The Clove, a ship of the East India Company, whose Governor was Sir Thomas Smythe, left England in a small convoy in January, 1611. After sailing via Yemen, India and Java, it passed Nagasaki and reached the island of Hirado, in south-west Japan in summer 1613. The commander, John Saris, had official letters and presents from King James I, intended for the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who, however, was living in retirement, with his son, Tokugawa Hidetada, ruling. Ieyasu received a telescope—the first ever to have left Europe—and Hidetada a precious cup and cover, as well as much English wool for both leaders. Altogether the gifts were valued at some £150, a very considerable sum.
Hidetada presented Saris with two suits of armour for King James, while Ieyasu have him ten spectacular painted gold-leaf screens, as well as a warm letter for the king and an official Vermilion Seal Letter (shuinjô) granting the English permission to live and trade throughout Japan. All went smoothly thanks in part to William Adams, known as “Anjin”, (“the pilot”), an Englishman who had come to Japan in that capacity on a Dutch ship, and have been working in Japan since, and advising Ieyasu, whose vassal he had become.
The presents given out are lost, but King James’s letter survives in Japan, while the screens are also lost but the armour survives, as do the ex-Shogun’s letters.
The English set up a trading station, or “factory” on Hirado, not far from the Dutch one (established in 1609), and, like the Dutch, they received a warm welcome from the local ruler (daimyô) Matsura Shigenobu (known as Hôin). He retired in 1614, and was succeeded by his grandson, Takanobu, who continued the relationship. The English also set up branch factories in Kyoto, Osaka and Edo (now Tokyo). Part of Edo was renamed Anjin District in honour of this, and though the placename is not used in Tokyo today, a marker stands at the spot.
Saris took the Clove out from Japan in late 1613 with many Japanese artefacts, in addition to the presents, such as lacquer, screens and (not for sale, but for Saris’s own amusement) erotic images, called shunga. Richard Cocks was left in Japan to run the enterprise, along with a dozen other Englishmen.
The Clove arrived home in Plymouth in September, and in London in December 1614, the lacquer was sold at auction and is the first art auction ever held in English history. The screens were auctioned second. In the interim, the shunga had been confiscated by the East India Company and destroyed, being considered scandalous. It is known that King James treasured his presents, though he could never quite believe what he heard about Japan, fearing it was “the loudest lies”.
18: The Clove, Thomas and Hector sail from England, with a telescope for the Shogun
6: The ships pass the equator
3: The ships arrive at Madagascar and engage in regional trade
The ships trade off Yemen
8: Hector sails for Sumatra
13: Clove and Thomas sail for Bantam (Java)
27: Clove and Thomas pass Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
24: Clove and Thomas arrive at Bantam (Java), meet the Hector and engage in trade
12: Thomas leaves Bantam for England
14: Clove leaves Bantam for Japan
11: Clove arrives at Tidore (in modern Indonesia)
14: Clove leaves the Moluccas (Malaku Islands) for Japan
1: Clove passes the Tropic of Cancer
10: Clove passes Nagasaki
11: Clove arrives off Hirado.
7: Saris and Adams leave Hirado for Sunpu (Shizuoka) and Edo (Tokyo) (going via Shimonoseki and Sakai)
27: Saris and Adams arrive in Osaka
29: Saris and Adams arrive in Kyoto
6: Saris and Adams arrive in Sunpu
12: Saris and Adams leave for Edo; carve their names inside Great Buddha of Kamakura
14: Saris and Adams arrive Edo
21: Saris and Adams leave Edo
29: Saris and Adams arrive in Sunpu
9: Saris and Adams leave Sunpu
16: Saris and Adams arrive in Kyoto
20: Saris and Adams leave Kyoto (for Osaka, Sakai, sea to Shimonoseki and land to Hirado)
6: Saris and Adams arrive Hirado
5: Clove leaves Japan
Google Map of the voyage
View The Voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan, 1611–1613 in a larger map
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