| Home | Recent Updates| Links | Store | Recommended Reading | Sign Guestbook | View Guestbook |

The Japanese in Ayudhya

by Cesare Polenghi
M.A. Candidate, University of Hawaii at Manoa




During the first decades of the seventeenth century, a Japanese community thrived in the Siamese capital of Ayudhya (now Ayutthaya, Thailand). In the context of the period, the presence of a Japanese enclave in Siam might not be considered as something particularly noteworthy. After all, the early seventeenth century was a period of great change in the East Asia region, with a consequent movement of ideas, products and - of course - people. However, the Japanese community in Ayudhya presents a few peculiar characteristics that make studying it fascinating. Few in number, the Japanese adventurers and fugitives who settled in Ayudhya greatly influenced Thai history for half a century. While Japanese historians and specialists of Southeast Asia dedicated a great deal of attention to this subject, very few Western Japanologists have explored it. The most helpful primary source is provided by the writings of a VOC[1]’s employee, the Dutch Jeremias van Vliet (1602-1663). He lived in and out of Ayudhya from 1633 to 1641 and wrote extensively on Siam, often mentioning the Japanese[2]. Besides that, more information can be gathered from the few surviving letters that were exchanged between Siamese and Japanese rulers, ministers and merchants. Other scattered sources include records from British merchants and Spanish Jesuits who visited Ayudhya. The first notable secondary source was produced by the British diplomat E. W. Satow (1843-1929). He worked in China and Japan as minister plenipotentiary at the end of the nineteenth century, and published a reconstruction of the history of international relations between Japan and Siam in 1885.

Moving to the twentieth century, Japanese and Western scholars endeavored in further studies, and, elaborating from the primary sources, have published interesting new material. The main contribution from Japan comes from professors Seiichi Iwao (1900-1997) and Yoneo Ishii (b. 1929). Western and Thai scholars produced two enlightening collection of essays: Thai-Japanese Relations in Historical Prospective (1988), edited by Chavit Khamchoo and E. Bruce Reynolds; and From Japan to Arabia: Ayudhya’s Maritime Relations with Asia (1999), edited by Kennon Breazeale. From Japan, besides historical material, come numerous tales narrating the adventures of Yamada Nagamasa (ca. 1585-1630), the most prominent Japanese figure in the history of Ayudhya. The inconsistency emerging from the various versions of these stories show the lack of historical depth; however, in some cases, they might help to shed some light on the life of the mysterious adventurer. While many questions still remain unanswered, a meticulous analysis of the material described above makes it possible to depict a reasonably accurate introduction to the subject[3].

The Japanese community in the capital of Siam was particularly active from the late 1580s until the 1630s. At the end of the sixteenth century, Japanese mercenaries were probably hired to fight alongside the Siamese troops in order to repel the Burmese[4]. They had arrived in Siam on Japanese junks that traded in Ayudhya, and eventually settled. Seventeenth century maps show the Japanese quarters located southeast of the center of Ayudhya, on the east bank of the Chao Praya River[5]. It is estimated that the Japanese district, in its heyday of the 1620, counted 1,000 to 1,500 inhabitants[6], making Ayudhya’s Nihonmachi[7] the second in population size of the Japanese enclaves in southeast Asia[8]. The Japanese who reached Ayudhya around the turn of the century belonged for the most part to three classes: merchants, Christians, and warriors. The first, clearly sought profit through trade, exchanging Japanese silver for Siamese products (mainly gunpowder and deerskins). The second group, Japanese Christians, was a persecuted minority. While systematic expulsion and killing of Christians in Japan started only in the late 1610s, already in 1596 and 1597 an incident involving Spanish Jesuits in Japan resulted in the crucifixion of twenty-six Catholics, both foreigners and Japanese[9]. Members of the class who persecuted the Christians in Japan, the samurai, were likely to find employment in Ayudhya. They arrived in Siam during a period that saw mainland Southeast Asia and its seas experiencing frequent warfare, and local rulers could use warriors trained by centuries of civil wars. The three groups briefly introduced above should not be seen as rigid entities. Surely, many immigrants belonged to more than one of these categories. This was the case of Yamada Nagamasa, who became famous in Ayudhya as warrior but had a successful career as merchant as well. Likewise, there should have been also Japanese individuals who did not belong to any of the above classes, and made their way to Ayudhya for the most diverse of reasons.

It is likely that the inhabitants of the Japanese quarter kept records, but we must assume they were lost in the fires that burned down the whole Japanese enclave[10]. No diaries or other sources describing how the Japanese lived in Ayudhya have been preserved, and thus we have no information on their everyday existence. We do not know about their dwellings, what they ate, how they dealt with the differences in language and culture, and how they kept their cultural and religious traditions alive. There is no evidence that Shinto shrines, Japanese Buddhist temples or Christian churches were built. Apart from the semi-legendary son (or daughter) of Nagamasa, historical sources do not mention any woman or child related to the Nihonmachi. Accordingly, we have no indications about children’s education, nor we have figures regarding gender-related issues. We might suppose that some of the Japanese immigrants had brought their families with them, which is probable in the case of the Christians. Intermarriage between Japanese and local women (Siamese, Mon or Laotian) seems likely as well. Ayudhya was open and cosmopolitan enough to accept union between members of different communities[11]. For example, we know from VOC’s sources penned in the seventeenth century that a Mon woman from Ayudhya was the companion of three Dutchmen[12], a custom that eventually facilitated business relationships between Siamese and foreign merchants.



In the early seventeenth century, when Bangkok was only a small coastal village, Ayudhya was located in a strategic position on an island in the Chao Phraya River, and served as entrepôt for its region. Ayudhya was actively involved in international commerce, mainly with Portugal, Spain, the Philippines, China and Japan. Even though the city was always under the threat of attacks from the Burmese armies, commerce had made it dominant in the region since the second half of the fifteenth century. From that age, Ayudhya became so wealthy that some Portuguese ranked it among the most powerful kingdoms in Asia[13]. Ferñao Mendes Pinto (c. 1509 - 1583), estimated that Ayudhya in the 1540s had 400,000 houses, that would have hosted 2,600,000 inhabitants[14]. While these numbers are without any doubt greatly exaggerated, they give us an idea about the grand impression Ayudhya made on foreign travelers.

Trade not only brought in capital, but also diplomacy and ideas. Moreover, the import of firearms (mainly from Portugal) gave Ayudhya a considerable military power[15]. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Siamese were growing so bold that, when King Naresuan (r.1590-1605) heard of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598)’s invasions of Korea (1592), he offered to send troops to fight alongside the Ming Celestial Army to repel the Japanese. The request was rejected in 1593[16], and perhaps the Chinese refusal safeguarded the future relation between Siam and Japan, which - after the death of Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1598 - was led by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).

There are interesting similarities between the two rulers who opened official relationships between Japan and Siam in the early years of the seventeenth century. The Ayudhyan King Ekathotsarot (r. 1605-1610) looked beyond the borders of Siam in order to enrich the country through commerce. He was so keen on trade, that the Chronicle of Ayudhyan Kings described him as 'more covetous than any of his predecessors.' Apparently, 'he was concerned solely with ways of enriching his treasury,' and he was as well 'greatly inclined toward strangers and foreign nations[17].' He had succeeded his brother, the great Siamese King Naresuan, who completed the reconsolidation of the Ayudhya kingdom[18] a few decades after the destruction the Siamese had experienced at the hands of the Burmese in 1569[19]. In Japan, Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun, sought diplomatic solutions, in order to enhance commercial ties and obtain friendly relations between the newly united Japan and other Asian territories[20]. He sent personal messages to southeast Asian kingdoms, offering commercial co-operation; and granted protection and support to Japanese merchants whose vessels visited the South Seas’ entrepôts carrying the vermillion seal of the Shogunate. Unlike some of its European counterparts, Tokugawa Japan had no joint stock companies, and its commerce was still based on the affiliation of private entrepreneurs with the government[21]. Ieyasu had been in contact with the court in Ayudhya already since 1606, when he wrote to Ekathotsarot requesting wood, muskets and gunpowder[22]. In 1610, in another missive, Ieyasu thanked the Siamese king for a shipping of muskets and gunpowder[23]. The trade of martial items between the courts (the Siamese asked for Japanese horses and swords[24]) is particularly symbolic, because it might imply a virtual military alliance. Hence, the Tokugawa maintained official relations with the royals in Ayudhya and exchanged symbolic gifts, while they put merchant families in charge of larger scale transactions. The Siamese, on their part, did not mind dealing with private entrepreneurs as intermediaries for conducting business with Japan. For example, Chaya Shirojiro, a merchant of Kyoto, was in direct correspondence with Okphra Chula, an official of the Thai court. Hasegawa Gonroku, the magistrate of Nagasaki, was another preferential channel[25]. Tsuda Matazaemon was in Ayudhya probably from the first decade of the seventeenth century[26]. He returned to Nagasaki in 1622 or 1624 and became a language interpreter[27]. In the 1610s, Kii Kyûzaemon of Nagasaki was probably the first Japanese to obtain official positions at court in Ayudhya[28]. He also traveled with the first official Siamese embassy to Japan, in 1616.

