Saturday, 8 August 2015
The expedition was headed by a samurai named Hasekura Tsunenaga (or Francisco Felipe Faxicura, as he would be baptized, in Spain). Tsunenaga had served under Hideyoshi, during the Japanese invasion of Korea. In 1612, his father, Hasekura Tsunenari had been indicted for corruption, and put to death in 1613. His fief was confiscated, and his son should have been executed as well, but Masamune however gave him the opportunity to redeem his honour by placing him in charge of the Embassy to Europe, and gave him back his territories as well.
The year 1613 was a busy one. On October 28, the Date Maru left for Acapulco with 180 people on board, consisting of 10 samurai of the Shogun, 12 samurai from Sendai, 120 Japanese merchants, sailors, and servants, and 40 Spaniards and Portuguese. It had barely cleared port when Ieyasu closed the ‘chained country’ with his Sakoku policy. No foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave, on penalty of death. For the protagonists on Masamune’s voyage, it may as well been forever.
After three months at sea, the Southern Barbarian hybrid and its crew arrived in Acapulco. They stayed for over a year. On April 28, 1615, the Date Maru began a return voyage to Japan, carrying fifty silver mining specialists and a group of doomed Franciscans, while Masamune’s embassy continued on to Europe, eventually reaching Rome.
At the Vatican, Pope Paul V appointed Sotelo as as second Bishop of Japan, subject to the approval of the Spanish King. The expedition remained in Madrid for a full year on the return journey, delayed both because rivalries between Franciscans and Jesuits had prevented Sotelo’s consecration, and because Christianity was being harshly persecuted in Japan. Most of the Japanese samurai sent with the mission, who had converted to Christianity, chose to remain near Seville, where six hundred of their descendants, with the surname Japón, live to this day.
In 1618, the Catholic Council of the Indies sent Sotelo, accompanied by ambassador Hasekura and the remains of the embassy, back to Veracruz and Acapulco, to pursue missionary activities in Nueva España. Two years earlier the Date Maru’s outward-bound trip to retrieve them in Acapulco had gone terribly wrong, and around 100 sailors had died en route.
On their way back to Japan they were diverted to Manila, obstructed first by pirates and contrary winds, and then by the outgoing Viceroy of the Philippines. The Spanish authorities impounded Sotelo in Manila, having no desire to allow a Franciscan rival to the existing Portuguese Jesuit bishop ruling the Nagasaki diocese.
By the time the embassy made it back to Japan in 1620, the situation had drastically changed. Christianity was being eradicated since its interdiction in 1614, and the shogunate had moved inexorably towards isolation. Masamune’s trade agreements with Mexico were denied and, although his eldest daughter, Iroha, had converted, he was forced to let Ieyasu persecute Christians in his domain.
Friday, 7 August 2015
In 1604, Masamune, accompanied by 52,000 vassals and their families, moved to the small fishing village of Sendai, leaving behind his fourth son to rule Iwadeyama. Masamune would turn Sendai into a magnificent city, and himself into one of Japan’s most powerful daimyô, eventually ruling one of the largest fiefdoms of the later Tokugawa shogunate. He built many palaces and projects to beautify Sendai, and his backwater home of Tōhoku. For the next 270 years, Masamune’s realm would trade and prosper, and attract many visitors. In 1689, my favorite haiku master, in his own Narrow Road to the Deep North, praised Sendai’s famous bay for the beauty and serenity of its two hundred tiny pine islets. He had few words.
A-ah, Matsushima, ah!
Despite the fact that few trusted him completely, Masamune was ultimately highly respected for his ethics, and served the Toyotomi and Tokugawa loyally. He visited Ieyasu on his deathbed, and read him a piece of his own Zen poetry.
Masamune was a patron of the arts. He opened the doors of his province to Christian missionaries and other foreigners, leading to his greatest achievement.
Masamune funded a voyage to establish relations with Pope Paul V in Rome, motivated at least in part by a desire for foreign technology. His exploration ship, the Date Maru (or San Juan Bautista), would become the first Japanese vessel to sail around the world.
