Joshua Batts, PhD, Research Associate, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge University
Joshua Batts is a Research Associate in Japanese Studies at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge. He obtained his PhD from Columbia University in 2017, spending two years as a JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow at the Historiographical Institute, University of Tokyo prior to assuming his current position. His research explores the interplay between early modern Japanese and world history. His current research project examines Tokugawa Japan’s attempts to establish direct, trans-Pacific trade with Spanish America in the early seventeenth century. He is completing the manuscript for this project, provisionally titled “Pacific Overtures: Tokugawa-Habsburg Relations and the Limits of Diplomacy, 1600-1625.” Dr. Batts is also developing a project on mining and minting in Tokugawa Japan and its connection to contemporary narratives of industrial, national, and global heritage.
In this talk I explore Japan’s efforts to develop trans-Pacific commerce more than two centuries before Commodore Perry’s black ships forced the issue in the mid-nineteenth century. For two decades (ca. 1600-1620), shogunate and daimyo leadership corresponded with officials in Manilla, Mexico, and Madrid in the hopes of establishing a direct link between Spanish America and the archipelago. Here I focus specifically on the decade of initial Tokugawa outreach to authorities in the Spanish Philippines and New Spain, prior to the Keicho Embassy (1613-1620) dispatched to Spain by daimyo Date Masamune. Though the early seventeenth century is squarely within Japan’s “Christian Century,” relations with the Spanish receive comparatively little attention. I argue for a “Spanish Decade,” both in terms of outreach and opportunity. Uniquely at the time, commercial and technological exchange with Spain’s trans-Pacific Indies quite literally offered the Tokugawa the chance to develop foreign trade in a new direction, bringing it to the ports of eastern Japan. But Spanish authorities proved unreceptive, and this early effort to recalibrate Japan’s commercial geography has been subsumed by more familiar narratives debating the archipelago's response to European economic, spiritual, and political incursions. By presenting an East Asian polity’s efforts to open an ocean in search of trade, Japan's Spanish Decade provides an important counterweight to histories of encounter driven by European expansion. It also raises questions anew about the obstacles to, and mechanisms of, foreign relations in the early modern world. Finally, it suggests that before Edo rejected “the world,” “the world” may have rejected Edo.