Portuguese in Japan

In 1542 three Portuguese became the first Europeans to visit Japan, when their ship sailed off course and reached the southern tip of Japanese Archipelago. This initiated the Nanban (“southern barbarian”) period of active commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West. During the next century, traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrived, as did Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries. In 1639, suspicious of Christianity and of Portuguese support of a local Japanese revolt, the shoguns of the Tokugawa period (1603–1867) prohibited all trade with foreign countries. Only a Dutch trading post at Nagasaki was permitted. Western attempts to renew trading relations failed until 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry sailed an American fleet into Tokyo Bay.

Trade and Religion

Portuguese and Spanish trade came links with missionary activity (Kirishtan). At its height, Japan is estimated to have had around 300,000 Christians although the religion was suppressed over time and then officially ceased to exist in the 17th Century.


Brief Timeline of the Nanban period:


Portuguese introduce firearms, Christianity and Tempura (!!) to Japan (Japan Guide).


Catholic missionary activities in Japan beginning in earnest mainly by Portuguese-sponsored Jesuits until Spanish-sponsored mendicant orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans (Kirishtan).


Ashikaga Yoshiteru granted Gaspar Vilela permission to teach Christianity (Kirishtan).


Emperor Ogimachi issued an edict to ban Catholicism (Kirishtan). The orders of the Emperor and the Shogun made little difference.


Nobunaga enters Kyoto (Japan Guide).


Emperor Ogimachi issued a second edict to ban Catholicism (Kirishtan). Again it made little difference.


The Muromachi Bakufu falls (Japan Guide).


Pope Gregory XIII’s papal bull assigns Japan to the the Portuguese Diocese of Macau (Kirishtan). The Takeda clan is defeated in the battle of Nagashino (Japan Guide).


By 1579, at the height of missionary activity, there were about 130,000 converts (Kirishtan).


Nobunaga is murdered and succeeded by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Japan Guide).


Hideyoshi confiscates the weapons of farmers and religious institutions in the “Sword Hunt” (Japan Guide). The diocese of Funai (Nagasaki) was founded under Portuguese protection (Kirishtan).


Japan is reunited after the fall of Odawara (Hojo) (Japan Guide).


Unsuccessful invasion of Korea (Japan Guide).


Death of Hideyoshi (Japan Guide).


Tokugawa Ieyasu defeats his rivals in the battle of Sekigahara (Japan Guide). Pope Clement VIII’s decree allowed Spanish friars to enter Japan via the Portuguese Indies (Kirishtan).


Ieyasu is appointed shogun and establishes the Tokugawa government in Edo (Tokyo) (Japan Guide).


Pope Paul V’s decree abolished the restrictions on the route to Japan (Kirishtan).


Ieyasu intensifies persecution of Christianity (Japan Guide).


The Toyotomi clan is destroyed after Ieyasu captures Osaka Castle (Japan Guide).


Almost complete isolation of Japan from the rest of the world (Japan Guide).


Oda Nobunaga

Born 23 Jun 1534; died 21 June 1582 (Wikipedia: Oda Nobunaga). Oda Nobunaga was also a major daimyo during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. He also initiated the unification of Japan under the shogunate in the late 16th century although reunification was completed by his successors Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Christians refer positively to Oda Nobunaga (Kirishtan). He favored the Jesuit missionary Luis Frois and generally tolerated Christianity. But overall, he undertook no remarkable policies toward Catholicism. Actually, Catholic power in his domain was trivial because he did not conquer western Japan, where the Jesuits were based.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi


Tokugawa Ieyasu


Dom Justo Takayama

Christian Daiymo (Wikipedia: Dom Justo Takayama). Born 1552. Converted to Catholicism and baptized Justo at the age of 12 (1564). Went into exile in the Philippines rather than renounce christianity. Died 4 Feb 1615, one month after arriving in Manila.

Kuroda Yoshitaka

Born 22 Dec 1546 (Wikipedia: Kuroda Yoshitaka). baptised shortly before 1587 as Dom Simeão = Don Simeon; renounced Christianity in 1587 with official edict; died 19 Apr 1604.


The following pictures of off Vince Lody’s 25mm Samurai.

Leave a Reply