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Pooling Capital and Spreading Risk: Maritime Investment in East Asia at the Beginning of the Seventeenth Century

  • Mihoko Oka and François Gipouloux


Foreign/long-distance trade has been one of the most popular themes in socio-economic history. However, the perceptions that we have of the role played by international trade in economic development is highly dependent on the actors we are focussing on. The universal actors of trade include ship owners, captains, crews, cargo owners, investors, mediators, agents, dealers, and so on. These actors, however, tend to be treated much like “merchants.” In this study, we focus particularly on capital investors to clarify the practical institutions of foreign trade that came to be organised in pre-modern maritime East Asia.

In Japan, the pooling of capital seems to have started in the early stages of foreign trade, although it can be clearly observed only in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with the advent of Sino–Japan trade on the ships authorised by the Ming dynasty. In this trade, merchants from Hakata and Sakai were particularly active in making investments, even though the nominal ship owners were the central government and/or powerful lords like the Ōuchi () and Hosokawa () family. This fact ensured that these two port cities emerged as the centres of capital pooling in Japan, and remained so till the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The form of investment, which is mainly associated with a particular part of Japan and which we try to clarify in this paper, has been called nagegane () in previous studies. The term nagegane usually refers to a type of investment wherein the payments are exempt in the case of a shipwreck; nagegane was utilised in the trades through Nagasaki during the seventeenth century. This exemption is very similar to cambio maritimo (bottomry), which was used in the medieval and pre-modern Mediterranean trade and transformed into prestamo à la gruesa (Spanish) or emprestimo ao risco (Portuguese), which was used in transoceanic Iberian trades.



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Pooling Capital and Spreading Risk: Maritime Investment in East Asia at the Beginning of the Seventeenth Century

  • Mihoko Oka and François Gipouloux


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