The Nanban and Shuinsen Trade in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Japan

  • Mihoko Oka
Open Access
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Comparative Global History book series (PASTCGH)


The primary momentum for the nanban trade was the need for importing military matériel in the Age of Civil Wars. Japanese history merged with the great trends of world history, probably leading to many social changes. In this period, Japan and Southeast Asia were linked by many routes through many intermediaries, and the trade between Macao and Japan was probably one of them. The opening of the port of Nagasaki provided the opportunity for linking Japan with the world beyond Southeast Asia, and the imprints of the activities of those traders deeply remain in modern Japan in the form of nanban culture, with resonances in food, clothing, art and so on. The analysis in this chapter clarifies that many individual figures/players were involved in trading activities during the latter half of the sixteenth century and the early seventeenth century, and also explains the structure of Japanese trade in that era. In previous Japanese studies on this period, Portuguese Nanban trade, Shuinsen trade and the new participants (VOC and EIC) have tended to be examined by different historians taking into account their ‘territories’. However, I suggest that future research should study these trading forces more comprehensively rather than by each individual factor in order to more effectively clarify the role of Japan in international surroundings from the perspective of global history.

1 Background to the Nanban Trade

Traditionally, the word nanban (南蛮 lit. ‘southern barbarian’) meant vaguely the uncivilized peoples belonging to the south of China. In sixteenth-century Japan, this word probably signified the general area in the Indochina peninsula of modern Thailand and Cambodia. When the Japanese first encountered people from the Iberian Peninsula, they called them ‘nanban-jin’ (南蛮人 southern barbarians) because they had arrived along with the people traditionally so called from Indochina and because they brought goods associated with those areas.

In 1498, the Portuguese were the first European power to round the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost point of Africa, entering the Indian Ocean with the guidance of Islamic sailors who were thoroughly familiar with the sea lanes, to successfully join in the Indian Ocean trade. They established fortresses at important points in order to protect that trade. While maintaining a delicate balance with local ruling powers, they developed a trade network structured around points and lines. This was the so-called Estado Português da Índia, or Portuguese India. 1

The Portuguese Age of Discovery has been commonly conceived of as an absolute maritime dominance of the Indian Ocean as far as the seas around Indochina, but that is simply an impression. In reality, the fortresses were mostly nothing more than corners in major Asian ports, built with the permission of the local authorities. In other words, these were not colonies at all.

The soldiers sent from Portugal to defend these fortresses would become merchants soon after their military service ended and were scattered among the ports throughout Asia engaging in trade. Thus, with almost no relation to the interests of the Kingdom of Portugal, many Portuguese involved in trading operations came to live in the Coromandel region of the Bay of Bengal on the eastern coast of India, the trading ports of Pegu, Arakan, Cambodia and Siam on the continental portion of Southeast Asia, or the many port cities of the islands of Southeast Asia. In later years many Portuguese also lived in Batavia where the Dutch East India Company had its base, functioning as intermediaries with local peoples in Dutch trading activities (Souza 1986: 129–145).

2 The Dispersion of Portuguese Merchants

The recent spread of Chinese and Indian overseas settlers has been called a diaspora. Diaspora is a word derived from Greek that was originally used to signify the scattering of the Jews by the Roman Empire after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the colonization of Judea. In the study of history and sociology in modern society, this word is used to indicate the phenomenon of the movement of a particular people to another region due to some circumstances, their forming a community there, and the group maintenance of their culture by the participation of large numbers of people. In that sense, during the Age of Discovery, the phenomenon of the Portuguese dispersing themselves abroad and establishing communities in all the major ports of Asia did not arise from a Portuguese dominance of the seas, but instead more strongly had the trappings of a diaspora. 2 Moreover, many of the Portuguese people who made up this diaspora were Sephardim (Iberian Jews) who had escaped the clutches of the Inquisition, which was rampaging through the Iberian Peninsula of the sixteenth century. This is not just a jargon phrase here, but based on the findings of recent studies this phenomenon was, in a real sense, a diaspora. 3

To give an overview, when the Portuguese traders living in Asian ports arrived in Japan, they did so in the company of Southeast Asians, and it is thought that they were contextualized by the pre-existing concept of nanban as applied to Southeast Asians. The ship that arrived at Tanegashima in 1543 was owned by the Chinese Wang Zhi 王直. 4 There were over 100 foreigners aboard that ship besides the Portuguese, and so to Japanese eyes, the ship was full of a rare assortment of ‘southern barbarians’. 5 What clearly set the Portuguese apart from the Southeast Asian ‘southern barbarians’ was the early modern European culture and civilization they came from, their superior military technology in firearms, and their Christianity as followers of a religion then almost unknown in Asia.

