During the 16th century, Japan was among the countries in Asia that appealed most to European traders and missionaries. Around the 1540s it saw the arrival of numerous ships from Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and England. At first, the Japanese people welcomed them and were fascinated by the never-before-seen goods those people brought to the local market. From style of dress to firearms and artillery, the Japanese adopted the customs and purchased the goods the Europeans introduced to their country. What is more, on the island of Kyuushuu, in order to preserve the European trade in their lands, some feudal rulers known as daimyou agreed to be converted to Christianity. By the beginning of the 17th century half-a-million Japanese people had converted themselves to Christianity.
However, during this period of Europeanization, adverse feelings towards the foreigners started spreading across Japan. Moreover, after Spain's conquest of the Philippines, the then ruler Hideyoshi lost faith in Europeans' good intentions and started doubting the loyalty of the newly converted daimyou. The first step to the expulsion of the foreign traders and missionaries was made by him when he ordered the crucifixion of the main Catholic proselytizers and converts. But it was not until the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu that more drastic measures were taken.
Europeans' century-long presence in Japan ended in the 1630s when Iemitsu ordered the expulsion of every European from the country. Moreover, he gave permission to only one Dutch ship to trade with Japan during the year. His orders were reinforced after the execution of two Portuguese men who came to plead for the re-establishment of Japan's earlier foreign trade policy. In the 1630s, Iemitsu issued several isolationist edicts which prohibited people and goods, with a few exceptions, to enter or leave the country.
The most famous of those edicts was the Closed Country Edict of 1635. It contained the main restrictions introduced by Iemitsu. With it, he forbade every Japanese ship and person to travel to another country. The punishment for violation was death. The same thing applied to those who came from overseas. They too were risking death if they decided to enter Japan.
The edict offered lavish gifts and awards for anyone who could provide information about priests and their followers who secretly practiced and spread their religion across the country. Furthermore, every newly arrived ship was required to be thoroughly examined for Catholic priests and followers.
The document pays extremely close attention to every detail regarding incoming foreign ships. For example, the merchants coming from abroad had to submit a list of the goods they were bringing with them before being granted permission to trade them. Also, they were not allowed to sell their merchandise to just one of the trading cities of Japan. In this way, better distribution of goods was ensured. Additional provisions specified details of trade For example, the "date of departure homeward for foreign ships shall not be later than the twentieth day of the ninth month." In addition to this, Iemitsu forbade the changing of the originally set price for raw silk and thus made sure that competition between trading cities was brought to a minimum.
The measures Iemitsu enacted were so powerful that it was not until the reign of Tokugawa Ienobu, more than half a century later, that the seclusion of Japan began to fade.