The Role of Japanese Silver in World History
1.World Maps by foreigners
In the 16th century the name “Iwamiginzan” spread not only throughout Japan but also throughout the world, because it was an important mine for trade between Asia and Western countries. On a map drawn by Western Europeans during the 16th century, the only silver mine included was Iwamiginzan.
Tisera, who was a missionary of the Society of Jesus in Portugal, drew the map. It was printed in Antwerp in 1592. “Argenti fodinate” (silver mountain) is indicated in the “Hivami” (Iwami). As there are no other mines shown on this map, we can understand the location of Iwamiginzan was known to Europeans in the 16th century.
2.The Transportation of Japanese Silver
In the 16th century Silver was an important part of foreign trade for Japan. Up until the beginning of the 16th century, Japan imported silver. But the after “Haifuki Ho” was introduced to Iwamiginzan, Japan started to export silver. According to the historical material in “Chosen Oucho Jitsuroku“, smugglings were commonplace because of the availability Japanese silver. So, it was decided that there must be regulations.
Silver was transported via smuggling route through Japan, Korea and China. The writer Murai Syousuke, said that “Haifuki Ho” was introduced to Japan by following the same regulations as Korea. At the same time, the Western Europeans, Columbus and Vas-co da Ga-ma, discovered the new continent, and Spain and Portugal built a trading post in Asia to begin the export trade of spices to Europe. In 1543, Portuguese sailors came to Tanegashima and introduced guns to Japan. At that time, Iwamiginzan and other mines were well established and they began to increase silver production.
Japan was becoming one of the greatest silver producing countries. Spanish and Portuguese traders put forward a proposal of illegal trade with Chinese traders, because of the strict prohibition regulations set by China. In the first period of smuggling (14th～15th century) The smugglers were called “Zenki Wako”. All Japanese smugglers were given the name “Wako” by the Chinese and Koreans. In the 2nd period of smuggling, the Koki wako, the Wako consisted of a multiracial group composed of Chinese, Japanese and Europeans.
The Spanish and the Portuguese were able to trade with China by joining in this group. “Kenmei Sen” (a ship) went over to China from Japan between 1401 and 1547. At that time, public and private trade was taking place but only the last 2 public transactions were officially for silver. Soon England and the Netherlands began to trade with Japan. In the book, ”kokkusu Diary”, written at the beginning of the 17th century, it is written that fine quality silver called “Somo(Soma) Silver”, was exported. Iwamiginzan was called Soma Village at that time, so the writer.
Obata Atsushi, interpreted that Soma Silver was made in Iwamiginzan. However, there is a disagreement as Soma Silver was also similar in shape to the Soma Ship so the origin of the name Soma is unknown. (Enomoto Soji “Kinsei Ryogoku Kahei Kenkyuu Jyosetse”) In those days, Japanese silver production was about 200,000 kg a year which made up one-third of the world’s silver production. It is said that one-fifth of the world’s silver was produced in Iwamiginzan. It was one of the greatest mines in the world from the latter half of the 16th century to the beginning of the 17th century.
Obata Atsushi, a pioneer in the study of mining, has written a study on the trade of world and Japanese silver during that period. After studying many historical documents, the price ratio of gold to silver, and the conditions of trade are becoming cleat. In recent years, Murai Syosuke has written a study on Japanese silver and the Koki Wako using historical documents from Korea.
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