Letter: Japan's history of international contacts

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Sir: Bryan Appleyard's piece on Japan (25 May) cannot be allowed to pass.

He writes: 'After 300 years of self-imposed isolation, Japan only reopened to the rest of the world 100 years ago.' What does he imagine happened in 1894? An Anglo-Japanese agreement was signed in 1858, and 300 years before that Japan was to embark on a great internationalising experiment in East Asian history (a Christian church was even built at the foot of the chief potentate's castle); from that day to this European traders have always been active there. And why does internationalism only mean intercourse with us? China and Korea have never been absent.

It is utterly corrosive to allow myths of some special Japanese 'difference' any historic dimension. Better than the monoglot Tokyo correspondents he encountered, may I quote Gaspar Vilela, who wrote in 1575: 'The language is not very difficult to understand, for although I am not at all clever I know a great deal of it.'

Yours truly,


Lecturer in the History of Japanese Art

School of African and Oriental Studies

University of London

London, WC1

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