Circling the Waters: The Keicho Embassy and Japanese-Spanish Relations in the Early Seventeenth Century


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


East Asian Languages and Cultures


This project examines the fraught diplomatic and commercial relations between the Tokugawa shogunate and the Habsburg Spanish empire in the early seventeenth century. Vessels from Japan called at Acapulco three times within a decade, challenging Spain’s control over trans-Pacific trade. Japanese commercial experiments and diplomatic outreach peaked with the Keichō Embassy to Southern Europe from 1613-1620, a failed attempt to establish regular contact between New Spain and northeastern Japan. Although a Spanish policy of containment foiled the embassy, it helped persuade the Tokugawa to divest from the relationship in the face of alternative commercial partners and ongoing religious tension. The shogunate then adopted a diplomatic framework premised on ostensibly hierarchical relations with little room to accommodate further engagement with the Spanish empire. The project contrasts Japanese leaders’ impulse toward expansion with Spanish caution, thereby inverting the established narrative of the archipelago’s insularity in its dealings with Iberian actors.