'Great help from Japan': The Dutch East India Company's experiment with Japanese soldiers

Adam Clulow

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


This chapter examines a short-lived VOC experiment to recruit soldiers in Japan and dispatch them to fight on behalf of the organisation in Southeast Asia. As a number of historians have noted, the Japanese mercenary was not an unfamiliar figure in Southeast Asia in this period. In the early seventeenth century, Japanese fighters found employment in Siam, where successive kings deployed a large contingent of these troops; in the Philip-pines, where Japanese recruits engaged in the bloody suppression of Chinese revolts on behalf of their Spanish masters; and in Cambodia, where Japanese recruits bolstered local forces gathered to resist a potential invasion. But if there were parallels, the Company’s recruits were also set apart. This chapter argues that a small group of VOC officials enthusiastically embraced Japanese soldiers as part of their drive to solve the perennial European problem of inadequate military manpower in Asia. In the process, they departed from past patterns by attempting to engineer the figure of the professional Japanese mercenary, constrained by draconian contracts and governed by Dutch officers. Not surprisingly, however, the vision put forward by high-ranking officials, most of whom had never visited Japan, clashed with the reality on the ground where Japanese recruits proved unruly soldiers who became embroiled in a series of disciplinary incidents.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Dutch and English East India Companies
Subtitle of host publicationDiplomacy, Trade and Violence in Early Modern Asia
EditorsAdam Clulow, Tristan Mostert
Place of PublicationLeiden The Netherlands
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
Number of pages32
ISBN (Print)9789462983298
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Mercenaries
  • non-state violence
  • Southeast Asia
  • Hirado. Amboyna Conspiracy Trial

Cite this