𝘕𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳 18, 2021
After watching a movie app last night, Melissa and I turned our viewing back to the regular lineup of cable TV. One of our go-to shows (aside from sports) is PBS, and we were able to catch the last half hour of Secrets of the Dead, “A Samurai in the Vatican.” In 1613, feudal lord Date Masamune sent a Japanese diplomatic mission to Europe to negotiate with the Pope and the King of Spain in hopes of opening a trade route with the new world. The delegation was led by samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga and Franciscan monk Luis Sotelo. The expedition lasted seven years and traveled one-third of the globe.
When I looked online, I found that Date Masamune (September 5, 1567 – June 27, 1636) was a regional ruler of Japan’s Azuchi–Momoyama period through the early Edo period. He was heir to a long line of powerful daimyō in the Tōhoku region and went on to establish the modern-day city of Sendai. Masamune expanded trade in the backwater Tōhoku region and encouraged foreigners to come to his land. Masamune showed sympathy for Christian missionaries and traders in Japan and allowed them to come and preach in his province. Masamune also released the missionary prisoner Padre Sotelo and allowed Sotelo and other missionaries to practice their religion and win converts in Tōhoku. Masamune funded and backed one of Japan’s few journeys of diplomacy and exploration in this period when he ordered the building of the Date Maru using foreign (European) ship-building techniques. While the envoy was to establish relations with the Pope in Rome, Masamune was likely motivated by a desire for foreign technology. Hasekura Tsunenaga, Sotelo, and an embassy of 180 people did establish relations with the Pope, but the trade agreement was never realized. At least five members of the expedition stayed in Coria (Seville) of Spain to avoid the persecution of Christians in Japan. Six hundred of their descendants surnamed Japón (Japan) still live in Spain.
From 1613 to 1620, Hasekura headed the Keichō Embassy mission to Pope Paul V and visited New Spain and various other ports-of-call in Europe. Samurai Hasekura is considered the first Japanese ambassador in the Americas and Spain, despite other less well-known and less well-documented missions preceding his mission. Although Hasekura’s embassy was cordially received in Spain and Rome, it happened at a time when Japan was moving toward the suppression of Christianity, and the European monarchs refused the trade agreements Hasekura had been seeking and he returned to Japan in 1620. Hasekura died of illness a year later. Japan’s next embassy to Europe would not occur until more than 200 years later, following two centuries of isolation, with the “First Japanese Embassy to Europe” in 1862. Much like Columbus, being “first” has a lot to do with advertising.
𝗧𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵𝘁𝘀: Having two advanced degrees in history, with one centered on the European Reformation, I am always surprised to learn what I do not know about the past. By the 17th century my emphasis shifted to America, and European politics and culture were only a background to what was now my expertise. Exploring new (to me) ideas and concepts is what makes it fun to be alive in our globalized internet connected world. There is no way to know everything, but when we browse the surface, we can decide whether of not to delve deeper. I can find out about a Japanese samurai who made a visit to the pope and how after his death, his wife, son, and even servants were killed for their Christian faith. With so much information at our fingertips, I am glad we have experts to help direct us. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.