Like Devils Outside Their Land

Coen’s vision of Japanese troops was not shared by everyone in the Company.  While their superiors in Batavia made bold statements about the value of Japanese troops, VOC officials tasked with carrying out these instructions were far less persuaded that these were the right recruits to fill the organization's labor shortage.  This was the case with Jacques Specx, the chief merchant or opperhoofd in Japan, who had the difficult task of actually recruiting hundreds of Japanese mercenaries and shipping them off to Southeast Asia.  Specx cautioned that it might not be so easy to harness the warlike energies of Japan as his superiors imagined. The Japanese, he explained, “are dangerous to govern outside their land.  If things do not go to their liking or when badly treated, they at once take a desperate attitude, which in their land would be prevented by rigorous justice or rather by tyranny.  In this way they are lambs [in Japan] and like devils outside their land.”

Source: Contract signed with Japanese Mercenaries


Specx sought to control the Company’s new recruits by binding Japanese mercenaries to draconian contracts that would ensure this subservience. He explained that all the new recruits had been placed “under an appropriate oath and articles that I put together and translated in the Japanese language and writing.” The contract itself is included here. It begins much as a standard VOC contract that was issued to thousands of Dutch sailors and soldiers but becomes steadily more draconian. The recruits were to submit to total control by Dutch authorities and to pledge their willingness “to be used in any way by the captain, on the ship as well as ashore.” They were not simply to accept all these orders but they were never to speak back, pledging they “will not speak back when given orders by the boatswain.” But the key provision was that at any attempt at violent resistance would result in the most terrible consequences. They must “never oppose with threats the captain or other authorities, nor attack their persons.” If they were to do these things, the punishment would be swift and absolute and it would extend beyond their persons. In this way, the document went much further than standard contracts by threatening to punish the “parents, wives, children and those standing security for them” if the recruit violated his oath. The intent of the contract is clear: to bind Japanese mercenaries and their families in a web of legal responsibilities that would ensure their absolute obedience to the Company.

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“Articles that the Japanese in the service of the Company sailing to Bantam aboard the ship Enckhuijsen and the junk Fortuijn to Bantam have agreed and promised to uphold by their signatures.

  1. First, that at no time or place will they start brawls or engage in fighting.
  2. That they will never indulge in gambling or games.
  3. That at no time and in no place will they drink to intoxication.
  4. That at no time and in no place will they bother or assault married women and girls.
  5. That at no time and in no place will they oppose or be disobedient towards the captain, the pilot or any Dutch authority.
  6. That they will never mutiny against authority or cause trouble, and that if this happens, they will not join such acts, but in every case will allow themselves to be used willingly and submissively.
  7. Those that show disobedience towards the captain or other authorities will be put ashore [in Hirado] and not taken overseas.
  8. That they will allow themselves to be used in any way by the captain, on the ship as well as ashore.
  9. That they will not speak back when given orders by the boatswain, the captain or any authorities but will always obey them.
  10. That they will never oppose with threats the captain or other authorities, nor attack their persons. The punishment for this is death.  Further, their parents, wives, children and those standing security for them will be punished if this happens as they are also obligated by the contract.
  11. That they will not show any unwillingness or negligence onboard ship or ashore but will perform their services capably.  At no time will they deny that they have understood these promises but will industriously perform everything at any time ordered to them for 36 months which is the period of their contract [literally: bondage].  Together with their securities they have signed these articles.

In the year and age named Iewa guannien [first year of Genna] in the 11th month and 11th day.”

Citation: Aenteckeningen van de timmeragie ongelden montcosten provision ende maentgelden gedaen en betaelt inty equipperen van de joncke als nu genaempt de fortuijne, VOC 1062, 118-119v, De archieven van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, Nationaal Archief, Den Haag,

Source: Portrait of Jacques Specx


This is a portrait of Jacques Specx, the long-serving chief merchant for the VOC in Japan who would later rise to become Governor-General in Batavia from 1629 to 1632. Here he is shown surrounded by objects connected with Japan, signifying his long tenure in that country.

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Citation: Portrait of Jacques Specx, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, Anonymous, 1629-1675, RP-P-OB-67.334, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam