Hasekura Tsunenaga

Hasekura Tsunenaga

Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga (支倉六右衛門常長 1571 - August 7, 1622), baptized in Spain as Felipe Francisco de Fachicura, was a Japanese samurai who served the Sendai daimio Date Masamune and the taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Japanese invasions of Korea between 1592 and 1598.

Between 1613 and 1620, Hasekura led a diplomatic mission to Spain, the hegemonic power, and to the Holy See in Rome.

The route to Spain was through the Pacific, calling at the viceroyalty of New Spain (he arrived in Acapulco and departed from Veracruz) and from there touring the Caribbean and the Atlantic, to go up the Guadalquivir to Coria del Rio and, once there, to follow a land route through Spain that took him to Seville, Madrid and Barcelona.

In Barcelona he would embark to travel the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, calling at a port in the south of France, to finally travel along the Italian coast to Rome.

This historic mission is given the name Keichō Embassy (慶長使節 Keichō Shisetsu) and had been preceded a few decades earlier by the Tenshō Embassy (天正使節 Tenshō Shisetsu) of 1582.

On the return voyage Hasekura and his companions again crossed New Spain in 1619 and sailed from Acapulco to Manila and then northward toward Japan. Hasekura is considered the first Japanese ambassador between America and Europe.

Although Hasekura's embassy was received cordially, it came at a time when Christianity was being repressed in Japan, which is why the then most powerful monarch in the world, King Philip III of Spain, refused to seal the trade agreements sought by the Japanese.

Hasekura returned to his homeland in 1620 and died a year later of illness after completing a pioneering expedition that achieved little for an increasingly isolationist Japan. The next official Japanese embassy to Europe did not occur until two and a half centuries later, in 1862.

Hasekura Tsunenaga Early years

Of Hasekura's youth little information is available. He was the son of Yamaguchi Tsuneshige (山口常成), having blood ties to Emperor Kanmu; and was born under the name Yoichi (與市), in Okitama, now Yonezawa, located in Yamagata prefecture.

In feudal Japan it was common among the nobility for the adult name to differ from the birth name, so he acquired the name Rokuemon Nagatsune (六右衛門長経). In his childhood, he became the adopted son of the samurai Hasekura Tokisama (支倉時正), from whom he later took his surname Hasekura;

and at the age of 7 he moved to Shibata (now Kawasaki, Miyagi Prefecture), where he resided throughout his youth in a castle built by his grandfather Hasekura Tsunemasa (支倉常正) in Kamitate Castle (上楯城),

located in the outskirts of the village Hasekura (支倉村) and current district of Kawasaki, where his surname comes from. With the birth of his half-brother Hasekura Hisanari (支倉久成), Date Masamune compensated the family with 1200 koku (amount of rice indicative of wealth), later reduced to 600 koku.

In 1590, he is known for his role in the Kasai-Ōsaki uprising, a rebellion caused by the unjust division of land in northern Japan between two clans.

He served the taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Japanese invasions of Korea, serving as ashigaru or private and captain of the arquebusiers, standing out as an excellent military man;

something that Masamune would have taken into consideration when choosing him as ambassador, in addition to having experience in navigation for his expedition to Korea, separated from Japan by a distance of approximately 110 miles between its closest coasts.

His biological father Yamaguchi was accused of corruption and sentenced to death, and in theory so should have been his son Hasekura. However, Masamune spared his life by offering him the job of ambassador and returning his confiscated land.

Hasekura Tsunenaga The Spanish approach

The Spanish began voyages across the Pacific Ocean between New Spain (present-day Mexico) and China, through their territorial base in the Philippines, following the voyages of Andres de Urdaneta in the 16th century. Manila would become the main base in the Asian region in 1571.

Spain established contacts with Japan out of a commercial interest in that populous nation and also because Spanish ships were periodically shipwrecked off the Japanese coast due to local bad weather.

The Spanish also wanted to expand the Christian faith in Japan, but the Portuguese and Dutch wanted to take over the Japanese trade, leaving out the Spanish; however, they met with great resistance from the Jesuits, who began evangelizing the country in 1549.

In 1609, the Spanish galleon San Francisco was shipwrecked in a storm off the Japanese coast of Chiba, near Tokyo, while sailing from Manila to Acapulco. The sailors were rescued and cared for, and the captain of the ship, Rodrigo de Vivero y Aberrucia, met with Tokugawa Ieyasu.

On November 29 of the same year a treaty was signed, authorizing the Spanish to establish a European-style factory in eastern Japan, they could transfer mining specialists from New Spain, Spanish ships would be allowed to visit Japan in case of need, and a Japanese diplomatic mission would be sent to the Spanish court.

The mission project of Hasekura Tsunenaga

Hasekura Tsunenaga

A Franciscan friar named Luis Sotelo, who performed religious conversions in the Tokyo area, convinced the shōgun to send him as ambassador to New Spain.

Sotelo traveled with the Spanish sailors of the San Francisco and 22 Japanese aboard the San Buena Ventura, a ship made by the English adventurer William Adams for the shōgun.

