The entire year of 2013 will be filled with Japan-related events in London, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the first official diplomatic exchanges between the Court of King James and the Tokugawa shogunate.
The first Englishman to ever travel to Japan was, of course, William Adams, the basis for James Clavell’s novel Shogun. Also known as Miura Anjin, Adams, the captain of a Dutch ship, was shipwrecked in Japan in 1600, and later became a retainer & advisor to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Right: One of two suits of samurai armor gifted to King James I by Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada in 1613, via EIC Captain John Saris. Held at the Tower of London since the 1660s.
I’ve never really thought about the date of the official beginning of diplomatic relations between Japan and Britain, but apparently it was in 1613. In that year, Captain John Saris arrived in Japan aboard a ship called the Clove, and exchanged gifts and formal letters with Ieyasu and Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada, on behalf of King James I, before establishing an East India Company factory at Hirado. Richard Cocks was the first head of that factory, which closed only ten years later. UK-Japan relations resumed in the 1850s, after the shogunate eased the “maritime restrictions” of the Tokugawa period. There were some rough bits in the relationship, and some very high points of quite close, positive relations, and then that brief period when Japan started conquering British colonies/outposts and everybody was at war, followed by the return of friendly relations from 1945 (or ’52, I guess), onwards through today.
Getting to the point, that 1613 date for Saris’ meeting with the Shogun makes this year, 2013, the 400th anniversary of Japanese-British relations. And, boy, does London have an events lineup planned. First of all, the list of people involved in organizing the “Japan400” events reads like a veritable who’s who of Japan-related people of the UK, from big-name scholars like Tim Screech, Leonard Blusse, Joe Earle, and Ian Nish, to numerous Sirs, at least one Viscount, and one Right Honorable Lord Mayor Alderman.
I just came upon the website a few days ago. Events began this week, in conjunction with the 470th anniversary of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s birth, and will continue through the end of the year. Closing ceremonies will be held on Dec 20, 2013, the 399th anniversary of the first ever art auction in Britain, in which John Saris sold the lacquerwares he obtained in Japan.
I can’t list every event on the schedule, but here are the highlights, those events I’d be most interested in, if I were able to attend any of them (which, sadly, I am not). You can find fuller lists of upcoming events at this page, and of events later in the year here. The schedule includes numerous lectures, workshops, symposia/conferences, exhibitions and festivals, including:
*29 January: Lecture by Prof. Timon Screech, “On the 400th Anniversary of the English East India Company in Japan: 1613–2013: A Forgotten Episode in Cultural History”, held at the Society of Antiquaries.
*31 January – 9 February: Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai, a new play by the Royal Shakespeare Company
*14-15 March: Lectures by Prof. Derek Massarella, on “Silver: The World’s First Global Commodity,” and on William Adams, respectively.
*April-May: An exhibition of “the art of the Japanese book”, at SOAS’ Brunei Gallery
*June: Conference on “Boundaries Across Edo and Meiji Period Japanese Culture, and the Role of Great Britain” at SOAS
*August: Exhibition of East India Company documents at the British Library
*September: The annual William Adams Festival in Kent will be even larger than usual.
*September: A conference on “1613 in Comparative Perspective”, held at SOAS.
*September: A conference on the history of international trade in weapons, held at the Royal Armouries.
*October: Tokugawa Ieyasu’s “red seal letter” (shuinjô) granting the British permission to reside and trade in Japan, will be put on display at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. The document is believed to have been in the collection since 1614.