The long Tokugawa era coincided with the rise of racial thought in the west. When the era began, the concept of “race” was still nascent in Europe and word itself was mostly used for breeds of dogs. Race offered an everlasting exegesis for the sources of Europe’s military and technological supremacy and a justification for its colonial exploitation. Moreover, race unified people of similar interests and creeds regardless of their nationality. Europeans visitors to early Tokugawa-era Japan depicted the local population as having white or fair skin. Toward the late seventeenth century, however, the fact that they began to avoid these colors in referring to Asians in general and the Japanese in particular is conspicuous. Tokugawa Japan was also exposed to certain antecedents of European racial thought from a scientific perspective. During the decades of seventeenth century, there was a proliferation of interest in Japan in global geography and ethnography, influenced by European cartography and by the Jesuits in particular.
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© 2022 selection and editorial matter, Gary P. Leupp and De-min Tao.
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