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People of Many Nations

(Japan, 1649)

Not on View

Japan's first encounter with Europeans came in 1543 when Portuguese explorers landed on a small Japanese island. Decades of busy trade and cultural exchange followed, but within a hundred years the party was over. Japan's leaders adopted a seclusionist stance in the 1620s and '30s, and the country entered more than two hundred years of sakoku (literally, "closed country"). Travel to and from Japan was prohibited, but pictures and other information continued to trickle in, providing the Japanese with glimpses of the outside world. One such window into the world is this handheld scroll from 1649, showing people from forty different countries. Largely based on images the painter saw on an imported Dutch map, it is a striking reminder that Japan was never actually "closed."

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