Salvaged over a period of seven years, the ship_s freight tells us what kind of goods were being imported to Japan from China at that time. The goods found in the greatest quantity were copper coins amounting to several tons, followed by about 18,000 pieces of chinaware. (Tokyo National Museum/ Chunichi Shimbunsha, ed.. Goods Salvaged from the Sea Bottom at Sinan, Chunichi Shimbunsha). The massive amount of copper coins is particularly significant. In China_s tribute trade, copper coins were the commodity wanted by all the tributary countries including Japan.
During the two centuries of the embassies to Tang China the aspects of Chinese civilization introduced into Japan were mainly related to the political system, but in the period of tally trade with Ming China they were mainly related to the economic system, such as copper coins, silk, cotton, and chinaware.
(2) Japan under _National Seclusion_ and Western Europe
Let us now consider the significance of these cultural imports in early modern Japanese society as compared with the industrial revolution in Britain.
The industrial revolution in Britain can be seen as having a similar significance to the production revolution that took place in early modern Japan. The British industrial revolution is conventionally viewed as the world_s first spontaneous (or autogenic) industrial revolution, while Japan is seen as a feudal society until it reformed itself along the lines of the British model in the Meiji period. However, this orthodox historical interpretation springs from an internal, landlocked perspective. If the historical development of Britain and Japan is viewed from the perspective of the sea, a quite different picture emerges.
Just as modern civilization in the Western Europe centering around Britain emerged through its dynamic relationship with ancient Asian civilization on the Eurasian Continent, Japan underwent considerable cultural exchange with Asia via the sea before it entered the period of _national seclusion._ Both Japan and Western Europe thus experienced deep relationships with ancient Asian civilizations through the medium of the sea.
Japanese Awareness of _National Seclusion_
The series of measures adopted by the Tokugawa shogunate in the 1630s, including the prohibition of Japanese overseas from returning to Japan, the ban on voyages overseas by Japanese subjects and the banishment of the Portuguese and Spanish, is usually described as a policy of _national seclusion._ This is not quite accurate. In fact, the Japanese themselves did not use the word sakoku (national seclusion) until the nineteenth century. In his response to Adam Laxman_s request for trade between Russia and Japan at the end of the eighteenth century, the daimyo Matsudaira Sadanobu explained Japan_s policy in terms of the concepts of communication and commerce rather than national seclusion. This clearly reflects a contemporary awareness that Japan_s foreign policy was confined to communication with Korea and Ryukyu and commerce with the Dutch and the Chinese.
The word sakoku is in fact a foreign concept that was directly translated into Japanese. It made its first appearance in Japanese society in 1801, when the official translator for Dutch traders at Nagasaki, Shizuki Tadao, used it in his Japanese translation of part of Kaempfer s History of Japan. Translated verbatim from the Dutch, the title reads: _Discussion as to whether it actually profits the people of present-day Japan to cut their whole country off from the outside world and forbid trade with people of foreign lands both inside Japan and overseas. _In short, this was a discussion of the merits and demerits of _national seclusion. _Subsequently, the Japanese awareness of _national seclusion_steadily spread during the first half of the nineteenth century. A letter written by the official in charge of coastal defense when the U.S. consul general Townsend Harris arrived in Japan in 1856 shows the extent to which the concept of the _laws on national seclusion_ had become accepted by the shogunate: _Since the third Tokugawa shogun (Tokugawa Iemitsu) issued an edict prohibiting the entry of European ships in Ansei 13 (1636), all dealings with foreigners apart from the Dutch have been strictly prohibited, and since the suppression of the Shimabara uprising the laws on national seclusion have been enforced for the sake of peace in our land._ (Ronald P. Toby, State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan).