king philip hasekura and the pope

Hasekura Tsunenaga And The Great 1613 Embassy Project

The Shogun decided to build a new galleon in Japan in order to bring Vizcaino back to Nueva España, together with a Japanese embassy accompanied by Luis Sotelo.

The galleon, named Date Maru by the Japanese and later San Juan Bautista by the Spanish, took 45 days work in building, with the participation of technical experts from the Bakufu (the Minister of the Navy Mukai Shogen, an acquaintance of William Adams with whom he built several ships, dispatched his Chief Carpenter), 800 shipwrights, 700 smiths, and 3,000 carpenters.


The daimyo of Sendai, Date Masamune, was put in charge of the project. He named one of his retainers, Hasekura Tsunenaga (his fief was rated at around 600 koku), to lead the mission:

“The Great Ship left Toshima-Tsukinoura for the Southern Barbarians on 15 September [Japanese calendar], with at its head Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga, and those called Imaizumi Sakan, Matsuki Shusaku, Nishi Kyusuke, Tanaka Taroemon, Naito Hanjuro, Sonohoka Kyuemon, Kuranojo, Tonomo, Kitsunai, Kyuji, as well as several others under Rokuemon, as well as 40 Southern Barbarians, 10 men of Mukai Shogen, and also tradespeople, to a total 180” (Records of the Date House, Keichō-Genna 伊達家慶長元和留控, Gonoi p. 56).

The objective of the Japanese embassy was both to discuss trade agreements with the Spanish crown in Madrid, and to meet with the Pope in Rome. Date Masamune displayed a great will to welcome the Catholic religion in his domain: he invited Luis Sotelo and authorized the propagation of Christianity in 1611. In his letter to the Pope, brought by Hasekura, he wrote:

“I’ll offer my land for a base of your missionary work. Send us as many padres as possible.”

Claude Deruet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sotelo, in his own account of the travels, emphasizes the religious dimension of the mission, claiming that the main objective was to spread the Christian faith in northern Japan:

“I was formerly dispatched as ambassador of Idate Masamune, who holds the reins of the kingdom of Oxu [Japanese:奥州] (which is in the Eastern part of Japan) —who, while he has not yet been reborn through baptism, has been catechized, and was desirous that the Christian faith should be preached in his kingdom—together with another noble of his Court, Philippus Franciscus Faxecura Rocuyemon, to the Roman Senate & to the one who at that time was in charge of the Apostolic See, His Holiness Pope Paul V.” (Luis Sotelo De Ecclesiae Iaponicae Statu Relatio, 1634).

The embassy was probably, at that time, part of a plan to diversify and increase trade with foreign countries, before the participation of Christians in the Osaka rebellion triggered a radical reaction from the Shogunate, with the interdiction of Christianity in the territories it directly controlled, in 1614.

The Trans-Pacific voyage

By Zacharias Heijins (Amsterdam, in de Warmoestraet, in de Hooft-dueghden) – Artwork of the book Wijdtloopigh Verhael (made in circa 1600, page 142)

Upon completion, the ship left on 28 October 1613 for Acapulco with around 180 people on board, including 10 samurai of the Shogun (provided by the Minister of the Navy Mukai Shogen Tadakatsu), 12 samurai from Sendai, 120 Japanese merchants, sailors, and servants, and around 40 Spaniards and Portuguese, including Sebastian Vizcaino who, in his own words, only had the quality of a passenger.

New Spain (Acapulco)

Hasekura Tsunenaga
Hasekura Tsunenaga

The ship first reached Cape Mendocino in today’s California, and then continued along the coast to arrive in Acapulco on 25 January 1614 after three months at sea. The Japanese were received with great ceremony, but had to wait in Acapulco until orders were received regarding how to organize the rest of their travels.

Fights erupted between the Japanese and the Spaniards, especially Vizcaino, apparently due to some disputes on the handling of presents from the Japanese ruler. A contemporary journal, written by the historian Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin, a noble Aztec born in Amecameca (ancient Chalco province) in 1579, whose formal name was Domingo Francisco de San Anton Muñon, relates Vizcaino was seriously wounded in the fight:

“Señor Vizcaino is still coming slowly, coming hurt; the Japanese injured him when they beat and stabbed him in Acapulco, as became known here in Mexico, because of all the things coming along that had been made his responsibility in Japan”

Following these fights, orders were promulgated on 4 and 5 March to bring peace back. The orders explained that:

“The Japanese should not be submitted to attacks in this Land, but they should remit their weapons until their departure, except for Hasekura Tsunenaga and eight of his retinue… The Japanese will be free to go where they want, and should be treated properly. They should not be abused in words or actions. They will be free to sell their goods. These orders have been promulgated to the Spanish, the Indians, the Mulattos, the Mestizos, and the Blacks, and those who don’t respect them will be punished”.

New Spain (Mexico)

The embassy remained two months in Acapulco and entered Mexico City on 24 March, where it was received with great ceremony. The ultimate mission for the embassy was to go on to Europe. The embassy spent some time in Mexico, and then went to Veracruz to board the fleet of Don Antonio Oquendo.

Chimalpahin gives some account of the visit of Hasekura.

“This is the second time that the Japanese have landed one of their ships on the shore at Acapulco. They are transporting here all things of iron, and writing desks, and some cloth that they are to sell here.” (Chimalpahin, “Annals of His Time”).

“It became known here in Mexico and was said that the reason their ruler the Emperor of Japan sent this said lordly emissary and ambassador here, is to go in Rome to see the Holy Father Paul V, and to give him their obedience concerning the holy church, so that all the Japanase want to become Christians” (Chimalpahin, “Annals of His Time”).

Hasekura was settled in a house next to the Church of San Francisco, and met with the Viceroy. He explained to him that he was also planning to meet King Philip III to offer him peace and to obtain that the Japanese could come to Mexico for trade.

On Wednesday 9 April, 20 Japanese were baptized, and 22 more on 20 April by the archbishop in Mexico, don Juan Pérez de la Serna, at the Church of San Francisco. Altogether 63 of them received confirmation on 25 April. Hasekura waited for his travel to Europe to be baptized there:

“But the lordly emissary, the ambassador, did not want to be baptized here; it was said that he will be baptized later in Spain” (Chimalpahin, “Annals of His Time”).

Departure for Europe


Chimalpahin explains that Hasekura left some of his compatriots behind before leaving for Europe:

“The Ambassador of Japan set out and left for Spain. In going he divided his vassals; he took a certain number of Japanese, and he left an equal number here as merchants to trade and sell things.” (Chimalpahin, “Annals of His Time”).

The fleet left for Europe on the San Jose on 10 June. Hasekura had to leave the largest parts of the Japanese group behind, who were to wait in Acapulco for the return of the embassy.

Some of them, as well as those from the previous travel of Tanaka Shosuke, returned to Japan the same year, sailing back with the San Juan Bautista:

“Today, Tuesday the 14th of the month of October of the year 1614, was when some Japanese set out from Mexico here going home to Japan.; they lived here in Mexico for four years. Some still remained here; they earn a living trading and selling here the goods they brought with them from Japan.” (Chimalpahin, “Annals of His Time”).


The embassy stopped and changed ships in Havana in Cuba in July 1614. The embassy stayed in Havana for six days. A bronze statue was erected on 26 April 2001 at the head of Havana Bay.