Already from the fourteenth century, Japan had a tradition of adventurers, in most cases wako pirates, who roamed the seas west and south of their native archipelago. Japanese sea rovers, built during the Ashikaga period (1336-ca. 1569) were by 1600 making long voyages to the 'South Seas[29]'. They were manned by fearless mercenaries or pirates who created serious troubles for the Ming empire. The Chinese were forced to build forts along their coasts and to combine force and intelligence with the Ashikaga Shogunate in order to reduce the marauding activities of the buccaneers[30]. Eventually, some of the bandits began to settle in Southeast Asians entrepôts and to conduct more legal activities by the end of the sixteenth century. They became the first intermediary for the Japanese merchants who had been eager to trade with Southeast Asia, in view of the fact that the Ming had not yet lifted the ban against trading with the 'Japanese pirate[31].'

Illegal trade between China and Japan was of course taking place, but eventually some Japanese merchant preferred to do business through more official channels. Ayudhya became the main destination of shuisen (Vermillion Seal Shogunal Ships) during the early Tokugawa period. Between 1604 and 1635 the Shogunate issued 56 licenses for voyages to Siam[32]. The junks left Japan in January or February and returned from the Siamese entrepôt in June or July[33]. The direct voyage from Nagasaki to Ayudhya took an average of 47 days[34]. The products sent to Japan from Ayudhya were principally sappan wood (used to extract red dye for cloth), sugar, pepper, incense, coral; and deer, cattle, shark and rays skins[35]. Eventually, goods that had been imported to Ayudhya from India, such as cloth, made it to Japan as well[36]. There is very little data on the quantities of the goods traded, but according to a document written by a Dutch merchant, in 1608 Ayudhya was ready to send 500,000 deer skins to Nagasaki[37]. The Japanese, were paying mainly in silver, which, under the Tokugawa shogunate, was extracted very effectively and often used in international trade. Letters of Dutch merchants make clear how the Japanese monopolized the lucrative deerskin market[38]. It was only in 1640, when the Japanese community had declined for reasons that will be explained later, that the Dutch were able to take over and control the trade with Japan[39].

Yet, until 1630, the most powerful foreign merchant in Ayudhya was a Japanese: the previously mentioned Yamada Nagamasa. He is undoubtedly the most relevant character in the history of the Japanese in Siam, thus deserves special consideration. Almost unknown to Western Japanologists, he is a cherished and respected historical character in Japan, where no less than twenty books or novels and a movie have been dedicated to his exploits in Siam. He was depicted as a tragic hero in Nô plays[40], used as a role model in pro-expansion propagandistic textbooks[41] and celebrated in patriotic songs[42] during the first half of the 20th century. In the forties, he was projected as a legitimizer of the Japanese growing presence in the Southeast Asian region. Between 1941 and 1943 only, three full biographies were written about his adventures. Being that Nagamasa was such a popular character, legendary accounts on his stay in Siam abound, making it difficult for the historian to discern truth from myth. He was born possibly in 1585[43], in Suruga (present day Shizuoka) most likely in a merchant family. It is said that in his early years he was sent to a temple to study, but he escaped in order to become a swordsman[44]. Those were still the pre-Tokugawa days of gekokujô[45], when a Japanese man could still hope to make a name for himself through his own skill, and not only because of the class he was born into. Nagamasa was working as a palanquin bearer at Numazu castle[46] when, in 1611 or 1612 he boarded a vessel bound to Formosa (Taiwan), and from there he proceeded to Ayudhya in search of fortune[47]. We do not know what circumstances convinced Nagamasa to leave Japan, but one of the renditions of his life offers credible motives that are worth being considered, since similar stories might have induced many young Japanese to leave their country in those early days of the Tokugawa period.


