Early Tokugawa Japan’s engagement with European communities crested from 1609-1613. The Dutch and English East India Companies arrived, relations with the Portuguese were broken off and then restored, and Japan attempted to convince Spain to open the Pacific. This paper reexamines that final effort, doing so both vertically and horizontally. Vertically, by tracing the evolution of terms exchanged with the Spanish as the authorities and intermediaries involved changed over. Horizontally, by comparing the Spanish case to parallel conversations held with the Dutch and English. This multi-faceted analysis suggests commonality across European communities most often sorted by their approaches to proselytization and state-sponsored trade. For example, it becomes clear that these groups lobbied for many of the same things, and that try as the shogunate might, no state or group wished to trade in Edo.
The shogunate’s efforts to remedy this issue featured prominently in its outreach efforts with the Spanish Empire. Here, terms first pitched by Spanish intermediaries to the Japanese became repurposed by Japanese intermediaries in appeals to Spain. Neither effort enjoyed success. By 1617 the shogunate abandoned the project of hosting foreign trade near its Edo capitol, a decision that also presaged its broader reassessment of relationships established or reestablished the decade before. This failure to come to terms encourages us to reconsider early modern Japan’s relationship with the (Western) world, suggesting that the dismissiveness so often attributed to the former was in fact mutual. Before Edo rejected the world, the world wanted little to do with Edo.