John Saris (c. 1580 – 1643) was the captain of the first English voyage to Japan, in 1613, on board the Clove. As chief factor of the British East India Company's trading post in Java, Saris' mission was primarily one of seeking trade. Saris had started his career under command Henry Middleton on the company's second voyage to Asia.
Although the better known William Adams was the first Englishman to arrive in Japan in April 1600, he did so as the navigator of the Dutch ship Liefde, rather than aboard an English ship. Saris received much aid from Adams, who had become the shogun's advisor on foreign affairs. As a result, Saris was able to meet with the retired shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and his son, the Shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada. The shōgun promised Saris extensive trade benefits for the English, and suggested, along with Adams, the port of Uraga as a strategic point of access to Edo Bay. But Saris decided to place the English trade factory far from the Shogun's capital in Hirado, in Kyūshū, Japan's southernmost island.
At the end of 1613, Saris left Japan for England, never to return to the Far East. He left Richard Cocks in charge of the Hirado operation, which failed, due in large part to the extensive influence and power of the Dutch, who had already been established in Kyūshū for some time. English efforts to develop a trade relationship with China at this time failed as well, and so the Hirado factory was abandoned ten years later, in 1623.
Saris died in 1643, and is buried at All Saints Church, Fulham, London.
Saris' journals were published in 1900, as The Voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan, 1613, edited by Ernest M. Satow.
- K. Laughton, ‘Saris, John (1580/81–1643)’, rev. Trevor Dickie, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008
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