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The Sakoku Edicts and the Politics of Tokugawa Hegemony By Michael S. Laver ...

Chapter :  Introduction: Japan on the Eve of the Sakoku Edicts
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The Sakoku Edicts and the Politics of Tokugawa Hegemony

Introduction

Japan on the Eve
of the Sakoku Edicts

In his description of the political situation in Japan at the close of the seventeenth century, the famous German physician and traveler Engelbert Kaempfer called Japan a “closed country.” He went on further to weigh the evidence for and against the desirability of such a system and concluded unequivocally that for the Japanese state, seclusion was a wise policy. It was only when Kaempfer's History of Japan was translated into Japanese over a century later that the term sakoku came into being as a translation of Kaempfer's term “closed country.”1 The seventeenth-century Japanese almost certainly referred to the system of political, economic, and religious restrictions that they lived under, not as sakoku, but rather as the more traditional kaikin, or “maritime prohibitions”—the same term used by the Ming and Qing empires of China when implementing their own restrictions on maritime commerce. Tanaka Takeo, for example, noted that the Japanese were not the “inventors” of this system of maritime prohibitions but were adopting similar