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  • Defensive Positions: The Politics of Maritime Security in Tokugawa Japan by Noell Wilson
  • Luke S. Roberts
Defensive Positions: The Politics of Maritime Security in Tokugawa Japan. By Noell Wilson. Harvard University Asia Center, 2015. 258 pages. Hardcover $39.95/ £29.95/ €36.00.

This provocative book provides us with a new understanding of maritime defense during the Tokugawa period. Taking the perspective of the daimyo houses that bore the burden of actual defensive duties, author Noell Wilson highlights in particular the roles of the Nabeshima of Saga domain and the Kuroda of Fukuoka domain, whose chief duty was defense of the international trading port of Nagasaki. She argues that in the mid-seventeenth century they participated in creating a "Nagasaki model" of coastal defense, which became the template for coastal defense in the Ezo region toward the end of the eighteenth century and then later in the Kanto re- gion during the final decades of Tokugawa rule. Rather than taking on coastal de- fense directly and using its own substantial forces, the Tokugawa shogunate instead assigned daimyo to bear this duty even in its own territories (such as Nagasaki) right up to the end of the regime itself. Daimyo houses incrementally took greater control of the content of their duties and expanded the prerogatives accrued to them through such service. This naturally weakened Tokugawa leadership in the sphere of coastal defense. Wilson argues that domains such as Saga played key roles in creating defense policy and advancing technological development and that this situation ultimately influenced the particulars of the Tokugawa regime's collapse in the 1860s.

This book is a solid contribution to Western scholarship on the rich complexity of Tokugawa foreign relations, a field that has grown rapidly ever since Ronald Toby's pathbreaking State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan.1 Wilson acknowledges this earlier research, but points out that hers is the first work to treat the issue of maritime defense as important to Tokugawa-era polity and foreign relations. Furthermore, as with Robert Hellyer's recent research on the foreign trade of Satsuma and Tsushima domains, Wilson's monograph contributes to decades of scholarship considering the larger Tokugawa regime from the perspective of daimyo domain studies.2 These two contributions ensure that Defensive Positions will play an important role in key debates in Tokugawa history for some time to come.

Chapter 1 explores how the Tokugawa regime arranged for the defense of Nagasaki in the wake of the Shimabara rebellion, the expulsion of the Portuguese, and the restriction of the Chinese and Dutch traders in Japan to Nagasaki. The Tokugawa relied heavily on the Nabeshima (Saga); Kuroda (Fukuoka); Ōmura (Ōmura); and, in an auxiliary capacity, seven other nearby domains to provide the weapons and manpower for defense. These domains were under the direction of Tokugawa hereditary vassal (fudai) officials, but the actual degree of control declined over the centuries. Both the Nabeshima and the Kuroda were assertive of their [End Page 322] prerogatives from the beginning and gradually, especially after the 1670s when the position of Nagasaki Commander was abolished, they came to assert greater degrees of actual independence in managing harbor defense even as they maintained a formal posture subservient to the orders of the Nagasaki Magistrate. This pattern became a template for later developments in coastal defense.

The next chapter details government efforts to suppress smuggling between Chinese merchants and Japanese in the waters of western Japan, a subject that is particularly interesting because of its absence from the English-language literature to date.3 This trade had been growing rapidly since the final decades of the seventeenth century, when Japan's main export was silver. Japan's economy was rapidly undergoing monetization, and its mines were gradually giving out, prompting a desire by the Tokugawa government to restrict silver exports. This context has been ably narrated by Robert Hellyer, but Wilson adds an important military dimension to the story.4 As Chinese smugglers' activities were shut down near Nagasaki under pressure of local forces, they moved north to the Genkai Sea area, just west of the Straits of Shimonoseki, to trade with merchants exiting the Inland Sea. The Tokugawa began characterizing...


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