Portuguese in Japan

portuguese ship

The first europeans to arrive in Japan were the portuguese, who shortly after discovering Japan established the agreements of Nanban. The intervention of the Portuguese coincides with the same dates that Tokugawa Ieyasu was unifying Japan, in 1603.

Portuguese missionaries

Along with trade, the Portuguese brought with them the religion, and after a century there were 500 thousand converts to Catholicism, being the place with the greatest success in converting the faithful in Asia. This period of almost a century was known as the Nanban Trade, in which there was a great commercial exchange with the West and other neighbors of Japan.

Some explain the success because the Japanese were drawn to the Christian message of salvation, while others sought economic or political advantage. For example, him Daimyo Omamura became seeking to attract more trade to the port of Nagasaki, and Nobunaga, who unified half of Japan, supported Christian missionaries to undermine the political influence of Buddhist monasteries. Nobunaga’s religious tolerance was what allowed Catholicism to proliferate around Kyoto, the imperial city by then.

After the country entered a period of peace under Tokugawa in 1603, Japan became increasingly hermetic from the “Barbarians of the south”, since they saw Christianity as a threat. By 1650, it was decided that foreigners were sentenced to death with the exception of the Dejima ports in Nagasaki for the dutch, and for the Chinese. Christian converts were hunted, and they were not allowed to go abroad. The period of exclusion, peace, prosperity and medium progress was known as the Edo Period.

crucifixion of christians by hideyoshi

Although the dynamics of Japanese politics favored religious preaching, with the succession of power to Hideyoshi an anti-foreign and anti-Christian attack was launched culminating in Tokugawa’s exclusion edicts. Hideyoshi distrusted the motives of the Europeans after the Spanish had conquered the Philippines and questioned the loyalty of some daimyos converts. In 1597 Hideyoshi ordered execution by crucifixion of nine Catholic missionaries and seventeen Japanese converts. In the search for stability and order, Tokugawa also feared the subversive potential of Christianity and soon led Japan into a isolation, ending a century of promising business contacts with China, Southeast Asia and Europe.

The policy of isolationism Japanese was fully implemented by Tokugawa Iemitsu, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s grandson and shogun between 1623 and 1641. He issued a series of edicts that closed Japan to all foreigners and prevented the Japanese from leaving the island. However, several missionaries remained and continued to practice Christianity, until the Japan reopening, long after.

Influence of the Portuguese in modern Japan

Edict of Sakoku

Despite the fact that Portuguese and Japanese relations lasted a century, the exchange between both cultures left a very important legacy. First of all, the relations between Japan and Portugal They are the oldest in Japan with any western country, with more than 450 years of existence. Second, many Portuguese words were adapted to Japanese, such as bread (パ ン), alcohol(ア ル コ ー ル), jar(フ ラ ス コ), candle(カ ン デ ラ), Christian(キ リ シ タ ン), tobacco(タ バ コ) and tempura(天 ぷ ら).