UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cast in silver : the rise and demise of Kyushu corsairs in a unifying Japan, 1540-1640 Petrucci, Maria Grazia


Piracy in Japan was transformed both politically and economically between 1550 and 1640, in the period of Japanese territorial unification. With the advent of the silver trade, what had been an independent economic enterprise became a sponsored one. Japanese piracy increased in the sixteenth century, and in a structurally different manner from what had transpired in previous centuries. It was now structurally organized as a trade enterprise and was often sponsored by landed power holders. For this reason, pirates are defined herein as corsairs, since they were sponsored by and dependent on daimyō. With a sole focus on Kyushu, this dissertation examines events affecting the Kyushu daimyō, taking as catalyst the annexation of Ryukyu. Revived by the silver trade in Kyushu, Japanese pirates were allowed to find their own economic and political niches in the territories and coastal areas that they occupied. As their economic circumstances improved under the sponsorship of those in political power, in most cases they also found it necessary to adopt a political demeanour—that is, of corsairs—that fitted the times. Further, legislation that aimed to eliminate piracy let them collude further with local daimyō for political protection; failure to do so resulted in the disappearance of smaller, less powerful, piratical clans. The unification of Japan and adverse economic conditions tied corsairs to local power holders. The Korean wars of Hideyoshi (1592–98), and the subsequent battle of Sekigahara, resulted in the deaths and reallocations of powerful corsair clans. Their piratical endeavours were brought to a close not only by the unification wave and its legislation, but through all-encompassing wars that changed the economic and political conditions such that piracy became less than desirable from the point of view of the central government. It was eliminated, while as an international activity piracy was left to foreign mercenaries such as the Dutch and Chinese.

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