3 The Nanban (Southeast Asian) Trade in the Age of Civil Wars

Japan was substantially open to the world during the Age of Civil Wars (sengoku jidai) compared with the following period. In the sixteenth century, Japan had overseas trade relationships, including such well-known events and occurrences as: the tally trade with Ming China, the prosperity of Sakai 堺 and Hakata 博多, 6 the disruption of diplomacy and trade due to the Ningbo Incident 寧波の乱 (1523), the Ōuchi 大内 clan monopoly on the tally trade, the activities of wokou (mixed-race smugglers mainly comprising Chinese merchants) late in the period and the activities of the Kyushu lords dispatching ships in unofficial trade with China. In addition, Ōtomo Yoshishige 大友義鎮, the lord of Bungo province, not only sent ships to China but also established a close trade and diplomatic relationship with Cambodia (Kage 2015: 164–187).

The Ōtomo clan established diplomatic relations with a king of Cambodia, whose name is rendered as 浮喇哈力汪加 [pinyin; fu-la-ha-li-wang-jia]. This is probably King Sathta (1570s–1595s) of the Longvek era. Cambodia at that time was constantly being invaded by the Ayutthaya kingdom of neighbouring Siam, but took advantage of the distraction of the Ayutthaya in their conflict with the Toungoo Dynasty of Burma to expand its own influence (Groslier 2006: 40–42) . Around the time of King Satha’s reign, Cambodia was growing wealthy from trade with other regions based at the ports of the Tonlé Sap river. There was thus a need to resist the Ayutthaya, so the Cambodian kings increased the number of Portuguese mercenaries in their employ. In the hope of military support, they pursued diplomatic relations with Spain, which was then expanding its influence in the Philippines (Groslier 2006: 26). King Satha sent an envoy to the Ōtomo with the intention of increasing the power of Cambodia, coinciding with the period when Cambodia was pursuing policies of national enrichment through trade with various regions.

The King of Cambodia had received an envoy from the Ōtomo before 1579 with gifts from them including ‘beautiful women’, and in return sent an elephant to Bungo Funai (the capital of Bungo). However, the ship was seized by the Shimazu 島津 en route, and the diplomatic messages and gifts of the King of Cambodia addressed to Ōtomo Yoshishige ended up with the Shimazu. 7 What happened to the elephant after that is not known (Kage 2015: 168).

In the following Edo period, many shuinsen 朱印船 (‘red seal ships’ or officially approved ships) sailed to Cambodia, and the major goods imported from Cambodia to Japan were sugar, deerskins, incense and so on. It is said that the Japanese word for pumpkin (kabocha), derived from the name ‘Cambodia’, originates from the time of Ōtomo Yoshishige, when pumpkins were brought from Cambodia to Bungo Funai by the Portuguese. This cannot be proven from primary historical sources, but because in Ōtomo Yoshishige’s time there were friendly relations with both the Cambodians and the Portuguese in Bungo Funai, these factors may have been woven together.

Other than those with Ōtomo Yoshishige, from 1570s to the 1590s, relations between Kyushu and Siam and Cambodia can be inferred. 8 In 1577, a Chinese named Guo Liuguan 郭六官, identified as an envoy of the King of Ayutthaya, entered the port of Hirado of the Matsura 松浦, and the next year the ship of Wu Lao 呉老 arrived. Through them the Matsura sought out trade with the Kingdom of Ayutthaya (Kage 2015: 164–167). In addition, in 1563 a Siamese ship entered Yokoseura in the Ōmura 大村 domain, and in 1565 another Siamese ship entered the port of Fukuejima on the Gotō islands. The ship that arrived at Yokoseura was captained by a Portuguese, while the ship that came to Gotō was captained by a Chinese with several Portuguese aboard.

During the latter half of the sixteenth century, the image of Portuguese arriving in Japanese ports is strong, but from the above it can be seen that among the lords of Kyushu, trade was becoming popular with Southeast Asian mainland countries such as Siam and Cambodia. At the same time, the nanban trade with the Portuguese based in Macao was also beginning, and to entice Portuguese vessels, it became necessary to allow missionary activities in their domains and to protect the missionaries, even though they may not have converted to Christianity themselves (Elison 1998).

In the sixteenth century, what the Japanese most desired among the goods these traders brought were military supplies such as lead, saltpetre as an ingredient of gunpowder, and guns and cannons. The demand for raw silk and textiles arose in the following period after society stabilized. In other words, in order to obtain Southeast Asian lead and Chinese saltpetre, it was necessary to use Portuguese intermediaries.

