The Nanban Trade Period of Japan

The Nanban trade or the “Southern barbarian trade” period can be traced from the arrival of the first Europeans.  They were Portuguese explorers, missionaries and merchants who arrived in Japan in 1543. The Sakoku” Seclusion Edicts in 1614.

The Renaissance Europeans were simply enamored by the Orient and Japan in particular, who was so rich in precious metals.

Nanban trading, Japan.

Trading with Japan was made more so coveted because of the acclaimed Italian explorer Marco Polo’s accounts of the palaces and gilded temples and the copious amount of surface ores that is found in such volcanic countries. Japan soon was known to be a major exporter of copper and silver before the Industrial times.

Soon after the first Portuguese made first contact with Japan, ships started to arrive with ships being about 4 smaller sized ships each year which consisted of Chinese goods such as silk and porcelain which the Japanese looked forward to acquiring.The Emperor of China prohibited any Chinese contact with the Japanese as punishment for Japanese pirate raids (Wokou). The Portuguese though it an opportunity for them to act as intermediaries in Asian trade.

Through the combined efforts of daimyō Ōmura Sumitada and his Portuguese friend and confessor, Jesuit missionary Gaspar Vilela, founded the port of Nagasaki in 1571.

Portuguese traders landing in Japan.

Sumitada is famously known for being the first daimyo to convert to Christianity following the arrival of the Jesuit missionaries in the middle of the 16th century. After being baptized Sumitada became known as “Dom Bartolomeu” and the lord who opened the port of Nagasaki to foreign trade. Opening he port of Nagasaki helped in dramatically increasing the trade relations of the Portuguese between Japan for over three decades.  The Portuguese would even further the depth of its foothold on the port of Nagasaki after assisting Sumitada in staving off an attack on the port by the Ryūzōji clan in 1578. This in turn resulted in Sumitada ceding Nagasaki “in perpetuity” to the Society of Jesus two years later.

After Japan was unified by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603, Japan closed itself to the outside world due mostly to the threat in the rise of Christianity. By 1650, only the trade outpost of Dejima in Nagasaki remained for the Netherlands, and some trade with China. Foreigners were subjected to the death penalty and Christian converts were persecuted. Guns were almost completely eradicated in Japan in place for the sword. Travel abroad and building of large ships were also banned.

17th century Portuguese traders in Japan.

This was the beginning of Japan’s seclusion from the rest of the world which brought peace, prosperity and mild progress. A time know as the Edo period.

The Nanban would come back 250 years later by the strengthening of industrialization and the end of Japan’s isolations with Japan being forcibly open to trade by the American military fleet under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854.