Return to Japan

Return to Japan
Item# HASEKURATSUNENAGA007

Product Description

Return to Japan

By the time Hasekura came back, Japan had changed quite drastically: an effort to eradicate Christianity had been under way since 1614, Tokugawa Ieyasu had died in 1616 and been replaced by his more xenophobic son Tokugawa Hidetada, and Japan was moving towards the "Sakoku" policy of isolation. Because news of these persecutions arrived in Europe during Hasekura's embassy, European rulers – especially the King of Spain – became very reluctant to respond favorably to Hasekura's trade and missionary proposals.

Painting of the Pope Paul V remitted by Hasekura Tsunenaga to Date Masamune during his 1620 report; Sendai City Museum

Indonesian kris and Ceylonese dagger (acquired in the Philippines), presented by Hasekura to Date Masamune upon his return; Sendai City Museum Hasekura reported his travels to Date Masamune upon his arrival in Sendai. It is recorded that he remitted a portrait of Pope Paul V, a portrait of himself in prayer (shown above), and a set of Ceylonese and Indonesian daggers acquired in the Philippines, all preserved today in the Sendai City Museum. The "Records of the House of Masamune" describe his report in a rather succinct manner, ending with a rather cryptic expression of surprise bordering on the outrage ("奇怪最多シ") at Hasekura's discourse:

"Rokuemon went to the country of the Southern Barbarians, he paid his respects to the king Paolo, he stayed there for several years, and now he sailed back from Luzon. He brought paintings of the king of the Southern Barbarians, and a painting of himself, which he remitted. Many of his descriptions of the Southern Barbarian countries, and the meaning of Rokuemon's declarations were surprising and extraordinary."

Interdiction of Christianity in Sendai

The direct effect of Hasekura's return to Sendai was the interdiction of Christianity in the Sendai fief two days later:

"Two days after the return of Rokuemon to Sendai, a three-point edict against the Christian was promulgated: first, that all Christians were ordered to abandon their faith, in accordance with the rule of the Shogun, and for those who did not, they would be exiled if they were nobles, and killed if they were citizens, peasants or servants. Second, that a reward would be given for the denunciation of hidden Christians. Third that propagators of the Christian faith should leave the Sendai fief, or else, abandon their religion" (November 1620 letter of father Angelis, Japan-China archives of the Jesuits in Rome, quoted in Gonoi's "Hasekura Tsunenaga", p231),

What Hasekura said or did to bring about such a result is unknown. As later events tend to indicate that he and his descendants remained faithful Christians, Hasekura may have made an enthusiastic – and to a certain extent, disturbing – account of the greatness and might of Western countries and the Christian religion. He may also have encouraged an alliance between the Church and Date Masamune to take over the country (an idea advertized by the Franciscans while in Rome), which, in 1620 Japan, would have been a totally unrealistic proposition. Lastly, hopes of trade with Spain evaporated when Hasekura communicated that the Spanish King would not enter an agreement as long as persecutions were occurring in the rest of the country.

Date Masamune, heretofore very tolerant of Christianity in spite of the Bakufu's prohibition in the land it directly controlled, thus suddenly chose to distance himself from the Western faith. The first executions of Christians started 40 days later. The anti-Christian measures taken by Date Masumune were however comparatively mild, and Japanese and Western Christians repeatedly claimed that he only took them to appease the Shogun:

"Date Masumune, out of fear of the Shogun, ordered the persecution of Christianity in his territory, and created several martyrs." (Letter of 17 prominent Japanese Christians from Sendai, to the Pope, 29 September 1621).

One month after Hasekura's return, Date Masamune wrote a letter to the Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada, in which he makes a very clear effort to evade responsibility for the embassy, explaining in detail how it was organized with the approval, and even the collaboration, of the Shogun:

"When I sent a ship to the Southern Barbarian countries several years ago, upon the advice of Mukai Shogen, I also dispatched the Southern Barbarian named Sotelo, who had resided for several years in Edo. At that time, your highness also gave messages for the Southern Barbarians, as well as presents, such as folding screens and sets of armour." (18 October 1620, quoted in Gonoi, p. 234).

Spain was by far the most threatening power for Japan at that time (with a colony and an army in the nearby Philippines). Hasekura eyewitness accounts of Spanish power and colonial methods in Nueva España (Mexico) may have precipitated the Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada's decision to sever trade relations with Spain in 1623, and diplomatic relations in 1624, although other events such as the smuggling of Spanish priests into Japan and a failed Spanish embassy also contributed to the decision.