It has been pointed out in recent years that, in return for these goods, not only silver, which was dramatically increasing in production at the time, but also human resources may have been sent. 9 The ‘beautiful women’ Ōtomo Yoshishige sent to the King of Cambodia as a gift have already been mentioned. It is interesting that when Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉, the ruler of unified Japan, handed down his order expelling the Jesuit missionaries in 1587, one of the reasons given for its promulgation was that the Portuguese were exporting slaves from Japan as they did with the Siamese and Cambodians (Frois 1983: 402).

4 Merchants at the Time of the Opening of Nagasaki Port

To give an overview of the changing times, commercial relations with Southeast Asia arose during the Age of Civil Wars, and on that premise, Edo period Japanese ships that had received a government licence for foreign trade (shuinsen) often sailed to Southeast Asia. Such merchants and their crews holding a charter to sail abroad did not suddenly appear in the Edo period. It is posited that during the latter half of the sixteenth century or even earlier in a different form, trade and ocean-going transportation was undertaken. 10 Influential Nagasaki merchants or shuinsen traders throughout the Muromachi 室町 period were often involved with the trading capitals of Sakai and Hakata that had grown prosperous from the Ming trade. The Suetsugu 末次 family were early modern trade magnates who had fixed their base of operations in Nagasaki, which was opened in 1571, achieving tremendous influence in the seventeenth century. They had their origins in Hakata and had expanded their trade greatly by backing the Jesuits and the nanban trade (Oka 2001).

5 The Life of a Christian Merchant

Suetsugu Kōzen 末次興膳 was the first to settle in Nagasaki and do business there. A passage in the Historia do Japam of Luís Fróis dated 1563 and quoting a letter from Luís de Almeida states the following about a person thought to be Suetsugu Kōzen (Christian name Cosme):

Hibiya Ryōkei 日比屋了珪 sent messengers to me (Luís de Almeida) and a Japanese friar, and also to a man taking care of all the things for us in Japan. He is a wealthy and very good Christian. His name is Cosme Cojen. (Frois 1981: 31)

While very brief, this passage shows that Suetsugu Kōzen was intimate with the Hibiya 日比屋 family, the representative Christian merchants of Sakai, was affluent and possessed a network capable of assisting the Jesuits throughout Japan (probably meaning a range with Kyoto as the northern limit). Kōzen-machi 興膳町 in Nagasaki is derived from his name.

Chōshō-ji 長生寺 temple (Sōtō-shū 曹洞宗) in Akizuki (modern-day Asakura-shi, Fukuoka) was founded by the Buddhist monk Kuten Zenryō 玖天全良 in 1600 with extensive contributions from Suetsugu Kōzen. 11 Fróis in the Historia do Japõo for 1590, about 10 years earlier, states as follows.

When we arrived in Akizuki the missionaries were met by Cosme Kōzen, an elderly and outstanding Christian long known to us. He is quite the master of Hakata, and the father of many Christian children of renown. He is affluent and involved in large business transactions. His original home is in Hakata, but he had many houses elsewhere. One of those many houses was in Akizuki, and there he was treated with great importance by Lord Akizuki Tanezane秋月種実 … Although the good Cosme Kōzen was past seventy, he came all the way from his home in Hakata just to meet the padres and have them stay in his house there. (Frois 1984; 276)

In other words, in 1590 Kōzen was a good Christian. At that time he lived in Hakata rather than Nagasaki. Why did he contribute to the building of a Sōtō-shū Buddhist temple in Akizuki in his later years? Kōzen also had the Buddhist name Zennyū善入. If, for example, he had abandoned the Christian faith following the order expelling the Jesuits (1587) out of fear of Hideyoshi’s intentions, then in 1590 he would no longer have been a Christian. Nevertheless, Hideyoshi’s banishing of Christian missionaries was aimed at preventing the ruling elite of greater than a specific kokudaka 石高 (annual stipend) from becoming Christians, and had nothing to do with merchants like Kōzen. Murayama Antonio Tōan 村山等安, a favourite vassal of Hideyoshi and Nagasaki Daikan 長崎代官 (Magistrate of Nagasaki), was a Christian when he was appointed to that post, so it seems unlikely that Kōzen abandoned his faith out of fear of what Hideyoshi might do.

6 Japanese Religious Culture and the Jesuit’s Response

The author has previously pointed out the theory that early Japanese Christians were unable to make a clear distinction between Buddhism and Christianity, and even though the missionaries forbade faith in other religions, they might not have felt the need to abandon them so easily (Oka 2014b). When Francis Xavier first came to Japan, he made use of the Japanese of one Anjirō, originally who had sufficient knowledge on Shingon Buddhism 真言宗, in explaining Christian doctrine, and so the omnipotent Deus of Christianity was translated as Dainichi 大日 (Mahāvairocana), and in general Christian terminology borrowed from Buddhist terminology (Kishino 1998). The result was that Christianity was understood and accepted as a form of Buddhism. When Francisco Cabral came to Japan in 1570 as the Superior, he searched for a way to rectify this situation. He decided on such policies as using Portuguese for religious terminology, but the Visitor of Missions, Alessandro Valignano, an Italian, espoused the idea of ‘cultural accommodation’ with local customs in missionary work, and it is thought that Christianity and Buddhism became superficially impossible to distinguish to the ordinary faithful.

The following appears in Valignano’s Advertimentos e avisos acerca dos costumes e catangues de Japão 12 written in 1581:

The Fathers and Brothers are like the Buddhist monks of Christianity. Those who are given the greatest respect among all the religions and sects of Japan, and who are familiar to all the Japanese of every social caste are the monks of Zen Buddhism. It would be advantageous for us to occupy a position of the same status as they.

Besides this passage, the recommendation that Jesuit priests adopt the manner of Zen monks for missionary work can be inferred throughout this work, and it was for that reason that the traditional tea ceremony (cha-no-yu) was introduced to churches. In other words, this means that Christian missionaries adopted an outward appearance closely resembling that of Buddhist monks. Regarding conversions, it is conjectured that, for the lords and powerful people with a strong enough influence to provide the basis for the missionaries’ existence, they permitted considerable compromise in the conditions for their conversions. If that was the case, a Christian convert who also takes refuge in Buddhism would not only be possible but also in a sense unavoidable. This is, however, extremely difficult to prove from the letters of the missionaries, because allowing people in authority to have a two-layered faith conflicts with the strict Christian prohibition against idolatry and so could not be put into writing.

For someone engaged in trade and commerce in Nagasaki, for example, to gain greater profits, it would have been necessary to become close to the missionaries, which is to say to become a Christian. It is worth noting the fact that Kōzen had already achieved a good relationship with the Jesuits as early as 1565. When he participated in the nanban trade begun by the Jesuits for their financial support, he served as a trade agent for distributing goods within Japan, possibly expanding his financial power and network.

Kōzen’s son, the first Suetsugu Heizō Masanao 末次平蔵(政直), was successful in removing Murayama Tōan in 1619, and himself became the Magistrate of Nagasaki. Before that, Heizō had received an official charter to sail abroad from the Edo Bakufu, and from 1604 to 1634 sent out trading ships a total of 10 times. Suetsugu Heizō was a hereditary name, and it is thought that in 1630, Masanao, the first of that name, passed it on to the second of that name, Shigesada, and so those voyages lasted for two generations. The Suetsugu vessels were bound for quite a wide area, including Siam, Luzon, Taiwan, Cochinchina and Tonkin.

7 Early Nagasaki Headmen and Trade

Beginning with the town construction of Nagasaki in 1571, the position of Headman in overall charge of the town was fixed. After Hideyoshi seized the city and appointed Terasawa Shima no kami as Magistrate of Nagasaki, the Headmen were appointed from among the town elders. The town elders at the time were Takagi Ryōka 高木了可, Gotō Sōtarō 後藤宗太郎 (Sōin 宗印), Machida Sōka 町田宗加 and Takashima Ryōetsu 高島了悦, all Christians, and at the time having already achieved wealth through trade.

Their birthdates and backgrounds were all unclear in the Japanese records, but their ages in 1601 are given in Spanish materials kept at the Mexican General National Archive (De Sousa 2015). According to that source, Gotō Sōin (baptismal name Thomé) was 44, Takagi Ryōka (baptismal name Luís) was 47 and Machida Sōka (baptismal name João) was 45. There is no information given for Takashima Shirobei Ryōetsu (baptismal name Jeronimo). In the same records Machida Sōka (known in Portuguese and Spanish materials as Moro João) was a sea captain from the 1580s sailing between Macao and Nagasaki and also owned a house in Macao. It is unclear if Sōka captained a Japanese ship or a ship within a Portuguese fleet, but at that time many of the Portuguese nanban ships sailing between Macao and Nagasaki had numerous Japanese among their crews, and Sōka is thought to have been in charge of those Japanese sailors (De Sousa 2010).

Gotō Sōin was also a sea captain sailing his own ship to Manila. In the Edo period, he was active in shuinsen trade and received official charters for voyages to Brunei in 1606, and to Siam in the following year (Iwao 1983). Compared with his activities in sixteenth-century overseas trade, there is no indication that Machida Sōka prepared any shuinsen. Takagi Sakuemon 高木作右衛門 (either Ryōka 了可 or the second, Tadatsugu 忠次) sent out a shuinsen in 1616 to the Moluccas (Iwao 1983), and in 1628 a shuinsen of Sakuemon was burned by a Spanish ship while docked in Ayutthaya. 13 The year before that, an official charter for Siam is thought to have also been granted to him (Iwao 1983: 220).

