Japan in Gulliver’s Travels

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Map showing Japan, with Luggnagg, Balnibarbi and other lands to the east (original map, Pt III, Gulliver's Travels ) Lugnagg.jpg
Map showing Japan, with Luggnagg, Balnibarbi and other lands to the east (original map, Pt III, Gulliver's Travels )

Japan is referred to in Gulliver's Travels , the satire by Jonathan Swift.

<i>Gullivers Travels</i> novel by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels, or Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, is a prose satire by Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift, that is both a satire on human nature and the "travellers' tales" literary subgenre. It is Swift's best known full-length work, and a classic of English literature. He himself claimed that he wrote Gulliver's Travels "to vex the world rather than divert it".

Jonathan Swift 17th/18th-century Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, and poet

Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.


Part III of the book has the account of Lemuel Gulliver's visit to Japan, the only real location visited by him. It is used as a venue for Swift's satire on the actions of Dutch traders to that land. His description reflects the state of European knowledge of the country in the 17th and early 18th centuries, and the tensions due to commercial rivalry between the English and the Dutch at that time.

Lemuel Gulliver fictional character

Lemuel Gulliver is the fictional protagonist and narrator of Gulliver's Travels, a novel written by Jonathan Swift, first published in 1726.

Japan Constitutional monarchy in East Asia

Japan is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies off the eastern coast of the Asian continent and stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south.


Japan is shown on the map at the beginning of part III, [1] which also shows the island of "Yesso" (i.e. Hokkaido), "Stats island" (Iturup) and "Companys Land" (Urup) to the north. The map also marks the Vries Strait and Cape Patience, though this is shown on the northeast coast of Yesso, rather than as part of Sakhalin, which was little known in Swift’s time. On the island of Japan itself the map shows "Nivato" (Nagato), Yedo, "Meaco" (Kyoto), Inaba and "Osacca" (Osaka)

Hokkaido Island, region, and prefecture of Japan

Hokkaido, formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso, is the second largest island of Japan, and the largest and northernmost prefecture. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu. The two islands are connected by the undersea railway Seikan Tunnel. The largest city on Hokkaido is its capital, Sapporo, which is also its only ordinance-designated city. About 43 km north of Hokkaido lies Sakhalin Island, Russia. To its east and north-east are the disputed Kuril Islands.

Iturup island

Iturup is one of the Kuril Islands. It was formerly known as Staten Island. It is the largest and northernmost island in the southern Kurils, ownership of which is disputed by Japan and Russia.

Urup island

Urup is an uninhabited volcanic island in the Kuril Islands chain in the south of the Sea of Okhotsk, northwest Pacific Ocean. Its name is derived from the Ainu language word for salmon trout. It was formerly known as Company's Land.

The text describes Gulliver's journey from Luggnagg, which took fifteen days, and his landing at "Xamoschi" (i.e. Shimosa [2] ) which lies "on the western part of a narrow strait leading northward into a long arm of the sea, on the northwest part of which Yedo, the metropolis stands". [3] This description matches the geography of Tokyo Bay, except that Shimosa is on the north, rather than the western shore of the bay.


Luggnagg is an island kingdom, one of the imaginary countries visited by Lemuel Gulliver in the satire Gulliver's Travels by Anglo-Irish author Jonathan Swift.

Tokyo Bay Bay of Japan area

Tokyo Bay is a bay located in the southern Kantō region of Japan, and spans the coasts of Tokyo, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Chiba Prefecture. Tokyo Bay is connected to the Pacific Ocean by the Uraga Channel. Its old name was Edo Bay. The Tokyo Bay region is both the most populous and largest industrialized area in Japan.


Following early contacts with Portuguese and Spanish explorers and missionaries Christianity became established in Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries. However it became enmeshed in the civil disorder and wars of the pre-Shogun period and with the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate was proscribed and fiercely repressed. Japan adopted a closed-door policy and European traders were expelled. At this point the custom of e-fumi , "trampling on the crucifix", was introduced as a test for Christians, both in the country and for travellers arriving there. Higgins states [4] that e-fumi "was at the suggestion of Dutch traders who had no scruple about doing so".

Tokugawa shogunate Last feudal Japanese military government which existed between 1600 and 1868

The Tokugawa Shogunate, also known as the Tokugawa Bakufu (徳川幕府) and the Edo Bakufu (江戸幕府), was the last feudal Japanese military government, which existed between 1603 and 1867. The head of government was the shōgun, and each was a member of the Tokugawa clan. The Tokugawa shogunate ruled from Edo Castle and the years of the shogunate became known as the Edo period. This time is also called the Tokugawa period or pre-modern.

Swift satirizes the practice of the Dutch by having Gulliver request, with the backing of the king of Luggnagg, that he be excused from this test, despite claiming to be Dutch himself. He reports the Emperor of Japan was “a little surprised at this, as I was the first of my countrymen to make a scruple of the point” and that he "began to doubt that I was a real Hollander but suspected I might be a Christian," a satire on the Dutch trader who claimed he was "not a Christian but a Dutchman". [5] The Emperor also warned that if the secret should be found out by Gulliver’s countrymen, the Dutch, they would assuredly cut his throat in the voyage. [6]

On his arrival at "Nangasac" (Nagasaki), Gulliver was able to find passage on a ship, which Swift names as the Amboyna, of Amsterdam, a reference to the place of a notorious massacre by the Dutch of ten English traders in 1623. [7]


  1. Gulliver's Travels (GT), part III, ch I: Oxford World Classic (OWC) p140
  2. OWC Notes p339
  3. GT, part III, ch 11: OWC p201
  4. OWC Notes p339
  5. GT pt III, ch 11: OWC p201
  6. GT pt III, ch 11: OWC p201
  7. OWC Notes p340

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