Trade between Japan and the Yuan Dynasty (日元貿易)

Nichigenn-boueki was the trade relationship held between Japan and the Yuan Dynasty.


There is a strong impression that the relationship between Japan and the Yuan Dynasty was under the severe strain since there were two Mongol invasion attempts against Japan. However, one of the reasons why Yuan Dynasty wanted to invade Japan was to gain the economic advantage; therefore, Yuan Dynasty was eager to establish the economic ties with Japan and Japan also had a strong desire to maintain the economic ties with the Chinese continent established by the trade between Japan and Sung Dynasty in China. Therefore, over the period between the trade between Japan and China's Sung Dynasty ended and the trade between Japan and China's Ming Dynasty was established (between the late Kamakura period and the period of the Northern and Southern Courts in Japan), the economical and cultural exchanges had become active between Japan and the Yuan Dynasty despite of the political tension between the two countries. The merchant ship on which the person named 'Totaro Nyudonine' was aboard was wrecked off the coast of Hinoshima (present-day Hinoshima, Shinkamigoto-cho, Nagasaki Prefecture) in 1298 and it is assumed that the luggage belonged to the persons concerned the Tokuso Family of the Hojo clan were among the luggage tossed into the sea ("aokata monjo," the written records of the Aokata clan). Also, the merchant ship sank off the coast of present-day Sinan, Jeollanam-do, in the South Korea around 1323 was discovered in 1976 and the goods appeared to be imported from the Yuan Dynasty to Japan, a large amount of Chinese pottery and the copper coin, as well as a lot of relics made in Japan and China were discovered (the wrecked ship found in Shinan, South Korea).

Yuan Dynasty adopted the policy to allow Japanese merchant ships to travel and trade in their country; for example, the Japanese merchant ship returned safely home from Mingzhou (Qingyuan) in 1276 when Yuan Dynasty conquered Rinan, the capital of Southern Sung Dynasty, and took over the major part of the country. The Koan War temporarily halted the trade; however, the quasi-official trade relationship came to be established since Japan promoted the trade actively by dispatching the trading vessels, Kenchojibune (the trading vessels dispatched to cover the costs of repair and construction on Kencho-ji Temple) and Tenryujibune (the trading vessels dispatched to cover the costs of repair and construction on Tenryu-ji Temple), to Yuan Dynasty in order to raise funds to build a temple or a shrine with permissions of the Japanese Imperial Court and the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in the end of the 13th century while increasing the guard against Yuan Dynasty. On the other hand, because some Yuan Dynasty's government officials imposed high tariffs on Japanese merchant ships and put unjustified pressures on Japanese crews after Mongol failed to invade Japan, Japanese armed and rebelled against them; thus, they turned into the early wako (Japanese pirates).

Exported goods from Japan were gold, silver, copper, mercury, sulfur, swords, fans, raden (shell inlay) and makie (Japanese lacquer sprinkled with gold or silver powder) products and imported goods from Yuan Dynasty were copper coins, pottery and chinaware, tea, books, calligraphic works and paintings, Buddhist scriptures, stationeries, medicinal materials, perfume materials, silks interwoven with gilt threads, baldachin, twill fabrics, and brocades. Also, there were cases of Japanese Zen monks to hitch rides on merchant ships and migrate to the Chinese continent to undergo training. Exporting minerals and handicrafts and importing "karamono" (Chinese goods) represented by cultured and luxury goods had great impacts on the Japanese economy and culture. Also, the practice of exporting copper materials and importing copper coins (the Yuan currency) indicates the Japan's special circumstance, the fact that Japan did not have the ability to cast copper into coins at the time. In addition, Japanese swords were cherished as arms in the Yuan Dynasty and continued to be exported to the Chinese continent in the future generations.