13 records
In 1587, the Japanese government under Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–1598), fearing the ever-increasing influence of foreign Catholic missionaries and the imperialists who inevitably followed them, began limiting foreigners’ access to Japan. In 1639, Japan entered a long period of self-imposed isolation. The Dutch and the Chinese who restricted their relationship with Japan to trade were allowed to remain in highly supervised areas around Nagasaki. The Dutch were confined to the island of Dejima, although each year representatives of the Dutch East India Company were required by the shogun to travel to Edo to pay him tribute. The Spanish and the Portuguese were unequivocally denied access to Japan.

For these reasons, foreigners were fascinating and exotic subjects to the Japanese. The strange clothing, features, hairstyles, behavior, and habits of the Europeans intrigued the population, and artistic representations emphasized the distinctions between Japanese and European physiques. As China had historically been one of Japan’s primary sources of philosophy, laws, and culture, Chinese people were respected and often given noble features. The conceptions the people of Japan had of Mongolians, Polynesians, and Southeast Asians came from Chinese books. North Asians were often depicted as warlike, while island peoples were portrayed as passive. Non-indigenous animals that accompanied the foreigners such as camels, elephants, and giraffes also fascinated the Japanese.

- Armanda Dingledy-Rodie; Chris Drosse; Hollis Goodall, Managing Curator (2007)