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BASHÔ (1644-1694)



SAIKAKU (1642-1693)

Order in International Relations: Isolation

Robert Oxnam :: The third dimension of the Tokugawa obsession with order, in addition to politics and society, was in international relations. They sought a new approach by closing Japanese borders to Western nations and by seeking a reordering of relations with other East Asian countries.

Carol Gluck :: Isolation, closing off the country, not closed off to Asia, but closed off to the West because the West was an unsettling, disordering possibility, whether it was in the form of Christianity or it was in the form of colonization.

Henry D. Smith, II :: The early Tokugawa shoguns did not feel in any way that they were imposing particularly unique restrictions or closing the country. Rather, they were trying to regulate trade to their own advantage and to reorder international relations along the lines of the international system that they'd always known, which was that of the "East Asian Cultural Sphere," as it's called. That is, the notion that there is a proper hierarchy among nations, traditionally with China at the pinnacle.

There were problems, of course, with putting China at the pinnacle of the hierarchy in Japan. But still, the idea that proper, orderly, hierarchical relations among nations was the way that the world was organized remained basic to the Japanese perception of the world. So much of what they did in so-called closing the country and excluding many foreigners was to reorder their relations in terms of their neighbors, Korea and China.

Robert Oxnam :: So while we make note of this "self-imposed isolation" in studying Tokugawa Japan, the point should not be overstated. Isolation was not complete. Dutch traders were allowed to keep a small port at Nagasaki, and Japanese trade continued with Chinese and Koreans. While people-to-people contact remained limited, there was an active exchange in material goods and in culture.

Henry D. Smith, II :: It's often forgotten that throughout this period Japanese contact with China was very frequent in cultural terms. Intellectually it was a period of the revival or really the institution of Confucianism, or rather the form of Confucianism known as neo-Confucianism, as an official reigning intellectual discourse in Japan.

It was also a period in which Chinese imports in the form of books, in the form of paintings, exercised a very important influence within Japan.

Robert Oxnam :: Through cracks in the system came a substantial amount of information about the Western world and about Western science.

Carol Gluck :: Even though Japan was the "closed-off country" and cut off from the West for over two hundred years, in fact, knowledge of the West, was, became an increasingly important product, if you like, of the samurai class. By the time you get to the mid-nineteenth century and the beginnings of modem Japan, these samurai knew all about parliaments, they knew all about philanthropic institutions, they had been reading all these books, primarily Dutch books, translations, things like that. They knew about the sun and the moon and the stars, and they said, Japan lies under the same sun, moon, and stars as the Western countries.