Western Trade with Japan before 1854

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Highlighting Historical Romance: this week we welcome Sofie Darling who highlights some facts about Western trade in East Asia.

When I set out to write my newest release, Tempted by the Viscount, I knew a few facts about the hero: he’s the newly minted Right Honorable Lord Jakob Radclyffe, Fifth Viscount St. Alban, who has spent his career as a ship captain trading in the Far East, specifically Japan, where key events in his past play a pivotal role in the present-day.

However, there was a problem with this scenario: the English had no trade with Japan until after 1854 when US Navy Commodore Perry forced it open. For the preceding two centuries, Japan was closed to all Westerners except for the Dutch. The solution to my story problem was for my hero to have a Dutch mother who descended from a family of traders.

How did Japan control trade so tightly? They built the small, fan-shaped artificial island of Dejima in the Bay of Nagasaki in 1634. At first, it was to accommodate trade with the Portuguese. When those relations soured, they moved the Dutch from their trading post on Hirado to Dejima and decreed that the Dutch were the only Westerners with whom they would trade and only in this one place. This arrangement flourished for the next two hundred years to the Western world’s envy.

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Dejima and Nagasaki Bay, circa 1820 By I, PHGCOM, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What goods did the Japanese and Dutch trade? The Dutch brought in non-religious books and scientific instruments from Europe; silk, cotton, and material medica from China and India; and even deer pelts and shark skin from Taiwan. In return, the Japanese sold copper, silver, camphor, porcelain, lacquer ware, and rice to the Dutch.

In historical romance, we have a long and lasting love of honorable ship captains and their disreputable counterparts, pirates. So it’s vital to keep that history accurate, even in fiction, as those partnerships were as shifting as the ocean beneath their ships.

Tempted-by-the-Viscount-29-Final-4-12-18-850x1275-200x300 Author's Blog Highlighting History About the Book:  Tempted by the Viscount

London, April 1825

Lord Jakob Radclyffe left his past behind in the Far East. Or so he thinks until a ruthless thief surfaces in London, threatening to ruin his daughter’s reputation. With the clock ticking, Jake needs the scandalous Lady Olivia Montfort’s connections in the art world to protect his daughter’s future.

Olivia, too, has a past she’d like to escape. By purchasing her very own Mayfair townhouse, she’ll be able to start a new life independent from all men. There’s one problem: she needs a powerful man’s name to do so. The Viscount St. Alban is the perfect name.

A bargain is struck.

What Olivia doesn’t anticipate is the temptation of the viscount. The undeniable spark of awareness that races between them undermines her vow to leave love behind. Soon, she has no choice but to rid her system of Jake by surrendering to her craving for a single scorching encounter.

But is once enough? Sometimes once only stokes the flame of desire higher and hotter. And sometimes once is all the heart needs to risk all and follow a mad passion wherever it may lead.


“And what in this world doesn’t a woman under the protection of a duke have at her fingertips?”

Her own Mayfair townhouse, she didn’t reply. Instead, she pressed her lips together and held his piercing gaze.

A possibility stole in. He wasn’t only a man. He was an opportunity.

She and he each had something the other wanted. And they each had the power to give it to the other. It was simple.

Misgiving seized her. This was Lord St. Alban. Nothing would remain simple with him for long. She felt it in her bones. But how badly did she want her independence?

It felt like a test question. And Lord St. Alban was the correct answer.

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Sofie-Darling-Headshot-300x283 Author's Blog Highlighting History About the Author

Sofie Darling is an award-winning author of historical romance. Her debut novel, THREE LESSONS IN SEDUCTION, won the Writers’ League of Texas’ Manuscript Contest in the Romance Category in 2016.

She spent much of her twenties raising two boys and reading every book she could get her hands on. Once she realized she simply had to write the books she loved, she finished her English degree and embarked on her writing career.

When she’s not writing heroes who make her swoon, she runs a marathon in a different state every year, visits crumbling medieval castles whenever she gets a chance, and enjoys a slightly codependent relationship with her beagle, Bosco.

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3 thoughts on “Western Trade with Japan before 1854

  1. Caroline, thank you for letting me drop by your wonderful blog and discuss some of the history in Tempted by the Viscount. Xoxo, Sofie

    • You are very welcome. Your information about the Dutch was actually useful to me for a post I’m writing about the tea trade.

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Caroline Warfield, Author

Email : info@carolinewarfield.com