All of these people were Christians with a deep connection with the Jesuits, and are thought to have been certainly influential in the town administration of Nagasaki. 14 With the Edo period ban on Christianity, Takagi Sakuemon immediately abandoned his beliefs, and the Takashima family followed suit. The Takagi and Takashima families maintained their regional control over Nagasaki until the closing days of the Tokugawa government in nineteenth-century.

Among the four original organizers of Nagasaki, Machida Sōka and Gotō Sōin were actual seafarers themselves who were personally familiar with overseas areas. They did not abandon Christianity even after the government ban and were banished from Nagasaki. It is interesting that the Takagi family and the Takashima family, who were not seamen but trading merchants on the land, obeyed the government restriction and continued to play an important role in the Nagasaki administration until the end of the Edo period. Christian relics have been unearthed from the site of the Takashima family house located where the Nagasaki Family Court stands today, and so it is possible that the Takashima family preserved their faith in some form after they had officially abandoned it.

8 The Jesuits and Nanban Trade

In order to expand their missionary work in Japan, the Jesuits needed large amounts of capital. They gradually came to depend on the profits received from the nanban trade for maintaining their missionary work, as has been pointed out in the studies of Takase Kōichirō. 15 A historical document that clearly and concretely demonstrates this is the testimony of the Franciscan friar, Sebastian de San Pedro, denouncing the trade of the Jesuits as one reason for the Tokugawa banning Christianity, along with the Provincial of the Jesuit mission in Japan, de Carvalho’s refutation of that (Takase and Kishino 1988). The following is a passage by San Pedro detailing Jesuit involvement in the nanban trade:

The Jesuit Fathers who loaded galleons and other vessels with raw silk and other goods from Macao bound for Japan did not only hold these goods in large quantity but also obtained all the raw silk other traders had brought to sell at prices they themselves set called pancada. 16 After that they distributed these among Japanese merchants at a special price, gaining a great many friends. Trading was their means for preaching the word of God among them, and they used the profits not only for cathedrals and maintaining collegios for Japanese preachers but also gave great amounts of charity to destitute Christians, and also thus obtained funds for other expenses incurred along with missionary work among non-Christians. (Takase and Kishino 1988: 271–272) 17

According to this passage, through contracts with the markets in Macao, the Jesuits loaded ships from Macao with 50 picos (approximately three tons) of raw silk, and also bought raw silk from other Portuguese traders in Nagasaki, acting as brokers for sales to the Japanese. They used the following concrete method in their operations:

In Nagasaki their (the Jesuits) monasteries were like customs houses, and were not houses (casa) of prayer. Trading ships arrived each year from Macao in China loaded with raw silk and goods, and it is common knowledge that those ships were a large measure of what they brought to Japan. They had a business office next to their casa, and there their sales representatives to the Japanese market weighed out their goods. They were there to measure the imported raw silk. Eventually two friars came to live in the business office, and all they did was carry out that business. (Takase and Kishino 1988: 324) 18

To summarize, in the early period of early modern Nagasaki, nearly all of the raw silk brought by vessels led by the Capitão Mor from Macao passed through the hands of the Jesuits to be distributed among Japanese merchants. Following the above passage is a description of how Japanese merchants, administrators and senior officials all consigned their capital to Portuguese ships through the Jesuit friars in order to buy the goods they sought. In other words, the core of the nanban trade was a system in which goods from Portuguese ships and Japanese capital were exchanged though the brokerage of the Jesuits (Oka 2010b).

9 The Mutual Complementarity of the Portuguese Ships and Shuinsen

At the beginning of the early modern period, another kind of trade developing at Nagasaki was the shuinsen trade, which from San Pedro’s testimony cited above can be conjectured to have been in a mutually complimentary relationship with the nanban trade using Portuguese ships:

The Portuguese [of Macao], particularly when their nau (carracks) were not sailing to Japan, brought their own goods to the Japanese traders [that had arrived in Macao] and secretly loaded them onto their ships … He (the procurador 19 of Japan) immediately and for that purpose procured goods for the representative of the Jesuit Fathers residing in Macao. This was because his property was never carried by the regular nau, but rather on Japanese ships. The Japanese had made this their custom, and it was possible … As soon as it arrived in Japan, the Fathers took the property to their casa or to their business office, so that they might sell it when they wished.

