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Kyūshū and its Surroundings in the Pre-Modern Era (16th-19th centuries): a Crossroads of People, Goods, Knowledge and Techniques

by Lemardelé Élise - published on

Principal Investigator : Annick Horiuchi

Participants :
Full Members : Frédéric Girard (EFEO), Martin Nogueira Ramos (EFEO), François Lachaud (EFEO), Charlotte von Verschuer (EPHE)
Associate Members: Guillaume Carré (EHESS) ; Pierre-Emmanuel Roux (Université Paris Diderot)
PhD candidates: Daniel Said Monteiro ; Céline Zuretti ; Li Dandan
Membres associés d’autres institutions françaises :
Noriko Berlinguez-Kono (Université de Lille) ; Alexandre Roy (IFRAE); Akiyo Kudô-Herledant (doctorante IFRAE); Damien Peladan (doctorant CCJ);
International Collaborators :
Rebekah Clements (ICREA Research Professor at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Wim Boot (Université de Leiden)

For over twenty years historians have been distancing themselves from the concept of sakoku (a locked country), a notion that had been used until then to describe Japan’s situation under the Tokugawas. Following Arano Yasunori, scholars now prefer to talk about the "four windows" on the world maintained by Japan under the Shogun regime. Three of these "windows" are located at the southern end of the archipelago: the port city of Nagasaki and the strongholds of Satsuma and Tsushima. Nagasaki, a major merchant city, welcomed representatives of the Dutch East India Company as well as Chinese merchants in dedicated areas. As for the strongholds of Tsushima and Satsuma, they provided diplomatic liaisons with the Korean and Ryukyu Kingdoms respectively.
For a long period of time, before being subjected to the Shōguns’ restrictive policies, Kyūshū enjoyed the status of regional trading hub, where people of different origins circulated or settled, depending on the opportunities for enrichment offered by the place. Research on Japanese piracy reveals an important scope of activity, extending far beyond the current borders of the archipelago.

The aim of this long-term project is to firmly place the focus on the south of Japan and to examine the socio-economic and cultural specificities of this region, considered here in its wider context by including the maritime networks that connected the island with the continent and surrounding islands.

A regional history
The project will favour regional history, while basing itself on key information available to us concerning the region’s strongholds: their history, resources, rivalries and their relationship with the central power. Particularly relevant will be the examination of the terrestrial and maritime communications network as well as the conditions of contact and collaboration between local strongholds. The island of Kyūshū should also be studied in its international environment by taking into consideration the socio-economic trends and cultural developments of the countries surrounding it.

A history of migration
Kyūshū is probably the island that absorbed the largest number of foreign populations over the pre-modern era. These were often people who were welcomed for their craftsmanship and skills, such as Korean potters, but also scholars, Buddhist monks and doctors of Chinese origin. The treatment of shipwrecked individuals and loyalist refugees will also be addressed. The presence, in the second half of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century, of people of Portuguese origin is particularly noteworthy, as is that of East-Asian communities. It is also too often forgotten that a portion of the population of Kyūshū and Nagasaki strongholds maintained, because of their profession, close ties with foreigners. This is the case in particular of interpreters. The political or cultural role they played is still poorly understood.

An economic history
Because of the proximity to the mainland but also because of the development of Asian shipping routes, trade was flourishing in some port cities of Kyūshū: Nagasaki, Hakata, Kagoshima, Imari, etc. The economic importance of the Kyūshū strongholds and the Nagasaki merchants will be addressed in collaboration with experts in Japan, the Netherlands, Korea or China. We might also suppose that a specific economy was developed, in Nagasaki in particular, because of the presence of foreign merchants: activities such as rearing of animals or again the production of porcelain for export come to mind.

A cultural and religious history
Between the 16th and the 19th centuries, the Kyūshū region was a setting for the encounter and confrontation between different religions. It was the region where converts to Christianity as well as many Buddhist monks coming from the continent gathered. Shinto ideas had left a strong impression since the first decades of the seventeenth century, even if this particular aspect has not yet been given the attention it deserves. Rather than offering a history of the individual religions, the project will put forward a history of the encounters, crossings and hybridizations that these generated.

In the same way, the strongholds of Kyūshū were special meeting-grounds of knowledge and skills. The city of Nagasaki is well known for being an important place for the circulation of books. However, existing studies have not thoroughly examined the role played by the scholars of this city and of the strongholds of Kyūshū; nor have they explored the specific culture that certainly developed in the region, on account both of its rich history and the many opportunities for contact it offered between merchants of foreign backgrounds, and of the greater access it provided to Chinese or Dutch books.

To study all these questions, we will be careful not to impose excessively strict time-limits: the project will span the medieval period (the era of Japanese piracy) up to the first decades of the Meiji era, although the period extending from the 16th to the mid-nineteenth century remains our main research focus.