WEALTH: Merchants

Throughout the Edo period the Shoguns remained wary of foreigners and restricted outside trade. However, trading did take place with neighbours such as China and Korea, and with the western world, predominantly the Dutch, Portuguese and English.

The first English ships to reach Japan arrived at Hirado in 1613 although an Englishman, William Adams, a native of Kent, had piloted ships of the Dutch East India Company there in 1600. The English trading post at Hirado lasted only ten years but the Dutch base at Nagasaki was trading well into the 19th century. The Dutch were based on their own man-made island called Deshima or Dejima, which had been constructed in a fan shape in 1636.

The Japanese considered merchants to be of low status. They earned their wealth from the hard work of others, who either grew or crafted the items that the merchants sold.  As the merchant class became more prosperous during the peaceful Edo period, so they became more despised. Their new wealth allowed them to afford the pleasures that had once been the domain of only the powerful samurai class.

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