The Asian Mediterranean
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The Asian Mediterranean

Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century

François Gipouloux

This insightful book draws upon a wide range of disciplines – political economy, geography and international relations – to examine how Asia has returned to its central position in the world economy.
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Chapter 7: Japan’s Place in Intra-Asian Trade: Resisting Chinese Hegemony

François Gipouloux


Japan played a major role in the dynamics of intra-Asian trade, although its influence met with obstacles during the period of national seclusion that extended from the 1630s to 1853. However, it is no longer possible to analyse this period in terms of strict isolationism. From the mid-1980s, Japanese and American studies have changed the framework of interpretation. The term sakoku, by which this period is commonly designated, was invented by a Japanese interpreter from Nagasaki, Shizuki Tadao, in 1801, when he was translating an annex to the History of Japan by Engelbert Kaempfer, a German physician who travelled extensively in Japan at the end of the 18th century.1 The expression had never been used before, either in the 17th or in the 18th century, nor was it used by the shogunate of the period. The advisors of the bakufu, the Japanese military government,2 used the term kai kin (from the Chinese hai jin, maritime restrictions), or simply go kin, (restrictions).3 SAKOKU: SELECTIVE CLOSURE Admittedly, from the 1630s, the only point of contact between Japan and the outside world was Nagasaki, as far as relations with European powers – but also with China – were concerned. In fact, there were far more Chinese than Dutch ships in Nagasaki. However, the port was not the only 1 2 3 See Arano, Yasunori (1994) ‘The entrenchment of the concept of “National Seclusion”’, Acta Asiatica, 67, pp. 83–103; and by the same author (2005) ‘Concept of the border: nations, people and...

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