SAKOKU (鎖国, "closed country" but commonly translated as "period
of national isolation") was the isolationist foreign policy of the
Tokugawa shogunate under which relations and trade between
Japan and other countries were severely limited, nearly all foreigners
were barred from entering
Japan and the common Japanese people were
kept from leaving the country. The policy was enacted by the Tokugawa
Tokugawa Iemitsu through a number of edicts and
policies from 1633–39, and ended after 1853 when the American Black
Ships commanded by Matthew Perry forced the opening of
American (and, by extension, Western) trade through a series of
unequal treaties .
It was preceded by a period of largely unrestricted trade and
widespread piracy when Japanese mariners travelled Asia and official
embassies and envoys visited both Asian states, New Spain (now
Mexico), and Europe. This period was also noted for the large number
of foreign traders and pirates who were resident in
Japan and active
in Japanese waters.
Sakoku originates from the manuscript work Sakoku-ron
(「鎖国論」) written by Japanese astronomer and translator
Shizuki Tadao (ja:志筑忠雄) in 1801. Shizuki invented the word
while translating the works of the 17th-century German traveller
Engelbert Kaempfer concerning Japan.
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 at
Nagasaki . Trade with
China was also
handled at Nagasaki. Trade with
Korea was limited to the Tsushima
Domain (today part of
Nagasaki Prefecture ). Trade with the Ainu
people was limited to the Matsumae Domain in
Hokkaidō , and trade
Ryūkyū Kingdom took place in
Satsuma Domain (present-day
Kagoshima Prefecture ). Apart from these direct commercial contacts in
peripheral provinces, trading countries sent regular missions to the
Osaka Castle .
* 1 Trade under sakoku
* 2 Terminology
* 3 Rationale
* 4 Challenges to seclusion
* 5 End of isolationism
* 5.1 Missions to the West
* 6 See also
* 7 References
* 8 Further reading
* 9 External links
TRADE UNDER SAKOKU
A 17th century European engraving depicting a Dutch tributary
embassy to the Tokugawa's residence. With the change to isolationism
the bakufu sought to create a tribute system with
China as the model.
Japan traded at this time with five entities, through four
"gateways". Through the
Matsumae clan domain in
Hokkaidō (then called
Ezo ), they traded with the
Ainu people . Through the Sō clan
daimyōs of Tsushima, they had relations with
Joseon dynasty Korea.
Dutch East India Company
Dutch East India Company was permitted to trade at
alongside private Chinese traders, who also traded with the Ryūkyū
Kingdom . Ryūkyū, a semi-independent kingdom for nearly all of the
Edo period, was controlled by the
Shimazu family daimyōs of Satsuma
Domain . Tashiro Kazui has shown that trade between
Japan and these
entities was divided into two kinds of trade: Group A in which he
China and the Dutch, "whose relations fell under the direct
jurisdiction of the
Bakufu at Nagasaki" and Group B, represented by
the Korean Kingdom and the Ryūkyū Kingdom, "who dealt with Tsushima
(the Sō clan) and Satsuma (the Shimazu clan) domains respectively".
These two different groups of trade basically reflected a pattern of
incoming and outgoing trade. The outgoing trade flowing out from Japan
Korea and the Ryūkyū Kingdom, eventually being brought from those
places to China. In the
Ryūkyū Islands and Korea, the clans in
charge of trade with the
Ryūkyū Kingdom and
Korea built trading
towns outside Japanese territory—where commerce actually took place.
Due to the necessity for Japanese subjects to travel to and from
these trading posts, this trade resembled something of an outgoing
trade, with Japanese subjects making regular contact with foreign
traders in essentially extraterritorial land. Trade with Chinese and
Dutch traders in
Nagasaki took place on an island called
separated away from the city by a small strait; foreigners could not
Japan from Dejima, nor could Japanese enter Dejima, without
special permissions or authority.
Trade in fact prospered during this period, and though relations and
trade were restricted to certain ports, the country was far from
closed. In fact, as the shogunate expelled the Portuguese, they
simultaneously engaged in discussions with Dutch and Korean
representatives to ensure that the overall volume of trade did not
suffer. Thus, it has become increasingly common in scholarship in
recent decades to refer to the foreign relations policy of the period
not as sakoku, implying a totally secluded, isolated , and "closed"
country, but by the term kaikin (海禁, "maritime prohibitions") used
in documents at the time, and derived from the similar Chinese concept
hai jin .
TEXT FROM THE SECLUSION EDICT OF 1636: "No Japanese ship ... nor
any native of Japan, shall presume to go out of the country; whoever
acts contrary to this, shall die, and the ship with the crew and goods
aboard shall be sequestered until further orders. All persons who
return from abroad shall be put to death. Whoever discovers a
Christian priest shall have a reward of 400 to 500 sheets of silver
and for every
Christian in proportion. All Namban (Portuguese and
Spanish) who propagate the doctrine of the Catholics, or bear this
scandalous name, shall be imprisoned in the Onra, or common jail of
the town. The whole race of the Portuguese with their mothers, nurses
and whatever belongs to them, shall be banished to Macao. Whoever
presumes to bring a letter from abroad, or to return after he hath
been banished, shall die with his family; also whoever presumes to
intercede for him, shall be put to death. No nobleman nor any soldier
shall be suffered to purchase anything from the foreigner."
Japan's first treatise on Western anatomical science, published in
1774, an example of "
Rangaku ". National Museum of Nature and Science
It is conventionally regarded that the shogunate imposed and enforced
the sakoku policy in order to remove the colonial and religious
influence of primarily Spain and Portugal, which were perceived as
posing a threat to the stability of the shogunate and to peace in the
archipelago . The increasing number of
Catholic converts in southern
Kyūshū ) was a significant element of that which was
seen as a threat. Based on work conducted by Japanese historians in
the 1970s, some scholars have challenged this view, believing it to be
only a partial explanation of political reality. The motivations for
the gradual strengthening of the maritime prohibitions during the
early 17th century should be considered within the context of the
Tokugawa bakufu's domestic agenda. One element of this agenda was to
acquire sufficient control over Japan's foreign policy so as not only
to guarantee social peace, but also to maintain Tokugawa supremacy
over the other powerful lords in the country, particularly the tozama
daimyōs . These daimyōs had used East Asian trading linkages to
profitable effect during the sengoku period, which allowed them to
build up their military strength as well. By restricting the daimyōs'
ability to trade with foreign ships coming to
Japan or pursue trade
opportunities overseas, the Tokugawa bakufu could ensure none would
become powerful enough to challenge the bakufu's supremacy. This is
consistent with the generally agreed rationale for the Tokugawa
bakufu's implementation of the system of alternate attendance, or
sankin-kōtai . Directing trade predominantly through
Nagasaki , which
Toyotomi Hideyoshi 's control in 1587, would enable the
bakufu, through taxes and levies, to bolster its own treasury. This
was no small matter, as lack of wealth had limited both the preceding
Kamakura bakufu and the
Muromachi bakufu in crucial ways. The focus
on the removal of Western and
Christian influence from the Japanese
archipelago as the main driver of the kaikin could be argued to be a
somewhat eurocentric reading of Japanese history, although it is a
Nevertheless, Christianity and the two colonial powers it was most
strongly associated with, were seen as genuine threats by the Tokugawa
bakufu. Once the remnants of the Toyotomi clan had been defeated in
Tokugawa Hidetada turned his attention to the sole remaining
credible challenge to Tokugawa supremacy. Religious challenges to
central authority were taken seriously by the bakufu as ecclesiastical
challenges by armed Buddhist monks were common during the sengoku
Empress Meishō (1624–96) also had grave doubts when she
heard about how the Spanish and Portuguese were settling in the New
World , and thought that
Japan would soon become one of the many
countries in their possession. The 1710 Ryukyuan mission , in
this scroll a Japanese printer depicts Ryukyuan guards and a music
band escorting the envoy and his officials through
Edo . With
increasingly distant relations with China, the submission of Ryukyu by
Japan to trade with
China via the Ryukyus.
