Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga

Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga

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Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga or ("Francisco Felipe Faxicura", as he was baptized in Spain) (1571–1622) (Japanese: 支倉六右衛門常長, also spelled Faxecura Rocuyemon in period European sources, reflecting the contemporary pronunciation of Japanese) was a Japanese samurai and retainer of Date Masamune, the daimyo of Sendai.

In the years 1613 through 1620, Hasekura headed a diplomatic mission to the Vatican in Rome, traveling through New Spain (arriving in Acapulco and departing from Veracruz) and visiting various ports-of-call in Europe. This historic mission is called the Keicho Embassy (慶長使節), and follows the Tensho embassy (天正使節) of 1582. On the return trip, Hasekura and his companions re-traced their route across Mexico in 1619, sailing from Acapulco for Manila, and then sailing north to Japan in 1620. He is conventionally considered the first Japanese ambassador in the Americas and in Europe.

Although Hasekura's embassy was cordially received in Europe, it happened at a time when Japan was moving toward the suppression of Christianity. European monarchs such as the King of Spain thus refused the trade agreements Hasekura had been seeking. Hasekura returned to Japan in 1620 and died of illness a year later, his embassy seemingly ending with few results in an increasingly isolationist Japan.

Japan's next embassy to Europe would only occur more than 200 years later, following two centuries of isolation, with the "First Japanese Embassy to Europe" in 1862.

Little is known of the early life of Hasekura Tsunenaga. He was a mid-level noble samurai in the Sendai Domain in northern Japan, who had the opportunity to directly serve the daimyo Date Masamune. They were of roughly the same age, and it is recorded that several important missions were given to Tsunenaga as his representative.

It is also recorded that Hasekura served as samurai of the Japanese invasion of Korea under the Taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi, during six months in 1597. In 1612, Hasekura's father, Hasekura Tsunenari (支倉 常成), was indicted for corruption, and he was put to death in 1613. His fief was confiscated, and his son should normally have been executed as well. Date however gave him the opportunity to redeem his honour by placing him in charge of the Embassy to Europe, and soon gave him back his territories as well.

Background: early contacts between Japan and Spain

The Spanish started trans-Pacific voyages between New Spain (Mexico) and the Philippines in 1565. The famous Manila galleons carried silver from Mexican mines westward to the entrepôt of Manila in the Spanish possession of the Philippines. There, the silver was used to purchase spices and trade goods gathered from throughout Asia, including (until 1638) goods from Japan. The return route of the Manila galleons, first charted by the Spanish navigator Andrés de Urdaneta, took the ships northeast into the Kuroshio Current (also known as the Japan Current) off the coast of Japan, and then across the Pacific to the west coast of North America, landing eventually in Acapulco.

Spanish ships were periodically shipwrecked on the coasts of Japan due to bad weather, initiating contacts with the country. The Spanish wished to expand the Christian faith in Japan. Efforts to expand influence in Japan were met by stiff resistance towards the Jesuits, who had started the evangelizing of the country in 1549, as well as by the opposition of Portuguese and the Dutch who did not wish to see Spain participate in Japanese trade. However, some Japanese, such as Christopher and Cosmas, are known to have crossed the Pacific onboard Spanish galleons as early as 1587. It is known that gifts were exchanged between the governor of the Philippines and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who thanks him in a 1597 letter, writing "The black elephant in particular I found most unusual."

In 1609, the Spanish Manila galleon San Francisco encountered bad weather on its way from Manila to Acapulco, and was wrecked on the Japanese coast in Chiba, near Tokyo. The sailors were rescued and welcomed, and the ship's captain, Rodrigo de Vivero, former interim governor of the Philippines, met with the retired shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Rodrigo de Vivero drafted a treaty, signed on 29 November 1609, whereby the Spaniards could establish a factory in eastern Japan, mining specialists would be imported from New Spain, Spanish ships would be allowed to visit Japan in case of necessity, and a Japanese embassy would be sent to the Spanish court.