'Peace reigned throughout Japan, and the numerous unattached samurai [...] were applying to the various provincial lords on all sides for employment. Not so with Nagamasa, who arrived at the conclusion that for him, at any rate, there seemed no possibility of attaining any position of importance in his own country. [...] Whenever the opportunity was afforded him, he ought go (where he knew not, but anywhere from Japan) where there would be a probability of earning a reputation, and a position of independence as well[48].'


And a reputation he earned, indeed. While his glory is attached for the most part to his career as a warrior, that will be described later, his activity as merchant deserves being examined as well. By 1621, Nagamasa was the leader of the Japanese community. He was acknowledged by King Song Tham (r. 1611-1628) as a military advisor and had received the Siamese court title of Okun[49]. It was probably his close relation with the king that gave him and the Japanese the upper hand in commerce. The Dutch, in fact, not only had to leave to Nagamasa the monopoly on the route to Nagasaki, but in some circumstances they also had to help him, providing pilots for his ship, or carrying cargo for him[50]. While Nagamasa was in Ayudhya, taking care of business, his ship was free to enter and trade in Batavia in 1628. The vessel returned to Siam with a letter and a present to Nagamasa, sent in person by Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the governor general of the Netherlands East Indies[51]. The friendly relationship between Nagamasa and the Dutch is not surprising. To a certain extent, they were business competitors, but the Dutch had a strong interest in maintaining good relationships with Japan and its representatives. From the 1620s, it was becoming harder for Europeans to gain access to Nagasaki. Spanish and Portuguese vessels were no longer welcomed in Japan, because together with valued goods they brought what had become an enemy of the shogunate: Christianity.



During the Sengoku and unification periods (approx. 1467 to 1600) Christianity in Japan had for the most part followed the fortunes of the feudal lords who supported it. This was especially the case with overlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who hated the organized Buddhist armies and was willing to compromise with the Portuguese and tolerated Christianity in order to obtain muskets, gunpowder and armor for his campaigns. After the death of Nobunaga, however, the attitude toward the Christians began to change, and ultimately, under the Tokugawa, became a government-sponsored persecution. In 1622, fifty-one Christians were executed at Nagasaki, and in 1624, fifty more were burned alive in Edo (now Tokyo). In total, more than 3,000 Christians were martyred[52]. Those Japanese who fled, tried to reach the Spanish-occupied Manila region, in the Philippines. Some, however, arrived in Ayudhya. Considering how 17th century’s Siam was an outstandingly Buddhist kingdom, one may wonder why the Japanese Christian chose to settle there. There is no clear answer to such question; however, besides the fact that most Japanese had little knowledge of the world outside their region, probably some of the Japanese Christian escapees had not much of a choice, and simply boarded the first vessel that could help them out of Japan to avoid persecution. Seemingly, all worked well for them. From the evidence given from scattered sources, we can assume that, at least until 1630, Ayudhyan society was very tolerant toward diverse religions. The very open atmosphere of the entrepôt, where Buddhists traded with Middle Eastern Muslims, Dutch Protestants and Portuguese Catholics, naturally invited tolerance. Moreover, the Siamese’s archenemies, the Burmese, followed the Theravada Buddhist tradition as well, thus religion was not an issue for which the Ayudhyan would fight.

We know that Nagamasa sent a letter to Japan in 1626 including a wood framed painting of a battle-scene he dedicated to the god of the Sengen Shintô Shrine at Mishima, located in his native province[53]. While such a gesture might have been a way to show pride in his achievements in Siam, it shows how Nagamasa was still attached to the Japanese Shintô tradition. However, Nagamasa as well was tolerant of other traditions. We know in fact that when, in 1626, the Portuguese Jesuit Antonio Francesco Cardim visited Ayudhya together with a converted Japanese priest, Roman Nixi, Nagamasa invited them for a banquet and entertained them at length. The apparent friendliness of the 'capitano' Nagamasa is described in a letter written by Cardim in Italian and sent to Rome. In the same missive, the Jesuit father talks of 400 Japanese Christian living in Ayudhya[54]. Tolerance toward the Japanese Christians in Ayudhya might had been assured as well by the fact that the Japanese, despite their relatively small number, represented a military power the Siamese court and the other inhabitants of the entrepôt had learned to take seriously.



