A Reassessment of the History and Economy of Early Modern Japan

RIT historian reexamines impact of Japan on 17th century world

New research is refuting the long held belief that 17th century Japan was cut off from the rest of the world and had little direct impact on the economy and culture of Asia and the west.

In the book, Japan's Economy by Proxy in the Seventeenth Century, published by Cambria Press, Michael Laver, assistant professor of history at Rochester Institute of Technology, argues that the country had a tremendous influence on the global economy and culture and helped shape numerous aspects of 17th century life.

“Despite Japan’s isolationist policies, which included the expulsion of nearly all foreigners and a ban on travel outside the country for its citizens, there was still a large market for fine Japanese goods and precious metals,” notes Laver. “These were introduced to the world, along with significant components of Japanese culture, by proxy, through the Dutch traders and select foreigners who were allowed entry.”

Laver says this small access to Japan created a situation in which a large number of in-demand luxury goods were imported into the country and huge amounts of precious metals were exported in return. In addition, foreign traders attempted to curry favor with Japanese officials through gift giving, which introduced Japanese society to western culture through the luxury goods that were used for this purpose.

“Through gifts and interaction with these foreign proxies, significant components of Western culture entered Japan and influenced society,” adds Laver.

Laver conducted his research while serving as a visiting scholar at the University of Leiden in Holland where he had access to information and first hand accounts from Dutch traders working in Japan during the time period. He next will publish an additional book focusing on the Japanese government’s response to western influence during the era by examining edicts and decrees related to the impact of trade and Christianity on Japanese society.


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