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Bibliography Japan and the Japanese in printed works in Europe in the sixteenth century
By João Paulo Oliveira e Costa
Bulletin of Portuguese-Japanese Studies, No.14 (2007)
Introduction: Japan was practically isolated from the rest of the world when the first Portuguese disembarked there, in 1543. In Europe, it was only known that beyond China there was a huge island, Cipango, inhabited by heathens who had been capable of resisting the attacks of the Mongols, the conquerors of China. However, the location of Cipango did not coincide with that of Japan: the south of the archipelago lies roughly to the east of Korea and the extreme west of China, but European geographers placed Cipango opposite the southern provinces of the Middle Empire and in the middle of the ocean, rather than at a short distance from the mainland. Alongside this truthful yet imprecise information, other more fanciful information was circulating, which had been picked up by Marco Polo on the coast of the Celestial Empire, but which did not represent any kind of practical knowledge of the land of the Rising Sun and its inhabitants. In India, and even in eastern Asia little was heard of the islands of the Rising Sun, which appeared to be eclipsed by the Ryukyu archipelago, whose inhabitants acted as intermedi- aries between the Japanese and the exterior. It is therefore understandable that during the 45 years between the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Calicut and the appearance of Nanban in Tanegashima, only one Portuguese author, Tomé Pires, made reference to Japan. The fact that the news spread by Pires was not repeated is certainly a good example of how little was known about the country of Japan by the Asians. Relations between Europe and Japan would not begin until 1543.