When Most Other European Powers Were Being Evicted From Japan In the 17th Century, The Dutch Were Allowed To Stay

(Dutch personnel and Japanese women watching an incoming towed Dutch sailing ship at Dejima by Kawahara Keiga (川原慶賀), c. 1811-1842, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


After the Battle of Sekigahara (conveniently dated 1600) Tokugawa Ieyasu became the undisputed shogun of Japan by 1603. His rule would usher in the Edo Period, a multiple-century span of time when Japan was ruled by a Tokugawa government (or Bakufu). The Edo Period lasted until the late 19th century, when the Tokugawa Bakufu was stripped of power during the Meiji Restoration.

One of the central aspects of the Tokugawa style of foreign policy was strict isolationism and seclusion. The Tokugawa leaders tried to close as many doors to the world outside of Japan as they could. The main reason that the Bakufu detested Westerners was because of religion. In the case of most European countries at the time, missionaries often followed merchants to new civilizations they came in contact with, and Japan was not spared from that pattern. Since most European countries refused to end their missionary work, the Tokugawa government told the majority of Europeans to pack up and leave.

The first to go were the British. They left Japan in 1623. Next were the Spanish, who ended their commerce in Japan around 1624. Portugal lasted more than a decade longer, but they also were gone by 1639.

Only the Dutch, who were able to separate commerce from religion, were allowed to stay—albeit, they were cordoned off to a miniscule marketplace in Nagasaki harbor.

Written by C. Keith Hansley


  • A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present (Third Edition) by Andrew Gordon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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