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Japan’s Trade History in the Past Twenty-six Centuries

A. K. Mukherji, May 8th, 1939,
Calcutta, India.

5,404 words

From Anath Bandhu Mitra (ed.), New Asia: An Organ of Oriental Culture and Thought (52-53 Bowbazar Street, Calcutta), Vol. 2, No. 3, July 1940, pp. 9-22.

According to early history, Japan’s foreign trade activities in ancient times were restricted almost exclusively with Korea . No sufficient historical data are available at present to clarify Japan’s commercial relations in about six hundred years directly following the founding of the Empire. Continental culture was introduced and diffused by the naturalized peoples who migrated in large number to Japan from the regions of Shiragi, Koma, and Kudara (districts in Korea). These same people greatly contributed to the promotion of culture and economy in this country.

Japan’s intercourse with China seems to have existed even in the days of the Kan period, and the post-Kan period privately. Officially, however, the communication with Chi11a started in the sixth year of the reign of Emperor Yuryaku, when an official messenger visited Japan from the country of Go, a district of Korea. This call was returned by a visit of a Japanese delegate to Go in the eighth year during the same reign. It is well known that the traffic between Japan and China took place with commodities as well as with men in those days, for in about 264 years, Imperial delegates were sent to China on fifteen occasio11s. Many official representatives and merchant vessels also visited Japan from China.

Trade activities conducted by these Imperial delegates and Chinese vessels seem to have been what may be termed governmental monopolies and were conductcd under State control.

These Japanese Imperial messengers to China took with them mostly silver, brocade yarns and cotton tissues in the form of gifts, while China sent to Japan coloured tissues, perfumed medicines and other rare articles. Chinese vessels also transported to Japan books mostly concerning Buddhism, industrial art objects, medicines and perfumes. These articles were chiefly confined to luxuries catered principally to the wealthy class, and had little to do with the general masses. Such was a general tendency of Japan’s foreign trade in ancient times.

These imported articles were received and displayed at places called Korokan which were located in Kyoto, Namba and Hakata. Hence, trade in those days was called Korokan trade.

Kasuga and Nara Eras

In the Kasuga and Nara periods and even during the Heian era, Japan’s trade with Korea and China was continued, although the formal traffic with Korea was suspended because of internal disturbances in the peninsula. Japan was forced to announce the discontinuance of the Imperial messenger system and the prohibition of trade on several occasions, but private commercial transactions with Korea continued to be conducted. Many individuals were ready to spend fortunes to buy and secure rare articles imported from Shiragi.

Later, Shiragi went to ruin and Koma, which annexed Shiragi, sought to resume economic relations by sending a formal delegate to Japan. On October 13, in the second year of Tenen under the reign of the Emperor Enyu, a trade delegate from Koma visited Japan. This record clearly showed that there existed trade relations between Japan and China on an official basis in those days.

Later, Japan discovered a number of the Koma natives amongst armed pirates attacking Japanese coasts. In retaliation, Japan placed a ban on trade with Koma, but it seems that some of the powerful clans in the Kyushu district secretly violated the governmental ban and continued trade transactions with Koma.

Japan’s trade and traffic with China in the Tang period (in China) were at their zenith from the close of the Nara period and in the beginning of the Heian period. The system of sending formal delegates to the country of Tang, which had contributed greatly to the promotion of Japan’s civilization in ancient times, was abolished in the sixth year of Kampei during the reign of Emperor Uda, because of a report brought back by a Tang priest concerning the downfall of the Tang Dynasty and due to the financial conditions in this country. General trade transactions, however, continued active, and during the reign of Emperor Nimmei, a Government sample fair was opened for miscellaneous articles imported from the country of Tang in Kyoto. During the reigns of the Emperors Junwa, Myoko and Daigo, articles imported from Tang merchants were accurately listed and strictly inspected in order to prevent the sharp advance of prices at the auctions which opened immediately upon the arrival of the goods. Thus, trade transactions under Government control were encouraged.