In 1628, Yamada Nagamasa had been promoted by Song Tham to the high title Opra[55]. He was at the apex of his career, in command of 800 warriors of his countrymen[56]. Considering how Ayudhya was estimated to have 100.000 inhabitants[57], the Japanese warriors would have accounted only for 0.8% of the population. In the same period, the samurai class in Japan represented a strong 7-8%. In order to control the Japanese populace and prevent rebellion they had the populace disarmed, and made use of a vast network of spies. What made Yamada Nagamasa and his Japanese warriors so powerful, then? No evidence really clarifies this mystery; however, the analysis of the sources can help to produce an educated guess. To begin with, as explained above, some of the most eminent warriors 'doubled' as traders, thus their presence in Ayudhya guaranteed commerce with Japan, and a regular income of silver; hence, it was convenient for the Siamese elite to stay on good terms with them. Moreover, the Japanese warriors of this period were extremely well-trained soldiers, and, most likely, many of them had experienced combat first-hand in the long decades of the Japanese sengoku. The fact that they were immigrant-adventurers probably added determination to their character. The description that the British historian Sir George Sansom (1883-1965) offers might have been very accurate, at least for the first generation of settlers: 'Most of these adventurers were men of the desperate type, who preferred not to return home[58].' Japanese historian Gunji Kiichi (b. 1891) described his countrymen in Ayudhya as follows: 'With their arms of iron, their dauntless courage and their sharp swords, they could not stay idle even for a moment. And when they fought with their blade drawn, their boldness could not be understood at all but by the Japanese. It is no wonder that in Siamese and European eyes, their behavior seemed reckless and abandoned[59].' As a matter of fact, the Dutch merchant van Vliet, who often interacted with the Japanese community[60], reported how the Siamese rejoiced once the 'untrustworthy and injurious' Japanese were drove out of Ayudhya in 1630[61].

On the subject of Japanese warrior-led military exploits in the name of Siam, sources are once again contradictory. Pre-1945 Japanese texts in particular, narrate improbable campaigns, in which Japanese generals helped the Siamese army to keep the Burmese at bay and to defeat other enemies of the kingdom. While it is probable that, alongside other foreigners, some Japanese had fought in the Siamese army ranks, it is unlikely that before the 1620s they did so in high positions. Why would the Siamese king put foreigners in charge, since they had very little knowledge of the local terrain, warfare style and of the enemy? Surely the years of the sengoku had trained many Japanese to fight in harsh battles, but the Southeast Asian style of warfare, with elephants and armies of several hundred thousands was probably no less brutal. It is improbable that the Japanese adventurers played key-roles in battle as narrated in the tales written for the most in the 1930s and 1940s, a period when the Japanese media were promoting an imaginary grandeur of their country.

More likely, the Japanese warriors were simply the most resolute party in Ayudhya, which had no problem in bullying even the royals. In fact, the samurai in Siam began to earn their reputation after a clearly documented event that took place in 1611. In the confusion following a royal succession, 280 of them stormed the royal palace, imposed treaties upon the newly crowned King, Song Tham, and slaughtered on the spot four magistrates they considered responsible of the assassination of a Siamese minister who had beforehand favored them[62]. The boldness of the Japanese in the region had already been shown in 1605, in the waters off Pattani, with an attack against a British ship that culminated in the killing of the captain[63]. The impression left on the Siamese by the violence of such incidents, is clearly proved by a letter sent from the Siamese minister Okya Phraklang to the Shogunal court in Edo in 1615. In the missive, it is requested that only the Japanese who are trustworthy and respectful of the Siamese laws were permitted to sail to Ayuthya[64].

