After a period of exposure to European interests, Japan secluded itself in the 1630s. George Lensen wrote in "The Russian Push Towards Japan":

On the eve of her seclusion, Japan had begun to expand into southeast Asia and her countrymen had made their way to the Philippines, Annam, Siam, and Java, establishing flourishing colonies there. But her voluntary isolation had compelled Japan not only to restrict her territorial expansion, but to scuttle her naval efforts, and to discontinue the construction of big seagoing vessels.

How substantial were those Japanese colonies and how long did they last? Were they primarily trading posts or attempts at administering territory? Java is much farther south than the other locations cited, so why was it a destination?

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    I don't know George Lensen's work well. Being familiar with this region, I can only think there were significant East Asia and Southeast Asia trade during 14th to 18th century - maritime and mainland (Burmese, Siamese and Cambodian). As you've pointed out too, Edo period was especially anti-foreign influence. The only thing I can think of in terms of "colony" were trading posts, not colonised states as such (i.e. the imposition of a governing system). I wonder if this is what you're asking about.
    – J Asia
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 8:05
  • I've added "in Southeast Asia" to the question (title) because that seems to be the region of focus.
    – J Asia
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 8:13
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    @JAsia Obviously. For as for Hokkaido/Sakhalin/Kuril islands colonization, it continued more or less.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 9:42
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    At a stretch, my conjecture would be that Lensen meant the Red seal trade and leave it at that.
    – J Asia
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 12:31
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    I do not know if this has been already considered, but one of the meanings of colony is A group of people of one nationality or race living in a foreign place. ‘the British colony in New York’. en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/colony. If that was the meaning, a significant portion of the Japanese colony could just be laborers/soldiers/etc. employed by other, non-Japanese people, and not a "Japanese commercial colony"
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 22:34

1 Answer 1


Japanese quasi-colonialism in the 17th century mostly took place in Siam. There, the king had hired Japanese mercenaries to fight his battles, and these mercenaries threatened to take over the country from the early part of the century to 1630, until they were driven out. This was not a move that had the blessing of the Japanese government (from which the Japanese in Thailand were refugees), but more like the unchecked actions of the rogue Kwantung Army against China, centuries later.

Java and the Philippines at the time were respectively Dutch and Spanish colonies. The Japanese established trading posts, there, with the blessings of the respective governments. Ditto for Annam, which was then under "native," not European rule.


As J. Asia's link in his comment to the question points out, the Philippines' case was a "hybrid" of the Siam case on one hand, and the other cases on the other hand. That is, at various times, the Japanese there were welcomed by the local authorities, were in rebellion against those authorities, and later were assimilated by the local people. Japanese were much more welcome in modern Indonesia where the ruling Dutch "co-opted" fierce Japanese mercenaries for their own defense.

  • good find on the Siam story. about the "blessings", though, the WP article that J Asia linked says that "When the Spaniards reached the island of Luzon in 1571, they found Japanese colonies and settlements". it doesn't sound like the Spaniards had much choice in the matter.
    – user18968
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 17:09
  • @AaronBrick: Added a new last paragraph to incorporate J. Asia's link. Hope it helps.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 16:36

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