Fall of T’ang Dynasty

After the downfall of the Tang dynasty, China was compelled to undergo turbulent days, but even during those troublous periods, Japan’s trade activities with China were conducted comparatively on a large scale. Later China was unified under the Sung dynasty, and merchant vessels from Chinn began to call at Japanese ports. And merehants arriving here were welcomed at the foregoing Korokan. At times, visits of Sung merchants were so frequent that the Government was compelled to fix the period of sojourn for them. Later, however, in the Konoe, Nijo Rokujo periods, Taira-Kiyomori opened the Strait of Otodo for the construction of a harbour at Owada (Hyogo) in order to promote trade activities with the Sung dynasty. It is easy to imagine how difficult and adventurous the communication with the Continent was with the primitive shipbuilding and navigation technique in those early days. Major ports then were Nambatsu (present Osaka) and Miko Suimon (Muko watergate: in the vicinity of present Hyogo). Merchant vessels reached the Matsuura beach in Hizen via the Inland Sea and present Moji and Shimonoseki, and cruised southward along the Continental coasts through the Korean waters, arriving at Kienkang (present Chiangningfu, Kiangsu Province).

Navigation of official delegates despatched to the dynasty was mostly conducted by a fleet of four vessels, leaving Nambatsu and rounding tl1c Gulf of Pechili via the Inland Sca, Matsuura, Iki, Tsushima and Korea, or taking a routine via the Tsichow Island and Chengking Province, or taking a route via the Gulf of Pechili and Shantung Province to Chengking, the capital city of the Tang dynasty. It generally required years to complete the round trip. In those day, the centre of trade activities with China in the Kyushu district was Dazaifu, and Matsuura was the starting point and Mecca of merchant vessels hound for China. This is the reason why Matsuura came to be called Karatsu (Tang Port) in later days.

Medieval Ages

Some four hundred years in the medieval ages from the Kamakura and Muromachi periods to the Adzuchi and Momoyama periods were the days dominated by feudalism. Specially since the Kemmu era, rival military chieftains kept continual strife with one another in various parts of the country, and formed what is generally termed the age of civil wars.

Under the circumstances, domestic trade activities were greatly hampered. On the other hand, trade activities with foreign countries made a reactionary development on the strength of the fall of diplomatic relations and the weakening of government restrictions. These trade activities were conducted mostly by provincial lords, rich merchants or noted priests, dissatisfied with domestic conditions.

Thus, activities of Japanese traders extended not only to Korea and China, but further to the South Sea countries. Traffic with Europe was also started during these medieval periods.

Trade activities with Korea, under governmental restriction since the attack of armed pirates from Korea, became brisk as the government grew weaker. As a result, many Japanese civilians made expeditions to the peninsula and resorted to plundering operations since the close of the Kamakura era to the early days of the Muromachi period.

The country of Koma, afraid of Japanese attacks with the visit of the Yamato race, sent messengers to Japan frequently to ask for the ban of illegal visits and the normalization of trade activities. When Reikeisei, a Korean general, conquered the Koma dynasty and restored the Korean Government during the reign of Emperor Komatsu in Japan, traffic between Japan and Korea grew further active, and the Japanese migrated to the latter country in great numbers. Many warlords here also communicated with Korea. The House of Soh in Tsushima especially made close contact with Korea because of the geographical position of its territory.

ln the third year of Kayoshi under the reign of Emperor Gohanazono, Soh Sadamori concluded a contract to send 50 vessels to Korea annually, and to obtain 20,000 koku of rice and beans as remuneration. It was because the trade by the House of Soh was conducted through three ports of Korea, namely: Fuzan-po, Sei-po and Eu-po, the trade in those days was commonly called San-po trade or three-po trade.

Since the number of Japanese emigrants to Korea increased as a result of the growing prosperity of trade activities, disputes between the Japanese and Korean natives rose in rapid succession and culminated in the outbreak of the San-po Rebellion. Naturally, the Japanese residents in Korea withdrew from the peninsula, and trade relations between Japan and Korea were temporarily severed. The situation did not become aggavated, but the trade volume between the two countries after the resumption of trade relations was almost halved. Lord Soh endeavoured to restore active trade activities, but failed to regain the prosperity as in the days of Kayoshi. Until the Bunroku campaign and the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the third year of Keicho, and the resultant withdrawal of Japanese forces from Korea by Tokugawa Iyeyasu, there-after, trade between Japan and Korea was suspended again.

