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Dutch and English ties in 17th centuryJapan.

By Richard Pflederer.


The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the connections between the early Dutch and English voyages to Japan so as to bring a historical perspective to the beautiful and cartographically significant items offered for sale in the catalogue.

The Paulus Swaen company is for a long time specialized in the Japanese / Netherlands relationship in the 17th and 18th century, and from the preponderance of Dutch sources in the surviving cartographic record of this period and the number of items offered for sale in our catalogue one might conclude that the Dutch were toiling alone and unmolested in these fertile fields of trade and cultural interchange. Of course this was not the case. In addition to the Portuguese who had enjoyed a near monopoly from the 1540's to the end of the 16th century, the Dutch had to contend with an English factory founded in 1613 at Hirado.



The relationship of the Dutch and the English was for the most part intensely competitive, but interestingly some of the most important Dutch and English voyages of discovery and trade were mutually assisted efforts. For example, the first Dutch expedition to land on Japanese soil was piloted by Will Adams, an Englishman. And according to the captain of the first mission of the English East Indies Company to reach Japan, his voyage was guided through difficult waters by the English edition of a Dutch book, Itinerario of Jan Huyghen van Linschoten.

The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the connections between the early Dutch and English voyages to Japan so as to bring a historical perspective to the beautifier and cartographically significant collection presented in the catalogue.

In the 16th and 17th century, when Europeans spoke about destinations in the East, there was generally plenty of ambiguity in the terminology. For some, the term 'India' generally referred to all of East Asia, and destinations which today we consider outside of India, such as Cathay, the Moluccas and Cochin China (Vietnam) were included when one left home to make a fortune 'out in India'. But one trading target and source of hope for riches seems to have been separate and distinct in the literature of the time. Beginning with the reports of Marco Polo, Japan enjoyed a place of its own in the minds, maps and navigational charts of European discoverers and traders. It was considered to be one of the most important and mysterious jewels of the orient.

When Columbus sighted Cuba on October 28, 1492, he believed it to be 'Zipangu' or Japan ('all my globes and world maps seem to indicate that the island of Japan is in this vicinity and I am sure that Cuba and Zipangu are one). Fifteen years later, in a landmark world map of 1507, Martin Waldseemuller places Zipangu some twenty degrees of longitude beyond Florida, well within range of optimistic Trans-Atlantic voyagers to the East. In this map, the island is huge, stretching from near the equator to about 35 degrees North latitude, another indication of its importance in the minds of Europeans of the period. But it was some 50 years after Columbus that the first European traveler actually set foot in Japan, and he was not a Spaniard approaching from the Atlantic but a Portuguese coming across the Indian Ocean, through the Straits of Malacca and up the South China Sea. Because Portuguese military power along this route ensured a de facto monopoly for Lisbon, the traders of northern Europe spent the next 60 years searching for alternative routes to Japan.

The first Dutch approach to Japan was an ambitious expedition of five ships under the command of Jacques Mahu. They left Rotterdam in June, 1598, and after crossing the Atlantic, coasting Brazil and Argentina, entered the Straits of Magellan on April 6, 1599. Because of vicious winter storms, it took nearly five months to reach the Pacific side. Finally in April of 1600, a single remaining ship, 'de Liefde', commanded by Captain Jacob Jansz van Quaeckernack and piloted by the Englishman, Will Adams, made landfall near Usuki in the province of Bungo on the Island of Kyushu. Not surprisingly, these new visitors were not welcomed by the entrenched Portuguese who made every effort to turn the Japanese authorities against the Protestant interlopers. Despite these efforts, Adams eventually became a well accepted advisor to Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, while some five years later van Quaeckemack was allowed to leave Japan for Southeast Asia with the Shogun's full blessing, and carrying an offer of trading privileges for the Dutch.

Meanwhile, events were conspiring to put the English and the Dutch into immediate competitive proximity in Japan. With the formation of the English and Dutch East India companies in London (1600) and Amsterdam (1602), it was only a matter of time until their trading ships pushed beyond Sumatra, Java and the Moluccas to the islands of Japan. The Dutch East India Company were first to arrive with two ships, commanded by Nicholas Puyck, which had been detached from a 13 ships fleet which had left Amsterdam in December, 1607 Puyck's ships, 'Roode Leeuw met Pijlen' and 'Griffioen', carrying a modest cargo of silk, pepper and lead arrived in the vicinity of Nagasaki in July, 1609, and were led directly to Hirado by two Japanese pilots, There, they received official trading privileges and encouragement to set up a factory. Although Will Adams did not directly assist in securing the trade agreement, he maintained good relations with the visiting Dutch and was highly regarded by them. The chief factor left at Hirado by Puyck, Jacques Specx, was instructed to keep on good terms with Adams, and this he apparently did.