Protestant English and Dutch traders reinforced this perception by
accusing the Spanish and Portuguese missionaries of spreading the
religion systematically, as part of a claimed policy of culturally
dominating and colonizing Asian countries. The Dutch and English were
generally seen by the Japanese to be able to separate religion and
trade, while their Iberian counterparts were looked upon with much
suspicion. The Dutch, eager to take over trade from the Spanish and
Portuguese, had no problems reinforcing this view. The number of
Japan had been steadily rising due to the efforts of
missionaries, such as
Francis Xavier and daimyō converts. The direct
trigger which is said to have spurred the imposition of sakoku was the
Shimabara Rebellion of 1637–38, an uprising of 40,000 mostly
Christian peasants. In the aftermath, the shogunate accused
missionaries of instigating the rebellion, expelled them from the
country, and strictly banned the religion on penalty of death. The
remaining Japanese Christians, mostly in Nagasaki, formed underground
communities and came to be called
Kakure Kirishitan . All contact with
the outside world became strictly regulated by the shogunate, or by
the domains (Tsushima, Matsumae, and Satsuma) assigned to the task.
Dutch traders were permitted to continue commerce in
Japan only by
agreeing not to engage in missionary activities. Today, the Christian
percentage of the population (1%) in
Japan remains far lower than in
other East Asian countries such as
Vietnam (7%), South
Korea (29%) and the
Philippines (over 90%). Beacon on
one of the
Sakishima Beacons constructed in 1644 to monitor foreign
The sakoku policy was also a way of controlling commerce between
Japan and other nations, as well as asserting its new place in the
East Asian hierarchy. The Tokugawa had set out to create their own
small scale international system where
Japan could continue to access
the trade in essential commodities such as medicines, and gain access
to essential intelligence about happenings in China, while avoiding
having to agree to a subordinate status within the Chinese tributary
system . Japan's generally constructive official diplomatic
Korea allowed regular embassies (
to be dispatched by
Korea to Japan. Together with the brisk trade
between Tsushima and Korea, as well as the presence of Japanese in
Japan was able to access Chinese cultural, intellectual and
technological developments throughout the
Edo period . At the time of
the promulgation of the strictest versions of the maritime
prohibitions, the Ming dynasty had lost control of much of
it was unnecessary, and perhaps undesirable, for
Japan to pursue
official diplomatic relations with either of the Ming or the Qing
governments while the issue of imperial legitimacy was unsettled.
Japan was able to acquire the imported goods it required through
intermediary trade with the Dutch and through the
Ryukyu Islands . The
Japanese actually encouraged the
Ryūkyū Kingdom 's rulers to
maintain a tributary relationship with China, even though the Shimazu
clan had surreptitiously established great political influence in the
Ryukyu Islands . The
Qing became much more open to trade after it had
defeated the Ming loyalists in Taiwan, and thus Japan's rulers felt
even less need to establish official relations with China.
Liberalizing challenges to sakoku did come from within Japan's elite
in the 18th century, but they came to naught. Later on, the sakoku
policy was the main safeguard against the total depletion of Japanese
mineral resources—such as silver and copper—to the outside world.
However, while silver exportation through
Nagasaki was controlled by
the shogunate to the point of stopping all exportation, the
exportation of silver through
Korea continued in relatively high
Japan kept abreast of Western technology during this period
was by studying medical and other texts in the
Dutch language obtained
through Dejima. This developed into a blossoming field in the late
18th century which was known as
Rangaku (Dutch studies). It became
obsolete after the country was opened and the sakoku policy collapsed.
Thereafter, many Japanese students (e.g.,
Kikuchi Dairoku ) were sent
to study in foreign countries, and many foreign employees were
Japan (see o-yatoi gaikokujin ).
The policies associated with sakoku ended with the Convention of
Kanagawa in response to demands made by Commodore Perry .
CHALLENGES TO SECLUSION
Many isolated attempts to end Japan's seclusion were made by
expanding Western powers during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
American, Russian and French ships all attempted to engage in
relationship with Japan, but were rejected. The Russians of Pavel
Lebedev-Lastochkin , with their ships tossed inland by a tsunami ,
meeting Japanese in 1779. Japanese drawing of HMS Phaeton in
Nagasaki harbour in 1808.
* In 1647 Portuguese warships attempted to enter
Nagasaki . The
Japanese formed a blockade of almost 900 boats to stop the ships.
After the event, the Japanese added more security to
Nagasaki as fears
rose that other countries would challenge the new seclusion policy and
attempt to enter through Nagasaki.
* In 1778, a merchant from
Yakutsk by the name of Pavel
Lebedev-Lastochkin arrived in
Hokkaidō with a small expedition. He
offered gifts, and politely asked to trade in vain.
* In 1787,
Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse navigated
in Japanese waters. He visited the
Ryūkyū islands and the strait
Sakhalin , naming it after himself.
* In 1791, two American ships commanded by the American explorer
John Kendrick —the
Lady Washington , under Captain Kendrick, and
the Grace, under Captain William Douglas —stopped for 11 days on Kii
Ōshima island, south of the
Kii Peninsula . Kendrick was the first
known American to have visited Japan. He apparently planted an
American flag and claimed the islands, although accounts of his visit
Japan are nonexistent.
* In 1792 the Russian subject
Adam Laxman visited the island of
* From 1797 to 1809, several American ships traded in
the Dutch flag, upon the request of the Dutch who were not able to
send their own ships because of their conflict against Britain during
Napoleonic Wars :
* In 1797 US Captain
William Robert Stewart , commissioned by the
Dutch from Batavia , took the ship Eliza of New York to Nagasaki,
Japan, with a cargo of Dutch trade goods.
* In 1803,
William Robert Stewart returned on board a ship named
"The Emperor of Japan" (the captured and renamed "Eliza of New York"),
Nagasaki harbour and tried in vain to trade through the Dutch
* Another American captain John Derby of
Salem, Massachusetts aboard
the Margaret, tried in vain to open
Japan to the opium trade.
* In 1804, the Russian expedition around the world led by captain
Adam Johann von Krusenstern reached
Nagasaki . The Russian envoy
Nikolai Rezanov requested trade exchanges. The
Bakufu refused the
request and the ships had to leave in spring 1805. The Russians
Sakhalin and the
Kuril islands during the following three
years, prompting the
Bakufu to build up defences in
* In 1808, the British frigate HMS Phaeton, preying on Dutch
shipping in the Pacific, sailed into
Nagasaki under a Dutch flag,
demanding and obtaining supplies by force of arms .
* In 1811, the Russian naval lieutenant
Vasily Golovnin landed on
Kunashiri Island, and was arrested by the
Bakufu and imprisoned for 2
Japanese drawing of the Morrison, anchored in front of Uraga in
* In 1825, following a proposal by Takahashi Kageyasu
Bakufu issued an "Order to Drive Away Foreign
Ikokusen uchiharairei , also known as the "Ninen nashi", or
"No second thought" law), ordering coastal authorities to arrest or
kill foreigners coming ashore.
* In 1830, the brig "Cyprus", a ship of Australian convicts who had
successfully mutinied against their masters and set sail for Canton,
China , arrived on the coast of
Shinkoku near the town of Mugi in
Tokushima Prefecture . The mutineers were desperately low on water,
firewood, and supplies, but were attacked and sent away by the
Japanese. This was the first time an Australian ship ever visited
* Also in 1830, the
Bonin Islands , claimed by
uninhabited, were settled by the American
Nathaniel Savory , who
landed on the island of Chichijima and formed the first colony there.
