The Age of Discover
Just as the period that marked the emergence of early modern society in Europe coincided with the Age of Discovery, the Japanese were also venturing abroad from the late fifteenth through the early sixteenth centuries. In Japan_s case, the object of exploration was the seas around East and Southeast Asia. This region, referred to as the East Indies by the Europeans, was Tenjiku or Nanban to the Japanese. During the formative period of the early modern era, Western Europe and Japan shared this maritime sphere of activity. More significantly, the two regions established strikingly similar relationships to maritime Asia. Both exported precious metals for coins_gold, silver, and copper_and imported East Asian products. Europe, as is well known, acquired its stores of precious metals from Central and South America; around the same time, the Japanese were busy developing their own domestic mineral resources and had some of the most productive gold and silver mines in the world. Armed with this purchasing power, Europe and Japan procured goods from the older Asian civilizations in vast quantities.
In both Europe and Japan, this thriving trade brought about a fundamental change in lifestyles. Indeed, as Nait_suggests, Japan before and after that transformation could be taken for two different countries. Where Europe is concerned, Fernand Braudel provides an excellent description of the changes in material life in his voluminous work Civilisation mat_ielle, _onomie et capitalisme, XVeX_VIIIe si_le (1967_79, trans. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th_18th Century). In short, the formation of the so-called modern world system in Europe coincided with the rise of Edo society in Japan. The point I wish to stress in the following is that world history offers us these two alternative paradigms for the building of early modern society.
Given the fact that the Japanese and the Europeans entered the early modern era around the same time, one cannot but be struck by how sharply their subsequent histories diverge from one another. After the midseventeenth century, Japan_s sphere of activity was circumscribed by its own borders, while Europe_s theater of operations expanded outward until it encompassed the entire world. The Japanese turned their focus inward, while the Europeans turned theirs outward. What accounts for this stark contrast in orientation? The answers to this question may provide us with an important key to understanding Edo society.
Similarities and Differences
Let us begin, then, by examining what the two civilizations shared in common. First, until the end of the medieval period, both were backward, outlying regions when seen from the viewpoint of the older civilizations of continental Asia, and both sustained a huge trade deficit with those civilizations, from which they imported both culture and material goods. This imbalance was to persist until the end of the eighteenth century.
Second, both Japan and Europe eliminated their trade deficit with the older civilizations of continental Asia and achieved economic self-sufficiency sometime in the nineteenth century. In Europe_s case, this was facilitated by the triangular maritime trade route that tied together Europe, Africa, and the Americas and created the Atlantic economic sphere. Japan, meanwhile, achieved self-sufficiency through domestic overland trade alone.
Third, both cultures rectified their trade imbalance with Asia with the help of a _production revolution._In Europe, this is known as the industrial revolution; in Japan, it took the form of something that Hayami Akira has termed_the industrious revolution._The industrial revolution was a capital-intensive, labor-saving revolution in production, which raised labor productivity in Europe to the highest levels anywhere in the world. Japan_s _industrious revolution; by contrast, was capital-saving and labor-intensive, and it made the country_s land productivity the highest in the world. These two production revolutions created the world_s first production-oriented societies simultaneously at opposite ends of the Eurasian continent.