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Francis Xavier
Travels in Japan

James I
King of Engalnd

William Adams
Arrives in Japoan

Sukashi Tsuba

Noble House


Ancient Mystery
Chester Comstock

Nuptial Finery
Comstock Studio

Chief's Pride
A Collaboration

Early Years

Japanese portrait of Francis Xavier
with Monoyama Inscription Kobe Museum, Kobe Japan

Mt. Fuji in the twilight

St. Francis Xavier was born into the first generation of human beings who truly had a global view of the World and at the beginning of the 16th century which was the first century of the Modern Era and of the Globalization of trade.

The story of the patron saint of Christian missions to Asia and Japan is set in a historical background the richness of which few people have understood or fully appreciated.

In the pages focusing on this period in history will provide additional in depth insights into the complexities of the unfolding drama surrounding the meeting of the East and West in Japan and the relevance of this history to the art we have featured for sale on the site.

Francis Xavier’s life span (1506-1552) roughly corresponds with that of England’s Henry the VIII (1509-1547), Francis I of France, (1494 -1547) Charles V, (1500-58) the Holy Roman Emperor, Martin Luther of Germany (1483-1546) , Suleiman I (the magnificent lawgiver) (1494-1566) ruler of the Ottoman Empire from (1520-1566) at the time of its greatest expansion and conquest into Europe, the most famous of all Muscovites Ivan IV Vasiljevich (the Terrible) (1530-1584), and of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 - 1616) the first Tokugawa Shogun of Japan.

Portrait of Henry VIII By Holbein

This was a dynamic and historically rich era with the beginning of the protestant reformation, the counter-reformation, the English rule of Henry the VIII, the age of discovery, the Italian High Renaissance, the height and glory of the Aztec and Inca Empires, the earliest settlement by Europeans in the America’s, the Spanish and Roman Inquisitions, the Councils of Trent, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe, the beginnings of the humanist movement, the unification of Russia and Japan and the Ming Dynasty of China all in full operation during Francis Xavier’s lifetime.

In order to further emphasize the richness of the historic time frame of Xavier's life span, contemporaries of Francis Xavier in the arts and Sciences were Desiderius Erasmus (1466- 1536), Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Nicholas Copernicus (1473 -1543), Michelangelo Buonarrote (1475-1564), Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (1488-1576), Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), El Greco ( 1541-1614), and Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), with William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) following closely behind.

Desiderius Erasmus By Holbein 1523
Desiderius Erasmus By Holbein

Xavier’s Christian missionary efforts to the Japanese people would bring the newly founded Jesuit Order (The Society of Jesus) and Xavier's Christian missionaries into direct personal contact with the unifiers of Japan in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. These Japanese rulers were Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Oda Nobunaga
Modern Portrait of Oda Nobunaga

The meeting of East and West in Japan and the drama of this history as it played out during Xavier's lifetime would influence and set the tenor of Japanese domestic and international policies for the next two hundred and fifty years.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Toyotomi Hideyoshi builder and Lord of Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle as it may have looked in the early 17th Century

Tokogawa Ieyasu

Sculpture of Tokugawa Ieyasu the first Tokugawa Shogun
of Japan

The life and times of St. Francis Xavier

In 1492 Spain had just concluded 770 years of wars against the Moors to expel them from Spain. These Spanish military campaigns and the antagonism with the expansionist efforts of the Mohammedan Faith extended well into the 16th century with additional military campaigns by Western Europe against the Ottoman Empire in North Africa , Rhodes, Malta and Greece.

It should be noted that the re-conquista had added much impetus to the development of armor and weaponry used by Europeans and by the Spanish Conquistadors in particular. The late 15th Century through the early 18th century are also the years of the greatest expansion of the Holy Roman Empire whose political influences and rule extended into the Iberian Peninsula and whose influence over European politics made the partitioning of Europe greatly different from its present day borders and structure.

In 1492, the same year the Moors were expelled from Spain, Columbus made his historic voyage to the America’s. Within the next three decades Global Exploration was expanded by the various voyages of Vasca De Gama who reached India around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 after which additional explorations by the Portuguese were made into the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the spice Islands and into the Pacific Ocean where they made landfall in Japan in 1543.

Throughout the early 16th Century the rulers of western Europe were financing the exploration of the globe with dreams of expanded empires as their motive. The impetus toward building empires set much of the stage for the drama of St. Francis Xavier's missionary efforts to Japan.

The year 2006 marks the fifth centenary of the birth of Francis Xavier.

