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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Despatched by the Ouchi family


it fell out that the right of supervising the trade with China and Korea came into the exclusive possession of the Ouchi and the So, respectively, and being liberally encouraged, brought great wealth to them as well as to other territorial magnates of the central and southern provinces. The records show that large profits were realized. Four or five hundred per cent, is spoken of, and, further, the Ming sovereign, in Yoshimasa's time, responded generously, as has been already shown, to the shogun's appeal for supplies of copper cash. One Japanese fan could be exchanged for a copy of a valuable book, and a sword costing one kwan-mon in Japan fetched five kwan-mon in China. Such prices were paid, however, for rare goods only, notably for Japanese raw silk, fifty catties (sixty-seven lbs.) of which sold for ten kwan-mon (L15, or $75, approximately). Gold, too, was much more valuable in China than in Japan. Ten ryo of the yellow metal could be obtained in Japan for from twenty to thirty kwan-mon and sold in China for 130. Sealskins, swords, spears, pepper, sulphur, fans, lacquer, raw silk, etc. were the chief staples of exports; and velvet, musk, silk fabrics, porcelains, etc., constituted the bulk of the imports. The metropolis being Kyoto, with its population of some 900,000, Hyogo was the most important harbour for the trade, and after it came Hakata,* in Chikuzen; Bonotsu, in Satsuma; Obi, in Hyuga, and Anotsu, in Ise. The customs duties at Hyogo alone are said to have amounted
to the equivalent of L15,000, or $75,000, annually.

*Hakata's place was subsequently taken by Hirado.

In China, Ningpo was the chief port. It had a mercantile-marine office and an inn for foreign guests. The tribute levied on the trade was sent thence to Nanking. In size the vessels employed were from 50 to 130 tons, greater dimensions being eschewed through fear of loss. An invoice shows that the goods carried by a ship in 1458 were: sulphur (410,750 lbs.); copper (206,000 lbs.); spears (11); fans (1250); swords (9500); lacquered wares (634 packages), and sapan-wood (141,333 lbs.). During the days of Yoshimasa's shogunate such profits were realized that overtrading took place, and there resulted a temporary cessation. Fifty years later, when Yoshiharu ruled at Muromachi (1529), a Buddhist priest, Zuisa, sent by the shogun to China, and an envoy, Sosetsu, despatched by the Ouchi family, came into collision at Ningpo. It was a mere question of precedence, but in the sequel Zuisa was seized, Ningpo was sacked, and its governor was murdered. The arm of the shogun at that time could not reach the Ouchi family, and a demand for the surrender of Sosetsu was in vain preferred at Muromachi through the medium of the King of Ryukyu. Yoshiharu could only keep silence.

The Ming sovereign subsequently (1531) attempted to exact redress by sending a squadron to Tsushima, but the deputy high constable of the Ouchi compelled these ships to fly, defeated, and thereafter all friendly intercourse between Japan and China was interrupted, piratical raids by the Japanese taking its place. This estrangement continued for seventeen years, until (1548) Ouchi Yoshitaka re-established friendly relations with Chosen and, at the same time, made overtures to China, which, being seconded by the despatch of an envoy--a Buddhist priest--Shuryo from Muromachi, evoked a favourable response. Once more tallies were issued, but the number of vessels being limited to three and their crews to three hundred, the resulting commerce was comparatively small. Just at this epoch, too, Occidental merchantmen arrived in China, and the complexion of the latter's oversea trade underwent alteration. Thereafter, the Ashikaga fell, and their successor, Oda Nobunaga, made no attempt to re-open commerce with China, while his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, planned the invasion of the Middle Kingdom, so that the sword was more in evidence than the soroban.

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