26 Edo period time lineThe circle indicate where we are discussing in this chapter.

Precisely speaking, after Sengoku Period (戦国時代) and before Edo Period (江戸時代) there was a time called Azuchi Momoyama Period (安土桃山) that is from around 1575 to 1614.  This was the time when Oda Nobunaga (織田信長), Toyotomi Hideyoshi(豊臣秀吉) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) lived.  After Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) won a war of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い) against Toyotomi’s vassals (Toyotomi Hideyoshi was deceased by this time), Tokugawa Iyeyasu became a Shogun(将軍  ) in 1603.  This is the start of the Edo Period (江戸  ).

At the end of the Sengoku Period and during Azuchi Momoyama Period the economy improved a lot and a new culture flourished.  They created gorgeous and spectacular art objects, paintings, buildings, and interior decorations.  Tea ceremony started by Sen-no-Rikyu (千の利休 )、also, Kabuki started around his time.  This is somewhat similar to the European Renaissance——-strange enough this new art emergence happened at the same time in Japan and Europe.  Around this time, many Europeans came to Japan.  This was the time of the Exploration to the East by Europeans.  They were from England, Spain, Holland and Portugal.  The novel “Shogun” by James Clavell was staged around this time.  This novel is based on the real person, William Adams, and Jan Joosten Van Londersteyn*¹.   You can see Jan Joosten’s statue in Tokyo station today.  When I visit Japan every year, I stay at the hotel near Tokyo station,  I often pass in front of Yan Yoosten’s statue.   It is located inside the Tokyo station, underground in the midst of the extremely busy shops.  It is very easily missed unless you look for it.  There is another  his statue outside of the Tokyo station.  Tokugawa Iyeyasu, the Shogun hired William Adams and Jan Joosten (Japanese call him Jan Joosten, not his entire name) as his advisers and received information on Europe from them.  The Shogun treated them nicely.  The area where Jan Joosten lived is now called Yaesu (八重洲 ) after Jan Joosten.  And William Adams changed his name to Miura Anjin and lived in Miura area.  The record of those two people is well kept.  If you are interested in, you can find it easily.  Europeans brought many European goods and ideas.  Christianity became popular and widely spread.  It was accepted but later Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned it.  After Meiji Era (1868), there is no religious restriction.

The Edo Period is after Tokugawa Iyeyasu became Shogun (1603) until the Meiji Restoration or the Meiji (明治) of 1868.  During the Edo Period, Tokugawa Bakufu (Tokugawa government) is the only entity who had the political power.  The Emperors existed but the political power was shifted to the Tokugawa Bakufu.   Gradually, ports for the European ships were limited, eventually, Spaniards were not allowed to come to Japan, then Portuguese were not allowed.  Japanese were forbidden to travel abroad.  By around 1640, the place called Dejima whichi is Hirato in Nagasaki prefecture (平戸、長崎  ) was the only place opened for a foreigner to do business with Japan and only Dutches were allowed.  Japan closed the country to the outside world until Meiji Restoration (1868).

During the Azuchi Momoyama period and very early part of Edo period, many  European ships visited Japan and many of them ship wrecked near the shore around Japan.  One of the reason is that Japan is a volcanic island.  Even if the surface of the sea does not show anything sticking up from the bottom, there are lots of obstacles underneath such as mountains, huge hidden reefs.  The European did not have the waterway information that is common to the Japanese seaman.

Here is fun things to read for readers.  But don’t quote me the information below here.

The second reason why many ships were wrecked was that those ships were looking for gold.  When Marco Polo went to China, he heard from Chinese people that there is a small island further East.  This country is very wealthy and the Emperor’s palace is made of gold.  Yes, Japan mined a large amount of gold.  After Marco Polo went back to Italy, he wrote a book (late 1300) about his journey and published it.  In his book, he mentioned what he heard from Chinese about Japan.  Marco Polo never visited Japan himself.  This book was widely read in many countries in Europe.  When traveling to the East became possible for Europeans, they came to Japan to look for gold.  But it was too late.  By this time, the majority of the gold was mined by Fujiwara family in Oushu ( 奥州 Northern part of Japan) area that is today’s Aomori, Akita, Fukushima, and Miyagi area that is the place big Tsunami happened a few years back.  And Toyotomi Hideyoshi owned gold mines and mined as much as they could mine with their skill they had then.  I checked into many references and searched for the facts.  It seems to me I can summarize that 1/3 of today’s world gold supply came from Japan that was mined in the past.   Don’t quote me on that.  Gold flowed out to outside Japan little by little over the centuries because the exchange rate between gold and silver was much cheaper in Japan compare to the rest of the world.  Gold were exchanged and flowed out of Japan over a long time.  Now we don’t mine gold nor don’t own much gold.

It is said that the country name Japan comes from Marco Polo’s book.  He called our country “Jipangu”in his book, that means gold country.*² “Jipangu” eventually evolved to “Japan”.  Japanese don’t call ourselves Japan.  “Nihon or Nippon”(日本 ) is our country name.

*¹ Weblio dictionary


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