First Japanese Expeditions to the Americas

First Japanese Expeditions to the Americas
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First Japanese expeditions to the Americas

1610 San Buena Ventura

A Franciscan monk named Luis Sotelo, who was proselytizing in the area of what is now modern Tokyo, convinced Tokugawa Ieyasu and his son Tokugawa Hidetada to send him as a representative to New Spain (Mexico) on one of their ships, in order to advance the trade treaty. Rodrigo de Vivero offered to sail on the Japanese ship in order to guarantee the safety of their reception in New Spain, but insisted that another Franciscan, named Alonso Muños, be sent instead as the Shogun's representative. In 1610, the returning Rodrigo de Vivero, several Spanish sailors, the Franciscan father, and 22 Japanese representatives led by the trader Tanaka Shōsuke, sailed to Mexico aboard the San Buena Ventura, a ship built by the English adventurer William Adams for the Shogun. Once in New Spain, Alonso Muños met with the Viceroy Luis de Velasco, who agreed to send an ambassador to Japan in the person of the famous explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, with the added mission of exploring the "Gold and silver islands" ("Isla de Plata") that were thought to be east of the Japanese isles.

Vizcaino arrived in Japan in 1611, and had many meetings with the Shogun and feudal lords. These encounters were tainted by his poor respect for Japanese customs, the mounting resistance of the Japanese towards Catholic proselytism, and the intrigues of the Dutch against Spanish ambitions. Vizcaino finally left to search for the "Silver island", during which search he encountered bad weather, forcing him to return to Japan with heavy damage.

1612 San Sebastian

Without waiting for Vizcaino, another ship – built in Izu by the Bakufu under the minister of the Navy Mukai Shogen, and named San Sebastian – left for Mexico on 9 September 1612 with Luis Sotelo onboard as well as two representatives of Date Masamune, with the objective of advancing the trade agreement with New Spain. However, the ship foundered a few miles from Uraga, and the expedition had to be abandoned.