May 3, 2013

The Age of Discovery in Europe and the Age of Tokugawa in Japan

As I wrote in the previous entry “Chocolate, Coffee, and Tea: The History of Globalization,” I have become interested in the history of globalization.

When was the beginning of globalization?

A historian pointed out that the empire of Mongolia made the Eastern and Western world unified and established world history. Marco Polo could travel from Venice to China in the thirteenth century through the territory of the empire of Mongolia. In this sense, the origin of globalization was the empire of Mongolia.

Aside from Marco Polo, there was few people actually traveling between the Eastern and Western worlds at that time, and Europeans had not reached America or “Zipangu”, which Marco Polo called Japan. Of course no Japanese people had arrived in Europe.

And then, the Europeans, who had been trying to find a more direct route to Asia, accidentally discovered America in the late fifteenth century. In the middle of sixteenth century, Portuguese with guns drifted down to Tanegashima, the southern part of the Japanese archipelago, as I wrote the entry “Spread of Guns in the World History.” 

Japan, “Zipangu”, which is located in the farthest area from Europe, was the ultimate goal for European in the Age of Discovery. Their arrival on Tanegashima meant that the whole world finally had been united. This was the beginning of globalization, I think.

In fact, the arrival of Europeans had great impact on Japanese history.

In the sixteenth century, feudal lords called “daimyo” (大名) were scattered and fought each other throughout Japan. After the Portuguese brought guns to Japan, Japanese artisans began to produce guns. These then quickly spread among the feudal lords engaged in battle. Guns transformed the way of battle, and only forty years after the arrival of guns, Japan was reunified by force.

The feudal lords competed with each other to trade with the Europeans in order to get gunpowder. Some of them converted to Christianity and Catholicism spread rapidly into Japanese people. Some Christian feudal lords called “Kirishitan Daimyo” (キリシタン大名) dispatched embassies to Rome.

In the early of seventeenth century, the Tokugawa Shogunate (徳川幕府) was established and a big rebellion of Catholic people occurred. Iemitsu Tokugawa, the third Tokugawa Shogun, decided to expel Portuguese and only allowed trade with Chinese and Dutch traders, because Dutch were not Catholic but Protestant.

In the age of discovery, European culture and technology to the world both eastbound and westbound. Portuguese arrival at Japan was, of course, eastbound. In the early of the nineteenth century, American whalers passed through Cape Horn to off shore of Japan in the Pacific Ocean, which they called “Japan ground.” This meant that the Europeans finally arrived in Japan in the farthest “west.” 

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Californian gold rush occurred and Europeans literally “rushed” to the west coast of North America. The United States dispatched a fleet to Edo to request the Tokugawa Shogunate to open country. This caused the breakup of the Tokugawa Shogunate and Japanese modernization.

In this sense, the age of Tokugawa was the period between eastbound and westbound of European arrival at Japan, and after the sixteenth century Japanese history was deeply influenced by globalization.

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