State And Diplomacy In Early Modern Japan

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Toby, Ronald P. State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in the Development of the
Tokugawa Bakufu. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984.

In his book State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan, Ronald P. Toby examines diplomatic practice during the Tokugawa period. The study is generally confined to the early seventeenth century. The purpose of the book is to reevaluate the relationship between Japan and foreign powers at a time that historians have typified as a period of isolation. Specifically, the author wants to overturn the concept of sakoku. This policy expelled European traders from Japan. Due to the Eurocentric writing of history, the exclusion of Europeans from Japan has resulted in compartmentalized studies of Japan. Toby proposes that Japanese diplomacy should be viewed as active and autonomous, placing Japan at the center of the world rather than in an isolated periphery. From this stance, he argues that “Japan’s was not a cowering, passively isolationist stance, as the term sakoku implies, but a positive, constructive one, one that sought actively to reconstitute Japanese relations with the international environment in ways that advanced both international and domestic goals” (xvi). This stance, while focusing on Japan, reintegrates Japanese policy into the international arena. This review places particular emphasis on the early chapters of the book, as they are the most crucial in situating Toby’s work into the historiography of Japanese diplomacy. The first chapters dismantle the idea of sakoku, while the latter chapters illustrate the dynamic characteristics of Japanese foreign relations during the seventeenth century. Toby divides his argument into six chapters. The first chapter is historiographically focused. The main purpose is to evaluate the impact of the idea of sakoku in modern historical writing. The author asserts that the dominant view of Tokugawa Japan as isolated from foreign powers stems from the privileged place of European documentation in history. The story of Japanese foreign relations has generally been viewed in relationship to Europe. The seeming “rejection of foreign intercourse” and anti-Catholic policies instituted in the 1630s suggests that the Tokugawa bakufu sought to completely isolate Japan. Toby argues that if “one takes a less parochial view and extends the analysis to include Japan’s Asian environment, particularly Korea, Ryukyu and China, there is less discontinuity in Japanese foreign relations in the 1630s” (6). From this perspective, the Tokugawa bakufu is seen as pursuing a dynamic foreign policy based in carefully maintained diplomatic relationships. Toby notes that the term sakoku first appears in the writings of an interpreter for the Dutch, Shizuki Tadao, in 1801. The work was not an original, but was a translation of a portion of Engelbert Kaempfer’s The History of Japan. An understanding of this text is crucial to Toby’s argument which places the dismantling of the term sakoku in a central role. Though the Dutch had a presence in Japan during the seventeenth century, other European powers were excluded. Kaempfer’s notion of an isolated Japan is in part due to the rejection of the English ship Return in 1673. According to Toby, the Return was not sent away due to a simple aversion to foreigners. Rather, the Japanese rejected trade with the English because King Charles II had married a Portuguese princess. As a result, Japan viewed England “as a Catholic collaborator and an enemy.” However, just one year later, Japan reopened diplomatic relations with the King of Siam (14). This exemplifies the notion that Kaempfer’s view of Japanese foreign relations was entirely Eurocentric. Having established that the Tokugawa bakufu had an active foreign policy, Toby devotes the second chapter of the book to explaining how foreign relations were normalized. The author addresses Japanese relations with Korea and the Ryukyuan kingdom. According to Toby, the