The Dutch East India Company in Japan

Montanus, Arnoldus (1625-1683)

Ambassades Mémorables de la Compagnie des Indes Orientales des Provinces Unies, vers les Empereurs du Japon. Contenant plusieurs choses remarquables arrivées pendant le voyage des Ambassadeurs; et deplus, la Description des Villes, Bourgs, Chateaux, Forteresses, Temples & autres batimens: Des animaux, des Plantes, Montagnes, Riviéres, Fonteines; Des moeurs, coutumes, Religions & habillemens des Japonois: Comme aussi leurs exploits de guerre, & les révolutions tant anciennes que modernes que ces Peuplles ont essuyées. Le toot Enrichi de Figures dessinées sur les lieux, & tiré des Mémoires des Ambassadeurs de la Compagnie.

Amsterdam: Jacob de Meurs, 1680


Folio: 35.5 x 24 cm. 3 ll., 227 pp., 4 ll.; 146 pp., 3 ll. Collation: *4, A-Z4, Aa-Ff4, Gg2, Aaa-Ttt4.


Illustrated with an added engraved title page, 1 engraved folding map, 25 double-paged engraved views, and 71 text engravings. Bound in seventeenth-century speckled calf, rebacked, preserving the original gold-tooled compartments, later label. Boards a bit worn, corners bumped. Very nice internally. 2 plates (Pt I p. 72 and Pt II p. 64) with repaired tears (no loss), a couple of creased plates, edges of t.p. browned, occ. spots. The main title is printed in red and black with an engraved vignette. The second part of the work is introduced by a divisional title page: "Ambassade memorable de Batavia a la cour de l'Empereur de Japon." Engraved head- and tail-pieces and initials throughout. 

Montanus' Vivid Account of Japan:

"Portuguese trade with Japan ceased in 1639, and in 1640 the Dutch were moved to the little island of Deshima in Nagasaki harbor. Apart from the Dutch on Deshima, no Europeans traded in Japan after 1640. Fresh information about Japan also soon dried up.  No new information appears to have been published before Montanus' work on Japan.

"Montanus' encyclopedic account contains more firsthand information about Japan than any other post-1650 publication. It is ostensibly an account of several Dutch East India Company embassies to the shogun's court in Edo, beginning with that of Blokovius and Frisius in 1649-50. His account is repeatedly interrupted to describe the landscape, history, customs and the like suggested by the experiences of the ambassadors…

By the time his readers have completed the account of the embassy, they have also read the story of Japan's original settlement by rebellious Chinese who were banished there, a description of Japan's location and the speculation about whether or not it is joined to Hokkaido and the mainland, descriptions of Japanese religious sects and their priests, an account of the wars of unification, a history of the Christian mission and the persecutions, descriptions of specific towns, palaces, funeral practices and much more.

"The route of the ambassadors is given in detail, including the distances between towns. There are descriptions of several towns: Nagasaki, Hirado, Osaka, Sakai, Kyoto, Shizuoka, and Edo. These seem to be independent descriptions and contain new observations. Montanus describes a temple near Hirado where pregnant women go to pray for sons. Later he describes the castle at Hirado as an impressive structure on a hill in a pleasant meadow with a double-roofed gate and a seven-story tower. Deshima, Montanus reports, is a small island joined to the mainland at Nagasaki by a forty-foot drawbridge. Nagasaki presents a fine prospect to viewers on incoming ships because of its hills and many steeples and towers. Several streams flow through it, spanned by wooden bridges. The streets are unpaved and each has a gate that is closed at night. His description of Osaka contains details on the images seen in two temples (illustrated in the text.) Montanus' description of Edo, its palaces and temples is obviously a composite but his description of the shogun's palace may be new. 

"On the road to Edo the Dutch ambassadors view Mount Fuji, which Montanus uses as an occasion to describe yamabushi who climb it once a year and stay on it for sixty days, fasting and beating themselves, after which they wear white knots around their necks and small black caps on their heads. After describing the dairi's palace in Miyako, Montanus observes that the Japanese have good poets and actors, and many plays, which teach virtue. The plays, he reports, have choruses of musicians. On another occasion he describes Japanese wrestlers, who wear their hair in nets, tie their pants up between their legs, and wear nothing above the waist -obviously sumo wrestlers. In Sakai, near Osaka, the Dutch watch a local religious festival. The singing crowd parades through the streets carrying their "idol" on their shoulders.

"The adventures of the crew of the "Breskens", the immediate occasion for the official embassy, are recounted in the second part of Montanus' book. The "Breskens" was one of two Dutch ships sent to explore the coast of Hokkaido in 1643. Driven north in a storm, the captain and nine of his crew were taken prisoner and conveyed to Edo for interrogation. They were held for five months before the director of the Dutch East India Company at Deshima came to Edo to plead their cause.

"Montanus' relation of the experiences of the "Breskens" crew vividly illustrates the paranoia of Japanese officials regarding Christianity during the early closed-country period. From the first day of their arrest until their release the Japanese tried to trick the Dutch into admitting that they were Catholic Christians. On two occasions they witnessed the interrogation under torture of four Jesuits as they were being led to their own interrogation. When they are finally released, they must sign a promise never to land Catholic priests in Japan. They receive an audience with shogun Iemitsu before leaving Edo.

"Frightened as they were, the captain, Henry Corneliszoon Schaep (or whoever actually wrote the account) included some rather good descriptive passages in his story. There are colorful descriptions of samurai dress: richly embroidered coats, underneath which hang others that display "their arms curiously wrought" Their long breeches drag the floor, swords hang at their sides, and their heads are shaven except for the nape of the neck and the topknot. Later, the author describes samurai armor. On the road they meet and describe musicians who travel about to entertain at feasts and weddings, "all whores and vagabonds". Curious crowds gather to look at the Dutchmen wherever they go and always ask them to sign their names on pieces of paper. They experience an earthquake, which some Japanese explain results from the sea monster striking its tail against the shore. 

"The Dutchmen marvel at Edo's costly palaces. The author describes an Edo prostitute sitting under the eave of her house with food and drink ready for clients. Her kimono is tied so loosely that her nipples show, she wears flowers in her elaborate obi, and her hair hangs loose except for one lock in the back that is tied with ribbons. He also describes Japanese writing brushes, inkstones and ink. (The solid cakes of ink, red or black, all bear the shogun's seal. Brushes are held with the whole hand.) The account includes a list of Japanese words and phrases. Finally, there is an audience with the shogun.

"The remainder of Montanus' account deals with three later embassies, each of which contains substantial description with some interesting new material." (Lach)

Landwehr VOC, 525; Alt-Japan-Kat. 1053; Lach "Asia in The Making of Europe", Vol III, Bk IV, pp. 1873 ff; STC Netherlands 843115939