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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 feuds.

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 country.

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 novel "Shogun".

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.

The life and times of St. Francis Xavier, 1512- 1552
Page: 1

Xavier meets Otomo Sorin the King of Bungo,1550
Page: 2

William Adams arrives in Japan, 1600
Page: 3

The Epic Journey of Hasekura Tsunenaga, 1613-1620
Page: 4

James I king of England (1603-1625) and his personal correspondence with Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogun of Japan ( 1600-1616)
Page: 5

The life and times of Hosokawa Sansai.
(1564 - 1645)
Page 6

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 Centuries see:
Kanayama Discusses Sukashi Tsuba

Chester Comstock is the Publisher and Editor of and the founder and owner of Comstock Sculpture Studio.

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