In New Spain, Sotelo conversed with Viceroy Luis de Velasco, who agreed to send an ambassador to Japan in the person of the famous explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno, with the attached mission to reconnoiter the Gold and Silver Islands, which were believed to lie to the east of the Japanese islands.

Vizcaino arrived in Japan in 1611 and had several encounters with the Shōgun and feudal lords.

These contacts were marred by Vizcaino's unfamiliarity with and disrespect for strict Japanese customs, in addition to the strong resistance of these people against Catholic conversions and the intrigues of the Dutch over Spanish ambitions.

Vizcaino finally set out in search of the Isla de la Plata. However, he had to interrupt his task because of bad weather, which forced him to return to Japan with severe damage.

The Shōgun decided to build a galleon in Japan to allow Vizcaíno to return to New Spain along with a Japanese mission.

The daimyō of Sendai, Date Masamune, took charge of the project. He called one of his servants, Hasekura Tsunenaga, to lead the mission.

The galleon, called Date Maru by the Japanese and, later, San Juan Bautista by the Spanish, took 45 days to build, and involved technical experts from the Bakufu, 800 shipbuilders, 700 blacksmiths and 3,000 carpenters.

Hasekura Tsunenaga Pacific voyage

After completion, the galleon departed on October 28, 1613 for Acapulco, New Spain, with 180 people on board, including ten shōgun samurai (sent by the Minister of the Navy, Mukai Shōgen), twelve Sendai samurai, 120 Japanese merchants, sailors and servants, and about forty Spaniards and Portuguese.

The galleon arrived in Acapulco on January 25, 1614 after three months on the ocean, and was received with great ceremony.

The diplomatic mission remained for a while in New Spain, and then went to Veracruz to embark on June 10 of the same year on the ship San José of Antonio de Oquendo's fleet. Hasekura left much of the Japanese mission in Acapulco to await the return of the mission.

Hasekura Tsunenaga Journey to Europe

Hasekura Tsunenaga


Before arriving in Spain, the galleon made a brief stay in Havana, Hasekura Tsunenaga being the first Japanese to visit Cuba.

The next port of call for the diplomatic mission was Europe, where they crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a Spanish galleon from New Spain, arriving at Sanlúcar de Barrameda and being received with honors by the Duke of Medina Sidonia on October 5, 1614.

After a brief stay, two galleons were armed to sail up the Guadalquivir River, arriving at the Sevillian town of Coria del Río. From there, they traveled on foot and in carriages to Seville on October 23, 1614.

In the Sevillian capital, after crossing the Triana Bridge, which served as the main access to the city in the 16th century, the embassy was received with much fervor and enthusiasm by the civilian population and the local nobility.

They met with the warden and visited various buildings, including the Giralda in Seville and the Real Alcazar, where they stayed. Days later, on October 27, 1614, the intentions of the missive were made known through the reading of a letter written by Date Masamune, embroidered in gold and adorned with natural motifs.

In it Masamune's desire for a religious agreement with the King for the dispensation of more missionaries was made known, at the same time that he requested a commercial agreement between Spain and Japan; and he was given, as a gift to the city, a katana and a wakizashi (a pair of weapons typically carried by the samurai).

The whereabouts of these are unknown after they were subsequently stolen during the Revolution of 1868.

After staying in Seville for a while and leaving from there, Hasekura passed through several cities in order to reach Madrid and thus be able to have a royal audience with Philip III, King of Spain. Specifically, his itinerary was marked by cities such as Cordoba, Toledo and Getafe.

The embassy finally arrived in Madrid on December 20, 1614 and received lodging in the monastery of San Francisco.

Going to the Real Alcazar of Madrid on January 30, with the help of Sotelo serving as interpreter, Hasekura held an audience with Philip III, and gave him two letters: one letter written by Hasekura, in which he made known the acceptance of the Christian faith;

and another by Masamune, which explained how the process of trade would be in case the King responded affirmatively to the treaty. In it, the construction of new Spanish ships in Japanese territory, the reception of Spanish products and goods, and the possibility that the Spaniards could receive land in Japan were stated.

Masamune also offered to apply sanctions to the Dutch and Portuguese, rivals with the Spanish in the Japanese archipelago. To all this, the King replied that he would do his best to comply with their requests.

As a token of his Catholic faith, Hasekura was baptized in the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid on February 17, 1615 by the Archbishop of Toledo, being his godfather the Duke of Lerma, valide of the King, and renamed Felipe Francisco Hasekura (Faxecura or Faxicura, according to the Japanese transliteration of the time).

The name Felipe honored King Philip III; and the name Francisco honored the Franciscans, the order to which his companion Fray Luis Sotelo and some of the evangelizers of Japan in the 16th century belonged.

His baptism, beyond being granted for his own Christian conviction, also served to give an image of his belonging to the religion and thus deepen the ties with the Spanish Court; especially the King, who should have the last word.

Once they left Madrid, they continued their journey through the rest of the peninsula, visiting Zaragoza and various towns, until they arrived in Barcelona on October 3, 1615. This city was the last stop on their journey through Spain to embark for Rome.