Things might have changed in the following decade. Both legends and reliable sources report how Nagamasa was loyal to 'his' king, Song Tham. After the death of the sovereign, Nagamasa supported the heir the late sovereign had eventually chosen. Unfortunately for the whole Japanese community, this led to disaster, as Nagamasa became tangled in the scheme plotted by one of the most hideous characters in Siamese history of this period: Si Worawong, usually called in sources by his military title, Kalahom[65]. This canny nobleman, who had before fought side by side with the Japanese on the battlefield, sent Nagamasa to put down a revolt in the south in order to usurp the throne. In January 1630, Nagamasa, obedient to his superiors, led a combined force of 300 Japanese and 3,000 or 4,000 Siamese to Ligor, where he quelled the insurgence and became the governor of the region. However, in the battle, he was eventually wounded on the knee, a fact that shows that he was not only leading the army, but actually fighting on the battlefield. The emissary sent from Ayudhya to take care of Nagamasa, poisoned his cut, killing him. The date of the death of Nagamasa is unknown, but it can be safely set between April and October 1630[66]. It is not known where the body or the ashes were buried or taken. The scheme of the Kalahom, now King Prasat Thong (r. 1629-1656), was completed in October, when he had Ayudhya’s Nihonmachi set on fire and every Japanese either killed or chased out of Siam. The refugees from this attack and from Ligor, fled to Cambodia. Eventually, some of them found their way home to Japan. When news of the events from Ligor and Ayudhya reached Edo, Iemitsu (r. 1622-1651), the third Tokugawa Shogun, immediately ordered diplomatic and commercial relations with Siam to be severed[67].


Ayudhya’s Nihonmachi and Siam-Japan commerce after Nagamasa

By 1632, Prasat Thong, probably hoping to reestablish the profitable trade with Japan, had invited the Japanese who had escaped to Cambodia to resettle in Ayudhya. By 1637 at least 300 had returned to Ayudhya[68]. Even thought it never reached the size, the wealth and the power of the 1620s, the Japanese community in Ayudhya returned to life, and it is known that some Japanese might have worked in his government in 1638[69]. Prasat Thong sent at least six embassies to Japan, but they were regularly refused access, and sent back from Nagasaki[70]. It is probable that, without the excesses of Prasat Thong, Siam might have received the same privileges accorded to Dutch ships and Chinese junks, the only ones allowed to call at Nagasaki during the centuries of sakoku, the seclusion of Japan that became official in the late 1630s. A last official Siamese ship reached Japan in 1656, but, once again, it was denied sojourn. In the same year, Prasat Thong died.

The policy of sakoku had resulted as well in the abandonment of all the Japanese who lived abroad, and they were kept from returning to their country. The ones in Ayudhya, and in other ports in the rest of southeast Asia, gradually amalgamated with the local population. Even when the Tokugawa had lost most of their unofficial representatives in Southeast Asia, international commerce between Japan and the region continued in the second part of the seventeenth century, as it had for the Japanese an economic and diplomatic importance as well. According to Dutch data, 103 Chinese Junks made the trip from Ayudhya to Nagasaki between 1651 and 1686 - an average of three per year. However, the number of vessels diminished in the last decades of the seventeenth century The Japanese Kai-Hentai register tells of 48 junks from Siam between 1687 and 1728, while another source, the Tôsen Fusetsu-gaki mentions 64 between 1674 and 1723 (an average of approximately one per year). The improvement of Japanese internal production and commerce during the seventeenth century might have been one of the reasons for the decrease of the number of ships calling at Nagasaki; however, since we have no data on the quantity of shipped goods, we can only speculate about the total volume of the trade. The number of vessel reaching legally Japan had diminished in general; still, for what regards the Southeast Asian region, shipments from Ayudhya were second only to the ones coming from Hué, Vietnam. Siamese royal junks reappeared in Nagasaki in 1661, after a break of thirty years. These ships were catalogued as 'Chinese' by the port authorities. Detailed papers were kept at Nagasaki, since the Tokugawa used the incoming foreign officers as important sources of news on international politics. These reports (Tôsen Fusetsu-gaki) were kept since 1644, and they were organized and catalogued since 1674[71]. Many have been preserved until today, so that we can inquire in detail into the nature of the Siamese exercise. The captains of the junks arriving in Japan traveled on different ships in different years; therefore, we might assume that they were hired as free-lance. The sailors were Chinese, while Thais accounted only for only 1% of the crew - Usually the supervising officers[72]. Ayudhya Junks, carrying more than 100 people, were the biggest to enter Nagasaki. The Japanese Court was of course aware of the provenience of the vessels, but closed an eye, and the trade continued, even when the incidents of 1629-30 were never officially clarified.

