Establishment of a Self-Sufficient Economy
The basis of the emergence in the nineteenth century of this self-image of Japan as an isolated nation was the realization that nineteenth-century Japan, unlike seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Japan, had established a self-sufficient economy. When Commodore Perry urged Japan to open its doors to trade in 1854, stating that _because trade has the great merit of enabling nations to procure what they do not have, it is now flourishing throughout the world, permitting nations to become stronger and richer,_the chief foreign relations official of the Tokugawa shogunate, Hayashi Fukusai, replied that since domestic goods were sufficient for all Japan_s requirements and it had no need for foreign goods, foreign trade had been forbidden by Japanese law. (History of Yokohama, Volume 2). This response clearly reflects the pride the Japanese felt in their self-sufficiency.
It is interesting to note that the Chinese also took great pride in their economic independence. When Ambassador Plenipotentiary McCartney?? visited China in 1793 to present a letter from the British King George III to Emperor Qian Long?? requesting the expansion of trade, the Emperor stated in his written reply to the King that China already had everything it required and did not need to trade with Britain.
Japanese-Style Chinese Concepts
Japan and China were similar in the pride they took in their self-sufficiency and policy of restricting foreign trade. The thinking underlying these self-sufficient economies was intimately connected to the Chinese concept that _barbarian_ countries should provide goods to _civilized_ countries and the subjects of _civilized_ countries should not travel overseas to sell goods to _barbarians._ This was also the basic thinking underlying the Chinese tribute trade. Since the country receiving tribute was expected to provide more than it received, tributary countries profited from this exchange. This was diametrically opposed to the principle of free trade espoused by the _advanced country_ Britain, which aimed to profit by selling its domestic products to overseas countries. Although early modern Japan itself did not have a tribute trade relationship with any foreign countries, the intensity of the sonn_j_(_revere the Emperor, expel the barbarian_) movement during the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate shows that the Japanese viewed themselves as civilized and Western countries as barbarian. In short, the Japanese had come to espouse a Japanese version of Chinese thinking by the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. Rather than being an original Japanese creation, the system of national exclusion was modeled on the Chinese concept of foreign trade restriction, which was the converse of the tribute system and based on the same principle. (Arano Yasunori, Kinsei Nihon to higashi Ajia [Early Modern Japan and East Asia], Tokyo University Press).
The Creation of a _Mini-Chinese Empire_
However, the Japanese economy at the beginning of the Edo period cannot be described as self-sufficient. Japan paid huge sums for the import of large quantities of raw silk thread, silk cloth, and sugar from China via Nagasaki and Tsushima. Trade was indispensable for Japan in the seventeenth century and its biggest import was raw silk thread. But by the time Japan opened its ports to foreign trade in the mid-nineteenth century, raw silk thread was no longer imported and actually became Japan_s biggest export. Even before Japan opened its doors in the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate, it had already embarked on the process of producing substitutes for imported goods in order to free itself from economic dependence on China. This independence was gradually achieved from the mid-early modern period onwards as Japan started to produce imported goods domestically. _National seclusion,_ therefore, can be seen as a system for attaining economic self-sufficiency through the creation of a _mini-Chinese empire_ that contained everything it needed.