Xavier Castle Navarre Spain
Fracis Xavier's birthplace

Francis Xavier was born into an aristocratic family in 1506 at the Castle of Xavier near Sanguesa in the Aragon River Valley of the Pyrenees Mountains in the State of Navarre in North Eastern Spain. During the time of Xavier’s early childhood the Spanish throne under Ferdinand and Izabella had annexed the kingdom of Navarre in 1512.

The years of Xavier’s childhood and early adulthood would have been filled with the history and stories of the Spanish Re-conquista and the first stages of world exploration.

In the America’s the Spanish Military expansion was being conducted by the conquistadors. In 1521 Cortez had just finished Conquering the Aztec’s of Mexico and between 1519 and 1535 Francisco Pizarro had completely overthrown the Inca Empire in South America. In the year 1522 one of Magellan’s ships had just finished circumnavigating the globe for the first time. The wealth of gold, silver and trade goods returning to Spain from these conquests was financing much of the Holy Roman Empire.

Being born into this political and historically charged environment to an Aristocratic family in Spain offered all of the advantages a young man could have had. It became Francis Xavier’s choice to commit his life to spreading his faith in the gospel of Jesus as the savior of mankind for the Catholic Church. Francis met Igantius Loyola in Paris in 1529 during his early education after Loyola himself had changed his lifelong ambition to spiritual matters from having been brought up in an aristocratic family where the young men were trained to be good soldiers. Loyola was seven years older than Xavier and at the age of 33 had recently changed his career goals and was going back to school for additional training at the time he met Xavier. Loyola had received a severe and disabling injury during the French War against the Spanish in Navarre which also literally changed the direction of his life's goals from being a military commander to becoming a spiritual soldier for the Catholic Church.

It is noteworthy that Francis Xavier along with Ignatius Loyola became two of the founding members of Jesuit Order (Brothers in Christ) an organization part of whose mission was the reformation of the Catholic Church and the organization of the counter-reformation to assuage the rise of Protestantism in Europe. The original name Loyola came up with for the Jesuit Order was the (Company of Jesus) modeling much of its administrative organization around the ideals of service and discipline he had learned while training for a military career. During the early part of the organization of the Jesuit Order at which time Loyola was writing the constitution of the Jesuit order Xavier had functioned as Loyola's personal secretary.

Pope Paul III

Formal approval of this new order was given by Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540. In the year following the foundation of the Jesuits and after consultation with Ignatious Loyola, Francis Xavier was personally selected by Loyola to be the head of missions to Asia for the Jesuits. He left Lisbon on his 35th birthday April 7, 1541 arriving in Goa India thirteen months later in May 1542. After seven years of service in India, Malaysia and the Spice Islands Xavier arrived in Kagoshima Japan on the 15th of August 1549.

Excerpt from a letter of St. Francis Xavier
to St. Ignatius de Loyola sent just prior to his departure from Goa to Japan, 15 April 1549.

We have now some of the Society in all parts of India where there are Christians. Four are in the Moluccas, two at Malacca, six in the Comorin Promontory, two at Coulan, as many at Bazain, four at Socotra. The distances between these places are immense; for instance, the Moluccas (Spice Islands) are more than a thousand leagues from Goa, Malacca (Malaysia) five hundred, Cape Comorin two hundred, Coulan one hundred and twenty, Bazain sixty, and Socotra three hundred. In each place there is one of the Society who is Superior of the rest. As these Superiors are men of remarkable prudence and virtue, the others are very well content.

I have learnt from good authorities that there is a country near China called Japan, the inhabitants of which are all heathen, quite untouched by Muslims or Jews, and very eager to learn what they do not know both in things divine and things natural, I have determined to go thither as soon as I can....


Not only was St. Francis Xavier's selected as the head of missions to Asia for the Jesuit Order but he also represented the Crown of Portugal as a political emissary. Both positions required his communications and reports be sent to Rome and Portugal on a regular basis for administrative reasons. Francis Xavier's close personal and spiritual relationship with Loyola was of the nature that Xavier considered Loyola to be his spiritual father and therefore he corresponded with him personally on a regular basis during his mission years in Asia. It is said that the normally stoic Loyola wept copious tears of sadness and remorse when he learned of Xavier's death in China in 1552.

Ignatius Loyola founder of the Jesuit Order

Ignatius Loyola founder of the Jesuit Order

The age of discovery with its technological development of ships capable of the exploration of the world’s high seas had played an integral part in the initial success of Xavier's missionary efforts. These ships carried his correspondence to and from Rome and Portugal as well as bringing provisions and personnel to his Asian missions. By a set of unusual circumstances and the politics surrounding the use of these ships in Japan they would play an even larger role in the plot leading to the eventual repression of Francis Xavier's Christian missions to Japan in the late 16th and early 17th century.

At the beginning of the 16th century the taste for the expansion of Empires was on lips of Royalty throughout Europe and the rush to create Empires would establish the European nations as the dominant practitioners of seafaring for the next four hundred years until the time of the second world war and the emergence of Japan as a world naval power.

For ten years Francis Xavier sailed the high seas to his ports of call in ships similar to the one pictured above. His initial voyage from Lisbon to Goa on the India's west coast took thirteen months to complete. The voyage was made only after numerous hardships and perils presented by the environments through which he passed and by hostile natives.

Francis Xavier traveled with a variety of companions during his missionary years. One of the most notable being the Japanese samurai Anjiro, the man who most inspired him to go to Japan. Anjiro was from the port city of Kagoshima on the Island of Kyushu and was living in exile in Malacca when he met Xavier. Anjiro was likely to have been part of the trading system the Japanese had set up called the domain of the Nanban which encompassed Southeast Asia and undertook trade with China. The Japanese were seeking trade relations throughout this area and already knew they had to deal with coming of the Europeans to Japan. Anjiro's relationship with Xavier would have likely to have been extremely self serving once Anjiro had determined the nature of Xavier's influences and connections to Rome and European Royalty. Anjiro encouraged Xavier to believe that he would be successful in his missionary efforts to the Japanese. Anjiro became Xavier's traveling companion and accompanied Xavier from Malacca in Southern Malaysia to Goa on the eastern coast of India and on his first missionary trip to Japan which landed in the port City of Kagoshima, Anjiro's home port, in the south eastern part of the Island of Kyushu.

Xavier spent the better part of a year in Kagoshima learning the Japanese language and translating scriptures and the catechism into the native Japanese language before leaving for the Kingdom of Bungo in northern Kyushu, where he met the youthful Otomo Sorin, and then to Yamaguchi, Sakai and Kyoto on the Island of Honshu where Xavier's practical experiences in spreading the Gospel to the Japanese would prove to be a much different experience from what Anjiro had lead Xavier to believe it would be.

The timing of Xavier's arrival in Japan and the founding of his Christian missions corresponded closely with the end of Sengoku period and of the Onin wars and the beginning of the efforts to unifty Japan by Oda Nobunaga. The same year (1552) that Xavier left Japan seeking entry into China for his missionaries, Oda Nobunaga became the ruler of the Oda Diaymo in Owari Province and began the unification of Japan by a constant series of military conquests. This was a very turbulent time in Japanese history and the internal politics of the unification of Japan was a complex affair of interactions between warring factions within the country. Oda Nobunaga embraced and encouraged the manufacture and use of firearms, a technology that was brought to Japan by the Europeans, and by doing so completely changed the way in which warfare was conducted in Japan.

The internal political interests of the unifiers of Japan would come into sharp conflict with the apparent interests of Empire building by the Europeans and lead to the closure of Japan to all foreign missionary efforts by the middle of the 17th century.

The beginning of the use of Christian and European Iconography in Japanese Tsuba can be closely linked historically with the missionary efforts of Francis Xavier. The end of the use of Christian symbols within these art objects can also be linked directly to the repression of Christian missionary efforts in Japan by the Tokogawa shoguns, therefore those art objects having Christian symbols which were made for Samurai who had converted to the faith are associated with a very specific time frame of Japanese History. This artistic development occurred in a period of Japanese history which lasted less than a full century from 1543 with the arrival of the Portuguese and the birth of Tokugawa Ieyasu in Japan to 1637 and the repression of Christian missionary efforts in Japan and the closure of Japan to Foreign influences by the heirs of Ieyasu the Tokogawa Shoguns.

The purpose of our ARTistory commentaries will be to bring additional emphasis to this period in history and the making of Japanese Tsuba with European influences while focusing on the importance of these art objects as collectibles.

arrival of the Jesuits in Japan 1549

16th Century Japanese Nanban screen
showing the arrival of Jesuits in Japan Circa 1549

Myochin iron tsuba with Black Ship motif 16th Century
Image used courtesy of Byron Shimizu

To assist in putting Kanayama's art objects into historical Context See:

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

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

William Adams arrives in Japan,
(1600 )
Page: 3

The Epic Journey of Hasekura Tsunenaga,
Page: 4

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

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

Timeline of European Events during the life of Hosokawa Tadaoki
Page 7

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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