SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.20 (2024)

The Dutch East India Company’s dispatch
of Pieter Segertsz to Japan in 1611


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

Key words:

Dutch East India Company, Pieter Segertsz, Pieter Both, Jacques Specx, the Brack, Dutch- Japanese relations

The purpose of this paper is to empirically investigate the background to the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) dispatch of a ship (the Brack) with the envoy Pieter Segertsz to Japan in 1611 and to clarify some aspects of Dutch policy towards Japan in the early days of Dutch-Japanese relations.

Previous studies have mentioned Segertsz’ arrival in Japan, but have not examined the background. As a result, the background factors and decision-making behind the dispatch of the Brack to Japan, and the position and role of Segertsz as an envoy to Japan, have remained unclear.

In this paper the author first reviewed the hostile relations between the Netherlands and Spain in order to understand the environment in which Segertsz was placed, and then traces the movements of the Dutch fleet in the Asian seas immediately prior to his dispatch to Japan in order to elucidate the situation on the Dutch side. Dutch interests at the time were focused on the Moluccas. The battle with the Spanish fleet over the possession of these islands resulted in a Dutch defeat in the Philippine waters, and Segertsz was forced to flee to the Dutch trading house at the Port of Pattani.

The author examined three letters written by Segertsz during his stay in Pattani before departure for Japan to understand the perception of Japan at the time. These letters confirmed that Japan was not an unknown country to Segertsz, as he writes that he encountered several Japanese ships during his activities in the waters of Manila Bay. Segertsz was aware of the acquisition of Japanese trade by the VOC ships, the establishment of a trading post, and Ieyasu’s eagerness to trade.

In addition, in order to clarify the background circumstances on the Dutch side that led to Segertsz’ dispatch, the author examined the relevant records contained in a resolution of the Governor-General and Council of the Indies of 11 January 1611, drawn up shortly after the arrival in Bantam of Pieter Both, the first Governor-General of the VOC. The resolution clearly indicates that the decision to send Segertsz to Japan was made by the Governor-General and the Council of the Indies in Bantam, the East India Company’s headquarters in Asia at that time. The purpose of the dispatch was to collect information on Japanese trade and the situation of the trading post.

Finally, a retrospective study of the instructions given to the Governor-General by the Heeren XVII (the Lords Seventeen), the supreme governing body of the VOC, revealed that the decision to send Segertsz to Japan was a response to these instructions, which stated that the Governor-General should gather as much information as possible about the countries with which they were trading. It was concluded that Segertsz’s dispatch had to be placed in the context of the strategy of the upper echelons of the VOC in order to get a clearer picture of the trade opportunities with Japan.