One of the earliest Japanese-built Western-style ships, a nanban-sen ‘Southern Barbarian boat,’ the Date Maru was constructed in 45 days during 1613, in Tsuki-No-Ura harbour. The project had been approved by the Ieyasu’s Bakufu government in Edo, and required his technical experts, 800 shipwrights, 700 smiths, 3000 carpenters and two Spaniards- the Spanish captain Sebastián Vizcaíno, and a Franciscan friar.
Brother Luis Sotelo was a keystone historical interface figure, between the ephemeral open doors of warlords like Masamune, and the slammed shut closure of Japan that would come under Ieyasu for the next 250 years. After Pope Paul V had authorized the Dominicans and Franciscans to also proselytize in Japan in 1608, heretofore the preserve of the Jesuits, Sotelo had spent four years in Manila, learning Japanese. The church he tried to establish in Edo was destroyed in 1612, following a bribery scandal between a Tokagawa collaborator and a Christian daimyô. This put Ieyasu in a foul mood, and indisposed to indulgences. Having healed a concubine of Masamune’s, Sotelo was invited to safe haven in his domain, where Christianity was still allowed. When Sotelo returned to inaugurate a new church in Tokyo in May of the following year, he was imprisoned until Masamune could get him out through a special request. His fellow Christians were summarily executed. Masamune received Ieyasu’s approval to hire Sotelo as translator for his embassy. The timing would save his life, for a while.
Thursday, 6 August 2015
‘Rectitude carried to excess hardens into stiffness;
benevolence indulged beyond measure sinks into weakness.’
And still we move too fast. The Sengoku was a Samurai Road taken by more than the three unifiers. Other remarkable warrior journeys through the Warring States left a few stories that, in their telling, enrich our appreciation of the period.
If there was an overarching bridge between Hideyoshi and Ieyasu, it would have been Date Masamune. Born in Yonezawa Castle on September 5, 1567, he was the eldest son of Date Terumune, a powerful warlord in the Tōhoku region. At the age of 14, Masamune led his first campaign, and three years later, was expected to succeed his retired father as daimyô. But Masamune was missing his right eye. Some sources said that smallpox robbed his vision as a child; some said he plucked it out himself when a senior clan member pointed out that an enemy could grab it in a fight; others say that he had a trusted retainer, Katakura Kojuro, gouge it out for him... and then he ate it. I received this eye from my parents, so it would be a shame to throw it away.
The details don’t matter. Masamune’s mother, Yoshihime declared him unfit to take over as clan leader, and began favoring his younger brother, Kojiro, as heir.
One night in 1589 she tried to poison him while serving him dinner. Masamune killed Kojiro to settle the succession, and his mother fled to her brother's home.
Masamune's handicap became an icon for his rising reputation as an outstanding tactician. He was known as dokuganryū, or the ‘one-eyed dragon,’ due to his violent reckless approach in times of war. After suffering several defeats as an inexperienced general, he soon became one of the most feared men in all of Japan. Shortly after succession, he took control of Obama Castle. His ruthlessness struck terror into all of those who crossed his path, and his famous crescent-moon-bearing helmet won him a chilling reputation. Masamune's army was recognized by its black armor and golden headgear. It was a stampeding wonder.
When he began his campaign to conquer all of his clan’s neighboring provinces, the neighboring Hatakeyama family pleaded with Masamune’s father to reel in his son’s wild aggressive behaviour. When Terumune told them that there was nothing he could do, they kidnapped him. Masamune led his enraged army in pursuit, but his father ordered him to wipe out all of his kidnappers, even if it meant killing him in the process. Masamune did as he was told, and Terumune, along with all of the other kidnappers were killed. A brutal reputation grew from there, as he tortured and murdered his way to conquest.
In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the virtual ruler of Japan at the time, was infuriated by Masamune’s tardiness in attending the Siege of Odawara against Hōjō Ujimasa. When Masamune was ordered to present himself to the enraged warlord, he did so fearlessly, wearing his finest clothes, with the expectation that he would be executed on the spot for his defiance. Fortunately, Hideyoshi’s temper had cooled and he spared him, because ‘He could be of some use.’
Masamune served Hideyoshi loyally, and was given Iwadeyama castle as his reward. He stayed for 13 years, turning the town at the base of his fortress, and the surrounding region into a major domain. He served with distinction in the ill-fated Korean invasions and, after Hideyoshi's death, began to support Tokugawa Ieyasu. In return he was awarded the lordship of the huge and profitable Sendai domain, most of which was used to feed the Edo region.