In the first half of the Kamakura era, Japan’s trade with China through the Sung dynasty was active privately as well as officially. The major trade port in Japan communicating with China at that time was Hakata, while Hirado steadily came into the limelight as a port of call.

Principal Trade Items

In those days principal export items from Japan to China were rice, lumber, gold, mercury, sulphur, lacquered ware, crystal work, swords and sabres and fans, while cardinal import items from China consisted of tissues, straw-mats, stationery, potteries and perfumes.

Imports of Sung coins (cast copper coins), active since the close of the Heian period, also continued to be prosperous. Later the Gen dynasty came into power on the Chinese Continent. On the heels of its successive conquests over the country of Koma and the Sung dynasty, the Gen dynasty attempted to conquer Japan. The attack of Gen soldiers resulted in one of the largest wars Japan had in her history, but the damage of the attack on the trade relations between China and Japan was comparatively slight.

The exchange of merchant ships between the two countries was restored to normal soon after the war.

The most important of Japan’s trade activities with the Gen dynasty was the Government-licensed trade conducted by the Tenryuji-bune (Tenryuji trade vessels). This system was initiated by the Government with the object of obtaining funds for the construction of the Tenryuji Temple to be dedicated to the soul of the Emperor Godaigo. The Government introduced this system after the example of the Kenchoji vessels and Sumiyoshijinsha vessels. Thus, during and after the reign of the Emperor Gomurakami, all trade ships plying between Japan and the country of Gen, were required to deliver a certain amount of money to the Tenryuji Temple, irrespective of the time of the return of the vessels and the amount of profits gained. The Kanjobune (Accounting Vessel) trade or the Shuinbune (Red Marked Vessel) trade, initiated in later days, originated from the licensed trade in this period. Trade items in transactions with the Gen dynasty were little different from articles which formed the trade with the Sung dynasty.

In the 1st year of Oh-an under the reign of the Emperor Chokei, the Ming dynasty came to succeed the Gen dynasty and placed all China under its unified administration on the Continent. Negotiations for the start of a friendship trade between Japan and the Ming dynasty were commenced by the Ming’s at first, and later by the Japanse but they failed because of a disagreement between the two parties.

Ming Trade Resumption

Later, the Muromachi Government sought profits in trade with the Ming dynasty to make up for losses in the Government’s treasury. In the eighth year of Ohei under the administration of Shogun Yoshimitsu, a special messenger was sent to the Ming dynasty to arrange for the reopening of trade relations. As a result, a treaty for the exchange of Kanjo (Accounting) trade vessels between the two countries was concluded in the 11th year of Ohei, and the Ming dynasty named Ningpo its trade port for the purpose.

By virtue of this treaty, the two countries came to exchange delegations composed of 200 members and two vessels every ten years. And the two Governments distinguished delegation ships from pirate ships by means of the Kanjo-fu or licensed marks. Under the reign of Shogun Yosinori, the Government charged the House of Ouchi in the Sohu province with the control over the licensed marks. Later, therefore, trade activities with the Ming dynasty fell under the influence of that house.

Tributes and trade items in those days principally consisted of horses, sulphur, agate, swords, fans, armours and lacquered ware from Japan to China and raw silk, gold and silver, old ware, paintings and writings, copper coins, etc. Copper moneys minted under the name of Eiraku coins in those days with copper imported from the Ming dynasty, went a long way toward alleviating the coin famine at that time, while the exports of swords proved extremely profitable and served to relieve the stringency of financial conditions of the Government.

With the advent of the civil-war age, this form of trade was abolished, but trade relations between the two continued to prosper, and some war lords in the Kyushu district attempted to conduct regular trade transactions with the Ming dynasty. In those days, Hirado rose in place of Hakata as the major trade port, while Sakai came to replace Hyogo as a Mecca for foreign trade.

