A Changing Japan in a Changing World as seen by De Coningh, A Dutch Trader in Yokohama

A Changing Japan in a Changing World as seen by De Coningh, A Dutch Trader in Yokohama


De Coningh C. T. Assendelft & Chaiklin Martha. A Pioneer in Yokohama: A Dutchman’s Adventures in the New Treaty Port. Pittsburgh: Hackett Publishing Company. 2012.

De Conigh was among the first Dutch settlers in Japan and his narration offers first-hand information about the daily merchants’ activities and lifestyle in Japan. As a trader and a settler, De Conigh’s is embraced as a legit source for researching the effect of the presence of the westerners in Japan. Information derived from the adventures of De Coningh can be further traced in other sources such as the De Goey Ferry’s reports. Such findings further validate the insights from this article. Therefore, application of this source to the present study is valid.

De Goey Ferry. “Western entrepreneurs and the opening of Japanese ports (c. 1858-1868)”

European Business History Association (EBHA). Norway. 2008, Pages 1-22

De Goey documents the history of Japan referred to the western nations. De Goey notes the seclusion of Japan since the 17th century and its final introduction to western countries. The author mentions the development of trade in 1859-1868, the number of westerners that settled in the country, their countries of origin and the reaction of locals when the foreigners entered the country. Through the perspectives of De Goey that the major contributions of De Coningh are highlighted. The presence of De Coningh paved way for more buildings to be raised specifically for the foreign traders. De Coningh managed to singly work for the Japanese and learn their language.

Tantri, Erlita. “The Dutch Science (Rangaku) and its Influence on Japan.” Jurnal Kajian Wilayah 3.2(2012), pp. 141-158

The major objective of Tantri’s article is to evaluate the influence of Dutch learning system in Japan, assess how Japan exposed itself to the western knowledge and the influence of western teachings in Japan. Tantri concludes the article by affirming that the foundation of modern Japan can be traced to the original contact between the Dutch and Japan. The article is, besides, useful in this study as it analyzes different ideas around the influence of Rangaku. Even though, the Japanese government encouraged isolationism, they could not close its ports, especially, after the landing of the American Commodore Mathew Perry’s black ship.

Essay Proposal

Introduction. The study seeks to relate the first contact of Dutch in Japan and the present relationships between the Dutch in Netherlands and the Japanese. From the study, it is apparent that the relationship between these two nations has infinitely developed to encompass international relations. The study argues that the presence of the Dutch in Japan in the late 1850’s contributed greatly to the modernization of the region. It is ostensible that the Dutch were not the initial visitors of the ports and interior regions of Japan. It is, nevertheless, evident that the presence of the Dutch in Japan paved way for modernization of the country. The study will further seek to clarify why Japan had to give up its isolation and the role the Dutch played to develop Japan to its present industrialized state. To prove the thesis, the study will review previous trade reports and documents that highlight the origin and development of Japan to the present day.

Literature Review.

According to De Goey (2), the first Dutch ship to arrive in Japan was the Liefde in 1598. Netherlands were not the first country to contact Japan since China and other Asian countries had earlier settled there. Netherlands and China were the only countries permitted to trade but with limited relations with Japan. The Dutch having been the only western nation with such privileges became an entrance through which knowledge of science and medicine reached the natives in Japan (De Coningh 4). Also, great wealth was accumulated from exporting Japanese products and knowledge to the west (GRIPS 42). However, this close association partially split up during the Second World War in 1942-1945, but the ratification of the 1952 peace treaty resulted in a renewal of the diplomatic ties, but Dutch influence in Japan was forgotten. Instead, cultural relations developed with the introduction of sports activities in 1964.

A policy of seclusion from international affairs was widely practiced in Japan in 1641-1858 (Tantri 151). The Shogun, the military ruler of Japan, established a series of edicts that forbade Japanese from traveling abroad or conducting trade with the foreign nations without obtaining trade licenses. The same law limited foreigners from entering Japan. However, in 1609, the Dutch East-India Company (VOC) was established to trade within the country. Additionally, other western nations joined the Dutch East-India Company in 1898 after the reversal of the treaty.

Methodology. The study will employ a qualitative approach by reviewing secondary sources of information such as documents, articles, journals and books to extract necessary information. A qualitative approach is more suitable for this study since the background information can be traced from the 17th-century history. For this reasons, some of such materials were published early in the century, while others will be article and journal translations from Japanese to English and, therefore, may lack the expected content.

Expected Findings. Even though, the Japanese were focused on maintaining their seclusion policy, western pressure compelled it to open its ports (De Coningh 1). To add more, the initial treaty was signed between the US and Japan, although other Western countries such as Netherlands, Russia, Great Britain, and France largely played profound roles. As a superpower in the 17th century, Netherlands utilized every opportunity to alter its isolationist policy. Their efforts were curtailed majorly because of the business they did with the Japanese who did not have much respect for traders. It must be appreciated that the presence of the Netherlands in Japan paved way for the rest of the western nations to trade with them.

