The importance of Japan’s silver exports in meeting the country’s trade deficit with China in the import of silk has long been recognized (Charles Boxer, et al.). More recent research (Hamashita Takeshi) has also confirmed the global preeminence of the central kingdom’s tributary trade network of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Importantly, Andre Gunder Frank has gone further in asserting that, not only was the emerging world economy Asia-centered, but that China was the ultimate “sink” for New World and Japanese bullion. A corollary of Frank’s argument is that, contrary to the thesis of Western hegemony in the early modern period, European merchant adventurers attached themselves to the Asian locomotive, at least before the multiple Asian crises of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In sum, this work seeks to correlate local (Nagasaki) and national (Japan) history with Asian regional and global history to test the important thesis that a unified global economy linked by bullion exchange materialized in tandem with and even prior to the eruption of Westerners into the Asia Pacific hemisphere.

With its superb natural harbor embedded in a southward curving peninsula jutting from the north-western corner of the island of Kyushu and looking out to the East China Sea, Nagasaki’s genesis as an international port was literally created by Portuguese traders and Catholic missionaries arriving from Macau. For almost one hundred years Nagasaki served as the terminal port of the Macau ships and, over even longer time as the single designated site in Japan for the conduct of trade by both the Dutch East India Company (voc) and the no less significant Chinese junk trade. More generally, this study raises questions as to the volume, the profitability, and the mechanism of the trade conducted at Nagasaki, as well as the agency of the concerned merchants, whether Japanese, European or Chinese? Another set of questions are also raised as to a stagnant versus commercially dynamic Japan and, indeed, what manner of commercial activity developed in seventeenth century Nagasaki under conditions short of full-blown capitalist activity? At least two major perspectives emerge from this investigation. First, contrary to the standard view that two centuries of isolation confirmed a thesis of Western hegemony, in fact Tokugawa Japan offers an exception to the decline thesis. Second, notwithstanding seclusion edicts and trade curtailments, Nagasaki’s role in the regional Asian and even global bullion trade leads us to rethink Japan’s so-called “closed country” policy from within a world history framing.

I first produced this work as an in-house monograph of the Faculty of Economics, Nagasaki University in the last year of the last century some four years after my arrival in the city better known for the atomic bombing of August 9, 1945. Needless to say, the intervening years have seen the addition of a small number of contributions to this general field which have greatly encouraged this revision and update. To this effect, I should signal Ishii Yoneo’s edited translations of records relating to the junk trade linking Nagasaki with South East Asian ports; Hoàng Anh Tuấn’s dissertation-turned book on the role of the Dutch in the Vietnamese silk-for-silver trade; Hang Xing on the important Zheng family networks; Shimada Ryūto writing on the Dutch trade in Japanese copper, Keiko Nagase-Reimer addressing little-known mining issues through Japanese literature; and the doctoral dissertation by Iioka Naoko highlighting the role of Nagasaki-based Chinese merchant princes in the Tonkin silk trade, along with a host of Japan specialists feeding into a larger field of studies.

As a neophyte stepping into this field, I soon became aware that debts owed to Japanese scholars of this broad field are huge, reaching back to the English writings of Murakami Naojiro as with his edited version of Richard Cocks’ diary published in 1889. In the interwar years, he was joined by Muto Chozo (武藤長蔵) whose name is lent to the extraordinary Muto collection in the Nagasaki University Faculty of Economics library. Muto, in turn, was a correspondent with famed historian of the Portuguese world, Charles Boxer, inter alia author of major studies on the Portuguese trade with Japan. Neither were British scholars of the English East Indian Company operation in Japan backward as well. Commencing in the immediate prewar period, Iwao Seiichi and, subsequently, Nagazumi Yoko, literally pioneered what we know today about the seventeenth century “red seal” trade as well as the basic trade data. From another tack, such economic historians as Kobata Atsushi, Kato Eichii, and Tashiro Kazui, have also contributed greatly to this field of inquiry. At least one of the most original, especially in theorizing the tributary trade system, is Hamashita Takeshi, formerly of Tōyō Bunko.

Obviously, I am indebted to those who read old Dutch, Portuguese, classical and modern Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese manuscripts and readings in the original. As a synthetic study with broader interpretive issues in mind, my sources are overwhelmingly drawn from Western language material, with the exception of some commissioned Japanese translations. A particularly useful source has been the “Deshima Diaries,” offering a daily record of Nagasaki life over a 250-year period, with extracts translated into English by the Japan-Netherlands Institute and painstakingly indexed. Much owes to Leonard Blussé and other members of the “Leiden school” for this endeavor. My only other major “primary” source is a rare manuscript recovered in Portugal bearing upon the Shimabara rebellion. While Japanese sources certainly add a wealth of detail on the trade conducted at Nagasaki, Chinese and Vietnamese-reading scholars together confirm a great lacunae of hard trade data in this area. In fact, there is a great sense that the field has entered a kind of stasis as far as the collection of data is concerned as opposed to its interpretation which remains robust, although Iioka is one who has also creatively tapped Nagasaki Chinese merchant family descendant records.

While I can claim no such discoveries or breakthroughs in this area after many years residence in Nagasaki, at least I have acquired some local familiarity with the rich historical topography of the city, as with Deshima, various archaeological sites, and the surviving seventeenth century Chinese legacy. In fact, my original work was written to better know the city that would become a second home. I also made the effort to visit Hirado Island, the early port-of-call for arriving missionaries and foreign traders, the Shimabara site of the rebellion of the same name, the abode of the “hidden” Christians on the Goto islands, the Ginzan Iwami silver mines, the Shuri castle in Okinawa, and more. Added to that, the vast majority of the Asian toponyms mentioned in this text are also known to me from numerous travels, from the Dutch transit island of Tioman in the South China Sea, to the two coasts of India, from Patani to Brunei, from Java to Timor, and from Hoi An in Vietnam, to Macau.

My debts are small and also large. I thank Kanke Masazumi-sensei, then Dean of the Faculty of Economics, Nagasaki University, for launching the original monograph version in 1999. A version of Chapter Five was first published as “The Duarte Correa Manuscript and the Shimabara Rebellion,” in Lane E. Earnes and Brian Burke-Gaffney, eds., Crossroads (4, 1998: 1–15), and with both these editors historians of Nagasaki to whom I am obliged. Meeting up with the late Professor Ishii Yoneo in Nagasaki in 1998 in tandem with Professor Anthony Reid was a great pleasure and inspiration. I also benefited from a second meeting with Anthony Reid in Nagasaki some eight years later, this time in tow with Leonard Blussé, Iioka Naoko, Geoff Wade, George Sousa, Li Tana, Roy Bin Wong, James Chin, among others. I am especially obliged to two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments, as well as series editor C. X. George Wei. Special thanks are owed to my wife Chieko for finessing Japanese language detail.