Japan-Ming trade (日明貿易)

The Japan-Ming trade indicates the trade carried on between Japan and the Ming Dynasty in China in the Muromachi period. Japan-Ming trade was also called the tally trade, because Kangofu (certificate to show that the ship is lawfully registered by Ming) was used in the trade. The Japan-Ming trade can equal the Japan-Korea Trade (trade between Japan and Yi Dynasty Korea) and the trade between China and countries in the southern sea (Indochina, Malay and etc).


The Ming Dynasty in China, founded by Gensho SHU (Emperor Kobu) in 1368, demanded that Japan should suppress the wako (Japanese pirates, early wako) ravaging East Asia. Furthermore, it dispatched an envoy to Japan with a mission to persuade Japan to pay tributes to the court of the Ming Dynasty. In those days, Japan was in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) when the Northern Court in Kyoto supported by the Ashikaga clan confronted the Yoshino Court (the Southern Court). The Imperial Prince Kaneyoshi taking sides with the Southern Court, who worked in the northern Kyushu, had been conferred a peerage of 'King of Japan' in return for the tributes he paid to the court of the Ming Dynasty.

Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, the third Shogun of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), sent Sadayo IMAGAWA (Ryoshun) to Kyushu, having him expel the members supporting the Southern Court. Then, he started negotiations with the Ming Dynasty, however the diplomatic relationship between Japan and Ming was not established at that time due to "the Koiyo no goku" (the incident in which Koiyo was executed on the suspicion of espionage) broke out in the Ming in 1380. Yoshimitsu accomplished the unification of the Southern and Northern Courts in 1392, and then defeated Yoshihiro OUCHI in the Oei War in 1399 who had individually carried on private trade.

Adopting the recommended proposal made by a Hakata merchant Koitomi, he sent a Buddhist priest Soa and Koitomi as envoys to the Ming Dynasty in 1401. They returned to Japan the next year with a sovereign's message that the emperor of the Ming Dynasty would confer a peerage of 'King of Japan' on Yoshimitsu. While envoys dispatched from the Ming were staying in Japan, there was a political coup in the Ming, by which the Emperor Yongle ascended the throne. After that, the Ming Dynasty sent a sovereign's message again, which resulted in the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Japan and the Ming Dynasty.

The fourth Shogun, Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA, who assumed the post of Shogun after Yoshimitsu's death, and a former Kanryo (shogunal deputy) Yoshimasa SHIBA and others were dissatisfied with the system that Japan had to pay tributes to the court of Ming unilaterally. They stopped trading temporarily in 1411, but the trade between two countries was resumed in the period of the sixth Shogun, Yoshinori ASHIKAGA. After the Onin War, the trade was managed by the Hosokawa clan; a Kanryo Family (families in the position of the shogunal deputy) putting headquarters in Sakai, the Ouchi clan that had won Hyogo as a reward after the war, as well as influential merchants in Hakata and Sakai City.

The Ouchi clan gained the rights and interests after the Neiha war in 1523. Yoshitaka OUCHI resumed dispatching Kenminsen (envoy ships dispatched to Ming China) in 1536. After Yoshitaka was killed in a rebellion (the revolt of Daineiji) plotted by a retainer Harukata SUE in 1551, Yoshinaga OUCHI (younger brother of Yoshishige OTOMO), who had succeeded Yoshitaka as the lord of the Ouchi clan, issued orders with his brother Yoshishige OTOMO and sent an envoy to the Ming in 1556 and 1557 for seeking the resumption of trade (from "Ming jitsuroku" [authentic account on the Ming]). However, the Ming refused this offer, regarding Yoshinaga as a person who had usurped power. Furthermore, the Ouchi clan fell both in name and in reality after Yoshinaga was defeated and killed by Motonari MORI in 1557. Thereby the possibility of resuming the trade was thwarted, with the result that the illegal trade carried on by wako (late wako) became the key trade in East Asia.


The Japan-Ming trade took the form of having the Shogun of the Muromachi bakufu conferred a peerage of 'King of Japan' by the Ming emperor, and in return he paid tributes to the emperor. This trade was a restricted trading, carried out 19 times from 1401 to 1549. After 1404, the Ming Dynasty distinguished the official traders from wako by issuing Kangofu to Japan, limiting the trade to the kangosen (trading vessels with Kangofu between Japan and the Ming in the Muromachi period) because it was easily confirmed as an official vessel of Kenminshi (Japanese envoys to Ming Dynasty China). Moreover, frequency of trade was regulated based on the Sentoku treaty concluded in 1432. There were two kinds of Kangofu, 'nichi-ji kango' (authorized tally with a Japanese letter "日" [pronounced nichi]) and 'hon-ji kango' (authorized tally with a Japanese letter "本" [pronounced hon]). The 'Hon-ji kango' was used for a vessel operated from Japan to the Ming, while the 'nichi-ji kango' was used from the Ming to Japan. Powerful merchants in Hakata and Sakai, etc. also got on Kenminsen, carrying on private trades with merchants who had obtained permission from the Ming government.

With the start of the tally trade (between Japan and the Ming dynasty), wako lost momentum. Imported materials including textiles, calligraphic works and paintings influenced the culture in the Muromachi period such as the Kitayama culture and the Higashiyama culture.

Exported goods:

Minerals such as sulfur and copper, fans, swords, lacquer ware, folding screen and others

Imported goods:

Minsen (Eiraku-tsuho, bronze coins produced in the Ming Dynasty), raw silk thread, textiles, book and others

In this trade, the copper of Japan was exported to the Ming at an extremely higher price than the domestic price. The reason for this discrepancy was that China had been chronically suffering from copper shortage since the beginning of its history, as well as the copper imported from Japan contained silver in no small measure. Japan in those days did not have the technology for extracting silver from copper the Ming had.
As a result, the copper of Japan was exchanged at 'a high rate for copper, but low rate for silver.'


Note: the year of dispatch, person or organization that ordered dispatch (the name of the dispatched envoy) in that order

1401: Bakufu (Soa)

1403: Bakufu (Kenchu Keimitsu)

1404: Bakufu (Myoshitsu Bonryo)

1405: Bakufu (MINAMOTO no Michikata)

1407: Bakufu

1408: Bakufu

1408: Bakufu

1410: Bakufu

1433: Bakufu

1435: Bakufu

1453: Bakufu

1468: Bakufu, the Hosokawa clan, and the Ouchi clan

1477: Bakufu

1484: Bakufu

1495: Bakufu and the Hosokawa clan

1509: The Hosokawa clan (Sosokei)

1512: The Hosokawa clan and the Ouchi clan (Ryoan Keigo)

1523: The Ouchi clan (Kendo Sosetsu)

1523: The Hosokawa clan (Ranko Zuisa)

1540: The Ouchi clan (Koshin Sekitei)

1549: The Ouchi clan (Sakugen Shuryo)