St. Francis Xavier meets Otomo Sorin the King of Bungo:
St. Francis Xavier first met Otomo Sorin
in Oita Bungo during his passage from Kagoshima to Yamaguchi in
the fall of 1551. This first meeting was just after Otomo Sorin
had inherited the leadership of his Daimyo due to the death of his
father. Otomo Sorin was just 22 years of age at the time.
On the occassion of this first meeting
St. Francis was traveling through Bungo on his way to Kyoto to meet
with the Emporer of Japan.
Xavier was in Bungo as much to meet with
the Portuguese ships that were in the ports there hoping to collect
some mail and provisions from Rome as to create a missionary station.
For Xavier the meeting with Otomo Sorin
was a political neccessity beacuse it was customary for foreigners
to meet with the local Rulers to explain their need to be in their
territories and to explain the nature of their activities.
Otomo Sorin's motivation for meeting with
Xavier was to determine of what assistance Xavier could be in helping
him establish trading relationships with the Portuguese.
St. Francis and the influence of his missionaries
would eventually lead to establishing Bungo as one of the leading
Christian Provinces in Japan. Otomo Sorin honored Xavier's need
to meet the incoming Portuguese ships and would later send correspondence
to him in Yamaguchi to tell him of the arrival of additional Portuguese
ships to his port.
Early in 1550 while still in Kagoshima,
Xavier had set his sites on receiving the permission of the imperial
crown of Japan for his Jesuit missionaries to preach openly throughout
Japan. By the time he returned to Kyushu, to meet with Otomo Sorin
for the second time, he had come to the realization that the Emperor
was the leader of Japan only in name and that each territorial prince
in the provinces in which he or his missionaries traveled would
have to give their permission for the missionaries to be in their
territory and to preach openly.
In many ways Xavier's efforts and visits
to Kyoto proved to be fruitless except for the fact he was able
to observe first hand the effects the wars of the Sengoku period
had on the Capital City which lay in ruins half destroyed from the
contiuous warring. He had also learned that the imperial leader
of Japan was only the leader of Japan in name and exercised little
direct influence or political power over the individual Daiymo's
throughout Japan. During his travels Xavier also met wealthy merchants
from Sakai who would play a major part in the unification of Japan
as well as helping establish his Christian missionaries.
The most valuable lessons
he had learned during this time frame were the hard lessons of doing
diplomacy in Japan and that he should not go unprepared to practice
Japanese social customs in a situation requiring the blessings of
any particular local ruler on his missionary enterprises .
Excerpts from a letter to the
Society of Jesus in Rome from St. Francis Xavier about his
activities in Japan , 1552
"Japan is a very large empire
entirely composed of islands. One language is spoken throughout,
and it as not very difficult to learn. This country was discovered
by the Portuguese eight or nine years ago. The Japanese are
very ambitious of honors and distinctions, and think themselves
superior to all nations in military glory and valor. They
prize and honor all that has to do with war, and all such
things, and there is nothing of which they are so proud as
of weapons adorned with gold and silver. They always wear
swords and daggers both in and out of the house, and when
they go to sleep they hang them at the bed's head. In short,
they value arms more than any people I have ever seen. They
are excellent archers, and usually fight on foot, though there
is no lack of horses in the country. They are very polite
to each other, but not to foreigners, whom they utterly despise.
They spend their means on arms, bodily adornment, and on a
number of attendants, and do not in the least care to save
money. They are, in short, a very warlike people, and engaged
in continual wars among themselves; the most powerful in arms
bearing the most extensive sway. They have all one sovereign,
although for one hundred and fifty years past the princes
have ceased to obey him, and this is the cause of their perpetual
When I was at Yamaguchi with Father
Cosmo Torres and Joam Fernandez, the King of Bungo, one of
the most powerful of the country, wrote to ask me to go to
him; a Portuguese vessel had come into his harbor, and he
wished to talk with me on certain subjects. So, both to find
out how he was affected towards our holy religion, and to
pay a visit to the Portuguese, I set out at once for Bungo,
leaving Cosmo and Joam with the Christians. The King gave
me a most gracious reception, and it was a great pleasure
to me to meet with the Portuguese.
