Episode 526 – The Outside World and Tokugawa Japan

This week on the Revised Introduction to Japanese History: “closed country” isn’t quite the full story. How did Japan maintain its connections to the outside world during the Edo Period? And how do some of those connections, particularly in the Ryukyus and Hokkaido, lay the groundwork for future imperial expansion?


Jansen, Marius. The Making of Modern Japan. 

Walker, Brett L. The Conquest of Ainu Lands; Ecology and Culture in Japanese Expansion, 1590-1800.

Kerr, George H. Okinawa: The History of an Island People. 

Elisonas, Jurgis. “The Inseparable Trinity: Japan’s Relations with China and Korea” in The Cambridge History of Japan, Vol IV: Early Modern Japan.


Ashikaga Yoshinori; chosen by lot to be shogun, he was probably the last person of real competence to hold the post.
An image of a procession of Korean ambassadors from the 1748 Chosenjin Daigyoretsuki (Record of the Great Procession of the Koreans), a popular account of the 1748 embassy.
A depiction of that same 1748 embassy in ukiyo-e format by Hanegawa Toei.
Shuri Castle in Naha, capitol of the Kingdom of the Ryukyus (as well as modern Okinawa Prefecture).
King Sho Shin, Grandson of Sho Hashi and third king of the Ryukyus.
A 1795 woodcut depicting an audience between the Matsumae daimyo and Ainu leaders. Note the subservient attitude being depicted here.
Though Shakushain’s revolt was suppressed, he remains a symbol today of Ainu pride. This statue is located at Shinhidaka, near where Shakushain’s main base of power was.
An Ainu family in the 1860s. Tokugawa policy during the final decades of the bakufu was dedicated towards trying to show “compassion” to the Ainu to get their support in asserting Japanese control over Hokkaido.
Today it’s a trendy tourist area, but in the early Edo Period, Bonotsu, just a short distance northwest of Kagoshima, was home to a Chinatown from which an illicit smuggling operation of Chinese goods into Kagoshima was operated.