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Prisoners from Nambu

Prisoners from Nambu: Reality and Make-Believe in 17th-Century Japanese Diplomacy

Reinier H. Hesselink
Copyright Date: 2002
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  • Book Info
    Prisoners from Nambu
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6402-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Note on Titles and Names
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Introduction The Prisoners from Nambu
    (pp. 1-17)

    On 29 July 1643, ten crew members of the Dutch yachtBreskenswere 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 led out of sight of their ship, they were surrounded by a crowd of men from the neighborhood. Trussed up, they were then brought to Morioka, the...

  6. Chapter 1 Flying Dutchmen
    (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 of Japan. Thirty men sat on their knees in five rows facing the upper white study, which was four tatami mats larger than the lower study but remained empty during the proceedings. Most of these men were usually...

  7. Chapter 2 Ganji Garame
    (pp. 34-48)

    This time, the first to visit the ship was Kanzaemon. He was planning to set a trap and catch himself some Dutchmen, but first he needed to go and scout out the enemy. Afterwards he wrote a report:

    In the 6th month, on the 13th day, at the 4th hour, a Big Ship sailed into the Bay of Yamada of Hei district. It anchored about one and a halfri*over the water away from Yamada. While I was thinking of a way to bring the foreigners ashore, it was clear that this could not be done without first observing...

  8. Chapter 3 Incompatible Jailbirds
    (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 Ōshima. This was an island off the coast of Chikuzen (Fukuoka), where Jinbei had lived all his life. Approaching the spot, he was surprised to see a boat in the water and people on the beach. They were dressed as Japanese, carried swords, and had done up their hair in samurai fashion. Some of them were of such large size and had such long noses, however, that it made Jinbei suspicious and hesitant to go near...

  9. Chapter 4 A Strict Investigation
    (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. According to the new rules, the Dutch chief factor had to be replaced every year. Elserack was a man of experience, who had started out as an “assistant” and had now reached the...

  10. Chapter 5 Unwitting Witnesses
    (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, Chū’an the apostate, as well as the four interpreters: Hachizaemon and Kichibei (specialists of Portuguese from Nagasaki), and Tōzaemon and Magobei (speakers of Dutch from Hirado). On their arrival, they were first brought to an “elegant room looking out on a strange and beautiful garden,” where they had never been before. Later they were taken to their usual spot on the verandah to wait for their interrogators to arrive. Around...

  11. Chapter 6 A Magnanimous Gesture
    (pp. 105-122)

    During the month of November 1643, the shogun and his advisers put theBreskensaffair 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 November, for example, the interpreters Kichibei and Hachizaemon visited the Dutchmen. They urged them to write a secret note to Elserack, which they promised to give him when he...

  12. Chapter 7 Elserack’s Promise
    (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 total of 4,523 pounds, which had been ordered cast for the shogun at Amsterdam and had arrived in Batavia in 1642.¹ The lantern still exists and stands near the...

  13. Chapter 8 A Memorable Embassy
    (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 in its charter, issued by the Estates General of the Dutch Republic, to represent Holland in Asia.¹ In fact, permission to send such an “ambassador” was given in a letter addressed to the governor general...

  14. Conclusion: Was Japan Isolated during the Edo Period?
    (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 documents addressed in the proper phraseology and dated in the Chinese calendar, thus making explicit the vassal’s recognition of the Chinese emperor as the center of the cosmos. Because of this great emphasis on proper documentation, conforming...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 171-192)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-204)
  17. Index
    (pp. 205-215)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 216-220)