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suggests a seclusive intent. But, as we will see, this term was not coined
until the early nineteenth century, when the West had begun to intrude
once more upon Japan. Tokugawa leaders at that time seized upon the
term as descriptive of what they believed had always been an immutable
“closed country” policy that prohibited further expansion of relations
with foreign countries, in particular those of the West. But at the time of
its inception in the seventeenth century, the seclusion policy was probably
intended more to establish a new international order in East Asia, with
Japan at its center, than to seal the country off permanently from all but
minimal ties with the outside world.
Yet the fact remains that the seclusion policy did minimize foreign relations, especially with Europe. Of Europeans, only the Dutch were allowed
to continue trading with Japan, and from 1640 on their activities were restricted to a small, artificial island in Nagasaki harbor called Deshima (or The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture 165 Dejima). During the Tokugawa period, there were usually seven or eight
officials at the Dutch compound on this island. A Dutch contingent journeyed each year to Edo to meet with shogunate officials;2 otherwise the
Dutch were almost entirely sealed off from contact with the Japanese
except for the few who served as trading agents and interpreters.
It has been held that the Japanese paid a tremendous price in progress
by cutting themselves off from the West just as it was entering fully into
its great age of technological and scientific advancements. No doubt this
is in some measure true. Yet, we cannot simply assume that, in the absence of the Tokugawa seclusion policy, Japan would have moved steadily
or smoothly into more intimate relations with the West. To the Westerners,
Japan still lay at the farthest extremity of the known world; and quite
possibly the Western trade of this age with Japan had already passed its
zenith. Japan, moreover, was not alone in actin...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.
- Spring '13