July 19, 2009

Contact Archaeology: Japan and the West

by Charles T. Keally

* This project was inspired by questions from Sarah Kautz, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina who is working on this research topic. She has provided some of the material given here.
Introduction | Brief History | News Articles | Western Tokyo | Other Regions | Bibliography | Other Reading | Links


Comment: Kyushu was the main "door" into Japan for direct Western contact from the 16th century to the middle of the 18th century. Thus Kyushu tends to be the focus of most Western academic literature on West-Japan contacts. And the Kansai region also gets considerable attention because it was the imperial capital of the country. But the effective capital of Japan from the beginning of the 17th century to the present has been Edo-Tokyo. Furthermore, in order to understand the full extent of Western influence on Japan and the Japanese from the middle of the 16th century, the provinces need to be studied thoroughly. A good start for such research would be the western part of Tokyo, the western countryside of old Edo. It is both very accessible and very well studied and published in Japanese. All that really needs to be done is analyze the Japanese reports and publish the results in English.

Here are (1) a brief outline of contacts with the West, both direct and indirect, and also possible but not certain, (2) recent news articles dealing with West-Japan contacts, and (3) a list of finds in western Tokyo that reflect contact between Japan and the West. The news articles and list of finds will be up-dated periodically.


Research Locations:

Brief History

Pre-16th Century Contacts with the West

Before the 16th century, Japanese contacts with the west would have been indirect, mostly coming via China. Some possible mechanisms for indirect contact would have been:

16th Century Contacts with the West

The first direct contacts between Japan and the West apparently begin in the 16th century. These contacts were with Portugal and Spain.

date events
1543 A Portuguese ship runs aground on Tanegashima, south of Kyushu. The Japanese acquire guns.
1549 Francis Xavier lands in Kyushu. Christianity is brought to Japan.
1568 Ohmura Sumitada builds a church in Nagasaki.
1569 Luis Frois is premitted to live in Kyoto.
1575 Oda Nobunaga's light gun regiment defeats Takeda Katsuyori's forces at the battle of Nagashino.
1580 Ohmura Sumitada joins the Jesuits in Nagasaki.
1582 A group of youths were sent to Europe on the advice of Alessandro Valignano.
1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi puts out the Bateren(?) expulsion order.
1596 The Spanish ship San Felipe runs aground at Urado in Tosa. Twenty-six Christians were martyred.
1612 The Edo Bakufu forbids Christianity on Bakufu lands.
1613 The Edo Bakufu forbids Chrisitianity in the entire country.
  • Takioto, Yoshiyuki. (1996). Daigaku Juken Nihon Shi Handobukku [University Entrance Examination: Handbook of Japanese History]. Tokyo: Nagase K.K., pp. 172-174. (in Japanese)

Edo Period Contacts with the West

This period from about 1600 to 1868 is seen as a time when the country was closed. In fact, the country was officially closed by a series of orders in the 1630s and not officially opened until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. But the country was never fully closed to outside contacts or people.

date events
1616 All but Chinese ships limited to Nagasaki Hirado.
1624 Spanish ships forbidden in Japan.
1633 Japanese forbidden to go abroad, except to China, or to return from abroad.
1634 Dejima established in Nagasaki.
1635 Japanese forbidden to go abroad or to return from abroad.
1636 The Portugese move to Dejima.
1939 The Portugese are forbidden in Japan.
1641 The Dutch consulate moved to Dejima.
1792 The Russian envoy Raksman(?) comes to Nemuro. The castaway Daikokuya Kotao returns with him.
1804 The Russian envoy V. Rezanov comes to Nagasaki.
1808 The English ship Phaeton trespasses at Nagasaki
1811 The Russian Gorovnin(?) is captured in the southern Kurile Islands
  • Takioto, Yoshiyuki. (1996). Daigaku Juken Nihon Shi Handobukku [University Entrance Examination: Handbook of Japanese History]. Tokyo: Nagase K.K., pp. 198-201. (in Japanese)

Meiji Period and Later Contacts with the West

This period post-dating 1868 is largely outside the sphere of archaeological research.

Recent News Articles

Evidence from Western Tokyo

Evidence from Other Regions


Other Reading

Useful Links