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The Clove was a ship of the British East India Company which arrived in Japan in 1613. Its arrival, bringing English John Saris, who exchanged formal letters and gifts from King James I with Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada and his retired father, Tokugawa Ieyasu, marked the beginning of official diplomatic relations between the Court of King James and the Tokugawa shogunate.

The ship departed England in January or April 1611, along with a small convoy of other ships, including the Thomas and the Hector. After stops in Madagascar, Yemen, India, and Java, the Clove arrived in Japan, at the port of Hirado, on June 11, 1613.

Saris brought formal letters from King James, and gifts totaling roughly £150 in value, a rather significant amount at that time. Saris had expected to meet with Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, but found that Ieyasu had retired in favor of his son, Tokugawa Hidetada. In Hirado, he met with William Adams, the English sea-captain who had become shipwrecked in Japan nearly 15 years earlier, and who remained in Japan as an advisor and retainer to Ieyasu. Adams accompanied Saris up to Sunpu and Edo, where he played a significant role in facilitating the exchanges and interactions. James' gifts were divided between the two Tokugawa men, with Hidetada receiving a valuable cup and cover, and Ieyasu a telescope, supposedly the first to ever be taken out of Europe; each of the two also received an amount of English wool. In return, Saris was presented with two suits of samurai armor (at least one of which is still held today at the Tower of London), ten folding screen paintings, responses to the King's letters, and a shuinjô (red seal certificate) granting formal permission for the English to live, travel, and trade throughout Japan. Sadly, none of these objects are extant today, with the exception of James' letters, Ieyasu's letters sent in response, and the suits of armor, which do survive.

Adams accompanied Saris and his men back down to Hirado, via Kyoto and Osaka. Saris and the Clove departed Japan on December 5 the same year, leaving a dozen staff led by Richard Cocks as the head of a new East India Company factory established at Hirado, a short distance from that of the Dutch East India Company, established in 1609. EIC branch offices were established in Osaka, Kyoto, and Edo.

Saris returned to Plymouth in September 1614, traveling to London that December. In addition to the gifts formally presented from the shogunate, Saris returned with a number of folding screens, pieces of lacquerware, and works of shunga. His sale of the lacquerwares is said to have been the first art auction ever held in England, and the sale of the screens the second. Meanwhile, the shunga, which Saris had obtained for his own personal interest, were destroyed by the company due to their scandalous nature.


  • "Historical Overview." Four Hundredth Anniversary of Japan-British Relations. Accessed 23 January 2013.