Hasekura Tsunenaga

After the voyage to Spain, the mission set sail for the Mediterranean aboard three frigates for Italy. But bad weather caused them to drop anchor in the French port of Saint-Tropez, where they were greeted by the local nobility and attracted attention in the town.

The visit of the Japanese mission was recorded in the history of the town as "Philip Francis Faxicura, Ambassador to the Pope from Date Masamunni, King of Woxu in Japan".

Some picturesque details of these movements were collected:

They never touched food with their fingers, but used two small sticks which they held with three fingers.
They blew their noses into soft silk papers the size of a hand, which they never used twice, so they threw them on the ground after use, and were glad to see our people around rushing to pick them up.
Their swords cut so much that they could cut a soft paper by putting it over the edge and the wind would blow over them.

Relations of Madame de Saint Tropez, October 1615, Bibliotheque Inguimbertine, Carpentras.

Hasekura's visit to Saint Tropez marked the first contact between Japan and France.


The Japanese mission arrived in Italy, where they could meet Pope Paul V in Rome in November 1615. Hasekura sent the pope an attractive letter containing a request for a trade treaty between Japan and New Spain and the sending of Christian missionaries to Japan.

The pope agreed to send missionaries, but left the decision for trade to the king of Spain. The pope wrote a letter to Date Masamune, a copy of which is currently on display in Vatican City.

The Roman Senate also honored Hasekura with the title of Roman Citizen, in a document which he took to Japan and which is currently preserved in Sendai. The Italian writer Scipione Amati, who accompanied the mission between 1615 and 1616, published in Rome a book entitled History of the Kingdom of Voxu.

In 1616, the French publisher Abraham Savgarin published an account of Hasekura's visit to Rome: Récit de l'entrée solemnelle et remarquable faite à Rome, par Dom Phillipe Francois Faxicura ("Account of the solemn and remarkable entry into Rome of Dom Philippe Francois Faxicura").

Hasekura Tsunenaga

Second visit to Spain

Back in Spain, in April 1616 Hasekura met again with King Philip III, who declined to sign the trade agreement, on the grounds that the Japanese mission no longer appeared to be an official mission of the Japanese ruler Tokugawa Ieyasu,

who had issued an edict in January 1614 ordering the expulsion of all missionaries from the country, and who had begun the persecution of the Christian faith in Japan.

Two years later, after its journey through Europe, the mission left Seville for New Spain in June 1616. There is evidence from documentary records that some of the Japanese may have stayed in Spain, since their last stay was in towns near Seville (Espartinas and Coria del Río).

Curiously, there are many people with the surname "Japón" in this Andalusian region and in other areas of Spain, as well as in other parts of the world.

Return to Japan

Hasekura Tsunenaga

In April 1618 the San Juan Bautista arrived in the Philippines from New Spain, with Hasekura and Luis Sotelo on board. The ship was acquired by the Spanish for the purpose of building defenses against the Dutch. Hasekura returned to Japan in August 1620.

By the time Hasekura returned, Japan had changed drastically: efforts were being made to eradicate Christianity since 1614, and the country was already approaching the Sakoku, the period of isolation.

Because of these persecutions, the trade agreements with New Spain that were to be established were denied. In the end, their mission had very few results.

The accounts of those who traveled to Europe and America, who had described the great Spanish universal power, may have precipitated the Shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada to break off trade relations with Spain in 1623 and diplomatic relations in 1624.

What happened to Hasekura in his later years is unknown. Some versions claim that he abandoned Christianity, others that he was martyred for his faith, and others that he practiced Christianity in secret; what is certain is that his descendants suffered religious persecution.

He died in 1622 and three places in Miyagi claim to be Hasekura's grave site; one on the outskirts of Ōsato village at Saikō-ji temple (西光寺), another at the Buddhist temple of Enfuku-ji (円福寺) in Kawasaki village, and the other marked (along with a memorial to Sotelo) in the cemetery of Kōmyō-ji temple (光明寺) in Kitayama Aoba-ku (Sendai).

400th anniversary of the Keicho-Hasekura Embassy

Hasekura Tsunenaga

In June 2013, on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the Keicho-Hasekura Embassy, Prince Naruhito paid a visit to Spain, launching under the honorary presidency of the Prince of Asturias and the Crown Prince of Japan, the Spain-Japan Dual Year.

During the visit, the Japanese prince stopped in Coria del Río, an important stopping place for the Embassy, among other places.131415

Hasekura Tsunenaga Cultural impact


The composer and shakuhachi musician Rodrigo Rodríguez dedicated to him the album "The Road of Hasekura Tsunenaga" published in 2013. 1617


Gisaku (2005) by Baltasar Pedrosa Clavero. Animated feature film based on the mission of Hasekura Tsunenaga.


The Japanese writer Shusaku Endo in 1980 published the novel The Samurai, which novelizes the mission of Hasekura Tsunenaga taking creative licenses for the development of the story.

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