Japan and Gulliver’s Travels

Armagh Public Library holds a 1726 first edition of Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First A Surgeon, And Then A Captain Of Several Ships, commonly known as Gulliver’s Travels, written by Jonathan Swift. It is one of the Library’s main attractions, and is of particular interest to our Japanese visitors.


Gulliver’s Travels, written at a time when Japan was increasingly visited by English and Portuguese millionaires, contains a short story featuring Japan in part III of the book. The main character, Lemuel Gulliver, visits Japan, the only real country to occur in the book besides the fictional countries Swift created. It is argued that Swift used the country of Japan to contrast both Dutch and European customs, by presenting the Japanese as reasonable in a period when Europe was generally distrustful of Asian countries.

In the satire Swift also showed his opposition to the Dutch policy of freedom of religion which loosely began in the late 16th century. Gulliver poses as a Dutchman throughout his travels in Japan, but his nationality is called into question because he has not ‘trampled on the crucifix’ as the other Dutchmen do in the story.

Jonathan Swift’s interest in Japan resulted in another of work on Japan being published in 1728, An Account of the Court and Empire of Japan.


Windows on Japan: A Walk through Place and Perception by Bruce Roscoe, Algora Publishing: 2007
Gulliver’s Travels and Japan: A New Reading by Phillip E. Williams, Amherst House: 1977