Wednesday, 5 August 2015
And the little monkey sandal-bearer- what had he accomplished? Hideyoshi had changed Japanese society in many ways.
His most important reforms involved the recodification of rigid class structure. During the Warring States Period, it was common for peasants to become warriors, or for samurai to farm due to the constant uncertainty caused by the lack of centralized government and an always tentative peace. Upon taking control, Hideyoshi decreed in the Separation Edict of 1588, that all peasants be completely disarmed and what weapons they had be confiscated in a massive ‘sword hunt.’ Although he promised that he weapons he seized were to be melted down into a giant statue of Buddha, he simply armed his troops with them. Both actions brought an end to rebellion, since the lowly peasants no longer had a means to arm themselves. Soon after that, he banned samurai from living with the common populace and from taking part in occupations like as farming or trading, requiring them instead to leave the land and take up residence in the castle towns. Land and production surveys formed the basis for systematic taxation.
Hideyoshi completed a new census of Japan, and then required all registered citizens to stay in their respective han fiefs, unless they had official permission to go elsewhere. This brought order in a period when bandits still roamed the countryside and peace was still new. He banned ‘unfree labor’ or slavery, although forms of contract and indentured work persisted along with the period’s penal code forced labor.
All of this solidified the social class system for the next 300 years.
The sandal bearer also influenced the material culture of Japan. He financed the construction, restoration and rebuilding of many temples standing today in Kyoto. He lavished time and money on the tea ceremony, collecting implements, sponsoring social events, and patronizing acclaimed masters. During the Korean campaigns, large quantities of prized ceramic implements were confiscated, and many Korean artisans forcibly relocated to Japan. Hideyoshi constructed a fabulous portable tearoom, covered with gold leaf and lined with red gossamer, inspired by the dazzling Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. His appearance anywhere with a mobile tea ceremony projected unrivaled power and status.
Politically, he set up a governmental system that balanced out the most powerful Japanese daimyô. A council was created to include the most influential warlords. Just prior to his death, Hideyoshi set up a political system that he hoped would be stable enough to survive until his son grew old enough to become the next leader. A go-tairō Council of Five Elders was formed, consisting of the five most powerful warlords, with a designated regent in command. It failed to achieve his goal, but some organizational elements would remain in place for the next three centuries.
In a letter to his wife, Hideyoshi once wrote:
‘I mean to do glorious deeds and I am ready for a long siege, with
provisions and gold and silver in plenty, so as to return in
triumph and leave a great name behind me. I desire you to
understand this and to tell it to everybody.’
Tuesday, 4 August 2015
In the first campaign, Hideyoshi easily took Seoul on May 10, 1592. At a war council in June, Japanese commanders divided the country into eight Hachidokuniwari subjugation routes. In only four months, Hideyoshi's forces would occupy much of Korea and breach an opening into Manchuria. Ming Chinese Emperor Wanli sent 43,000 soldiers into the peninsula, under general Li Rusong. On January 7, 1593 they recaptured Pyongyang and surrounded Seoul, but lost the Battle of Byeokjegwan in the suburbs.
In the same year, Hideyoshi’s wife, Nene, had a second son that would survive until adulthood, and create a potential succession problem.
To solve it, Hideyoshi exiled his nephew and provisional heir, Hidetsugu, to Mount Kōya, and two years later, ordered him to commit suicide. Any of Hidetsugu’s family members who did not follow his example were murdered in Kyoto, including 31 women and several children.
A year before his death, in 1597, Hideyoshi made one of his final statements about his intent to suppress Christianity. On February 5, he had twenty-six Christians, five European Franciscan missionaries, one Mexican Franciscan missionary, three Japanese Jesuits and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys, executed by public crucifixion in Nagasaki, as an example to Japanese who wanted to convert to Christianity. Make it want to sing.
In 1598, Hideyoshi led a second invasion of Korea, but met with even less success. Japanese troops remained pinned down in Gyeongsang province. The Koreans continually harassed Japanese forces through guerrilla warfare. While Hideyoshi's Battle of Sacheon was a major victory, all three parties to the war were exhausted.
