THE JESUITS AND THE CHRISTIAN MISSION IN JAPAN
Christianity first came to Japan on the 15th August 1549 when Father Francisco
Xavier, a founding member of the Society of Jesus landed in Kagoshima.
He stayed two years or more in Japan. Although he first intended to acquire
a license to propagate the doctrine of Christianity from the emperor (Tennō),
and to debate religious problems with learned Buddhist priests in Kyōto,
he abandoned his plan to proselytize in the capital and surrounding provinces
after seeing the desolation of the area, the result of repeated battles.
He then moved the centre of his missionary activity to Yamaguchi, the castle
town Ōuchi Yoshitaka, a feudal lord，who controlled much of western Japan. Yamaguchi had become a major
cultural centre, often called Nishi no Kyō, the capital of the west.
After Xavier returned to Goa, his successor
as Superior for Japan, Cosme de Torres, also a Spanish Jesuit, continued to
advance the activities of the mission.
When the Jesuits' early patron, Ōuchi Yoshinaga, was overthrown in 1557,
and died by his own hand, the mission moved to Funai, on the eastern Kyūshū
coast, and came under the protection of its lord, ŌtomoYoshishige(Sōrin), a powerful daimyō who ruled most of northeastern Kyushu. Funai remained the base of the Jesuit mission in Japan for over decade. Cosme de Torres used the economic attractions of the Portuguese Nao's Japan voyage as a lure to advance missionary activity, maneuvering Portuguese trading ships into the ports of lords who gave protection to Jesuits and Japanese Christians living in their domains.
Therefore,Ōmura Sumitada, a minor lord in Hizen Province who had shown great interest in coming of the trade ship, was converted to Christianity in 1563, and Buddhist lords also came to protect the Christian mission in order to invite Portuguese ships into the ports in his domain.
A mission in Kyōto, the political and cultural centre of Japan, was undertaken
by Father Gaspar Vilela in 1559. He had got a license to preach in Kyōto
from the Ashikaga shogunate. Nevertheless in 1565, the Jesuits were banished
from Kyōto because of pressure from the Buddhist forces. It was in 1569
that the Jesuits returned to Kyōto, with the support of Oda Nobunaga, a
great lord in Mino Province who had entered Kyōto in 1568, ostensibly for
the protection of the Ashikaga shogunate. After this, they were able to
establish a base for propagating Christianity in the capital region, and
constructed a beautiful church, called Nanbanji （“Southern Barbarian Temple”）by the Japanese, in 1575. In the 1570s Ōtomo Yoshishige, and Arima Harunobu,
lord of HizenProvince were converted to Christianity, afterwards mass conversions
took place among their subjects. The same phenomenon occurred frequently
in the two provinces of Settsu and Kawachi, near Kyōto. Jesuit letters
and reports to Europe, claimed that the number of Christians in Japan was
more than 130,000 in 1579. In that year, Father Alexandro Valignano arrived
at Kuchinotsu, a port of the Arima domain, as “visitor of East India of the Society of Jesus”. He reformed the system of proselytizing in Japan. He particularly stressed
respect for Japanese culture, customs, and tradition. He encouraged the
European Jesuits to adapt to the Japanese style of living, and established
educational institutions in order to train Japanese clerics, who were to
carry on the mission work in the future.
However, the Jesuits’ progress was interrupted in July 1587, when
Oda Nobunaga’s successor, Toyotomi
Hideyoshi, suddenly ordered the banishment of all Jesuits from Japan in an
edict issued in Hakata (modern Fukuoka）.Unable publicly to continue their activity, they went into hiding in the
domains of Christian lords in Kyūshū. In the meantime they printed great numbers of textbooks, dictionaries
and grammers for the use of brothers and seminarians and published books
on Christian doctrine and devotional books for Christians, using a printing
press that Father visitor Valignano brought to Japan in 1590.
In 1593， Franciscans came to Japan as envoys of the Spanish governor of the Philippines,
and began to preach Christianity in public. Jesuit dominance of Christian
proselytizing in Japan was thus over. But the Franciscans’ unrestrained activity provoked Hideyoshi to anger. Taking the
opportunity of a Spanish seaman’s disclosure of his country’s plans to conquer Japan, he put to death twenty-six Christians including
six Franciscans, at Nagasaki on February 5, 1597.After Hideyoshi died in
September of 1598, his policy of suppressing Christianity was continued
by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who unified the entire country in 1600. Ieyasu tacitly
permitted missionary activity a little longer, because he also was interested
in trade between Spanish Manila and the Kanto. He was also considering
trade with the Portuguese in Nagasaki, where the Jesuits played an important
role in the administration of the city, and as mediators in the trade.
However, leyasu, who was eager to ensure that his shogunate would rule
in perpetuity issued an edict in February 1614 expelling the missionaries
and prohibiting the Christian faith throughout Japan. Accordingly most
of the missionaries were banished to Macao or Manila. After this，the Prohibition against
Christianity was enforced with increasing rigor, and the missionaries who remained
to the Japanese Christians were forced into hiding, to avoid the authorities’ pursuit. In 1633, when the shogunate issued the first of its edicts restricting
foreign contact, missionaries were arrested and executed en masse. They
vanished from Japan in the 1640s. Christians continued to keep their faith
as confraternities small secret religious groups.
Jesuits Letters Concerning Japan
Original Texts Version (1547-1552)
Japanese Texts Version 1.2(1547-1552)
Original Texts Version (1553-1555)
Japanese Texts Version 1.2 (1553-1555)
forthcoming (estimated in 2010)
BASIC TEXTS FOR THE TRANSCRIPTION
This series consists of the European texts transcribing reports and letters
regarding Japan written in the main by Jesuit's from 1547 to 1579. They
have been arranged chronologically, and Japanese translations provided
in accompanying volumes.
In this transcription, the editors have used the famous CARTAS DO JAPAO QUE OS PADRES E IRMAOS DA COMPANHIA DE JESUS ESCREVERAO DOS REINOS DE JAPAO & CHINA AOS DA MESMA COMPANHIA DA INDIA, & EUROPA, DESDE O ANNO DE 1549 ATE O DE 1580, PRIMEIRO TOMO, published in Evora in 1598, as the basic text, holding to its style, and with the intention of restoring the original text as clearly as possible, have filled in omissions or lacunae in the Evora edition by reference to other extant manuscripts. The editors hope to offer the most reliable texts they can to the reader.