By the late seventeenth century, the Japanese in Ayudhya were playing only a minimal role in the politics and the commerce between Siam and Japan: apparently, only 12 of them were left in the 1670s[73]. After the Tokugawa had 'chained' their country in the 1630s, the Japanese merchants in Southeast Asia traded mainly in the areas where they resided or with the Dutch, but very seldom with Japan. They were probably resentful of the imposed isolation, and eventually even scared that the xenophobic Tokugawa government might persecute them. The Dutch, who were the only Europeans allowed in Nagasaki after 1640, had finally started to trade on the Batavia-Ayudhya-Nagasaki route from 1647. However, their calls at Ayudhya were limited by King Prasat Thong, who from 1652 allowed only one Dutch ship per year[74]. The role of the Europeans as intermediaries between Siam and Japan became minimal once the Ayudhya crown ships had reappeared in the 1660s. Shogun Tsunayoshi (r. 1680-1709) imposed sumptuary laws in 1683, forbidding luxury items and consequently limiting imports from overseas, but his laws were often ignored[75]. The trade between Siam and Japan persisted until Ayudhya ultimately felt to the Burmese in 1767.

This paper is a short version of the author's MA thesis, which will be completed by the Fall of 2005.


[1] Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602.

[2] Seiichi Iwao, editor and translator. Jeremias van Vliet Historiael verhael der Sieckte Ende (Tokyo: The Toyo Bunko, 1958) vii-viii.

[3] Due to limited space, and considering how my research it is still in its embryonic phase, for this paper I have used for the most part twentieth century European sources and Japanese sources translated or written in English. Satow’s writings have been criticized by contemporary scholars, and needs to be re-examined. Unfortunately, at this stage I have not been able to consult Richard Cushman’s translation of the 18th c. Thai annals (2000).

[4] Kennon Breazeale, “Thai Maritime Trade and the Ministry Responsible” in From Japan to Arabia: Ayutthaya’s Maritime Relations with Asia (Bangkok: Printing House of Thammasat University, 1999), 7.

[5] Ibid., maps on pages XXII, XXIII.

[6] These numbers seem to be accepted by most modern historians.

[7] Nihonmachi means literally “Japan Town.” It was the name given by the Japanese to their enclaves in Southeast Asia in the 17th c. The Japanese district in today’s San Francisco, still carries the name “Nihonmachi.”

[8] The other main Japanese citadel was in Manila, and had approximately 3,000 residents. Other 17th c.  Nihonmachi were founded in Cambodia and Vietnam and had populations of circa 200 to 300.

[9] “Christianity” in Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan Online, http://www.ency-japan.com

[10] There were at least two major fires, in 1630 and 1633.

[11] Dhiravat na Pombejra, “VOC Employees and Their Relationships with Mon and Siamese Women, A Case Study of Osoet Pegua,” in Barbara Andaya, Other Pasts, Women, Gender and History in Early Modern Southeast Asia. (Honolulu: CSEAS/Hawaii, 2000), 211.

[12] Ibid., 201-2.

[13] Barbara Andaya, “Political Development between the Sixteenth and Eighteenth Centuries” in The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, Volume One, Part Two, from c.1500 to c.1800 (Singapore: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 66-67.

[14] Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680—Volume Two, Expansion and Crisis (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993), 69.

[15] David Wyatt, Thailand: A Short History (New haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982), 104.

[16] William A. R. Wood, A History of Siam (Bangkok: Chalermnit Bookshop, 1959), 146.

[17] Jeremias Van Vliet, translated by L. Andaya, The Short History of the Kings of Siam (Bangkok: The Siam Society, 1975), 87-88.

[18] Khien Theeravit, “Japanese-Siamese Relations 1606-1629: in Khamchoo and Reynolds Thai-Japanese Relations in Historical Perspective (Bangkok, Innomedia Co. Ltd., 1988), 19.

