Timon ScreechOct 7, 2021
The Shogun's Silver Telescope
God, Art, and Money in the English Quest for Japan, 1600-1625
Oxford University Press 2020
An English mission to Japan arrives in 1613 with all the standard English commodities, including wool and cloth: which the English hope to trade for Japanese silver. But there’s a gift for the Shogun among them: a silver telescope.
As Timon Screech explains in his latest book, The Shogun’s Silver Telescope: God, Art, and Money in the English Quest for Japan, 1600-1625 (Oxford University Press, 2020), there was a lot of meaning behind that telescope. It represented an English state trying to chart its own part as a Protestant country, denoting their support for science and a more open culture in the face of a more backward Catholic Europe. Screech’s book charts the background behind this simple gift and what it meant for both Japan and England.
In this interview, Timon and I follow the English journeys to Japan, the reasons for these trips, and what the English encountered when they got there. And we’ll think about what we learn from this—ultimately failed—effort to start a trading relationship between these two islands.
Professor Timon Screech is Professor at Nichibunken or the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, after thirty years at SOAS. He is the author of at least a dozen books on the visual culture of the Edo period, including perhaps his best-known work Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Images in Japan, 1700-1820 (University of Hawaii Press, 1999). His other most recent book (and previous interview subject) is Tokyo Before Tokyo: Power and Magic in the Shogun’s City of Edo (Reaktion Books: 2020). In 2019, he was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy.
Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.