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Views on foreigners during the Edo Period - Intro Lesson

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Social Studies +1 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old)

This lesson serves as an introduction to the Edo Period in Japan. The module is centered around the artwork "Southern Barbarians," a folding screen painting depicting the arrival of Portuguese traders to a Japanese port, a common scene previous to the Sakoku (closed country) period. After a close analysis of the folding screen, students contrast the scene depicted in the artwork with the proscriptions of the Sakoku edict of 1635 and the Portuguese exclusion edict of 1639. The stark contrast between these two trade scenarios will help students understand the nuance of the political and economic situation of Edo Japan. Additionally, transitioning from a scene where international trade is robust and ordinary, to the drafting of these two edicts severely curtailing this very trade, will lead students to inquire into the extent, as well as the limitations of the closed country period. 


Lesson plan (1 - 2 hours) 

1. "Southern Barbarians" illustrates and extends understanding of the ‘Nanbanjin’ as well as Nanban trade previous to Edo Japan. 'Nanbanjin' referred to Southern European, usually Spanish and Portuguese. The teacher will explain the main traits of Nanban art in order to elucidate further details of the artwork other than the ones that the students observe during the routine. 

For further reference on Nanban Art, read pages 71-142 of the book referenced here. The text contains multiple other examples of folding screens from the period.

See: 

Weston, Victoria. Portugal, Jesuits and Japan: Spiritual Beliefs and Earthly Goods. Chestnut Hill, MA: McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, 2013. Print.

Link to online copy: https://archive.org/details/portugaljesuitsj00west 

2. Class completes a 'See, Think, Wonder' routine with the resource "Southern Barbarians in Japan." The artwork is full of details (such as the man carrying fabric from another Asian port because the Portuguese served as relay traders in the region). This routine might take 30 minutes or more to complete for this reason. 

As part of a World History class, the teacher could highlight these historic "easter eggs" in the artwork and tie in other topics from class such as cotton and silk trade, slavery, navigation technology, missionaries in the East or the Portuguese empire and extension among other subjects present in the folding screen.  

While at first, the Project Zero routines will help to understand the period, the actors and the reasons for drafting the two edicts, the teacher should also emphasize at the end of the routine why this type of art existed and how Japanese viewed Nanban trade. The purpose is to begin the discussion of Edo Japan with an understanding of the complex world of foreign relations, cultural forces and international commerce at the time.  

3. Following this analysis, students perform a close reading and discussion of the edicts of 1635 and 1639. The Project Zero routine 'Explanation Game' should help guide the reading of the edicts. Students first read the edicts on their own, clarify obtuse language, and highlight a few proscriptions that they believe define the Sakoku period. Following this, students complete the 'Explanation Game' routine in small groups. 

4. At the end of this introductory lesson, the teacher leads a group discussion on the edicts, establishing the main proscriptions and political reasons to ban the Portuguese traders. Teacher should clarify the political and social situation of Japan at the time, the presence of the Spanish and Portuguese traders in neighboring countries and the expansion of their respective empires. If class will continue exploring the nuances of the Edo Period, then the teacher could also briefly explain the difference in operations between the Dutch traders and the Portuguese traders. 


Additional resources

Mini-lesson plan (30 minutes)

The remaining resources in this collection allow to further explore the other foreigners in Edo Japan in order to nuance the discussion of international trade and foreign relations during the period. Smaller groups of 3-5 students can analyze separately various ukiyo-e of foreigners, while completing a 'Question Starts' visible thinking routine and discussing their findings at the end of class period with their classmates.