Relations with the Malay States

Japan’s trade with Chusung, Annam and Thailand and other South Sea countries was initiated by private merchants in the days of the Muromachi period.

Historical data point out that the Japanese already visited the South Sea regions toward the latter part of the 16th century when Spain started its expeditions to the Philippine Islands. Toyotomi Hideyoshi recognized the freedom of foreign trade and established the Shuinbune (red-marked­ ship) system in the first year of Bunroku (1592). By virtue of this system, Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued red-marked licenses to trade vessels engaged in trade with South Sea countries to certify that they had no intention other than pure trade activities. This Shuinbune system apparently took after the Kanjobune (accounting vessel) system, but their intrinsic nature was entirely different. Such an attitude on the part of Toyotomi Hideyosho towards foreign trade activities enabled leading merchants in Kyoto, Sakai, Hakata and Nagasaki to carry on active trade transactions, while a number of provincial lords also obtained the red-marked licenses to engage in trade. These lords were commonly called trade lords. Major export items by the Shuinbunc trade included copper, copper ware, lacquered ware, fans, folding-screens, sulphur, camphor, armours, amber, cow hides and fancy goods, while major imports were cocoons, raw silk, silk tissues, woollen tissues, sugar, medicines, fragrant wood, cinnabar, mercury, glass, ivory, agate, coral, potteries and metal ware. All these export and import items were luxuries catered to the upper class of people. Naturally, traders realized enormous profits.

Marco Polo Introduces Japan

Towards the end of the 13th century, Marco Polo, the noted Italian writer and traveller, introduced Japan as a treasure island located to the east of the China Sea, to Europe. As a result, Europeans began to appear in Japan about 2203 (Japanese calendar), namely, in the 11th year of Tenbun (according to western date) or the 12th year of Tenbun (according to Nampo Bunshu), or some 400 years ago.

In some quarters, it is held that Japan’s trade with Europe originated from barter transactions conducted with a Portuguese ship which was cast ashore at the Tanekojima Islands to the south of Satsuma (in Kyushu) in those days. There is also an opinion that the origin of Japan’s trade with Europe is traced to a trade between a Portuguese ship and a certain Otomo at the time of the ship’s visit at Bungo in the third year of Kyoroku some 10 years later. Nevertheless, articles brought by Portuguese vessels in those days were rare and unique commodities, such as rifles, etc., and war lords in the Kyushu district hastened to open ports in their territories in a mad attempt to obtain products of Namban (Southern countries).

During the intercourse, they permitted foreigners to pass through their territories and recognised the freedom of missionary work. Because of such courteous treatments given to foreign vessels, Japan’s contact with Europe led by Portugal became increasingly closer. Thus, the scope of Japan’s trade activities extended from China and Korea to the South Sea region and Europe. Drastic changes took place with major trade ports as a natural result. As the trade routes of Japan advanced southward, Bonotsu of Statsuma and Hirado of Hizen came into the limelight in addition to Sakai and Hakata. Specially, the number of trade vessels and traders coming to Hirado increased year by year. Since the 2nd year of Genki under the reign of the Emperor Ohgimachi when Omura Sumitada, Lord of Omura, Hizen, opened the Port of Nagasaki to foreign trade; these two ports, namely: Hirado and Nagasaki became two most important ports for Japan’s foreign trade with Europe.

Modern Ages

It goes without saying that Japan’s foreign trade in the ages prior to the Meiji era was the trade of the Tokugawa era. For accuracy, it is convenient to divide the foreign trade during the Edo period into two stages, namely: the first preceding the national isolation and the second coming after that.

Iyeyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of the House of Tokugawa, was more or less interested in diplomacy and foreign civilizatio11. As a policy of unifying the country and stabilizing the foundation of the Tokugawa Government, especially in conciliating the Osaka “ronin” (lordless samurai), he was first enthusiastic in the promotion of foreign trade and took a positive attitude towards the freedom of trade. Speaking about Japan’s trade with Korea in those days, Japan’s trade relations with the country, in suspension since the Bunroku period, were steadily restored as a result of the visit of a delegation fr0m the country in the 9th year of Keicho through the efforts of the House of Soh at the command of Tokugawa Iyeyasu. In the 14th year of Keicho, a treaty was concluded between Japan and Korea, and by virtue of its provisions, a Nippon-kwan (Japanese House) was established at Fuzan, Korea, and an agreement was reached in regard to the number of trade vessels, official sales of articles, opening of fairs, etc. In those days, ,Japan’s trade with Korea was unrestricted in respect to the value of transactions.

With the advent of the isolation period, however, the trade volume was extremely restricted for reason of checking the reckless outflow of gold and silver. Iyeyasu Tokugawa also planned to restore friendly relation with the Ming dynasty, greatly depressed since the civil-war period. In view of the slow progress of direct negotiations, however, he attempted to make the Government of Loochoo Islands to mediate in the negotiations through the House of Shimadzu in Kyushu. Sho Nei, the King of the Loochoo Islands, first refused the proposition and took an insolent attitude, but later as the House of Shimadzu resorted to force, the King yielded. Thus, the project of Iyeyasu was materialized and trade relations with China became active again.

Japan’s trade with South Sea countries continued to develop even in the early days of the Tokugawa period. The Shuinbune (red-marked ship) system, initiated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was stabilized by Tokugawa Iyeyasu. The Tokugawa Shogunate Government issued the first Shuinbune trade licenses in the 9th year of Keicho (1604). The number of licenses issued by the Tokugawa Government during the 13 years from 1604 to the 2nd year of Genwa, clearly registered in records alone and totalled 199 licenses delivered to 93 persons. The shuinjo or red-marked licenses (licenses given under the Shuinbune system) were effective only for a period of one year and for one return voyage. The actual number of licenses issued is believed to have been far greater than they were recorded. In parallel with the development of trade, the Japanese emigrated in great numbers to South Sea countries (present Malay States) during the Keicho and Kan-ei eras. As a result, even Japanese towns came to be found in Chusang and Siam (present Thailand) and other South Sea countries. Just as those South Sea countries were lenient towards the visit of Japanese and Japanese vessels, Japan was similarly lenient towards the visit of merchant vessels from those regions. The trade ships from South Sea countries principally called at various ports in the Kyushu district.

European Trade Appears

Since the earlier days of the Keicho era, Tokugawa Iyeyasu had intended to trade with New Spain (present Mexico) through the medium of Chusung, but Chusung failed to accept Iyeyasu’s proposal. Later however, a Spanish vessel was cast ashore. When sending back the crew of that ship to Spain, Iyeyasu made a few Japanese merchants accompany them in order to conduct direct negotiations with that country. However, vessels later visiting here from Spain only brought goodwill envoys, and the time was not ripe for launching the Pacific trade for Japan. On the other hand, Holland and England entered the stage of Japan’s European trade, in addition to Portugal and Spain. In the 5th year of Keicho, a Dutch vessel was wrecked on the coast of Bungo, and Tokugawa Iyeyasu gave a warm reception to the crew of that ship. This proved to be the start of Japan’s relations with Holland . Nine years later, two Dutch ships arrived at Hirado via Nagasaki, and then despatched a messengcr to the seat of the• Tokugawa Government, then in Suruga. In response to the request of the Dutch messenger, Iyeyasu issued a red-marked license, thus permitting the trade transaction between Holland and Japan. Iyeyasu also authorized the Dutch to erect a hall in Hirado for the exhibition of Dutch products. Later, another Dutch ship called again and presented credentials to Iyeyasu. In reply, Iyeyasu sent his credentials to Holland and issued a new red-marked license. This served to strengthen Japan’s trade relations with that country.

