Nagasaki is the capital and the largest city of Nagasaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan. It became a center of Portuguese and other European influence in the 16th through 19th centuries, and the Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki have been proposed for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Part of Nagasaki was home to a major Imperial Japanese Navy base during the First Sino-Japanese War andRusso-Japanese War. Its name means “long cape”.
Nagasaki was a remote fishing village when Portuguese ships arrived here in 1571 to establish a base for trade and missionary work. During the following two decades, the Portuguese exerted a powerful influence on Japan, most notably by introducing guns and revolutionizing the style of Japanese warfare. But national leaders concluded that missionary work was a prelude to colonization, and in 1614 they ordered the exile of priests and the destruction of all churches. Finally, in 1639, all Portuguese and their families including Japanese wives and children were expelled from Japan and all traces of their stay here carefully erased.
A small fishing village secluded by harbours, Nagasaki had little historical significance until contact with Portuguese explorers in 1543. An early visitor was Fernão Mendes Pinto, who came on a Portuguese ship which landed nearby in Tanegashima.
Soon after Portuguese ships started sailing to Japan as regular trade freighters, thus increasing the contact and trade relations between Japan and the rest of the world, and particularly with mainland China, with whom Japan had previously severed its commercial and political ties, mainly due to a number of incidents involving Wokou piracy in the South China Sea, with the Portuguese now serving as intermediaries between the two Asian countries. Despite the mutual advantages derived from these trading contacts, which would soon be acknowledged by all parties involved, the lack of a proper seaport in Kyūshū for the purpose of harboring foreign ships posed a major problem for both merchants and the Kyushudaimyo (feudal lords) who expected to collect great advantages from these intercourse with the Portuguese.
In the meantime, Navarrese Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier arrived in Kagoshima, South Kyūshū, in 1549, and soon initiated a thorough campaign ofevangelization throughout Japan, but left for China in 1551 and died soon afterwards. His followers who remained behind converted a number of daimyo. The most notable among them was Ōmura Sumitada, who greatly profited from his conversion to the “Kirishitan” religion through an accompanying deal to receive a portion of the trade from Portuguese ships. In 1569, Ōmura granted a permit for the establishment of a port with the purpose of harboring Portuguese ships in Nagasaki, which was finally set in 1571, under the supervision of the Jesuit missionary Gaspar Vilela and Portuguese Captain-Major Tristão Vaz de Veiga, with Ōmura’s personal assistance.
The little harbor village quickly grew into a diverse port city, and Portuguese products imported through Nagasaki (such as tobacco, bread, textiles and a Portuguese sponge-cake called castellas) were assimilated into popular Japanese culture. Tempura derived from a popular Portuguese recipe originally known as peixinho-da-horta, and takes its name from the Portuguese word, ‘tempero’ another example of the enduring effects of this cultural exchange. The Portuguese also brought with them many goods from China.
In 1596, the Spanish ship San Felipe was wrecked off the coast of Shikoku, and Hideyoshi learned from its pilot that the Spanish Franciscans were the vanguard of an Iberian invasion of Japan. In response, Hideyoshi ordered the crucifixions of twenty-six Catholics in Nagasaki on February 5 of that year (i.e. the “Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan”). Portuguese traders were not ostracized, however, and so the city continued to thrive.
In 1602, Augustinian missionaries also arrived in Japan, and when Tokugawa Ieyasu took power in 1603, Catholicism was still tolerated. Many Catholic daimyo had been critical allies at the Battle of Sekigahara, and the Tokugawa position was not strong enough to move against them. Once Osaka Castle had been taken and Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s offspring killed, though, the Tokugawa dominance was assured. In addition, the Dutch and English presence allowed trade without religious strings attached. Thus, in 1614, Catholicism was officially banned and all missionaries ordered to leave. Most Catholic daimyo apostatized, and forced their subjects to do so, although a few would not renounce the religion and left the country for Macau, Luzon and Japantowns in Southeast Asia. A brutal campaign of persecution followed, with thousands of converts across Kyūshū and other parts of Japan killed, tortured, or forced to renounce their religion.
Catholicism’s last gasp as an open religion, and the last major military action in Japan until the Meiji Restoration, was the Shimabara Rebellion of 1637. While there is no evidence that Europeans directly incited the rebellion, Shimabara Domain had been a Christian han for several decades, and the rebels adopted many Portuguese motifs and Christian icons. Consequently, in Tokugawa society the word “Shimabara” solidified the connection between Christianity and disloyalty, constantly used again and again in Tokugawa propaganda.
The Shimabara Rebellion also convinced many policy-makers that foreign influences were more trouble than they were worth, leading to the national isolation policy. The Portuguese, who had been previously living on a specially constructed island-prison in Nagasaki harbour called Dejima, were expelled from the archipelago altogether, and the Dutch were moved from their base at Hirado into the trading island. In 1720 the ban on Dutch books was lifted, causing hundreds of scholars to flood into Nagasaki to study European science and art. Consequently, Nagasaki became a major center of rangaku, or “Dutch Learning”. During the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate governed the city, appointing a hatamoto, the Nagasaki bugyō, as its chief administrator.
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