* In 1837, an American businessman in
Guangzhou named Charles W.
King saw an opportunity to open trade by trying to return to Japan
three Japanese sailors (among them,
Otokichi ) who had been
shipwrecked a few years before on the coast of
Oregon . He went to
Uraga Channel with Morrison, an unarmed American merchant ship. The
ship was fired upon several times, and finally sailed back
* In 1842, following the news of the defeat of
China in the Opium
War and internal criticism following the
Morrison Incident , the
Bakufu responded favourably to foreign demands for the right to refuel
Japan by suspending the order to execute foreigners and adopting
the "Order for the Provision of Firewood and Water" (Shinsui kyuyorei
The USS Columbus and an American crewman in
Edo Bay in 1846,
from the failed mission of
James Biddle , depicted by a Japanese
* In 1844, a French naval expedition under Captain Fornier-Duplan
Okinawa on April 28, 1844. Trade was denied, but Father
Forcade was left behind with a translator.
* In 1845, whaling ship
Manhattan (1843) rescued 22 Japanese
shipwrecked sailors. Captain
Mercator Cooper was allowed into
where he stayed for four days and met with the Governor of
several high officers representing The Emperor . They were given
several presents and allowed to leave unmolested, but told never to
* On July 20, 1846, Commander
James Biddle , sent by the United
States Government to open trade, anchored in
Tokyo Bay with two ships,
including one warship armed with 72 cannons, but his demands for a
trade agreement remained unsuccessful.
* On July 24, 1846, the French Admiral Cécille arrived in Nagasaki
, but failed in his negotiations and was denied landing. He was
accompanied by two priests who had learnt the Japanese language in
Okinawa: Father Forcade and Father Ko.
* In 1848, Half-Scottish/Half-Chinook
Ranald MacDonald pretended to
be shipwrecked on the island of Rishiri in order to gain access to
Japan. He was sent to
Nagasaki , where he stayed for 10 months and
became the first English teacher in Japan. Upon his return to America,
MacDonald made a written declaration to the
United States Congress
United States Congress ,
explaining that the Japanese society was well policed, and the
Japanese people well behaved and of the highest standard.
* In 1848, Captain
James Glynn sailed to
Nagasaki , leading at last
to the first successful negotiation by an American with "Closed
James Glynn recommended to the United States Congress
that negotiations to open
Japan should be backed up by a demonstration
of force, thus paving the way to Perry's expedition.
* In 1849, the
Royal Navy 's
HMS Mariner entered Uraga Harbour to
conduct a topographical survey. Onboard was the Japanese castaway
Otokichi , who acted as a translator. To avoid problems with the
Japanese authorities, he disguised himself as Chinese, and said that
he had learned Japanese from his father, allegedly a businessman who
had worked in relation with
* In 1853, the Russian embassy of
Yevfimy Putyatin arrived in
Nagasaki (August 12, 1853). The embassy demonstrated a steam engine,
which led to the first recorded attempts at manufacturing a steam
engine in Japan, by Hisashige Tanaka in 1853.
Japanese 1854 print relating Perry's visit.
These largely unsuccessful attempts continued until, on July 8, 1853,
Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy with four warships :
Mississippi , Plymouth , Saratoga , and Susquehanna steamed into the
Tokyo ) and displayed the threatening power of his ships'
Paixhans guns . He demanded that
Japan open to trade with the West.
These ships became known as the kurofune, the
Black Ships .
END OF ISOLATIONISM
Commodore Perry's fleet for his second visit to
Japan in 1854.
The following year, at the
Convention of Kanagawa
Convention of Kanagawa (March 31, 1854),
Perry returned with seven ships and forced the
Shogun to sign the
Treaty of Peace and Amity ", establishing formal diplomatic relations
Japan and the United States. The
United Kingdom signed the
Anglo-Japanese Friendship Treaty at the end of 1854.
