François Caron (1600–1673) was a French Huguenot refugee to the Netherlands who served the Dutch East India Company (VOC) for 30 years, rising from cabin boy to Director-General at Batavia (Jakarta), only one grade below Governor-General. He was later to become Director-General of the French East Indies Company (1667–1673).
He is sometimes considered the first Frenchman to set foot in Japan: he was actually born in Brussels to a family of French Huguenot refugees; but he only became a naturalized citizen of France when he was persuaded by Colbert to become head of the French East Indies Company, which was intended to compete with the Dutch and the English in Asia. He disputes that honour with the French Dominican missionary Guillaume Courtet.
Caron began as a cook's mate on-board the Dutch ship Schiedam bound for Japan, where he arrived in 1619. His language skills had developed; and in 1627, he traveled to Edo as the interpreter for the VOC mission to the shogunal capital. He is not quite the first known instance of Franco-Japanese relations, since he was preceded by the visit of Hasekura Tsunenaga to France in 1615.
Caron stayed in Japan for over twenty years, from 1619 to 1641, eventually becoming the VOC's opperhoofd (chief factor or merchant) in Japan. During this period, he married a Japanese woman (the daughter of Eguchi Ju;zaemon) and had six children. His entire family followed him to Nagasaki when the Japanese forced the Dutch to abandon their outpost at Hirado; The family moved with him to Batavia when he left Japan in 1641.
In 1626, Caron was working in Hirado as full assistant. On April 9, 1633, Caron was promoted as a senior merchant, making him the second ranking Company official in Japan. On February 12, 1639, he succeeded Nicolaes Couckebacker as President and head of the Company's trade in Japan.
The Company's headquarters were moved from Hirado, while he had put a Christian year on the warehouse (1638), to Dejima in Nagasaki in 1641.