Tanap Research

The Intra-asian Trade in Japanese Copper by the Dutch East India Company during the Eighteenth Century


Dr. Ryuto Shimada

curriculum vitae

Graduation: Leiden University, Faculty of Arts, 14 December 2005.
Promotor: prof. dr. J.L. Blussé van Oud-Alblas.
Click here for a summary in Dutch.

The Ph.D. theses comprises a comparative analysis of Asian economies, by investigating the global trade of Japanese copper and its influence on the Asian economies in the early modern period, especially in the eighteenth century. Asian countries imported Japanese copper from the Dutch United East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC). However, Japan began to reduce its exports in the early eighteenth century. What influences did the Japanese copper trade have on Asian economies?

First, the theses deals with purchase of Japanese copper and its re-exports by the VOC. This research mainly makes use of the VOC records in the Nationaal Archief, including the collection of account books of the High Government, which has been referred to very little until now. Secondly, it analyses the demand structure of Japanese copper in sample areas, while also surveying the supply side. At last, it completes a comparative economic analysis by examining the copper (currency) supply and the developments of money economy in Asia. The research will also imply, through an analysis, the Japanese economic influence on the Asian economy as a whole and highlight the varying characteristics of Asian economies.

Significance of Japanese copper trade

From the middle of the seventeenth century, Japan began exporting large amounts of copper. Japan was the only country in Asia and possibly in the world that could supply such amounts of copper to the world during that time. Japanese copper was exported not only to Asian countries but also to Europe. A. Smith argued that Japanese copper influenced the copper price in the European market. However, Asia as a region was the primary recipient of Japanese copper during this particular period. Japanese copper was exported by Chinese junks and by the VOC from Nagasaki as well as by Japanese ships from the island of Tsushima. Generally, Japanese copper exported by Chinese junks went to the Chinese mainland and Southeast Asia. Japanese copper exported by the VOC, however, was mainly distributed to South Asia and Europe. Japanese copper was melted to manufacture weapons or house utensils and, most importantly, to produce copper coins. This production of currency was essential, since copper currency was widely used by common people in many Asian countries during that period. Thus its supply was necessary for each Asian country to achieve the economic development.

The situation was disturbed in the early eighteenth century, when Japan began restricting the exports of Japanese copper. This is considered to have been not only due to a decline in output of the Japanese copper production but also to the growing domestic demand for copper cash. This restriction also meant that Asian countries faced a shortage of copper and therefore a shortage of material for small-cash minting. As a result, each Asian country had to find other means to supply material for the production of small cash. If they failed to do so, they faced a possible economic decline, as the shortage of small cash led to an increase in value of small cash, then to a decrease in price, causing hoarding and a shortage of investment and finally the recession of the economy.

In short, from the viewpoint of the supply of small cash, an intra-Asian economic competition for acquiring copper began to proceed in the eighteenth century. In fact, some countries such as Persia and China attempted to develop new copper mines, while other countries, for instance Indonesia, introduced small coins of lesser valued materials such as lead, iron or tin. A final example is Korea, which resorted to barter transactions when confronted with the disappearance of small cash in circulation. Conclusive evidence indicates that in all cases, the eighteenth century was a decisive period for economic development in all Asian countries and the ways chosen to cope with the shortage of small cash determined the economic direction of each relevant country in the modern period.


Prof. Dr. J. Thomas Lindblad
Prof. Dr. Heita Kawakatsu

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