The commonly held view is that after the affair of Nossa Senhora da Graça (1609–1610), which caused a severe conflict between the Portuguese and Japanese authorities at the port of Nagasaki, there were no more shuinsen bound for Macao. The reason is given as the strong insistence of the Portuguese to the Tokugawa government that the Japanese, who had caused a disturbance in Macao, would be forbidden from entering the port of Macao. However, due to the following complete ban on Christianity by the Tokugawa government and the ending of missionary activities, it is recognized as having been necessary to eliminate the shuinsen too, which were returning to Japan loaded with Jesuit goods.

10 Portuguese Merchants Living in Nagasaki

Among the powerful citizens of Nagasaki were those who had provided the rented houses used by the Portuguese. The Portuguese who did not return to Macao lived throughout Nagasaki interspersed among the Japanese. Most of them were temporary residents, but some with Japanese wives and also children were permanent residents engaging in trading activities. Some also had obtained official charters from the Tokugawa government and were involved with the shuinsen trade.

According to Iwao Sei’ichi’s studies, the names of the traders who appear to be Portuguese of Nagasaki involved in chartered overseas trade were given as *Karasesu, *Gonsarubesu, *Ahonzo, *Gonsaru Biera and *Rodorigesu (Iwao 1983: 220). From other European sources, these names in probable proper Portuguese are António Garces, Manuel Gonçalves, Afonso (family name unknown), Gonçalo Vieira and Manuel Rodrigues. According to Iwao, Manila was their major trading port and some among them may be identified as Spaniards, but from the 1601 document written by Luis de Cerqueira, Bishop of Japan, they are known to be Portuguese (De Sousa 2010: 77–115).

At the time, the trade between Japan and Manila was mostly carried out by Portuguese in Nagasaki. Among them, in 1613 Manuel Gonçalves went to Siam, and the next year to Cochinchina(Nguyễn dynasty) with ships granted a charter. In 1618, Gonçalves’ ship returned from Manila to Nagasaki, with a Jesuit and mendicant order missionary smuggled aboard (Pages 1869). Interestingly, this Manuel Gonçalves appears in Genna kōkai ki 元和航海記 by Ikeda Yoemon 池田与右衛門 as a master of seamanship. The fact that as an ordinary person he engaged in information and cultural exchange between the Portuguese and the Japanese provides a new perspective to the awareness that Western knowledge came mainly through the schools of the Jesuits and from missionaries.

Also, António Garces was from a powerful family in Macao, and Manuel Rodrigues was already living in Nagasaki in 1601 and was a resident of Hirado. It is worth noting that while they were Portuguese, they were involved in the Japan–Manila trade. After 1580, Philip II was King of both Spain and Portugal, but in practice the two countries were administered separately. This was also true of the overseas colonies and settlements. In order to avoid a negative impact on the profits of both countries, Philip II banned passage between Spanish and Portuguese territories. In other words, travel between Macao and Manila was forbidden. Nevertheless, smuggling was carried out between both areas, and private merchants conducted trade (De Sousa 2010).

For Japan, Manila was an exporter of deerskins, gold dust and Chinese goods via Fujian merchants. For Manila, Japan was a necessary trading partner in the area of food supplies. The Portuguese, who were familiar with the sea lanes and were linguistically able to barter with the Spanish, were advantageous to the Japan–Manila trade.

11 Christians and Southeast Asia

With the Tokugawa government’s ban on Christianity in 1614, the leading Japanese Christians along with the missionaries were banished to Macao and Manila. Records show that in that year about 300 Christians left Japan (Borao 2005; Teixeira 1993), but the shuinsen trade itself continued for nearly 20 years after that, so it is thought that among those who sought religious freedom, some went to live in the Japanese towns in Macao and Southeast Asia. The Japanese who moved to Asian ports sooner or later intermingled and merged with the local populations, and in order to maintain their faith, the Jesuits expanded their churches and missionary activities in Southeast Asian ports. 20

The Tokugawa government was aware that the ports of Southeast Asia were the haunts of Japanese Christians. After 1624, when the trade with Spanish Manila and the English ended, the Tokugawa government gradually restricted the range of their trading methods. Despite this, it was difficult to cut off trade with the Portuguese of Macao, who offered great quantities and varieties of excellent goods, and they were sceptical of the competitiveness of the Dutch East India Company and the Chinese ships. Also, because of the conflict in Taiwan with the Dutch caused by the shuinsen of Suetsugu Heizō, it was necessary to ascertain their trustworthiness.

After the abrogation of trade with Portuguese vessels and the Shimabara and Amakusa uprisings (known as the Shimabara Rebellion), the Tokugawa government was less concerned with stabilizing the domestic economy than with the need to annihilate the Christians. This was clearly realized in 1639, but why did the complete ban on overseas travel for Japanese ships and Japanese persons happen before that, in 1635? The author posits that travelling abroad from Japan to Macao and the ports of Southeast Asia, where the crew would come into contact with missionaries and Japanese Christians living abroad, was seen as dangerous.

