llowed to rent only the tiny island of Deshima on the Nagasaki water front, the VOC in Tokugawa Japan was obsessed above all with locally mined precious metals for the intra-Asian trade: first silver, then gold koban, and finally copper staves. At the same time, Deshima functioned as Japan's window on the West, and its to Japan.

Deshima: Gateway to the West

he first VOC establishment in Japan, a factory in Hirado, opened in 1609. Thirty years later, the shogunate moved the Dutch to the island of Deshima, where they displaced the disfavoured Portuguese. The VOC presence on Deshima was quite literally on the periphery of Japan, but it was nevertheless important. In 1636 the Shogunate issued the Kaikin edict, intended to prohibit all Japanese overseas navigation. The flourishing Nihon machi or Japanese trading towns at Ayutthaya in Siam, Tourane, Kangnan, and Hoi An in Quinam and Tonkin as well as Udong near Phnom Penh were left to VOC and Chinese merchants, who from then on served as the only suppliers between an isolated Japan and the outside world

Even in isolation, Japan continued to be an essential producer of precious metals for the world market. As the only Westerners allowed in Japan between 1640 and 1854, the Dutch in Deshima circulated Tokugawa gold, silver, and copper exclusively onto Southeast and South Asian markets. Relegated to the periphery of the China Sea trade, the VOC had to adjust itself and its practices to the market and the shifting balances of power in the area. In the words of one scholar, 'what better indicator of continuity and change of the Eastern market could the historian select than a 'multi-national' trading company that has to dance to the tune of the market?' The dance of the VOC can tell us much about the broader trade of Asia.

Chinese factory at Nagasaki
(click image to enlarge)

Besides the Dutch, the Chinese were the only foreigners allowed to trade with Japan during the period of seclusion. Chinese merchants were given twice the trading quota of the VOC . They purchased silver, gold, and copper as the VOC did. However, China has not preserved substantial records of their trade with Japan during the Tokugawa period (1603-1867). A combination of Japanese and Dutch sources--for the VOC kept a keen eye on its Chinese competitors--will doubtless teach us more about Sino-Japanese relations during this critical period.



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