenbel and Inaba Chiharu, Bogazici University Press, Istanbul 2003, pages 21-22).
There now stands in Oshima (Kushimoto), Wakayama Prefecture, near the lighthouse, the " Ertugrul Monument " built in memory of those pioneers of Turkish-Japanese friendship. The compassion demonstrated by the Japanese people in saving and returning to Istanbul the survivors of the crew of the frigate Ertugrul has left a lasting memory of gratitude in the minds of the Turkish people. Thus, this tragic accident became a solemn symbol of friendship between the two nations.