Conclusion. It is evident from the study that, even though, Japan was secluded, it still absorbed Western ideas and techniques. Through the curiosity of its people, Japan was able to learn European knowledge and interact with the Dutch in Deshima. This relationship, Tantri notes, resulted in increased translation of books and western knowledge, which were formed through Rangaku (Dutch learning system) system. Consequently, the Dutch trader and the tutor offered the Japanese new dynamism to the local society, politics, economy and culture (Tantri 155).


Japan is among the most economically stable nations nowadays. Yet, the country was among the low-performing economies in the seventeenth century. Based on the conventional agricultural practices in addition to its seclusion policy, Japan lagged behind in all aspects. According to GRIPPS (3), the Japanese government encouraged solitary policy; hitherto they could not desist from acquiring western knowledge and approaches to economic, social and cultural development. This process started precisely after the landing of the American Commodore Mathew Perry’s black ship. Japanese’s desire to rise economically incentivized them to modify their legal system and accommodate the western model. Consequently, improved military and agricultural systems were implemented along with the introduction of an export-oriented national industry.

The present economic stability of the nation is partially derived from a continuous merger of domestic and foreign systems applied earlier on in the 1600s. These changes are majorly attributed to internal and external factors, particularly the introduction of international trade, the presence of stable western countries; determination and boldness of the locals to establish western knowledge as the crucial factor of success. Externally, the western nations such as the Netherlands played a significant role in introducing the Japanese ports to foreigners and desertion of the seclusion policy (Ohno 2).

Early reports of the foreign activities in Japan show that the presence of Netherlands in the country facilitated entrance and trade activities of other western nations such as Americans. Early writings documents that the first group of Dutch settled in Japan in 1850s. From these writings, it is apparent that Japan was laid back economically, military and even politically. Even though they upheld the seclusion policy, they still lagged behind in several aspects. By then, the main economic activity was farming, which was practiced using rudimentary tools and approaches. Thus, agricultural produce was very low, an aspect that compelled the natives to plunge in dire poverty. In trade, barter system was widely practiced until the locals deliberately acquired western knowledge. In several instances, the Dutch had to forfeit their freedom and adopt the Japanese culture, among other sacrifices the Dutch made for the sake of trade in Japan. They were compelled to be modest, humane and obedient due to the lowest social status in the society. Furthermore, being traders enforced them to lie low, since merchants were the lowest in Japanese social structure. However, the Dutch provided valuable products, knowledge and information to the Japanese. Therefore, the businesses established by the Dutch in Japan by then were agencies of intelligence.

In the article by Ohno (3), the presence of Dutch in Japan in the seventeenth century acted as a determining force that started the development in most sectors in Japan. Through the strategies and the presence of the Dutch from Netherlands, the west had the audacity of entering Japan. Before then, most of the foreigners from the west relied on news from the Dutch settlers concerning. According to Ohno (5), the first Americans had to device a different strategy to gain the attention of the Japanese government. This was after receiving information of how they detested other trade treaties. The envoy then devised a strategy of gaining entrance uninvited and commanding the terms of trade. The envoy came with military gear and took over the port during initial stay in Japan.

Western science through the Dutch facilitated Japan to develop theoretical and technological scientific base. On the other hand, the Dutch scholars increased their social mobility and provided the pathway for the economic and social modernization, especially after the end of the Edo era. This assumption is supported further by the article by GRIPS, which affirms that remarkable industrial development of Japan was a combination of strong private dynamism and appropriate state industrial policy. Private dynamism is perceived as the center of development without which it is impossible to have rapid industrialization while policymaking acted as the support. To answer the question of where the strong private dynamics and relatively wise government came from, GRIPS dates the answer back to the 17th century by giving political and historical perspectives (2).

From previous studies on the history and politics of Japan, its engineers, workers and policymakers deliberately learned and assimilated foreign technology and systems. The dynamic and flexible Japanese natives facilitated their entrepreneurship by the numerous treaties to generate a miraculous transformation of the agricultural-based feudal society to a modernized industrialized economy within a half century. It is additionally worth of mentioning the contribution of the foreign experts such as the Dutch sailors that significantly determined the present economic achievement of Japan.

It is evident from the Japanese case that evolution of any society is interplay of internal and external factors. In case the internal factors correspond to external forces, then new elements can easily be absorbed and a new path of growth and development can commence. From the seclusion policy to the Edo ruling, then to the samurai (swordsmen), the political powers significantly influenced the economic performance of the country. It is historically evident that an internal revolution within the country in the middle of the 19th century was partially determined by the immigration of the western expats who transferred economic and military powers of the countries of their origin. National goals turned to the maintenance of the political independence and modernization of the Japanese society, ultimately matching up the western level. Within half a century, the nation had vigorously turned itself into a developed society with constitution, laws and government similar to the western ones. The result of this strategy was an industrial revolution, defeat of China and Russia in the regional wars and overtaking of British textile industry in the global market. Eventually, Japan joined the club of the ‘developed’ nations, a group that mainly comprised of western nations (GRIPPS 42).

The Japanese and Dutch relationship dates back to 1609 during the establishment of the first formal trade relations. Since then, the Dutch were given extensive rights to operate companies in the Japanese soil. Trade relations led to an expansion of the Japanese ports for Asian goods to be exchanged. Exotic Asian goods such as silk were introduced because of the Japanese dominance on the wants and desires of the goods to be traded. This is because, the Dutch had to pan was not a colony and that and the Dutch had to adhere to the requirements for economic interaction. The relation was however underscored by the Dutch when they attempted to prevent private trade. This was however squashed by the Japanese because the city of Nagasaki had risen to depend on trade

The relationship between these two nations extended to other aspects such as culture. Japanese tastes for the European producers were motivated largely by the local proclivities from the social circumstances of the Japanese society. Goods were initially exchanged between the Ditch and its trading partners before exchanging hands throughput the archipelago (Roberto para 7). Since the natives had an upper hand on the relations, trade mechanics were very basic as barter trade was the main form of exchange of the commodities. It can therefore conclusively be affirmed that trade was mainly determined by the cultural preferences of the natives. This assertion is reinstated further by the fact that the Western nations found it difficult to perform open trade relations even with the Dutch. Since trade was very profitable, most of the western nations embraced it although they had to conduct it through smuggling of goods, thefts, and offering of gifts to the Japanese authorities.

Through this relation, other western countries such as Portugal, also gained access to spread the gospel. A rebellion by the Christian Japanese however resulted to the expulsion of these nations, leaving the Dutch only to continue with trade. After the opening of the Japanese ports, a decision was made to modernize the country by introducing advanced technology such as use of steam powered war ships. The Dutch actively involved themselves in training the Japanese sailors to use the innovative and powerful ships. It is thus evident that the impact of the Dutch material culture extended to the importation of finished goods. Legal trade was conducted only by the employees of the VOC. Smuggled goods were however European goods such as saffron and tortoise shells. Giving gifts to the authorities was a significant lubricant in establishing and preserving trade relations. The technique of giving gifts was useful in acquiring, manufactured products such as carpets, and glassware.

Conspicuous Dutch imports such as clock, glassware, and guns were of higher quality than those of other European imports (Roberto Para 11). For instance, the clock technology by the Dutch was useful in Japanese homes in completing the interchangeable timescales that showed seasonal time. It was a more practical chronometer than the bulkier European clock. Even though the Japanese tried to master the craft of making glassware like bottles and mirrors, they still lagged behind until the 19th century when glass became a more available material to most of the Japanese. Therefore, the use of glassware was not widely spread. Since Japanese embraced military technique, guns were an integral feature of the society, and firearms were used in hunting as a normative behavior. Even though the Japanese government looked forward receive gifts of guns as annual tax, they did not advance in the production of the firearms, especially during the Edo period. This is because; the period was mainly marked by peace, making improvements of gunnery as gratuitous. The Dutch exports therefore made a great impact to the social and cultural aspect of the Japanese society. Although the Dutch affected the social and cultural aspect of the Japanese, their main intention was expanding its economic boundary through development of trade.

The major difference between Japan and the abovementioned-developed countries revolves around the previously discussed attributes. Any latecomer country in economic development would, therefore, require a more critical analysis and harder policy incorporating the achievements and strategies of more developed nations. This is because embracing of external forces can result in the creation of social tension and instability, which in most cases can result in the disintegration of the society. In the situation when the internal forces are weak, liberalizing a developing nation to a foreign cultural and economic influence can result in worse economic crises. This is due to the fact that very few countries were successful in absorbing this form of pressure and achieving better economic performance (GRIPPS 5).

Works Cited

De Coningh C. T. Assendelft & Chaiklin Martha. A Pioneer in Yokohama: A Dutchman’s

Adventures in the New Treaty Port. Pittsburgh: Hackett Publishing Company. 2012.

De Goey Ferry. “Western entrepreneurs and the opening of Japanese ports (c. 1858-1868)”

European Business History Association (EBHA). Norway. 2008, Pages 1-22

GRIPS. Meiji Japan: from Feudalism to Industrialization. Chapter 5. 2015. Retrieved from


Ohno, Kenichi. “The Economic Development of Japan: The Path Traveled by Japan as a

Developing Country.” GRIPS Development Forum. Tokyo: 2005

Roberto Padilla III. “Review of Chaiklin, Martha.” Cultural Commerce and Dutch Commercial

Culture: The Influence of European Material Culture on Japan, 1700-1850. H-Japan, H-Net Reviews. May, 2009. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=24479. Accessed on February 9th 2017

Tantri, Erlita. “The Dutch Science (Rangaku) and its Influence on Japan.” Jurnal Kajian

Wilayah. VOl. 3 NO. 2, 2012, pages 141-158