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The Disruptive Presence of the Namban-jin in Early Modern Japan

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image of Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

Abstract When the Portuguese arrived in Japan around 1543, it was the first time in the history of the archipelago that Western foreigners had entered the country and settled there. These “barbarians from the south” (namban-jin) were considered strangers and viewed with curiosity and suspicion. In Tokugawa Japan (c. 1615-1868), politically marked by territorial unification and the centralization of power, the image of the Europeans that was created and visually registered on folding screens and lacquer-ware was used as a model to frame this presence by both the Japanese political and economic elites and those considered marginal to the existing social order. Namban art, especially paintings, can be seen as a visual display of Japan’s self-knowledge and its knowledge of distant “neighbours.”


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