Thirteen years after the arrival of the Dutch the “Glove,” an English ship, visited Hirado with the intention of opening trade with Japan. Iyeyasu accepted a letter from James I, King of England, and sent a trade license together with his personal reply to England. The visit of the English ship is said to be greatly attributed to the efforts of an Englishman, Williams Adams (later called Miura Anshin in Japan), who was the navigating lieutenant on board the Dutch ship which had been wrecked on the Japanese coast. As the English likewise opened a commercial house in Hirado, they became rivals of the Dutch and engaged in bitter competition. The English, however, lost the game and disappeared from the port after 11 years of existence there. What should not be neglected is that trade development in those days was the Hogin system. This was a form of investments by speculative capitals in trade vessels.

If the trade vessels in which they had invested returned safely, they received large interest on money loaned, usually amounting to 50 per cent of the principal. On the other hand, if the ships were wrecked, they lost both principal and interest. Such a risky system of loans served to furnish convenient means of securing funds for traders at that time, and contributed greatly to the promotion of trade transactions. It is somcthing like commendam, a form of joint-undertakings or capital investments carried out in the mediaeval ages, specially in Italian trade.

Policy Changes

 The trade policy of Tokugawa Iyeyasu, which was extremely easy and lenient in the beginning, made a sharp change principally because of intrigues on the part of Dutch merchants in attempting to oust Portugal and the discovery of a plot on the part of Roman Catholics concerning the overthrow of the Shogunate Government. Under the circumstances, the Government placed a ban on the visit of Dutch and Spanish vessels simultaneously with the launching of pressure on Catholicism.

Later, in the 2nd year of Genwa, the entry of foreign vessels was restricted only to the two ports of Nagasaki and Hirado, and in the 10th year of Kan-ei, the return of overseas Japanese to Japan was prohibited. Two years later, the visit of Japanese vessels to foreign ports was banned and in the 16th year all Portuguese residents in Japan were ordered to return home. Still later the port of Hirado was closed and all the Dutch residents there were removed to Dejima in Nagasaki. Thus, the isolation policy of the Government was completed. During more than 200 years since, .Japan’s foreign trade with Europe survived only in the form of small transactions with the Dutch in a small territory of Dejima under severe restrictions of the Government. This is the reason why Japan’s trade in those isolation days is commonly called Nagasaki trade or Dejima trade.

However, even the Dejima trade was left comparatively free in the first stage, except for raw silk transaction. With the adoption of the resolution policy by the Government, however, foreign merchants took advantage of Japan’s ignorance of world affairs to realize exorbitant profits which were taken back in gold and silver. As a result the outflow of gold and silver from Japan amounted to an enormous sum.

The Shogunate Government to counteract this measure restricted the exports of silver by Dutch ships to 3,000 kwan (1 kwan=3.75 kgs.) worth 50,000 ryo. Later, the Government further reduced the amount of silver for exports and also limited the number of vessels to be used for trade transactions. In the 2nd year of Kansei, the number of trade vessels was further limited to one ship, the amount of silver to be taken out to 700 kwan and of copper for exports to 600,000 kin (1kin = 0’6 kg). However, with the homeland (Holland) threatened by the attack of Napoleon I in those days, the Dejima trade finally became completely depressed.

China Trade

During the isolation period, another country came to trade with Japan. It was China. At first, Chinese merchants were allowed to mingle freely with the Japanese people of Nagasaki and to engage in mutual transactions with Japanese traders. Later, because of ill-manners, disputes, violations of religious restrictions and other complications necessitating governmental control and supervision, the Chinese merchants were quartered in a specified foreign settlement (Tojin-mura), in Juzenji-mura in the suburbs of Nagasaki. In addition to such restrictions over residence and transactions, the trade volume and the number of vessels were restricted on similar basis as for the Dutch. In 1685, the Chinese trade with Japan was restricted to 6,000 kwan of silver and 70 trade vessels annually. Later, the volume was temporarily increased to 8,000 kwan of silver and the number of vessels to 80 ships. The increased portion of 2,000 kwan of silver to be carried by the increased number of ships was substituted with exports of commodities such as food-stuffs, camphor, gallnuts, copper and lacquer-ware, commonly called tawaramono (articles in bales), or shoshiki (miscellaneous articles), since the domestic production of copper used for the settlement of accounts with China became extremely small in those days. Restrictions became further strict later, and in the 2nd year of Kansei, the annual exports were limited to 2,740 kwan of copper to be carried only on 10 vessels.

