AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 659

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Session 659: Nagasaki in the Eighteenth Century: Commercial and Institutional Change From Inside and Out

Organizer: Fuyuko Matsukata, University of Tokyo, Japan

Chair: Robert I. Hellyer, Wake Forest University, USA

Discussant: Fusaaki Maehira, Kobe College, Japan

In recent decades, historians have shown the vitality of Japan’s foreign trade in the seventeenth century, thereby challenging the idea that a rigid “closed country” system defined intercourse with the outside world early in the Edo Period (1603-1868). Historians have paid less attention to the eighteenth century, however, painting it as a period of ideological retrenchment during which foreign trade faded from economic and political significance. This panel reveals that throughout the eighteenth century at the port of Nagasaki Japan’s central authority, the Tokugawa shogunate, and its foreign trading partners, the Qing and the Dutch East India Company, broadly recast trade and the institutions that regulated it. Focusing on the shogunate, Tomori Maiko and Robert Hellyer outline how domestic political and commercial agendas, coupled with concern about external threats, prompted Tokugawa leaders to revise the products being imported and exported as well as key aspects of Nagasaki’s governance. Peng Hao and Matsukata Fuyuko demonstrate that pursuing their own set of commercial and political goals, Qing and Dutch officials also influenced Nagasaki’s trade and its institutional structure. Through these internal and external perspectives, the panel suggests new avenues to consider Japan’s maritime trade and by implication, its larger system of foreign relations. It also offers numerous thematic links to “The Secondary Encounter of Japan with the West in the 19th Century” (Yao Keisuke, organizer), a panel that we hope can be paired with our own to form “back to back” sessions on the history of Japan’s foreign relations.

An Invisible Institution: The Dutch- Japanese “Contract Trade”
Fuyuko Matsukata, University of Tokyo, Japan

The purpose of my paper is to examine when and how the “contract trade” started, a key aspect of Dutch-Japanese trade in Nagasaki in the late Edo period. Under the “contract trade” system, the shogunate’s office in Nagasaki, which regulated imports and exports at the port, directed Dutch merchants to import goods under contracts based on quality, quantity and even price. This system covered only the “official” trade conducted with the Dutch East India Company. In this category, the Dutch mainly imported sugar and textiles into Japan and exported copper and camphor. Previous scholarship by Japanese historians scarcely mentions the contract trade, no doubt because references to it do not appear in Japanese sources. Based upon my research of Dutch sources, I believe the origin of the “contract trade” can be found on the Dutch side. Dutch merchants apparently pushed to establish the system in order to obtain sufficient amounts of Japanese copper, a key commodity in the Dutch trading network in Asia. It is unclear, however, if the Dutch found the system beneficial. German F. Meijlan, who later served as the chief Dutch factor in Nagasaki, declared that the contract trade was the biggest obstacle in the Dutch trade at the port. Overall this paper will emphasize a larger and heretofore neglected point: the Dutch ability to shape trading practices at Nagasaki in the eighteenth century.

For Profit and the Populace: The Role of Marine Products in Trade at Eighteenth-Century Nagasaki
Robert I. Hellyer, Wake Forest University, USA

At Nagasaki during the second half of the eighteenth century, the Tokugawa shogunate transformed trade with China, its most important trading partner. Instead of bartering silver for Chinese silk, the shogunate switched to a focus on importing bullion and medicinal products in exchange for copper and especially marine products, chiefly kelp, abalone, and sea cucumbers. Past studies have seen the marine product trade as a missed opportunity for the shogunate to accumulate capital and thereby move on the path toward industrialization on the model of European nations. This paper argues that the trade should instead be seen within the context of the feudal polity of the Edo period (1603-1868)—a means for the Tokugawa regime to earn revenue while also contributing to the greater social welfare of the Japanese state. The shogunate profited via lucrative exchanges of marine products for Chinese gold and silver. Additionally it gained revenue by controlling domestic sales of Chinese medicinal products, often viewed as more efficacious and therefore valuable than domestic varieties. Consistent with its status as the overlord of a feudal state, the shogunate also maintained the marine product trade to assure the economic livelihood of the Nagasaki merchant community, which depended upon foreign commerce. In the same vein, the shogunate supported the inflow of medicinal goods to demonstrate its commitment to the health and well-being of the populace. Because of its twin benefits of profit and social stabilization, Tokugawa leaders remained committed to the marine product trade well into the nineteenth century.

From Local Government Officials to Bureaucrats of the Shogunate: The Transformation of Official Roles in Eighteenth-Century Nagasaki
Maiko Tomori, University of Tokyo, Japan

This paper examines how the status of officials in Nagasaki evolved in response to domestic and international factors during the eighteenth century. Throughout the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate limited but did not completely eliminate trade with foreign countries. Early in the Edo period, merchants who built wealth by dispatching trading vessels to Southeast Asia held real power in the governance of Nagasaki. When the “closed country” system that restricted trade was formed in the middle of the seventeenth century, the shogunate appointed prominent merchants as city officials. These officials governed the city and administrated trade through the port. They took pride in their dual roles as feudal officials and as merchants. In the eighteenth century, the level of international trade declined, and the international situation around Japan became more threatening. Feeling a sense of crisis, the leaders of the shogunate felt compelled to revise the governing system of Nagasaki. As part of the reforms, the shogunate pushed local officials to no longer identify themselves as merchants and instead embrace positions as faithful bureaucrats of the shogunate. Through this process, Nagasaki officials joined the samurai (warrior) class, which monopolized political control during the Edo period. As a result of this change, Nagasaki became an international port under the far tighter regulation of the Tokugawa shogunate. Such close official supervision of trade was not present in other East Asian ports, making it a distinct feature of the "closed country" system of Japan.

Restructuring Organizations: Chinese Merchant Monopolistic Control in Eighteenth-Century Sino-Japanese Trade
Hao Peng, University of Tokyo, Japan

Since the late seventeenth century, copper had served as a key commodity in Sino-Japanese trade at Nagasaki. On the Chinese side, Qing authorities realized the limited production capacity of domestic mines and therefore encouraged the importation of Japanese copper to cast copper coins. Until the middle of the eighteenth century, however, there was no formal Chinese organization controlling trade with Japan. Qing authorities instead employed an ad hoc contract system whereby officials in charge of providing copper to the government signed contracts with merchants importing the metal from Japan. In 1737, Qing authorities revised the system by allowing private merchants to import Japanese copper and sell it freely on the Chinese market. The following year, they appointed an official merchant to organize trade with Japan. After conferring with private merchants, the official merchant decided how many trading ships to Nagasaki he and private merchants would sponsor. In 1753, Qing authorities made further revisions, directing that twelve private merchants, later called the “Twelve Families” would, along with the official merchant, monopolize Chinese trade with Japan. This monopoly system was similar to the “Thirteen Factories” established at Canton in the 1720s. Scholars have previously focused on the careers and trading activities of representatives of the “Twelve Families” organization. Drawing upon seldom used Chinese sources, this paper offers fresh insights on the Qing system for organizing trade and the impact of Qing decisions upon Sino-Japanese intercourse at Nagasaki.