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Old June 4th, 2010, 12:08 PM   #1

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Arrow Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


First of all, Oriental history is a major weakpoint for me, so I if I say anything naive, stupid, or non-factual in this post go easy on me

If I remember correctly (what research I have done on Japanese history being like 3-4 years ago) after his becoming shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu completely cut off contact with the outside world. Japanese were forbidden from leaving the islands; those who did and dared to return faced the death penalty. The Portuguese merchants and missionaries were expelled, and Japanese who had converted to Christianity were forced to abandon their new religion or be killed.

My question is: why? Was it out of some sense of divine destiny, or racial/cultural superiority? Was Tokugawa simply afraid of the influence the westerners had on Japanese culture?
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Old June 4th, 2010, 12:33 PM   #2

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Re: Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


I think it was mostly to do with the Jesuits. They were heavily active in China as well, and thus seen as collaborating with Japan's traditional enemy.

Also there was an incident with a Spanish ship that got wrecked off the Japanese coast, the San Felipe. The captain was boasting about the great Spanish empire and its power in an attempt to secure the release and return of his cargo. He produced a map showing the Spanish holdings. The Japanese were curious as to how so many lands were obtained by Spain, and the captain told them that they first sent missionaries to convert the people before absorbing them into their empire.

I would presume that, being Spanish, he didn't care what happened to the Portuguese mission in Japan. Probably that was actually a bonus.

So ... after that the Portuguese were also seen as the first wave of an invasion.
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Old June 4th, 2010, 03:43 PM   #3

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Re: Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


Hmmmm, actually even after becoming shogun Ieyasu was quite interested in foreigners and was quite open to meeting and trading with them.
Especially where obtaining modern firearms was concerned.
As time went by though he tired of the squabbling between the groups of foreigners that were in Japan at the time and didn't want to get dragged into their wars.
Christianity was also a sticking point. Up until this point in time Japan had been a fairly insular place anyway and the fact that foreigners had any kind of access to Japan was a new thing.
It was really the next Shogun in line that started to cut off contact with the outside world.
An interesting person from this time period was William Adams, reputedly the first Briton to travel to Japan, he became a close friend and advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was eventually elevated to Daimyo status, which for a foreigner was unheard of.
He is the basis for John Blackthorne in the book 'Shogun'.
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Old June 4th, 2010, 05:26 PM   #4

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Re: Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


I am also a bit weak with my oriental history. However, I remember covering this topic in a world civilizations class I took a few semesters ago.

I believe the shogunate had the similar view of the Europeans as the Chinese: they were barbaric.

Yes, the Portuguese were initially tolerated but they were eventually expelled along with the rest of the Europeans. The Jesuits were also expelled because the shogun felt that Christianity was becoming too influential.
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Old June 4th, 2010, 06:29 PM   #5
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Re: Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
First of all, Oriental history is a major weakpoint for me, so I if I say anything naive, stupid, or non-factual in this post go easy on me

If I remember correctly (what research I have done on Japanese history being like 3-4 years ago) after his becoming shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu completely cut off contact with the outside world. Japanese were forbidden from leaving the islands; those who did and dared to return faced the death penalty. The Portuguese merchants and missionaries were expelled, and Japanese who had converted to Christianity were forced to abandon their new religion or be killed.

My question is: why? Was it out of some sense of divine destiny, or racial/cultural superiority? Was Tokugawa simply afraid of the influence the westerners had on Japanese culture?
Leakbrewergator's expertise seems to be urgently required here.
Meanwhile, it is my impression that such isolation was actually utterly exaggerated by colonialist powers like the US, UK & Russia, in an obvious attempt to justify the collective imperialist aggression often euphemistically called "the opening" of Japan.

In short, it seems the main objective of the Kaikin (foreign contact restriction) was the prevention of a colonial intervention, of the same kind they were attesting all around them, let say in the Philippines.
In fact, when carefully reassessed, it seems the Kaikin made a lot of economic sense, even in modern terms.

For what it's worth, from en.wikipedia:
Quote:
Japan was not completely isolated under the sakoku policy. It was a system in which strict regulations were applied to commerce and foreign relations by the shogunate, and by certain feudal domains (han). The policy stated that the only European influence permitted was the Dutch factory (trading post) at Dejima in Nagasaki. Trade with China was also handled at Nagasaki. Trade with Kore was limited to the Tsushima domain ... Trade with the Ainu was limited to the Matsumae domain in Hokkaido, and trade with the Ryuku Kingdom took place in Satsuma domain ... Apart from these direct commercial contacts in peripheral provinces, trading countries sent regular missions to the shogun in Edo ...
Sakoku Sakoku
.
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Old June 4th, 2010, 08:34 PM   #6

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Re: Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


Quote:
Originally Posted by sylla1 View Post
In short, it seems the main objective of the Kaikin (foreign contact restriction) was the prevention of a colonial intervention, of the same kind they were attesting all around them, let say in the Philippines.
In fact, when carefully reassessed, it seems the Kaikin made a lot of economic sense, even in modern terms.
I'm very poorly versed on the Far East, but this is a very appealing explanation, to me.

Intuitively, it would seem the Japanese were doing something right in the long run, compared to their neighbours; and this would be the most striking policy difference.

China was definately more liberal about foreigners and trade, and look where that got them!

Click the image to open in full size.
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Old June 4th, 2010, 08:52 PM   #7
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Re: Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Edgewaters View Post
I'm very poorly versed on the Far East, but this is a very appealing explanation, to me.

Intuitively, it would seem the Japanese were doing something right in the long run, compared to their neighbours; and this would be the most striking policy difference.

China was definately more liberal about foreigners and trade, and look where that got them!
We mostly agree here (especially regarding that eloquent graphic depiction; it tells it all), except that China was actually not that liberal about foreigners and trade; in fact, it was quite the opposite.

The difference with Japan being of course that the colonial powers had far, far stronger economic incentives to subjugate China (one fifth of Humanity), fundamentally the opium trade after the Opium Wars; in fact, the latter became one of the main pillars of the British Empire.

BTW, please note the unfair but presumably deliberate absence of the US in that cartoon...
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Old June 6th, 2010, 04:42 PM   #8

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Re: Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


The main cause for Japan's isolationism was to avert the spread of Christianity.

This didn't really start with the Tokugawa Shogunate, though. In 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued an "Expulsion Edict" that stated:

Quote:
Item 1 - Japan is the Land of the Gods. Diffusion here from the Kiri****an (Christian) Country of a pernicious doctrine is most undesirable.

Item 2 - To approach the people of our provinces and districts and, making them into sectarians, cause them to destroy the shrines of the gods and the temples of the Buddhas is a thing unheard of in previous ages...

Item 3 - It is the judgment that since the Bateren (padres) by means of their clever doctrine amass parishioners as they please, the aforementioned violation of the Buddhist law...has resulted. That being outrageous, the Bateren can hardly be allowed to remain on Japanese soil.
Now this edict was not strictly enforced and it was only issued in response to a small group of priests in Nagasaki. However, it did provide a blueprint for future expulsion edicts.

Tokugawa Ieyasu never really trusted the foreign missionaries, but he did tolerate them in order to continue trade. However, once the missionaries began to compromise Ieyasu's domestic policies and even infiltrate his family, he began to seek ways to continue trade without religion. Also, Ieyasu dealt with a steady increase of Christian coverts in Japan. Something that made him very uneasy.

Ieyasu issued a few edicts that showed his interest in continuing foreign trade without dealing with religion:
Quote:
The doctrine followed in your country differs entirely from ours. Therefore, I am persuaded that it would not suit us. In the Buddhist sutras it is said that it is difficult to convert those who are not disposed toward being converted. It is best, therefore, to put an end to the preaching of your doctrine on our soil. On the other hand, you can multiply the voyages of merchant ships, and thus promote mutual interests and relations. Your ships can enter Japanese ports without exception. I have given strict orders to the effect.
Quote:
Englishmen are authorized to carry on trade in Japan….English may chose ports of trade. Ships in trouble may freely anchor in any inlet….Merchant residences and warehouses may be established in Edo. Return to England will be unrestricted. Residences may be owned outright…….
Still, Ieyasu increasing grew more intolerant of foreigners in the later years of his reign. In 1609, he tolerated missionaries in order to continue trade. In 1612, he called for trade to continue without religion. In 1613, he didn’t care if trade continued or not as long as missionaries were gone. In 1614, he was outright persecuting Christianity.
Japan’s strict isolationism really began with Tokugawa Iemitsu, who issued the Closed Country Edict of 1635.

You can read the translation of this edict here.
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Old June 7th, 2010, 09:37 PM   #9

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Re: Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


Leakbrewergator, ever read anything about William Adams?

I find the guy fascinating.
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Old June 7th, 2010, 11:43 PM   #10

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Re: Why did the Tokugawa Shogunate isolate Japan from the West?


Quote:
Originally Posted by sylla1 View Post
BTW, please note the unfair but presumably deliberate absence of the US in that cartoon...
Well the pizza has French writing on it and la petite mademoiselle est vraiment charmante so I'm guessing its of French origin and they simply forgot that the US was also a wannabe imperial power.
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