“Don't let my soldiers become spirits in a foreign land.” He told his commander. And then, on September 18, 1598, Toyotomi died of bubonic plague.
The Council of Five Elders kept his death secret to preserve morale, and Japanese forces in Korea were withdrawn back to Japan. Two very bold unsuccessful invasions of Korea had left Hideyoshi’s regime and loyal Toyotomi clans weakened, clan coffers and fighting strength depleted, and his vassals conflicted over responsibility for the failure. The dream of a Japanese conquest of China was postponed indefinitely. The new Tokugawa Shogunate not only prohibited any military expeditions to the mainland, but closed Japan to almost all foreigners during the years of their reign.
Monday, 3 August 2015
‘Even monkeys fall from trees.’
Nobunaga nicknamed Japan's second great unifier kozaru, ‘little monkey,’ because his face and skinny features resembled one. Others called him the ‘bald rat.’ Born in 1536 to Yaemon, a low-ranking peasant foot soldier with no surname, Toyotomi Hideyoshi had no samurai lineage, and it should have been impossible for him to evolve into the formidable general and innovative leader that would become. His childhood name was Hiyoshi-maru, ‘Bounty of the Sun.’ Nobunaga made it, Hideyoshi baked it, Tokugawa ate it.
His approach was more lenient than Nobunaga’s, but still more interventional than Ieyasu’s. Make it want to sing.
At the age of 21, he began as a humble sandal-bearer for Nobunaga, and three years later, carried out the repairs and managed the kitchen of Kiyosu Castle. Four years later, according to legend, he constructed a fort in Sunomata, overnight, with bandits and prefabricated palisades, demoralizing the enemy and discovering a secret route into Mount Inaba.
Hideyoshi’s persuasive powers were enhanced by his ability for bribery and, in 1564, he managed to convince a number of Mino warlords to abandon their allegiance to the Saitō. His military prowess was as impressive, known for diverting rivers to flood enemy villages and clans, and easily taking Inabayama Castle in 1567. After leading the victory against the Azai and Asakura clans in the Battle of Anegawa three years later, Nobunaga appointed him daimyô of three districts in northern Ōmi Province. Later in 1573 Hideyoshi moved to the shores of Lake Biwa to build Imahama Castle, and take control of the nearby Kunitomo firearms factory, which dramatically increased its output.
Six years after Hideyoshi conquered the magnificent ‘White Egret’ Himeji Castle from the Mori clan in 1576, he made a hasty peace with them, to avenge Nobunaga’s assassination, by pursuing and killing Akechi Mitsuhide at the Battle of Yamazaki less than two weeks later.
With the same resolute behavior that Nobunaga had demonstrated, Hideyoshi’s power within the Oda clan grew rapidly.
A meeting was held at Kiyosu to decide Nobunaga’s successor. Hideyoshi supported his first son’s young son, Hidenobu, over the candidate proposed by the clan's chief general Katsuie, Nobunaga’s third son, Nobutaka. With the support of the other two Oda elders, Hideyoshi established Hidenobu's position, as well as the assumption of all control in the Oda clan.
Tension quickly escalated, and in May of 1583, Katsuie attacked Hideyoshi's fortifications on Shizugatake. Supposedly at least four days' march away, as soon as Hideyoshi learned of the assault, he led his men on a forced march through the night, and easily smashed through the besieging army defenses within 36 hours. He pursued them back to Katsuie's Kitanosho Castle. They seized the fortress but not before the general set the keep on fire, killed his family and committed seppuku.
Hideyoshi's chief seven generals in the Battle at Shizugatake earned great fame and honor, would later become some of his closest retainers, and came to be known as the shichi-hon yari or ‘Seven Spears of Shizugatake.’
In 1583, Hideyoshi began construction of the massive Osaka Castle, the largest and most formidable in all Japan, to guard the western approaches to Kyoto, on the site of the temple Ishiyama Honganji destroyed by Nobunaga. After Hideyoshi's death the castle would become the last Toyotomi stronghold, where Tokugawa Ieyasu would kill his only surviving son Hideyori, and end the line.
But, for the moment, Ieyasu was still in the process of becoming a vassal of Hideyoshi, having received his younger sister Asahi and mother Ōmandokoro as hostages.
