|Bungo castle gates|
The JesuitsThe Jesuit priests had been ensconced in Japan for the past circa fifty years, led since 1579 by Alessandro Valignano, a ruthless man with a fierce hatred for Protestants. The mission in Bungo founded a leper hospital, much to the disgust of the Japanese, who failed to understand the Christians interest in the poor and sick. Charity was not part of Japanese culture and it was believed that the Christians had an ulterior motive.
Valignano realised that to enable the monks to convert the natives, they must go native. Many Japanese were more cultured, by far, than the Europeans seeking to convert them. The monks were ordered by Valignano to convert to the Japanese diet, eschewing meat; they were to be clean in their personal habits and their buildings were to be kept clean. The monks were to adopt Japanese customs as well as mode of dress. Valignano’s orders reaped dividends and as many as 150,000 converted.
The Jesuits had failed to inform their converts of the split within Christianity between the Catholic Church and the Protestants[ii], implying that the Pope was head of a universal church.Religions in Conflict
News of the Liefde’s arrival quickly reached Valignano in Nagasaki, where the Jesuits were based. Making the assumption that the foundering boat carried fellow religionists the Jesuit fathers had begged the local Lord to assist the crew. When the priests realised the new arrivals were Dutch they immediately made plans for the crew to be killed. The priests feared that the release of the news of the religious divides in Europe would affect their conversion rates.Lord Terazawa, an ally of Tokugawa Ieyasu, visited Bungo on the advice of the Jesuits and was concerned by the weaponry carried by the Liefde. Used to the gorgeous panoply of the Spanish and Portuguese merchants Terazawa found it difficult to believe that the Dutch were traders, not soldiers intent on conquering Japan.
Using the one of the priests as an interpreter Terazawa cross-questioned Adams, who gave a good account of himself impressing even the antagonistic monks. Adams was concerned that his words were being manipulated by the interpreter claiming that their reports
‘Caused the governours and common people to thinke evill of us in such manner that we looked always when we should be set upon crosses, which is the execution in this land for theevery and other crimes.’[iii]Meeting Tokugawa Ieyasu
Adams meets Tokugawa Ieyasu
The Jesuits referred to the Dutch as pirates, which were rife in Bungo. Two of the ship’s company broke under the worry and betrayed their companions to the priests. Terazawa was loath to make any decisions himself on these exceptionally strange strangers in his fief and sent to Osaka for further instructions. The crew of the Liefde were to be taken to Osaka for further questioning.On 16th March 1600 William Adams met Tokugawa Ieyasu; one of the Regents of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a child of seven and heir to his recently deceased father Hideyori. Adams recalled
‘He viewed me well and seemed to be wonderfull favourable…….He made many signes unto me some of which I understood, and some I did not’[iv]Frustrated by the lack of a common language Ieyasu called for an interpreter and was extremely interested to uncover the antagonism between Adams and the Portuguese. Adams description of the voyage and their intentions did not entirely persuade Ieyasu that the Jesuits were wrong in calling the Dutch pirates and demanding their execution; the weaponry in the Liefde’s holds.
Two days later the two men met again and Adams was questioned about affairs in Europe. Ieyasu asked
‘Of the qualities and conditions of our countrey’s, of warres and peace, of beasts and cattel of all sorts; and of the heavens. It seemed he was well content with all mine answers unto his demands. Nevertheless I was commanded to prison againe: but my lodging was bettered in another place.’[v]Further meetings also took place.
Ieyasu later had the Liefde and her crew moved to Edo bay, where his prizes could be safeguarded throughout the coming struggle with his rival Ishida Mitsunari. Ieyasu desired to improve Japanese shipbuilding and piloting skills. To that effect he forbade these new foreigners from leaving Japan.The crew sold the contents of the ship’s holds (minus the confiscated weapons) and spent a lot of the money fruitlessly bribing Ieyasu’s retainers in an attempt to get permission to sail home. Ieyasu was now wrapped up in the struggle to control Japan and had no time to worry about homesick sailors.
The crew created problems for Adams and the Liefde’s captain, while Ieyasu’s attention was elsewhere
‘Four or five of our men rebelled against the capten and myself and made a muteney amongst the rest of our men, so we had much trouble with them.’[vi]The remainder of the money received from Ieyasu was divided amongst the crew. Ieyasu also granted each man two pounds of rice a day; but he wanted to employ them and had work for Adams.
Working for the TokugawaThe Liefde was no longer on a fit state to take the crew home; her timbers were rotted and the windows in the stern falling out. Even if they were able to escape Japan, the Liefde would not carry them to China. Before she sank in the bay, one of the men swam out and removed the figurehead of Erasmus[vii] that adorned her prow. Ieyasu now commissioned Adams and the crew to build a new boat. Although hardy sailors, the Japanese were not good shipbuilders; one of the reasons that Ieyasu was prepared to ignore the Jesuits calls for the execution of these ‘pirates’.
The Liefde was used as a template for the new ship. The new ship displaced eighty tons and Ieyasu was invited to see it. He then ordered a bigger version and this second boat displaced 120 tons. Ieyasu frequently had meetings with Adams and now paid him seventy ducats of silver per annum in addition to his 2 bowls plus of rice per day.Adams, clearly a linguist of some ability, had taught himself Japanese; this and his increased access to Ieyasu worried the Jesuits, who claimed that the heretic denigrated their religion. Their answer was to attempt to convert the heretics. In the event the conversion plans did not work the Catholic fall-back position was to obtain safe conducts for the Dutch to leave Japan. Adams was loath to risk his life in the hands of his bitterest enemies and declined their offer.
Failure to convert the Liefde’s crew did not stop the surveillance that the Jesuits had organised. This surveillance was complicated by the splitting up of the eighteen survivors. The purser Melchior van Santvoort rented junks from the Japanese and established a flourishing trade between Japan and Indo-China. Another of the crew gained Ieyasu’s respect and he too was given a stipend.Bibliography
Samurai William – Giles Milton, Hodder & Stoughton 2002
The Maker of Modern Japan – AL Sadler, Charles E Tuttle Company 1983Tokugawa Ieyasu Shogun – Conrad Totman, Heian 1983
[i] Now Usuki, Oita Prefecture[ii] Sparked by the posting of Luther’s Ninety Five Theses in 1517