The Rise and Fall of the Suetsugu Maritime Dynasty of Tokugawa Japan, 1571-1676 Open Access

Romans, Timothy (Summer 2022)

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The Suetsugu Heizō dynasty of Nagasaki was a family of samurai-merchant shipbuilders whose members were Tokugawa officials, transnational intermediaries, and adventurers. During their heyday, the Suetsugu captured Pieter Nuyts, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) Governor of Taiwan, planned an attack on Spanish Manila, suppressed the 1638-1639 Shimabara Rebellion, and explored the Ogasawara Islands. Remarkably, the Suetsugu did so as the Tokugawa were contracting Japan's international contacts. Japanese authors have recounted the adventures of the Suetsugu through nativist tracts, pirate stories in juvenile fiction, textbooks, moral education lessons, and film, but they have so far been overlooked in scholarly historical inquiry. As transnational people, they fit poorly into more conventional national-history narratives. The Suetsugu were political intermediaries who helped the Tokugawa regime contend with the uneven imperial geography that remained in the aftermath of Japan's Warring States Period (1467-1600). Under the aegis of Tokugawa power, the Suetsugu sought to build their own maritime domain, attain peer recognition with Japan's warrior elite, and gain increasing independence. The Tokugawa regime and its constituent landed lords came to view the Suetsugu as dangerous because of their connections to the Zheng Empire, which emerged in Southeastern China and Taiwan during the wars of the Ming-Qing transition (1618-1683) under the leadership of the Chinese warlord Koxinga and his descendants. The Suetsugu also risked drawing the Tokugawa into the Revolt of the Three Feudatories (1673-1683), a potential global conflict. The risk of a catastrophic conflict in East Asia demanded that the Tokugawa shogunate, the Qing Empire, Chosǒn Korea, and the Kingdom of Ryūkyū implement a higher degree of state consolidation. That, in turn, led to the rise of an East Asian multistate framework.

It was within this international environment that Tokugawa Japan and the Qing Empire subjugated the Dutch as vassals and at the same time, destroyed the Suetsugu and their Zheng partners. At the end of the seventeenth century, East Asia was no longer a haven for pirates, warlords, or their kingdoms. 

Table of Contents

1    Introduction 1

      1.1 Introduction: The Suetsugu Heizō Dynasty as a Story of Empire 1

      1.2 Historiography and Methodology 9

      1.3 Chapter Structure: Walking through Nagasaki's Past Along the Waterfront 19


2.   The Rise of the Suetsugu 29

      2.1 Introduction 29

      2.2 The Origins of the Suetsugu and the Heizō Dynasty 33

      2.3 The Rise of the Heizō Dynasty in Nagasaki 40

      2.4 The Silver Lord of Nagasaki 51

      2.5 Conclusion 58


3.   Suetsugu Heizō Masanao and the Vermilion Seal System 60


      3.1 Introduction: Pieter Jansz Muyser's Voyage 60

      3.2 Piracy in East Asia and the Rise of the Vermilion Seal System 66

      3.3 Heizō I's Attack on VOC Taiwan 80

      3.4 Heizō I's Prisoners 92

      3.5 Conclusion 101


4.    Tea, Silver, Silk, and War: The Ambition of Suetsugu Heizō II 104


      4.1 Introduction: The Death of Heizō I 104

      4.2 The Silver Lord, the Tea Master, and the VOC 109

      4.3 The Invasion of Spanish Manila 124

      4.4 Rebellion 136

      4.5 Conclusion 153


5.   Twilight of the Last Vermilion Seal Family: The Decline of the Suetsugu Under Heizō  

      Shigetomo (Heizō IV) 155


      5.1 Introduction: Exploring the Ogasawara Islands 155

      5.2 The Last Vermilion Seal Ship: The Fukokuju 159

      5.3 A Comet in the Sky 168

      5.4 How Nagasaki (Almost) Became Chinese 181

      5.5 Conclusion 193


6.   Mysterious Ships, Troublesome Loans, and Rumors of War: The Tokugawa Arrest of

      Suetsugu Heizō Shigetomo 197


      6.1 Introduction 197

      6.2 The Warlord and the Silver Lord: The Suetsugu-Zheng Partnership 205


      6.3 The Revolt of the Three Feudatories (1673-1683) and the End of the Suetsugu Maritime

      Dynasty 215

      6.4 Epilogue: Sunday June 7, 1676 221


7.  Conclusion 224


8.  Bibliography 236


     A. East Asian Primary Sources 236

     B. Western European Primary Sources 243

     C. Secondary Sources 249

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