Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Japanese In Sixteenth Century Alcudia

The Portuguese are credited with having been the first Europeans to have genuine contact with Japan. In 1543, Portuguese ships arrived at the island of Tanegashima. It would seem that the Japanese were somewhat taken aback by these Europeans. They ate with their fingers rather than with chopsticks and they couldn't understand written characters. The culture clash was immense. The Portuguese were to come to be known as "nanban": southern barbarians. It wasn't long before all Europeans were given this title.

By that time in the sixteenth century, there was intense rivalry among the Spanish, Portuguese, English and Dutch to take control of trade routes. In the Far East, the Spanish were in a rather better position to do so than others. The Philippines were to prove to be an important base for trade with China and other Far-Eastern countries, albeit that the Portuguese dominated China-Japan trade for a time. As important as trade was religion. In 1549, a Jesuit missionary, Francisco Xavier, arrived in Japan. He was already experienced in spreading the Catholic faith. He had done so in Portuguese occupied India. He was responsible for Goa having the Inquisition.

The Spanish, with trade as much as religion and global power in mind, for a brief while contemplated armed invasion of Japan. Felipe II was to heed advice (from Francisco Xavier) that this might not be such a great idea. The Japanese, he was informed, were very warlike. Defeat was all that Spain could expect. The advice was very sensible.

So the Spanish settled instead on a strategy of trying to foster good relations, exploiting their pivotal Manila System of trade. The advance of Catholicism, though it did advance, wasn't to be as successful in Japan as it had been in Portuguese territories. For one thing, the Japanese struggled with the notion of equality of all men before God; their caste system simply didn't fit such a philosophy. To try and get round this, a comparison was made between hierarchies. The emperor and the shogun were equated to the pope and the king in terms of, respectively, divine roots and earthly justice.

Another Jesuit, Alessandro Valignano of Naples, arrived in Japan on this day (25 July) in 1579. It may have been a coincidence, but the significance would have been recognised: the feast of Saint James - Santiago, whose remains lay in Compostela. Valignano was the Jesuit inspector (or visitor) of all Jesuit missions stretching from Goa to Japan. He hit on the idea of bringing Japanese boys, taught by the Jesuits, to Europe. His reasoning was twofold. It would raise awareness of Japan among European elites and it would impress upon the Japanese the glory of Christian religion.

This has been described as a Tensho Embassy (Tensho referring to the Japanese era of that time). It wasn't in fact a formal embassy, though the Europeans took it to be. There was, however, some official element. Two of the four boys, all aged around fourteen when they left Japan, were representatives of Christian feudal lords. The boys, each with a European Christian name - Mancio, Michael, Julian and Martin - left Nagasaki in 1582. They finally arrived in Lisbon in 1584 and returned to Nagasaki in 1590.

This Thursday (27 July) in Alcudia, the Via Fora performance of scenes from the town's history (the second of this summer's series) includes one about the Tensho Embassy. In 1585, while travelling from Alicante to Rome, the boys and their delegation stopped off in Alcudia. Quite what the boys made of Alcudia is anyone's guess. Compared with other places they went to in Spain, Portugal and Italy, Alcudia would have been somewhat less representative of the glory of Christian religion than others. Nevertheless, it was at that time something of a bastion of the Holy Roman Empire in Mallorca, having been made a city - only the second one after Palma. Carlos I of Spain, also Carlos V, the Holy Roman Emperor, had granted Alcudia the title of "most faithful city of the emperor" because of the defiance of the Germanies uprising of 1521.

As to what happened to the boys, well on this day (25 July) in 1591, this time not a coincidence, they were fully admitted to the Jesuit society. But their fates were not to be entirely blessed. Mancio died in 1612, Martin left Japan in 1614, Michael quit the Jesuit order and may well have joined a Buddhist sect. Julian suffered the worst fate. He defied the 1614 order for all Christians to leave Japan. There was repression because of alarm at the influence of Christianity. He was eventually arrested, tortured and martyred.

* Photo: Via Fora, credit Ajuntament de Alcudia Facebook.

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