Main article: Nanban trade period
Renaissance Europeans were quite admiring of Japan when they reached the country in the 16th century. Japan was considered as a country immensely rich in precious metals, mainly owing to Marco Polo's accounts of gilded temples and palaces, but also due to the relative abundance of surface ores characteristic of avolcanic country, before large-scale deep-mining became possible in Industrial times. Japan was to become a major exporter of copper and silver during the period.
The Samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga in Rome in 1615, Coll. Borghese, Rome.
Japan was also perceived as a sophisticated feudal society with a high culture and a strong pre-industrial technology. It was densely populated and urbanized. It hadBuddhist “universities” larger than any learning institution in the West, such as Salamanca or Coimbra. Prominent European observers of the time seemed to agree that the Japanese "excel not only all the other Oriental peoples, they surpass the Europeans as well" (Alessandro Valignano, 1584, "Historia del Principo y Progresso de la Compania de Jesus en las Indias Orientales).Early European visitors were amazed by the quality of Japanese craftsmanship and metalsmithing. This stems from the fact that Japan itself is rather poor in natural resources found commonly in Europe, especially iron. Thus, the Japanese were famously frugal with their consumable resources; what little they had they used with expert skill. Her copper and steel were the best in the world, her weaponsthe sharpest, her paper industries were unequaled.
Trade with Europe
The cargo of the first Portuguese ships (usually about 4 smaller-sized ships every year) arriving in Japan almost entirely consisted of Chinese goods (silk, porcelain). The Japanese were very much looking forward to acquiring such goods, but had been prohibited from any contacts with the Emperor of China, as a punishment forWakō pirate raids. The Portuguese (who were called Nanban, lit. Southern Barbarians) therefore found the opportunity to act as intermediaries in Asian trade.
A Portuguese carrack in Nagasaki, 17th century.
From the time of the acquisition of Macau in 1557, and their formal recognition as trade partners by the Chinese, the Portuguese Crown started to regulate trade to Japan, by selling to thehighest bidder the annual "Capitaincy" to Japan, in effect conferring exclusive trading rights for a single carrack bound for Japan every year. The carracks were very large ships, usually between 1000 and 1500 tons, about double or triple the size of a large galleon or junk.
That trade continued with few interruptions until 1638, when it was prohibited on the ground that the ships were smugglingpriests into Japan.
Portuguese trade was progressively more and more challenged by Chinese smugglers on junks, Japanese Red Seal Ships from around 1592 (about ten ships every year), Spanish ships from Manila from around 1600 (about one ship a year), the Dutch from 1609, the English from 1613 (about one ship per year).
The Dutch, who, rather than "Nanban" were called "Kōmō" (Jp:紅毛, lit. "RedHair") by the Japanese, first arrived in Japan in 1600, onbard the Liefde. Their pilot was William Adams , the first Englishman to reach Japan. In 1605, two of the Liefde's crew were sent to Pattani by Tokugawa Ieyasu, to invite Dutch trade to Japan. The head of the Pattani Dutch trading post, Victor Sprinckel, refused on the ground that he was too busy dealing with Portuguese opposition in SoutheastAsia. In 1609 however, the Dutch Jacques Specx arrived with two ships in Hirado, and through Adams obtained trading privileges from Ieyasu.
The Dutch also engaged in piracy and naval combat to weaken Portuguese and Spanish shipping in the Pacific, and ultimately became the only westerners to be allowed access to Japan from the small enclave of Dejima after 1638 and for the next two centuries....