Phnom Penh

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Phnom Penh was a major port in the Cambodian kingdom of Angkor, and is today the capital of Cambodia.

The city was home to a small but influential Nihonmachi (Japantown) in the late 16th to early 17th centuries, numbering some 70-80 families in the late 1630s. The residents of the community were mostly exiled Japanese Christians, who played a prominent role in coordinating trade with Japan, and with Dutch and Portuguese merchants.

Like other ports in the region, Phnom Penh was plagued by pirates from time to time. In 1605, the king of Angkor complained directly to the Tokugawa shogunate about this problem; however, as was the case with Chinese and Korean complaints for centuries (and Chinese & Korean animosity regarding these pirates still today), the shogunate had no responsibility for the pirates, and no power to stop them.

At some point in the 1620s or 1630s, a Nagasaki-based interpreter known as Shimano Kenryo was dispatched to Phnom Penh by the Tokugawa shogunate.

The Japanese community was generally viewed positively by the king, as the community played some role in supporting him during succession disputes, or in preventing an attempted coup. However, unlike in some of the other ports of Southeast Asia, the Japanese in Cambodia received no special treatment, and shipped most of their goods not directly to Japan but via the stronger Japanese community in Hoi An, in central Vietnam; by the mid-17th century, this Japanese community in Hoi An was replaced, largely, by Chinese traders.

Archaeological excavations in 2008 revealed that the Japantown was likely located some 25 km north of Phnom Penh proper, in Ponhea Lueu commune, in what is today Cambodia's Kandal province.


  • Geoffrey Gunn, History Without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000-1800, Hong Kong University Press (2011), 227-228.