You may have read the news that the Royal Society of London has made available online its archives from the foundation in 1665 to 1881, so naturally I thought I’d see what people thought of Japan all these years ago. The earliest hit was from 1669 (doi: 10.1098/rstl.1669.0027 Phil. Trans. 1 January 1669 vol. 4 no. 45-56 983-986), in an article entitled “Some Observations Concerning Japan, Made by an Ingenious Person, That Hath Many Years Resided in That Country; as they Were Communicated in French by M. I; Whence they are Thus English’d by the Publisher; Who Some Months Agoe Accasion’d This Accompt by Some Queries, Sent to That Traveller“, which may be read online for free here.
The article title comes from this description of the Japanese:
Another article deals with the poison oak tree, the sap of which is used in Japan and China to make lacquer. Page 869 talks about it being known as Sitz-dsju and page 870 as the Fashi-no-ki. Can anyone decode either name into Japanese or Chinese? The current Japanese name is Urushi, but a relative is Rhus succedanea (or Toxicodendron succedaneum), or Hase-no-ki, which looks like a match.
There’s a search engine there, so have fun!