SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.19 (2023)

The Dutch East India Company’s Expansion
into Asia and Its Perspective on Japan


Department of Japanese History,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

the Dutch East India Company, the Dutch factory in Hirado, Steven van der Hagen, Cornelis Matelief de Jonge, Paulus van Caerden, Pieter Willemsz Verhoeff, Nicolaes Puijck, Maurits van Nassau, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Dutch-Japanese relations

This paper seeks to elucidate the circumstances of early Dutch approaches to Japan between 1603, when the Dutch East India Company first sent a fleet to Asia, and 1609, when the first Dutch ships arrived in Japan.

Little research has been conducted on this issue. However, in order to understand the activities of the Dutch trading post in Hirado in the early years, it is important to review the background and circumstances of the Dutch Republic’s initial approaches to trade with Japan.

This paper traces the movements of the four East India Company fleets dispatched to Asia during this period, focusing on their relations with Japan. Of these, details of the movements of the three fleets, namely the fleets of Matelief, van Caerden and Verhoeff, which had some connections with Japan are examined. The documents examined include the logbooks of each fleet, letters and memoranda from the admirals, as well as resolutions and directives of the directors (the Heren XVII).

A close examination of the circumstances of the Dutch approaches towards Japan revealed the following.

The East India Company had already recognised Japan as a possible trading partner as early as the first dispatch of a fleet to Asia, and by drafting a letter to the Japanese sovereign in Maurits’ name in 1606, had already made preparations for the start of official diplomatic relations. Nevertheless, the East India Company’s main interest was in spices from the Moluccas and raw silk from China. For the East India Company, Japan was only a secondary destination after acquiring the China trade. Neither Matelief nor van Caerden were in a position to send Dutch ships to Japan, as the Dutch were facing more pressing issues in Asia, such as gaining access to Chinese trade and fighting with Spain and Portugal in Asian waters as part of the war against the Iberian countries.

The opportunity to send Dutch ships to Japan in 1609 was triggered by the political situation in Europe. Negotiations for a ceasefire agreement with Spain had begun and it became necessary for the Dutch East India Company to expand its trading base by concluding treaties with as many Asian monarchs as possible before the agreement was concluded. To meet this pressing challenge, the East India Company’s directors dispatched a directive with the ship the Goede Hoop informing Admiral Verhoeff of the new policy. Upon receipt of the directive, Verhoeff convened an enlarged committee meeting in Bantam, which resolved to dispatch two ships from the fleet that had been on standby in Johor to Japan.

As described above, the East India Company’s first dispatch of ships to Japan was largely due to the situation in Europe, and it can be said that a Dutch factory was established in Japan when the foundation for trade with Japan on the Dutch side was not yet in place.