This is an early source describing how deerskins were used in Japan. Carletti was a Florentine merchant who circumnavigated the world between 1594 and 1606. He stayed in Japan in 1597 and 1598 where he recorded this description of how deerskins were used by Japanese artisans.
Cover of Carletti’s Description of Deerskins
“They also obtain very large numbers of buckskins, which they call sichino caga, and which they prepare in a curious manner, cunningly painting in them with various designs diverse pictures of animals, and other things. And they do this with the smoke from rice straw which colors the entire skin except the part which has been covered with the form of the pictures, which remain impressed and delineated on the white unsmoked part of the skin.”
Carletti’s Description of Deerskins.
Kleding van Japanners
Kleding van Japanners, Anonymous, 1600, Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-OB-75.407.
Joost Schouten was a Dutch East India Company factor in Japan. He wrote a famous description of Siam that was published in the seventeenth century. In his 1629 letter, he expressed frustration with the Company’s failed attempts to seize control of the deerskin trade. His particular focus was the head of the Japanese, Yamada Nagamasa, whose success in monopolizing the deerskin trade reduced opportunities for the VOC.
Joost Schouten’s Description of Siam
Most years two or at least one [Japanese] junks arrive together with the junk of the Opra or head of the Japanese in Siam … The Opra with good fortune through the capture of the galley of Don Fernando de Silva, the success of his voyages to Japan and now through the succession of the current king has grown greatly in wealth and strength so that now with his or others capital he can send his junk with 3000 piculs of sapanwood and 50,000 deerskins to Japan, which will go along with two smaller Japanese junks … If he succeeds, not only will he pull the trade to him, but it will also cut off the Company’s attempts to resume trade.
Joost Schouten’s description of Siam.
Hui-wen Koo has compiled a meticulous overview of the number of deerskins shipped out from Taiwan during the period of VOC colonization. The table shows that the Company frequently shipped out over 100,000 deerskins. Not surprisingly, the trade had a significant environmental impact on Taiwan, decimating the herds of deer that had once roamed the island.
Hui-wen Koo, “Deer Hunting and Preserving the Commons in Dutch Colonial Taiwan,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 42.2 (2011): 185-203.
While deer has been hunted for millennia, seventeenth-century Asia witnessed an unprecedented boom that turned deerskins into one of the most heavily traded commodities across the region. Hundreds of thousands of skins were shipped out each year. Fueling this sprawling trade was a seemingly insatiable demand for deer leather in Tokugawa Japan, which after decades of endemic warfare had entered a prolonged period of stability and economic growth. Across the course of the seventeenth century, the bulk of deerskins came from three places: Cambodia, Taiwan and Siam.