Nagasaki kaisho

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  • Other Names: 総勘定所 (sou kanjou sho)
  • Japanese: 長崎会所 (Nagasaki kaisho)

The Nagasaki kaisho, often referred to in English as a clearinghouse or customs house, was an agency established by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1698 to oversee and regulate commercial activity in Nagasaki. It quickly became the most powerful regulatory organ in the port city, and remained in operation until the fall of the shogunate in 1867.

The office oversaw nearly all import and export activity, with particular focus on the trade in copper, silk, and marine products, regulating as well the sale of imported products to Nagasaki merchants, and combating smuggling. It also oversaw inns for sailors (funayado) in the port town.

History and Operations

Among its many functions, the agency charged various fees, tariffs, and markups, earning revenues which contributed to maintaining its own operations and expanding shogunate coffers, though much of the money was also used to support the Nagasaki community. As Nagasaki was controlled directly by the shogunate, the merchants of Nagasaki were essentially direct subjects of the shogun, and thus entitled to a certain degree of protection and assurance of well-being from their lord. Thus, from 1663 onward, the Nagasaki bugyô (and, later, the Nagasaki kaisho) divided the profits from trade and tariffs among the districts of the city, after paying their own staffs. The amount paid out also derived from rents charged to Chinese merchants living in the Chinese compound, among other sources of official revenues. In years of particular difficulty for the merchant community, such as in 1713-1714, when epidemics killed an estimated 5,000 people in the city in the aftermath of a serious but temporary decline in trade in 1711, the bugyô-sho and kaisho did what they could to help out the merchant community even further. Of the roughly 161,000 ryô in profits the agency made in 1714, for example, roughly 70,000 was spent or paid out within Nagasaki, and roughly 76,000 was sent to the shogunate's Osaka treasuries; this in comparison to the closely similar figure, 171,000 ryô, spent by the lord of Kaga han in 1747 on domain expenditures.[1] These revenues were not distributed equally, however, but rather in different proportions to landowners and renters; further, the size of the frontage of one's property determined the degree to which one was obliged to contribute to public works projects, such as the construction of Dejima at the beginning of the 17th century, and of the Chinese compound some decades later, as well as for the construction of booms, bridges, and the like to help defend the port in times of crisis.[2]

The agency also handled the transference of imported copper and silver to agents of the shogunal mints, and the sale of certain Southeast Asian goods such as sappanwood, alum, and buffalo horn, to agents of Tsushima han, who could then present those luxury commodities as tribute goods to the Joseon Court.[1]

Once Japan started importing gold and silver from the 1760s onward, the kaisho levied taxes on these imports, 35% on gold and 7-9% on silver; the revenues from these levies went a long way to supporting the agency, and the people of Nagasaki, while the remainder of the gold and silver was sent to the shogunate's treasuries.[3]

In the 1860s, Chinese activity at Nagasaki plummeted dramatically, in part due to competition from Western traders, and the turmoil in China created by the Taiping Rebellion. Policies mandating the clearinghouse's control over trade at the port remained in place, however, and in fact had been expanded at that point; an 1857 Supplementary Treaty with the Dutch required the Dutch to purchase all their barley, rice flour, soybeans, and certain other goods from the clearinghouse, and the export of copper was now banned as well. As Western firms came to dominate the scene, however, and Chinese ships disappeared, copper and marine products which only Chinese merchants were permitted by shogunate law to trade in piled up in the clearinghouse's warehouses. The last Chinese merchants to visit Nagasaki and engage in any real business came in 1859, and by 1863, the Nagasaki kaisho decided to sell its inventory of marine products and copper on the local market, at a loss. The shogunate officially abandoned its monopoly on marine products in 1865/8, and closed the kaisho in 1867, though for all intents and purposes the clearinghouse / monopoly system had already seen its end nearly a decade earlier.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 56-59.
  2. Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 11-12.
  3. Hellyer, 84-85.
  4. Hellyer, 184.
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