The First Samurai: Isolationism in Englebert Kaempfer's 1727 History of Japan

  • Kowaleski-Wallace E
  • 4

    Readers

    Mendeley users who have this article in their library.
  • 2

    Citations

    Citations of this article.

Abstract

Englebert Kaempfer's two-volume work 'A History of Japan: Giving an Account of the Ancient and Present State of the Government of that Empire,' was originally written in Dutch and published in English in 1726 in a translation by Johann Scheuchzer. His translation advanced an isolationist agenda and served as a parable for British politics, suggesting that Britain would have done better if it had followed Japan's isolationism. 'History of Japan' expressed a tension between two messages, one that defended the Japanese policy of 'sakoku' [isolation] and one that identified the problems that arise when a country is isolated. Kaempfer wrote the book when he was confined to an island off mainland Japan - the information for the book being provided to him by Japanese interpreters - and the text articulated his personal resentment over these isolating circumstances. Scheuchzer made editorial decisions that favored isolationism, and the translation thus expresses a defense of 'sakoku' while also providing evidence that shows that such a defense is problematic. Scheuchzer's emphasis of the isolationist polemic makes the text consistent with other early-18th-century British anti-expansionist literary works. The paradox of 'History of Japan' is that it shows how the early modern rejection of cosmopolitanism could only arise through transnational contact.

Get free article suggestions today

Mendeley saves you time finding and organizing research

Sign up here
Already have an account ?Sign in

Find this document

Authors

  • Elizabeth Kowaleski-Wallace

Cite this document

Choose a citation style from the tabs below

Save time finding and organizing research with Mendeley

Sign up for free