Intra microcosmi sui pomoeria felicissimo fruuntur pacis ac continentiae sudo

Today I learned that the word sakoku 鎖国, referring to Japan's (generally exaggerated) self-imposed isolation during the Edo period, was coined by a translator at the interface between Japan and the West at the time. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the word right now:

The term Sakoku originates from the work Sakoku-ron (鎖国論) written by Shitsuki Tadao [志筑忠雄] in 1801. Shitsuki invented the word while translating the works of the 17th century Dutch traveller Engelbert Kaempfer concerning Japan. The term most commonly used contemporaneously to refer to the policy was kaikin (海禁, Sea restriction).

So, Shizuki (for that is the preferred pronunciation, it seems) coined the word for use in the title of his translation. The obvious question: What was the original title?

Well, originally it was in Kaempfer's Amoenitates Exoticae, fascile II, volume 14. You can find the Latin on that page, but I learned it from GONOJI Masahiro 五之治昌比呂's On the Latin Original and the Translations of Kämpfer's Sakoku-ron ラテン語で読むケンペル「鎖国論」: 『廻国奇観』所収論文とその翻訳について:

Regnum Japoniae optima ratione, ab egressu civium, & exterarum gentium ingressu & communione, clausum

Which is to say, I believe, "The Kingdom of Japan which is, with optimal rationality, to the egress of its citizens & the ingress of external peoples & [any] communion [of the above two parties] closed." But it seems unlikely that Shizuki was working from the Latin text, and indeed SUGIMOTO Tsutomu 杉本つとむ in his Gogen kai 語源海 claims that Shizuki was working from the Dutch translation by Christian Wilhelm von Dohm (which, incidentally, was added as an appendix to his History of Japan, like this English version, which was probably where Shizuki encountered it). The relevant part of the Dutch is:

... 't Ryk van Japan om het zelve geslooten te houden

I.e., "The Kingdom of Japan which keeps itself shut up," I think (with a little help from Sugimoto's Japanese rendition). Sugimoto also quotes a comment from Shizuki about his translation:


This work did not originally have the title Sakoku ron, nor was it divided into two volumes; I have provisionally effected these changes myself.

But! When the work was republished in 1850 by KUROSAWA Okinamaro 黒沢翁満, he renamed it Ijin kyōfu den 異人恐怖伝, which put hiply is "Fear of foreigners." MATSUDA Kiyoshi has a page at the bottom of which he kindly gathered some comments from Kurosawa on why he undertook this rebranding; I have amended them slightly based on examination of the edition of Ijin kyōfu den linked above (hit volume three to check my work):

今世西洋舶来の書とて人々争ひて持栄す、かの国風に魂を奪はるヽ書の類にはあらで、此書は蘭人ケンブルが口より、正しく我大日本の国風を天下に比類なく善き国風なりと讃称へ又御国人の強きことを是も天下に比類なしと怖れ称へたる書なり、外国人の眼よりもさばかりに見ゆる御国に生れて却て彼が虚飾の威に惑されて恐るヽは愚味に遺憾き限りならずや [...] 此書は [...] 長崎の訳語家志筑忠雄が翻訳したるなり、当時書中の意を採りて仮に鎖国論と題号せしは、全く忠雄がわざなるよし訳例にいへれば、作者の意にもあらざる故に今又更めて異人恐怖伝と号けつ

Books imported from the West are so prized today that people compete for the honor of possessing them, and so lose their souls (tamashii 魂) to the customs of those countries (kuniburi 国風). This book is not of that type, but rather, a work in which the Dutchman Kaempfer correctly praises the excellence of our great Japan's national customs and the strength of its people as unequalled under the heavens. When this is clear even to the eyes of a foreigner about the country in which one was born, is it not foolish regretful in the extreme to be led astray and cower before the empty displays of vanity of that foreigner's country instead? [...] The book [...] was translated by Nagasaki linguist Shizuki Tadao, who, based on the contents of the work, gave it the provisional title Sakoku ron. This was entirely his doing, and as a translation does not convey what the author meant. For this reason I have renamed it Ijin kyōfu den.

As you may have guessed, Kurosawa was a kokugaku scholar. Invoking the authority of an imported book to support an argument that ideas should not be imported at all is a bit ironic, but I guess it beat writing his own argument. (And, of course, everyone knows about Japan's centuries-old love/hate relationship with foreigner approval.)

Bonus link: 近世後期日本における志筑忠雄訳『鎖国論』の受容 Acceptance of "Sakoku-ron" translated by Shizuki Tadao in last part of early modern times Japan, by Ōshima Akihide 大島明秀.

Popularity factor: 8

Leonardo Boiko:

That scanned page is some pretty Japanese! Is that a woodblock-printed book?


Kokugaku was always filled with wicked contradictions, starting with Hirata's partial use of Christian theology to formulate Japanese identity. But the interesting thing is that it nevertheless worked.


Leo: Yes, and you can read the whole thing at the "his translation" link!

Avery: What we need is to find the REAL kokugaku... the ORIGINAL kokugaku, before the influence of China and the West. I propose we call this research... kokugakugaku.


Though it hardly needs saying, great post.

Sorry if this is old hat to you already, but do you know Ronald Toby's book "State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in the Development of the Tokugawa Bakufu"? I hate recommending expensive academic titles that can be difficult to obtain, but if you ever get the chance, it's a great book. It's where I learnt about the history of the word, which he gives in detail. His premise is that, yes, the country had a policy of limited communication, but was nontheless very much involved in and preoccupied by the broader international context it found itself in, especially the Asian backyard.

The best part is that it's not just an argument, but an exploration--sometimes a story--of what was actually going on then, based on archival research done in Korea and Japan. You wouldn't guess it from the title, but there are some parts that are actually gripping. (End plug)


The Dutch actually says, ""The Kingdom of Japan, in order to keep itself shut up,"


'Ryk van Japan om het zelve geslooten te houden'
modern Dutch: 'gesloten', closed

I'd translate the whole string as: the Kingdom of Japan keeping itself closed


Hm, so the Dutch is an ambiguous fragment? Looks like the whole thing is this:

"Onderzoek, of het vanbelang is voor 't Ryk van Japan om het zelve geslooten te houden, gelyk het nu is, en aan desselfs Inwooners niet toe te laaten Koophandel te dryven met uytheemsche Natien 't zy binnen of buyten 's Lands."

Does that help narrow things down?

Elessorn: Thanks for the tip, I will check that out. I do know exactly what you mean about the grippingness; I felt the same way about Brett L. Walker's "The Conquest of Ainu Lands."


It'd go roughly with this (not good English, I kept the order of the words equal)
Upon examination, it is of interest for the Kindom of Japan to keep itself closed, as is now is, and for its residents not to permit trade with foreign nations either inside or outside of the country.

Hmm, maybe 'Onderzoek, of het vanbelang' could be 'research in the interests for the kingdom...

'uytheemsche' has a nice sound to it :-), I had forgotten that word

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