In reality, there was an incident in which it was discovered that a shuinsen bound for Cochinchina (Vietnam) called at Macao and the crew came into contact with a Japanese priest named Paulo dos Santos living in Macao. It is known that the Japanese involved was connected with the Kagaya, one of Dejima merchant 21 in Nagasaki. In other words, the Tokugawa government understood that a connection was being maintained between Japan and the Christians through the shuinsen. Also, Jesuit missionary activities were expanding in the 1620s in the ports of Southeast Asia, and there was a danger that missionaries could be smuggled into Japan from Manila or Macao.

In reality, after ending trade with Portuguese vessels, inspections of ships were strictly carried out even when the rapidly increasing Chinese ships arrived, and at times Christian-related items were found. The Chinese came not only from the Chinese mainland, but long-distance ships called okufune 奥船 also arrived sailing from Southeast Asia. These peaked in the mid-seventeenth century and gradually diminished for contentious reasons, but perhaps one reason was the Tokugawa government’s awareness of the danger of the expanding Christian missionaries in Southeast Asia and the strengthening of searches of the okufune.

According to the Nagasaki yawakusa 長崎夜話草, in 1656 an envoy from the Ayutthaya dynasty arrived in Japan bearing an official letter, but the Tokugawa government was suspicious that a missionary might also be onboard the ship and refused passage. As long as there were Japanese Christians and missionaries, a ship coming to Japan from a port in Southeast Asia was the object of severe caution. In 1675, a smuggling incident was uncovered involving Kageyama Kyūdayū 陰山九太夫, a servant of the fourth Suetsugu Heizō Shigetomo 末次平蔵茂朝, who conspired with the Chinese interpreter Shimoda Yasōemon 下田弥惣右衛門 to hire a Chinese ship and captain to engage in smuggling with Cambodia (Morinaga 1993). This was after a large-scale smuggling incident in 1667 involving a relative of the Suetsugu family, Itō Kozaemon 伊藤小左衛門, an official merchant to the Fukuoka domain, so the Nagasaki Suetsugu family must have been sufficiently cautious. Even after the closing of Japan, the hiring of foreigners for smuggling (or investing in it) may have continued in secret to some degree in Nagasaki. After this, the Suetsugu family disappears from the stage of Japanese history. It is ironic that the cause of their misfortune was trade with Southeast Asia, which was how they originally accumulated their wealth.

12 Conclusion

The primary momentum for the nanban trade was the need for importing military matériel in the Age of Civil Wars. Japanese history merged with the great trends of world history, probably leading to many social changes. In this period, Japan and Southeast Asia were linked by many routes through many intermediaries, and the trade between Macao and Japan was probably one of them.

The opening of the port of Nagasaki provided the opportunity for linking Japan with the world beyond Southeast Asia, and the imprints of the activities of those traders deeply remain in modern Japan in the form of nanban culture, with resonances in food, clothing, art and so on.

The analysis in this chapter clarifies that many individual figures/players were involved in trading activities during the latter half of the sixteenth century and the early seventeenth century, as well as explaining the structure of Japanese trade in that era. In previous Japanese studies on this period, Portuguese nanban trade, shuinsen trade and new participants VOC and EIC have tended to be examined by different historians taking into account their ‘territories’. However, I suggest that future research should study these trading forces more comprehensively, rather than by each individual factor, in order to more effectively clarify the role of Japan in international surroundings from the perspective of global history.


  1. 1.

    Recently many books and articles about Portuguese India have been published. However, there is limited research on the relationship of Portuguese with local regimes or the Portuguese presence viewed from a broad perspective based on an understanding of maritime Asia. Basic knowledge about Portuguese India presented in this chapter is mainly taken from three monographs: Pearson 1976; Souza 1986; and Subrahmanyam 1990.

  2. 2.

    The term ‘Portuguese diaspora’ has gained greater recognition after the publication of Stefan Halikowski Smith’s Creolization and Diaspora in the Portuguese Indies: The Social World of Ayutthaya 16401720.

  3. 3.

    James Boyajian was the first author who pointed out the importance of converso or marrano in the Portuguese Indies. See Boyajian (2008). Lucio de Sousa’s recent works on Portuguese converso merchants in East Asia, especially in Macao, Japan and the Philippines, based on detailed analysis using Inquisition records, are remarkable. See de Sousa (2010, 2015).

  4. 4.