For 19 months beginning in 1586, just after he assumed the prestigious post of kampaku regent, Hideyoshi constructed the Jurakudai, a lavish palace with gold leaf roofing tiles. On completion he held a sumptuous feast for the reigning Emperor Go-Yōzei, met Tokugawa Ieyasu here, and provided quarters for tea-master Sen no Rikyū within the grounds. He went on to subjugate Kii Province and Shikoku and Etchū, and to conquer Kyūshū.
At the pinnacle of his power, Hideyoshi may have begun to feel a little trapped by the trappings. He was known for his temper. Unlike lord Nobunaga, he had no particular affection for Christian missionaries and, in 1587, banished them from Kyūshū, despite the gifts that were still exchanged with the governor of the Philippines. The black elephant in particular I found most unusual.
In February 1591, Hideyoshi ordered Sen no Rikyū, a trusted retainer and master of the tea ceremony under both Hideyoshi and Nobunaga, to commit suicide. Rikyū had made significant changes to the tea ceremony aesthetics that influenced many aspects of Japanese culture. Hideyoshi’s own construction projects were based upon principles of Rikyū’s aesthetic beauty. Rikyū's last act was to hold an exquisite tea ceremony. After serving all his guests, he presented each of his guests with a piece of the equipment as a souvenir, with the exception of the bowl, which he shattered.
“Never again shall this cup, polluted by the lips of misfortune, be used by man.” He said. As the guests departed, one remained to serve as witness to his death.
Following Rikyū's death, Hideyoshi turned his attention from tea ceremony to Noh drama. Hideyoshi memorized the lead roles parts of ten plays, which he then performed, even before the Emperor.
As his health began to falter, Hideyoshi looked for some accomplishment to solidify his legacy. He adopted Oda Nobunaga's dream of a Japanese conquest of China, by way of Korea. Communications with the Koreans requesting unmolested passage into China had taken place for four years, before the Joseon government finally refused, in July of 1591. Masses of Ming Chinese troops battling Hideyoshi's troops on Korean soil posed an unacceptable risk. In August, Hideyoshi ordered preparations for invasion.
Sunday, 2 August 2015
Nobunaga was welcoming and gracious to Westerners, and tolerant of their activities. He was fascinated with European culture, collected Western art and arms and armor, and was among the first Japanese in recorded history to wear European clothes. He also became the patron of the Jesuit missionaries in Japan and supported the establishment of the first Christian church in Kyoto in 1576, although he saw them as merely useful and somewhat amusing diversions. They provided him with the novelties and artifacts his collections, recognized him as the real ruler of Japan, and acted as a foil to his Buddhist enemies, to increase their frustration.
Nobunaga was a cultured man, and patron of the arts. He built extensive gardens and castles, in and of themselves great works of art. He presided over the beginnings of modern kabuki. And he was an avid student of the tea ceremony and poetry. He collected tea items from far afield, and held tea and poetry gatherings with learned and cultured men. His sponsorship of tea master Sen no Rikyū established the Japanese tea ceremony, which Nobunaga popularized and used originally as an environment to talk politics and business. He gave tea items as rewards for exceptional service, as opposed to the traditional grant of land. A tea object from Nobunaga's hand was considered an exceptional honor.
Oda Nobunaga was well on his way to the complete conquest and unification of Japan, when Akechi Mitsuhide burned him that into oblivion. His legacy as the first of three unifiers during the Sengoku is undisputed. Despite depictions of him as villainous or demonic, film director Akira Kurosawa choice to portray him more positively in Kagemusha, as energetic, athletic and respectful towards his enemies, was probably not far off the mark. For me, in my samurai’s mind, I can see him laughing, or dancing and singing Atsumori’s song, and conquering the world.
‘In truth, this world is not eternally inhabited
It is more transient than dewdrops on the leave of grass, or the
moon reflected in the water.
After reciting the poetry of flower at Kanaya, all glory is now left
with the wind of impermanence.
Those who leisurely play with the moon of southern tower, now
hide in the cloud of Saṅkhāra.
Human life lasts only 50 years, Contrast human life with life of
It is but a very dream and illusion.
Once they are given life from god, there is no such thing don't
Unless we consider this a very seed of awakening, it is a
grievous truth indeed.’
The Real Song of Atsumori