9 Dec 2011

Bodleian treasures: first Anglo-Japanese trade deal

In our final Bodleian treasures feature, Faisal Islam assesses the significance of a 1613 trade deal between England and Japan – “of incredible importance to Britain’s political and economic history”.

Treasures of the Bodleian graphic

In 1613 Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made a personal agreement with representatives of the East India Company, granting them trade privileges in Japan.

The East India company had been drawn to Japan by what it imagined would be abundant selling opportunities.

The exhibit at the Bodleian Library, dated 12 October 1613, is thought to be one of two copies given to John Saris, commander of the Clove, which reached Hirado on 11 June 1613, almost two years and two months after leaving England.

Ieyasu’s seal is visible at the top of the document, which grants Saris privileges for trade in Japan.

Channel 4 News Economics Editor Faisal Islam notes that the agreement only got off the ground thanks to a letter from the English king, James I. “There are amazing echoes of that right now,” he explains.

“As relationships around the world become more about trade with governments – whether the Chinese government with their sponsorship of industry or Arab governments with their oil – it becomes ever more important that British traders in the 21st century have sponsorship and help from government.”

Translation: first Anglo-Japanese trade agreement

Item: The ships that have now come to Japan from England for the first time will be allowed to trade in all goods without hindrance; they will be exempted from customs and other duties.

Item: As for the goods aboard, they should be listed separately according to their use and the list should be submitted. Item: Their ships shall be allowed to arrive in any port of Japan; if they lose their sails and helms owing to storms, there will be no objections to their coming into any inlet.

Item: In due course a residence shall be granted to the Englishmen anywhere they like in Edo; meanwhile they may build a house and reside and trade there; as for their return to their own country, it is up to them. (At their departure) they should dispose of the house built by them.

Item: If an Englishman dies of illness, or any other cause, in Japan, his possessions shall be sent forth (to England) without fail.

Item: Forced sales by violent means shall not be allowed. Item: If any of the Englishmen commits an offence, he shall be sentenced according to the gravity of the offence; the sentences shall be at the discretion of the English commander.

Wherefore as above,
Keicho 18, Eighth Month, 28th day

Translation by Izumi Tytler, Bodleian Japanese Librarian, The Japonian Charters: the English and Dutch Shuinjo, Monumenta Nipponica, summer 1990