Between 1852 and 1855, Admiral
Yevfimy Putyatin of the Russian Navy
made several attempts to obtain from the
Shogun favourable trade terms
for Russia. In June 1853, he brought to
Nagasaki Bay a letter from the
Karl Nesselrode and demonstrated to Tanaka Hisashige
a steam engine, probably the first ever seen in Japan. His efforts
culminated in the signing of the
Treaty of Shimoda in February 1855.
Within five years,
Japan had signed similar treaties with other
western countries. The Harris Treaty was signed with the United States
on July 29, 1858. These "
Ansei Treaties " were widely regarded by
Japanese intellectuals as unequal, having been forced on
gunboat diplomacy , and as a sign of the West's desire to incorporate
Japan into the imperialism that had been taking hold of the continent.
Among other measures, they gave the Western nations unequivocal
control of tariffs on imports and the right of extraterritoriality to
all their visiting nationals. They would remain a sticking point in
Japan's relations with the West up to the turn of the 20th century.
MISSIONS TO THE WEST
The son of Nadar, photographed with members of the Second
Japanese Embassy to
Europe in 1863. Photographed by Nadar .
Several missions were sent abroad by the Bakufu, in order to learn
about Western civilization, revise treaties, and delay the opening of
cities and harbour to foreign trade.
A Japanese Embassy to the United States was sent in 1860, on board
the Kanrin Maru .
In 1861 in the
Tsushima Incident a Russian fleet tried to force open
a harbour not officially opened to foreign trade with foreign
countries, but was finally repelled with the help of the British.
An Embassy to
Europe was sent in 1862, and a Second Embassy to Europe
Japan also sent a delegation and participated to the 1867
World Fair in Paris.
Other missions, distinct from those of the Shogunate, were also sent
to Europe, such as the
Chōshū Five , and missions by the fief of
Haijin (海禁) – Maritime restrictions; kaikin in Japanese.
* Paradise sakoku (パラダイス鎖国) – A kind of Galápagos
Convention of Kanagawa
Convention of Kanagawa
* Dutch missions to
Joseon missions to
* Ryukyuan missions to
* List of Westerners who visited
Japan before 1868
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1500 to 1800, Google Books, p. 151
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Sakoku Reexamined". Journal of Japanese Studies. Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer
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Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
* ^ Toby, Ronald (1977). "Reopening the Question of Sakoku:
Diplomacy in the Legitimation of the Tokugawa Bakufu", Journal of
Japanese Studies. Seattle: Society for Japanese Studies.
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Restoration. Leiden: E.J. Brill. pp. 7–8
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global contexts, 1640–1868. Harvard University.
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Sakoku Edicts and the Politics of
Tokugawa Hegemony. Cambria Press.
Agence France-Presse (2009-01-31). "S.
Korea president faces
protests from Buddhists".
The Straits Times . Archived from the
original on 2008-09-04. Retrieved 2009-01-31.
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Cambridge University Press, 2003. p. 39
* ^ Islands and empires: Western impact on the Pacific and east
Asia by Ernest Stanley Dodge p.302
* ^ Ridley, Scott (2010). Morning of Fire: John Kendrick\'s Daring
American Odyssey in the Pacific. HarperCollins. pp. 221–25. ISBN
978-0-06-170012-5 . Retrieved 30 July 2012.
* ^ K. Jack Bauer, A Maritime History of the United States: The
Role of America's Seas and Waterways, University of South Carolina
Press, 1988., p. 57
* ^ John, Derby. "The Derby Family" (PDF). Peabody Essex Museum. p.
3. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
* ^ Asia Society of Japan, Long lecture.
* ^ Polak 2001, p. 19
* Hall, John Wesley. (1955) Tanuma Okitsugu: Forerunner of Modern
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Harvard University Press .
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Sakoku to iu
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* "Numismatist in Commodore Perry's fleet (1853–54)", Journal of
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Foreign relations of