[19] Wyatt, 95.

[20] Yoko Nagazumi, “Ayutthaya and Japan: Embassies and Trade in the Seventeenth century” in From Japan to Arabia: Ayutthaya’s Maritime Relations with Asia (Bangkok: Printing House of Thammasat University, 1999), 89-90.

[21] The Japanese never sent an official embassy to Ayudhya during this period.

[22] Yoneo Ishii, “Seventeenth Century Japanese Documents About Siam” in Journal of the Siam Society Vol.59, Part 2, (Jul., 1971), 162.

[23] Ibid., 163.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Nagazumi, 90.

[26] Theeravit, 20.

[27] Ibid., footnote 18, 41.

[28] Iwao, xix. Nagazumi refers to the same individual as Kiya Jazaemon.

[29] George Samson, Sir, Japan, A Short Cultural History (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1931), 436.

[30] “Wako” in Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan Online, http://www.ency-japan.com

[31] Reid, 19.

[32] Nagazumi, 96.

[33] Breazeale, 2.

[34] Yoneo Ishii, The Junk Trade from Southeast Asia, Translations from the Tôsen Fusetsu-gaki 1674-1723 (Singapore: Seng Lee Press Ltd., 1998), 4.

[35] Ibid., 5. Nakazumi, 98.

[36] Reid, 23.

[37] Nagazumi, 96. The Japanese probably used deerskins to manufacture shoes and gloves. Other sources give the more credible number of 150,000 deerskins.

[38] Ibid., 96.

[39] Ibid., 101.

[40] Donald Keene, “Japanese Writers and the Greater East Asia War, in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Feb., 1964), 214-215.

[41] Harold J.Wray, “A Study in Contrast. Japanese School Textbooks of 1903 and 1941-5” in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring, 1973), 81.

[42] William Magistretti, “Japan’s New Order in the Pacific” in Pacific Affairs, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Jun., 1941), 204.

[43] Tadashige Matsumoto, Stories of Fifty Japanese Heroes (Tokyo: Koseikaku, 1929), 205. Nagamasa’s year of birth is actually unknown, but scholars such as Iwao Seiichi place it in the mid-1580s. The date of 1585, taken from a biography not based upon historical evidence, is thus indicative.

[44] Ibid., 207. Again, not a purely historical source, but credible, considering Nagamasa’s later successes as a warrior.

[45] Gekokujô it is a term than can not easily be translated in English. Literally means: “The ones below overthrow the ones above.”

[46] Iwao, xxii.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Saitô Masakato, translated by James, Capt. J.M. “A Short Narrative of Foreign Travel of Modern Japanese Adventurers” in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Vol VII (1879), 193.

[49] Iwao, xxiii. For a descriptions of the Siamese court titles see: Francis Giles, “A Critical Analysis of Van Vliet’s Historical Account of Siam in the 17th Century” in Journal of the Siam Society Vol. XXX, Part III, (Aug., 1938), 366-77.

[50] Ibid., xxiv.

[51] Iwao, xxv.

[52] “Christianity” in Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan Online, http://www.ency-japan.com

[53] Iwao, xxiii-xxiv.

[54] Antonio Francesco Cardim, “Relatione della Provincia del Giappone” in Iwao, 213.

[55] Iwao, xxiii.

[56] Ibid., xxvi.

[57] Reid, 70.

[58] Samson, 436.

[59] Theeravit, 38.

[60] Iwao, vii.

[61] Theeravit, 36.

[62] Wood 160-1. Van Vliet 89. Wyatt 106, Satow wrote of 500 attackers, and of attempted regicide.

[63] Theeravit, 18.

[64] Ibid., 27

[65] For Si Worawong’s rise to power, see van Vliet, 92-94.

[66] Iwao, xxv-xxviii.

[67] Nagazumi, 93-94.

[68] Iwao, xxx-xxxi.

[69] Nagazumi, 94.

[70] Ibid., 93-94.

[71] Ishii, 9.

[72] Breazale, 29.

[73] Nagazumi, 100.

[74] Ibid., 101.

[75] George Sansom, Sir, History of Japan 1615-1867 (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1963), 133.