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The Matchlock Comes to Japan

Fresh from a victory at Shika Castle, Takeda Shingen (tah-keh-dah SHIN-gehn) hits a brick wall in his advance to take the Shinano (shih-nah-noh) Province (about midway along the island of Japan). Leading 7,000 warriors in foldable armor and conical hats they are shocked when the Murakami (moo-rah-kah-mee) clan uses the new-fangled matchlock muskets that the Portuguese had introduced to Japan a few years ago. 50 soldiers fire once into the advance and charge. In this first battle using firearms in Japan, warfare strategy will have to adapt to this new, long-distance weapon. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
At that time the Japanese hadn't worked out how to use the matchlock effectively on the battlefield. The matchlocks were more a shock weapon at first. BOOM! In the confusion, the bowmen launched arrows into the enemy and the foot soldiers charged with swords. What is more interesting is that first contact between the West and Japan had already occurred by 1542. A Chinese junk had washed up on the Japanese island of Tanegashima after a storm. The Portuguese on board sold two matchlocks to the islanders which they reproduced in their metal shops. Over the years, with the Jesuit missionaries and Portuguese merchants swarming over Japan, the Shogunate believed that a subtle invasion was in progress so they squeezed the foreigners out of Japan until 1854 when Commodore Perry of the U.S. Navy fired on Japan in Edo Bay (which is Tokyo Bay) and ended the Edo period. [3] [4] [5]

The Sky is the Limit and the Emperor is Far Away *

The Chinese are having problems with Portuguese pirates along their coast and perceive them as a military threat rather than a criminal nuisance, so they issue a ban on coastal trading to discourage them from landing. The Chinese have tried this before and the result was to create more pirates. The majority of the merchants are reasonably honest but a man has to eat so even the honest merchants are forced to become pirates. The trade ban weakens the legitimate coastal economy and leads to less tax revenue to spend on hunting for lawbreakers. The ban won't be lifted until 1567, but as the Chinese proverb goes, "The sky is high and the Emperor is far away." In other words, when no one is looking, the sky is the limit. [6] [7] [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The Portuguese are not as big a problem as the Chinese think. However, in overreacting to the Portuguese merchants, they turned these merchants into pirates... the very thing the Chinese did not want. When trade is organized and easy, piracy drops to a minimum and tax revenues go up because it is easier to pay a small tax and deliver your goods than to hassle with smuggling. High penalties or bans on trading create more smuggling and outright piracy. In 1621, the Chinese refused to engage in official negotiations with the Dutch East India Company but would negotiate with illegal Chinese pirates in an attempt to lure them away from their criminal ways. That was how the Dutch became pirates because it was the only way that the Chinese would do business with them. [9] [10]

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1548, Wikipedia.

See Also


* The asterisk in the section header indicates that it was read on the podcast.
  1. Battle of Uedahara - SamuraiWiki. Wiki.Samurai-Archives.com (2005). Retrieved on 1 April 2015. “This confrontation saw the use of 50 Chinese matchlocks by the Murakami, who surprised and defeated the Takeda army near Ueda.”
  2. Battle of Uedahara - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 1 April 2015. “Takeda Shingen met up with his force that had taken Shika castle, and led 7000 men north to face the threat posed by Murakami Yoshikiyo. Shingen's vanguard was led by Itagaki Nobukata; when they charged head-on into Murakami's vanguard, the charge was absorbed, and Itagaki was killed.”
  3. Tanegashima (Japanese matchlock) - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 1 April 2015. “Tanegashima were used by the samurai class and their foot soldiers (ashigaru) and within a few years the introduction of the tanegashima in battle changed the way war was fought in Japan forever.”
  4. First contact with the west - Japan's History. Japan-101.com (2015). Retrieved on 1 April 2015. “The first contact with the West occurred about 1542, when a Portuguese ship, blown off its course to China, landed in Japan. During the next century, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, as did Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries.”
  5. Bakumatsu - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 1 April 2015. “When Commodore Matthew C. Perry's four-ship squadron appeared in Edo Bay (Tokyo Bay) in July 1853, the bakufu (shogunate) was thrown into turmoil. Commodore Perry was fully prepared for hostilities if his negotiations with the Japanese failed, and threatened to open fire if the Japanese refused to negotiate. He gave them two white flags, telling them to hoist the flags when they wished a bombardment from his fleet to cease and to surrender.”
  6. Wokou - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 1 April 2015. “There are two distinct eras of wokou piracy. The early wokou mostly set up camp on Japanese outlying islands, as opposed to the 16th century wokou who were mostly non-Japanese.”
  7. Haijin - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 2 April 2015. “The earliest possible date for implementation of the policy was 1368, the year that the Ming dynasty came to power whilst the latest possible year when it was terminated was 1567.”
  8. Chinese proverbs - Wikiquote. en.wikiquote.org (2015). Retrieved on 1 April 2015. “The sky is big and the emperor is far away.”
  9. Wiethoff, Bodo (1964). "THE MING-POLICY OF MARITIME PROHIBITION". Cina: ATTI DEL XV CONGRESSO INTERNAZIONALE DI SINOLOGIA (Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente (IsIAO)) (8): 59-60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40855358. 
  10. Tonio Andrade (December 2004). "The Company's Chinese Pirates: How the Dutch East India Company Tried to Lead a Coalition of Pirates to War against China, 1621-1662". Journal of World History (University of Hawai'i Press) 15 (4): 415-444. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20079290. 

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