The Convergence of the Twain: Early Modern encounters between Japan and Britain
This essay combines two papers given at successive ACMRS conferences in 2015 and 2016, in which I shared the first fruits of what I hope will develop into a larger project exploring the cultural encounters between Japan and Britain in the period between 1600, when the famous William Adams (more celebrated now in Japan than in his homeland) made landfall in a new country, and 1673, when the last Englishmen to enter Japanese waters before the nineteenth century were forbidden to set foot upon its soil.
Inevitably, the essay therefore bears the marks both of its origin as oral performance and of its new portmanteau status; I hope the reader will be indulgent to both. The central thesis of the combined essay is that cultural interconnections between the two countries in the Early Modern period were both more various and – often but not always - more imbued with a desire to understand and value difference than has usually been argued; however, almost every aspect of this relationship needs fuller and broader exploration than is attempted here, whether it be the admiration in Britain for Japanese arms, medicine or writing or for British engravings, spectacles or even cuisine in Japan. I hope that, for myself and others, it will prove to be a waymark.