Theses Doctoral

Circling The Waters: The Keichō Embassy and Japanese-Spanish Relations in the Early Seventeenth Century

Batts, Joshua Paul

This project examines the fraught diplomatic and commercial relations between Tokugawa Japan (1600–1868) and the Habsburg Spanish empire in the early seventeenth century. Vessels from Japan called at the port of Acapulco in New Spain three times within a decade, the first attempt in world history at a bilateral commercial relationship across the Pacific. In doing so, the ships also challenged the Spanish monopoly over the waterways between Latin America and Asia. Japanese commercial and diplomatic outreach peaked with the Keichō Embassy to Southern Europe (1613–1620), an effort that dispatched Japanese representatives to the court of Philip III in Madrid, but failed in its mission to secure regular contact between New Spain and northeastern Japan. In analyzing these events, I contrast Japan’s pursuit of commercial and diplomatic expansion with Spanish ambivalence and insularity, inverting essentializing narratives defined by Japanese isolation and European engagement. The project also compares the diplomatic models employed by each polity. I argue that Spain’s established imperial vision and the shogunate’s emerging hierarchical model of foreign relations placed each polity at the pinnacle of their respective diplomatic frameworks, handicapping efforts to communicate, build trust, and integrate each into the worldview of the other. Ultimately, a Spanish policy of containment closed off the Americas to Japan; soon after, the Tokugawa divested from its relationship with the Spanish Philippines in the face of alternative commercial partners and ongoing religious tension. The project thus integrates Japanese history into world history and the history of the Pacific, while questioning the notion of a straightforward commitment to expansion among Europe’s early-modern empires.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Pflugfelder, Gregory M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 9, 2017