Japan’s trade with China and Holland included a large variety of articles both in exports and imports, including principally gold, silver and copper, as major export items and white yarns (raw silk ) as a chief import item. Import transactions of raw silk in those days were conducted in a special monopolistic method termed yard-allotment trade system. Under this system, specified merchants, named junior yarn­-allotted merchants and yarn-allotted merchants, were stationed in Kyoto, Edo (present Tokyo), Osaka, Sakai and Nagasaki, to receive the allotment quotas of raw silk imported according to certain fixed standards. This is certainly an interesting historical measure, in view of the adoption of the import quota system at present, that a system similar in nature was already in operation in those days.

While Japan struck to the national isolation system, international conditions sharply changed. Old trading countries such as Portugal and Spain lost their prestige, and England, France, Germany and Russia rose in Europe in their stead. On the continent across the Pacific, the United States came into prominence. All these countries were engrossed in developing their trade markets and sought new fields in Asia. Thus, since the Kansei era, foreign vessels were reported to have appeared along Japanese coasts on several occasions. In the 4th year of Kansei, a delegate came to Nemuro (Hokkaido) and demanded to open trade relations. British ships also came and took to plundering. Thus the public feeling was thrown into turmoil and the well-imformed urged the necessity of the defence at sea. In 1839, immediately following the out­break of the Opium War, the handl of England was extended over to the close neighbour, China but the Shogunate Government failed to awaken to the changing times. Neither did the Shogunate Government listen to an advice by the Dutch King to take a sharp change in the national policy and open the country to foreign trade. This condition of the Government, however, was not allowed to last longer.

Perry’s Visit

 The long isolation period of the Shogunate Government which lasted for more than two hundred years was broken by the visit of Commodore Perry from the United States at Uraga in June 1853. In the same year, a Russian ship also came to Nagasaki and sought to open trade relations. In the following year (1st year of Ansei), Commodore Perry, escorted by 7 warships, entered the port of Shimoda and sought a reply to his claim from the Government. The Shogunate Government finally accepted the American porposal and concluded a treaty of amity and friendship with the United States consisting of 12 articles, including the opening of Shimoda and Hakodate to foreign trade. This is what is known as the Kanagawa Treaty. In June 1858, Ii Naosuke, then Chief Minister of the Tokugawa Government, finding it impossible to stem the tide of circums­tances, signed a treaty of friendship and commerce with the United States and enacted a trade law. The Shogunate Government also took a similar step with Holland, Russia, England and France. These treaties were unfair and unjust towards Japan, for the right of extra-territoriality for foreigners was recognized and likewise promised them the most-favoured­ nation treatment and other privileges, while providing very little for Japan. Import duties imposed on goods from those countries, however, were comparatively high, and served to profit the country financially. These duties, however, were lowered to a level quite humiliating to Japan as a result of the signing of the tariff revision agreement in the 2nd year of Keio (1866), and proved to be a cause of long repentance for many years following.

By the provisions of treaties signed with the five countries, Japan promised to open five ports for trade, namely: Kanagawa, Nagasaki, Hakodate, Hyogo and Niigata. Actually, however, only the first three ports were opened at the beginning. Other ports could not be opened simultaneously because of the rise of strong anti-alienism. Under the circumstances, Hyogo was opened in 1867, and foreign settlements were established there and in Osaka in that year.

By that time, Japan had already concluded treaties of amity and commerce with Portugal, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy, in addition to the foregoing five countries. Thus, the opening of the country to foreign trade became an inevitable course for Japan whether she liked it or not.

At the same time, the dawn of the Meiji Restoration, the culmination of the movement for overthrowing the Shogunate Government under the original impetus of the visit of the black-ships (foreign vessels) was close at hand.

A noble poem by the Emperor Meiji

Kuni no tame Ata-nasu ata wa Kudaku tomo
Itsukushimu beki Koto na wasure so.

Though for your country’s sake,

you strike the foe,

See you do not forget

The love you owe.