Tokugawa Shogunate

The flag of Japan during Gulliver's time, under the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Japan (Japanese: 日本国, "Nihon-koku" or "Nippon-koku") is a large island nation located in East Asia and the only real-world location Gulliver visits during his travels.

History Edit

During the setting of the books, Japan was ruled by Emperor Nakamikado (中御門天皇), the 114th Emperor of Japan. It was governed by the Tokugawa Shogunate (徳川幕府), whose founder Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康) unified Japan and instituted a policy of isolation from the rest of the world. Nonetheless, he permitted the Dutch (who operated at Dejima, Nagasaki, on western Kyushu), the Chinese, the Koreans, the Ainus of Hokkaido and the Ryukyuans (who were later conquered) to trade with Japan.

Under the Shogunate, Christianity is banned, as the shoguns viewed Christianity as a threat to the Shogunate's stability, mainly due to the Jesuit missionaries attempting to influence powerful officials to convert Japan to the Christian faith. On the other hand, Shinto and Confucianism were promoted and were officially endorsed by the Shogunate's rulers, while Buddhism was placed under strict state control. The practice of fumi-e, mentioned as "trampling the crucifix" in Jonathan Swift's books, was used to expose suspected Christians within Japan, who were afterwards tortured and killed at Nagasaki for failing that test. The practice of executing Christians was unofficially abandoned in 1805.

Over a century after Gulliver's visit to Japan, the Shogunate was abolished after its defeat in 1867, with events such as Commodore Matthew C. Perry's arrival and the wars between its supporters and opponents contributing to its downfall. At the meantime, the declining Shogunate also attempted to establish relations with other countries, such as Britain, France, and America. Japan was afterwards modernized and Westernized under the Meiji government.

The shogun who governed Japan during the time of Gulliver's visit (21 March to 6 April 1710) was Tokugawa Ienobu, the sixth shogun of his dynasty. He and the other shoguns were the functional rulers of the government, while the revered emperors who were above them were relegated to ceremonial and religious roles.

Edo society Edit

Although the Emperor of Japan was the highest authority in all of Japan for his divine ancestry, actual power was concentrated on the Shogun, who ruled in his behalf and was appointed by him. The Shogun was above the daimyos, regional governors assigned by their families' respective relationships with the Tokugawa household before the Battle of Sekigahara. Only the regions that produced around 50,000 bushels of rice had their respective governors promoted into daimyos.

The people of Japan, during the rule of the Shogunate, were required to follow a strict stratified social system influenced by Chinese Confucian literature. The daimyos' samurai warriors in the top, peasants below, followed by artisans, and then merchants at the bottom. These four classes were based not on wealth, but on moral purity as determined by philosophers: for example, as the merchants did not produce food or materials as peasants and artisans did, they were placed below those classes.

Other than the Emperor, the Shogun, and his daimyos, there were many people who were outside the system of four classes. Buddhist monks, Shinto priests, and court nobles were among those people.

Under the merchants and outside the system were the heavily-discriminated burakumin or eta who worked in jobs involving butchering or death (such as undertakers and executioners), and the hinin who were indentured servants either through being sold or in a punishment. There were also the ronin, wandering samurai who had no daimyo to serve, as their masters were either already demoted or dead (so they cannot ask them for permission to move to another master). The rigid laws of the Shogunate that prohibited them from serving new masters forced them to become mercenaries or criminals, and the resulting Keian Uprising in 1651 forced the Shogunate to relax its laws to allow them to join new masters.

Role in the books Edit


An early 18th century Japanese print depicting a valley, set around the same time as the setting of the books.

Weary of his disappointing time in Luggnagg, Gulliver is finally able to secure passage on a boat bound for Japan, and he arrived at the port of Xamoschi on 21 March 1710. His stay in the island country is brief, however, as he finds himself in trouble once again. It seems the custom for Dutchmen in Japan is to trample the crucifix, and none have ever refused to do so. The Japanese Emperor excuses Gulliver from this tradition, but later, a Dutchman again tries to force Gulliver into trampling the cross, a sacrilegious act in his eyes. Gulliver flees Japan on a ship called the Amboyna, bound for Amsterdam, and there he boards a ship for England, finally returning home on 6 April 1710 to his wife and family in Redriff.

The Japanese traded with the people of Luggnagg on the port of Glanguenstald on the southwestern part of the island.

Locations Edit


Japan is located on the western part of this map.

The names of the locations reflect the contemporary pronunciation of the Japanese language, such as the usage of "ye" (え, now pronounced as "e"; the "ye" pronunciation survives in the Kyushu dialect).

  • Yedo (Edo (江戸), now Tokyo (東京)), the capital of Japan on eastern Honshu. It, Meacco, and Osacca were considered as the three greatest cities of Japan.
  • Xamoschi (*Samoshi or *Shamoshi, possibly Shimosa (下総)), a port located at the western shore of Yedo's bay where Gulliver arrived in Japan. The actual Shimosa was a province that was located north of Yedo and its bay.
  • Nangasac (Nagasaki (長崎)), the port on western Kyushu with the only port available to Europeans, and only to the Dutch. This port was where Gulliver fled on the Amboyna out of Japan.

Other locations mentioned in a map (right, where Japan is situated to the west) are:

  • Yesso (Ezo (蝦夷, now Sakhalin (サハリン/Сахалин), a supposedly-larger landmass or island that roughly corresponds to Sakhalin a long island north of Hokkaido that is now part of Russia. Earlier European explorers thought that Hokkaido and Sakhalin were a single island, until in 1787 when the French explorer Jean-François de La Pérouse confirmed that "Yesso" consists of two islands instead of a combined landmass.
    • When the Japanese first discovered Sakhalin from 1679, they first named it "Kita-Ezo" ((北蝦夷), which means "Northern Ezo"). It was later controlled by the Qing Dynasty (continuing earlier Ming claims), who forced the local tribes to pay tribute to the Emperors and granted titles to tribal leaders, and gave the entire island its current name (based on a local Manchu name, sahaliyan ula angga hada, "rocky crag at the mouth of the Black River [Amur River]", later used by European explorers alongside the Ming Chinese name "Kuye" (庫頁)) Another name the Europeans supposedly heard from the nearby locals about the island was "Tchoka".
    • The Japanese later fought and signed treaties with the Russian Empire to control Sakhalin, which they claimed as an extension of their archipelago. During Japanese rule until 1945, the southern half of Sakhalin was known as "Karafuto" (樺太), after an Ainu name (kamuy kar put ya mosir) that means "the island a god has created on the estuary of the Amur River". The Russian-controlled northern half was named "Sagaren" (薩哈嗹) after its name in the Manchu and Russian languages.
    • The name "Yesso" was originally for any island to the north of Honshu where the Ainu people lived, and then later confined to the southerly island of Hokkaido (北海道, since 1869), the home of the Ainu people (who call it Aynu mosir, "the land of humans"). When Sakhalin was known as "Northern Ezo", Hokkaido was divided into "Western Ezo" and the more populous "Eastern Ezo": this may had influenced the Europeans into thinking that Hokkaido and Sakhalin were a single island. Unlike Sakhalin, Hokkaido remains a prefecture of Japan.
  • Nivato (*Niwato, or Nagato (長門)), a province at western Honshu to the north of Kyushu.
  • Meaco (Miyako (都), now Kyoto (京都)), an ancient city that was one of three great cities of Japan, other than Yedo and Osacca.
  • Inaba (因幡), a province at western Honshu.
  • Osacca (Osaka (大阪)), another of the three greatest cities of Japan, other than Yedo and Meaco. It was a merchant city and a center of rice trade.

Trivia Edit

  • A mythical island known as Mount Penglai (Chinese: 蓬莱仙岛, Pénglái xiāndǎo; Japanese: 蓬莱, Hōrai) exists in Chinese and Japanese mythology, with four other islands located near Mount Penglai. While the Chinese consider it to be the fantastic realm of the Eight Immortals, the Japanese considered it to be a less pleasant realm inhabited by a sky of ancient souls and tiny innocent fairies. The Japanese also considered Mount Penglai to be more of a fantasy.
    • Another easterly land in Chinese mythology, Fusang (Chinese: 扶桑, Fúsāng; Japanese: 扶桑, Fusō), was supposedly located either near Japan, along eastern Honshu, or in North America. The Japanese adopted "Fusang/Fusō" as a poetic name for their country, and the name of some of their battleships in World War II.
  • A Japanese film director, Hayao Miyazaki, produced an award-winning animated film in 1986 known as "Castle in the Sky", which is about two young children who try to keep a magical crystal away from military agents, while searching for the flying castle of Laputa. In Spain, the flying castle was renamed "Lapuntu", as "Laputa" resembles a vulgar phrase in the Spanish language. There are also several adaptions of "Gulliver's Travels" that were produced in Japan, such as:
    • Chouheiki Ga Ichigo (超兵器ガ壱号, released in 1997, about a giant captured by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II)
    • Opera Gulliver (オペラ・ガリバー, premiered in 1997, about Gulliver with a half-Yahoo child)
    • Lilliput Kingdom (リリパット王国, released in 2002)
    • Garivaa Ninpou-Shima/Gulliver and the Island of Ninja Arts (ガリヴァー忍法島, published in 1970 as part of a collection of stories about ninjas written by Yamada Futaro (山田風太郎) known as "Musashi Ninpou Tabi" (武蔵忍法旅). Gulliver's anachronistic story involves him in Japan in 1697 (thirteen years before his arrival in "Gulliver's Travels", also the time of the Forty-Seven Ronin) dealing with the treasure of the pirate captain William Kidd.
  • The Amboyna, the ship which Gulliver boarded to escape Japan, was named after an island in eastern Indonesia where Dutch agents tortured and killed Englishmen, nine Japanese samurai, and other traders, accusing them of treason.
  • On October 14 1854, the Japanese Shogunate signed a treaty that established diplomatic relations with Britain, after many years of hostility since the Amboyna massacre of 1623. That treaty allowed the British to visit Nagasaki and Hakodate (in Ezo), and granted Britain as the "most favored nation" with other Western powers.

See also Edit


External links Edit