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Prisoners from Nambu

Reality and Make-Believe in Seventeenth-Century Japanese Diplomacy

Reiner H. Hesselink

Publication Year: 2002

On July 29, 1643, ten crew members of the Dutch yacht Breskens were lured ashore at Nambu in northern Japan. Once out of view of their ship, the men were bound and taken to the shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, in Edo, where they remained imprisoned for four months. Later the Japanese government forced the Dutch East India Company representative in Nagasaki to acknowledge that the sailors had in fact been saved from shipwreck and that official recognition of the rescue (i.e., a formal visit from a Dutch ambassador) was in order. Prisoners from Nambu provides a lively, engrossing narrative of this relatively obscure incident, while casting light on the history of the period as a whole. Expertly constructing his tale from primary sources, the author examines relations between the Dutch East India Company and the shogunal government immediately following the promulgation of the "seclusion laws" (sakokurei) and anti-Christian campaigns.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

It has taken twelve years from the time I conceived this project to execute it and see the results of my research into print. During this time I have incurred numerous debts that I will never be able to repay. Larry Rogers was instrumental in getting me back into Graduate School. I received financial assistance from the University of Hawai‘i’s history department in the form of a teaching assistant position and the...

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A Note on Titles and Name

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pp. xi-xii

On numerous occasions I have quoted directly from Dutch and Japanese sources. In the Dutch texts, the shogun is referred to as Japan’s “emperor” (keizer). This was not, as is often thought, because the Dutch were ignorant of the existence of the demi-god living in Kyoto (he is called “dairi” in the Dutch sources), but because they were...

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Introduction. The Prisoners from Nambu

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pp. 1-17

On 29 July 1643, ten crew members of the Dutch yacht Breskens were lured ashore in Nambu, a domain in northern Japan, by an equal number of attractive Japanese women. The day before, during a voyage of discovery to Northeast Asia, their ship had anchored in an idyllic bay where the crew had also made a landfall a month and a half earlier. This time, however, as soon as the Dutchmen had been...

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Chapter 1. Flying Dutchmen

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pp. 18-33

On the third day of the fifth month in the year of the Sheep, Kan’ei twenty,* the lower white study of Chiyoda Castle was filled to capacity. Here, at eleven o’clock in the morning in a relatively small space of twenty-four and a half tatami mats in the middle interior of the central donjon (honmaru), were gathered the biggest local power holders...

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Chapter 2. Ganji Garame

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pp. 34-48

We have a description of Kanzaemon and Lord Naotoki (here called Shichinohe Hayato) from the Dutch side as well, but for reasons that will become clear below, this report starts one day later. For information on what happened on 28 July, therefore, we mainly have Japanese sources aside from those fragments of information we can distill from the debriefing report later written by the Dutch side...

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Chapter 3. Incompatible Jailbirds

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pp. 49-69

On 27 June 1643, Ichinokai Jinbei set out to bring in his oxen, which he had left tied up near the shore of Kachime

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Chapter 4. A Strict Investigation

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pp. 70-87

On the little fan-shaped island of Deshima, the two Dutch factors, Johan Van Elserack and Pieter Anthonisz Overtwater, and their subordinates were busy with the cargo brought by five Dutch ships from Batavia via Siam, Tonkin, and Taiwan. Elserack had arrived in Nagasaki from Batavia on 31 July to relieve his understudy Overtwater, who had run the Dutch trading post since the fall of the previous year....

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Chapter 5. Unwitting Witnesses

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pp. 88-104

One hour before dawn on 20 October 1643, the ten Dutchmen left the Nagasakiya to go to Inoue’s mansion at Hitotsubashi. They were accompanied by their landlord Gen’emon, his son, Chû’an the apostate, as well as the four interpreters: Hachizaemon and Kichibei (specialists of Portuguese from Nagasaki), and Tòzaemon and Magobei...

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Chapter 6. A Magnanimous Gesture

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pp. 105-122

During the month of November 1643, the shogun and his advisers put the Breskens affair aside until Elserack, who had left Nagasaki on 8 November, would arrive in Edo. For the prisoners from Nambu this time of inaction and uncertainty about their fates must have been especially hard to bear, although the men from Inoue’s office seem to have gone out of their way to reassure and comfort them. On 29...

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Chapter 7. Elserack’s Promise

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pp. 123-141

Elserack’s visit was not yet over. With the release of the prisoners from Nambu out of the way, the next point on the chief factor’s agenda was the presentation of the yearly tribute from the Dutch East India Company to the shogun. By a lucky coincidence, this year the company’s preparations had been especially lavish. The most important gift was a massive brass lantern, standing ten feet tall and weighing a...

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Chapter 8. A Memorable Embassy

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pp. 142-162

After Coijett’s return to Batavia in the spring of 1649, preparations for an embassy began there in earnest. A response from the Gentlemen XVII in Amsterdam turned out to be unnecessary, for an “ambassador from Holland” could be sent without Holland’s cooperation. The governor general at Batavia was, after all, the representative of the Dutch East India Company, and the company itself had been empowered...

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Conclusion: Was Japan Isolated during the Edo Period?

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pp. 163-170

In the Chinese world order, envoys served to confirm and entertain the links between the Son of Heaven and his vassals. The envoys themselves were of minor import, and frequently their reception by the Chinese was such that the diplomats had good reason to complain about maltreatment. If envoys were dispensable commodities, it was their credentials that counted. Envoys were supposed to present...


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pp. 171-191


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pp. 193-204


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pp. 205-215

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864026
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824824099

Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 70764979
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Prisoners from Nambu

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Subject Headings

  • Nanbu-han (Japan) -- History.
  • Japan -- Foreign relations -- 1600-1868.
  • East Asia -- Foreign relations.
  • Japan -- Foreign relations -- Netherlands.
  • Netherlands -- Foreign relations -- Japan.
  • Dutch -- Japan -- Nanbu-han.
  • Prisoners -- Japan -- Nanbu-han.
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