    Concerning the arrival of Portuguese to Tanegashima, Japanese scholarship after the 1970s conducted highly developed research on it as part of wokou’s activity. Cf. Murai Shōsuke 村井章介, Sekaishi no Naka no Sengoku Nihon 世界史の中の戦国日本 [Japan in the age of Civil Wars Viewed from the World History], Chikuma Shobo (Tokyo), 2012.

  5. 5.

    Nanpo Bunshi 南浦文之, Teppo-ki 鉄炮記 in Nanpo Bunshu 南浦文集, 1625.

  6. 6.

    The most remarkable Japanese scholar on tributary trade between Ming China and Japan is Tanaka Takeo 田中健夫. Tanaka’s works has been developed recently by Hashimoto Yu 橋本雄. Hashimoto has published many books and articles on the topic. Cf. Hashimoto (2005).

  7. 7.

    Shōshi 頌詩 [Odes], Kennin-Ji Reiun-in 建仁寺霊雲院.

  8. 8.

    This information is taken from Cartas que os Padres e Irmãos da Companhia de Jesus escreverão de Japão & China… (Evora, 1598). Cf. Oka (2014).

  9. 9.

    The first argument was made by Okamoto Yoshitomo 岡本良知 in his monograph 16 Seiki Nichi-Ou Kotsu Shi no Kenkyu 16世紀日欧通交史の研究 [Study on JapanEuropean Relations in the Sixteenth Century] (Rokko shobo, 1942). Recently a comprehensive study using newly found records was written by Lucio de Sousa (2014).

  10. 10.

    A study on the shuinsen trade has been developed by the Japanese historian Iwao Sei’ichi 岩生成一. At present, there are no studies that go beyond this work.

  11. 11.

    Chieslik, Hubert, Akizuki no Kirishitan秋月のキリシタン [Kirishitan in Akizuki], Kyobunkan, 2000. Chieslik argues that this Kozen, the founder of the Buddhist temple, might be a son of Kōzen, the Nagasaki merchant. However, according to records kept in the temple, the founder Kōzen was 85 years old when he built this temple in 1600. Based on this evidence, Kōzen, the founder of the temple and the person mentioned in Frois’ record, might be considered the same person.

  12. 12.

    This text appears in Josef Franz Schütte, Schütte, Il Cerimoniale per i Missionari del Giappone: ‘Advertimentos e avisos acerca dos costumes e catangues de Jappão’ di Alexandro Valignano: Edizioni di Storia e letterature, 1946.

  13. 13.

    This affair greatly influenced the diplomatic policy of Tokugawa Japan. The red-seal ship trade soon faded out. Cf. Iwao (1934).

  14. 14.

    Gotō Sōin is known to have had a printing office in Nagasaki for the Society of Jesus.

  15. 15.

    Takase Kōichirō 高瀬弘一郎 has published many monumental works on the Society of Jesus in Japan and their involvement in the Portuguese trade. Cf. Takase Kōichirō, Kirishitan Jidai no Kenkyuキリシタン時代の研究 [Study on the Era of Kirishitan], Iwanami Shoten, 1977. Ibid, Kirishitan Jidai Taigai Kankei no Kenkyuキリシタン時代対外関係の研究 [Study on the International Affairs of Japan in Christian Century], Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1994. Kirishitan Jidai no Bōeki to Gaikōキリシタン時代の貿易と外交 [The Trade and Diplomacy in the Kirishitan Era], Yagui shoten, 2002.

  16. 16.

    The word ‘pancada’ originally means ‘hitting’. Here it means ‘wholesale price’. The word is estimated to have originated from the act of using a gavel.

  17. 17.

    The original documents is conserved in the Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Cortes 566, ff.184–189. The transcribed and edited text can be found in Willeke (1984).

  18. 18.

    The original document is conserved in the Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Cortes 566, ff.354–377v. The transcribed text by Bernward H. Willeke is in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum, An. 78, 1985, 51–97.

  19. 19.

    Procurador in the Society of Jesus in Japan took care of trading activity, financial matters and material support for the missionary work. Cf. Oka (2006).

  20. 20.

    Regarding Jesuit activity in Southeast Asia, a long report written by Francisco Cardim S.J. is the most comprehensive. Cf. Cardim (1894).

  21. 21.

    Dejima was built as a residential area for Portuguese merchants in 1636. Twenty-five specially appointed merchants who were allowed to trade with the Portuguese were called ‘Dejima-Chonin’ 出島町人. Kagaya 加賀屋 was known to be a Dejima Chonin. This means that Kagaya was strongly connected with Portuguese trade and was a powerful merchant. Cf. Oka (2010).



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Authors and Affiliations

  • Mihoko Oka
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TokyoTokyoJapan

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