The King of Bungo commands numerous
and very war like troops, and as things go with Japanese kings,
has vast dominions to govern. He has a great liking for the
Portuguese. No sooner was he informed of the power and character
of the King of Portugal than he wrote to him asking to be
admitted into the number of his friends, and sending him a
rich suit of armor as a token of friendship. He has also sent
an envoy to the Viceroy of India, offering him with many compliments
his friendship, alliance, and good offices; this messenger,
who came to India with me, has been most honorably and liberally
received by the Viceroy. Before I left Japan, the King of
Bungo promised the Portuguese and myself to take Cosmo Torres
and Joam Fernandez under his protection. The sovereign elect
of Yamaguchi bound himself in the same way, when he enters
into the possession of his kingdom...."
The Major locations that Xavier Visited during
the three years he was in Japan
Because of its remoteness
from Goa, while in Japan Xavier often had difficulty in recieving
his communications and provisions from Rome and the Jesuit order.
In 1551 Otomo Sorin sent correspondence to Xavier in Yamaguchi to
notify him of the arrival of Portuguese ships at his port. Upon
returning to Bungo Xavier had at his disposition a Portuguese ship
that could return him to Goa where the central administration of
his missionary efforts in Asia was located. Xavier needed to make
this trip in order to update himself with the communications that
had been sent from Ignatius Loyola and the Crown of Portgugal and
to check on the subordinates he had left in charge of running the
various Jesuit Missionaries throughout Asia. His last efforts before
leaving Japan for Goa were to negotiate with Otomo Sorin in Bungo
for the protection of his missionaries in Bungo and Yamaguchi.
Early in the year 1552 as
Xavier prepared to leave Japan, never to return, the Young Oda Nobunaga
would begin his rise to power and pre-eminence in Japan by becoming
the ruler of the Oda Daimyo in Owari Province. Oda Obunaga over
the next 30 years would by a series of perpetual military conquests
in central Japan begin the polictical unification of Japan as a
Little did Xavier understand
at the time that the continuous military conquests and political
intrigues associated with the Unification of Japan was the dramatic
climate into which he had just birthed his Christian Missionaries.
While Xavier left for Goa setting his personal
goals on entering China to preach the Gospels the political ambitions
of the Unifiers of Japan would begin to develop and come into direct
confilct with the efforts of his Christian missionaries. Within
the next 80 years the earliest Christian converts in Japan would
be totally repressed and ask to renounce their faith by Toyotomi
Hideyoshi and the three earliest Shoguns of the Tokogawa .
The stories of some of these early Christian
converts within the dynamics and politics of the unification in
Japan is the basis for much of the plot for James Clavell's famous
The purpose of our ARTistory commentaries
will be to bring additional insight to the Japanese history during
this period while focusing on the importance of the Tsuba crafted
during this period as art objects and collectables.
Map of Japan superimposed to scale on a map of the
Mediterranean World at lattitude 40 degrees North
It is often difficult to
relate to the distances invovled during Xavier's travels for this
purpose we have inserted the map of Japan and at the same latitude
on a map of Europe.
life and times of St. Francis Xavier, 1512- 1552
meets Otomo Sorin the King of Bungo,1550
William Adams arrives in Japan, 1600
Epic Journey of Hasekura Tsunenaga, 1613-1620
James I king of England (1603-1625) and his personal correspondence
with Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogun of Japan ( 1600-1616)
The life and times of Hosokawa Sansai.
This Page was co-authored by Chester Comstock
in co-operation with Kanayama, For additional information on Kanayama
and his collection of Japanese Antiquities from the 16th and 17th
Kanayama Discusses Sukashi Tsuba
Chester Comstock is the Publisher and Editor of Artsales.com and
the founder and owner of
Comstock Sculpture Studio.