Buy this item!The Dutch follow up to this auspicious beginning was not very forceful, and chief factor Specx waited for almost two years for the next Dutch ship to arrive. He was concerned that the lack of Dutch activity might cause the trading privilege to be rescinded. Finally, desperate for some goods to trade, he traveled to Patani in the Malay peninsula and returned in July, 161 1, with a cargo including some gifts for the Shogun. Specx wanted to visit Edo (now Tokyo) to present the gifts to Hidetada. He persuaded Adams, who was living on his estate at nearby Uraga, to accompany him to Edo Castle in the capacity of translator. In August of the next year, 'Roode Leeuw met Pijlen' returned with a cargo of cloves, muscat and pepper. Another ship followed shortly, but the supply of goods was to prove to be erratic for several years.

This second Dutch ship, 'Hasewint', carried a letter to Adams from Sir Thomas Smythe of the English East India Company in which he mentioned London's interest in sending a ship for the purpose of setting up a factory to compete with the Portuguese and the Dutch. Adams wrote back enthusiastically endorsing the idea, and giving his advice of how (through handling Chinese goods), why (abundant gold and silver to finance trade in the Indies) and where (Edo, near his estate) the English business should be conducted. However, his eloquence went for nought since his letter reached Bantam on Java on April 23, 1613, some three months after the first English ship had departed from that port for Hirado.

This first English ship, 'Clove', was a member of a fleet which departed from England in April, 1611, as the Eighth Voyage of the English East India Company. Under the command of Captain John Saris, the fleet sailed with orders to proceed via the Cape of Good Hope, up the East Coast of Africa to the Red Sea. Based on trading conditions there, he was to sail to Bantam, then to the Moluccas and finally to Japan. Ironically, while in the Indian Ocean, the greatest competition for this expedition seems to have been the Sixth Voyage of the English under the command of Sir Henry Middleton. Saris had served under Middleton on a previous voyage and there was bad blood between them as their expeditions vied for cargo.

However, by the time Saris left Java, the Dutch had become his competitors and they made his life uncomfortable as he sailed through the Moluccas.

Saris must have been somewhat ambivalent about the Dutch on this voyage. While it is true that they were his competitors, he was the recipient of substantial Dutch assistance on this voyage. Before his departure from London, he was presented with a copy of the English publication of van Linschoten's 'Itineratio'. Complete with maps, sailing instructions ('rutters) and information about local commodities, the book was indispensable to Saris as he navigated waters where no English ship had been. In fact, in his log of the voyage, he comments in several places on the high regard in which he held this practical book, the first seaman's guide of the period to eastern waters.

In June, 1613, after some two years and 14,000 miles of sailing, the Clove approached Kyushu much as Puck's ships had done four years previously. She was directed to Hirado by Japanese pilots and there began the process of negotiating trading privileges in order to establish a factory. This was eventually accomplished through the somewhat lukewarm assistance of Will Adams, who after 13 years in Japan seemed willing to treat his fellow countrymen as foreigners. After a stay in Japan of six months including an official visit to Edo and the negotiations complete, Sails left a factor, Richard Cocks, and departed for England, arriving in September 1614, completing a voyage of some four years and five months.

 How did these first efforts compare, and what was their impact on the fortunes of the English and Dutch trade? Relative to the Portuguese, these efforts and achievements were paltry indeed. Until their expulsion in the 1640's, the Portuguese enjoyed a profitable trade unmatchable by the newcomers, largely because of the monopoly in the China trade in Macao/Canton. In a classic case of strategic over extension, the English could not sustain their factory, and it closed ten years after its founding. With no established support facilities or secure sources of trading goods within several thousand miles of Japan, the dream of Captain Saris faded into history, thus leaving the English to await the second opening of Japan some two hundred years later.

The Dutch story is a bit more positive. The legacy of Puck's voyage, the Factory at Hirado, achieved significance beyond the trading profits it generated. In 1641, after years of progressively deteriorating relations with the Japanese authorities, the Dutch were forced to relocate their operation to the tiny man-made island of Deshima in Nagasaki Bay. Alltough forced to live under degrading conditions on their tiny prison-like island, successive generations of Dutch traders served as the only western window onto the Japanese nation for a two hundred years period. When the American Matthew Perry finally re-opened Japan in 1853, the age of Dutch commercial supremacy had long past, and other powers were ready to step in and reap the benefits. But it must be said that the persistent Dutch at Hirado and finally Deshima played their part well in this fascinating chapter in East/West relations.


The celebration of the 400 year cultural and economical exchange between Japan and the Netherlands has induced us to compose some web pages and a Sale catalogue offering a number of beautiful, rare and important items with an accent on this unique relationship between both countries.

Please click to view the following subjects: Sale catalogue index - japan maps - japan town views - asia maps

We have made informative articles regarding the following subjects: