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Chapter Sixteen The Adolescent Envoys of the Tenshō Era



Chapter Sixteen The Adolescent Envoys of the Tenshō Era

In the 7th month of the 7th year of Tenshō (1579), Alessandro Valignano, a monsignor of the Jesuit Order, arrived at Kuchi no Tsu (口ノ津) in Hizen province from India with the intention of conducting a survey into the state of Christianity in Japan. In the 9th month of the following year (1580), Valignano travelled to Usuki and had an audience with Sōrin. Valignano was not satisfied with the state of proselytizing as he found it. Many of those lords within Kyushu who had chosen to convert had done so merely to profit from trade with the Portuguese, and there were many instances where Christian followers had been forced to adopt their new faith as a result of pressure exerted by the same lords. Another problem lay with the fact that the head of proselytization activities in Japan, Padre Cabral, disliked the Japanese, judged all Japanese customs from a Western point of view, and made no effort to learn the Japanese language. Furthermore, the missionaries in Japan ate animals on a regular basis, a cultural trait to which the Japanese turned a blind eye. Needless to say, relations between the two sides were not particularly amicable.(202)

Valignano, with enthusiasm and drive in his heart, embarked on a major reform of the proselytizing system in Japan. First, as the overall head of missionary activities in Japan, he created the obligation to submit an annual report (the yearly reports quoted above) to be delivered to the head of the Jesuit order. In addition to opening a Seminario in Hizen Arima, he divided the areas marked for missionary activities into the Capital (encompassing all lands from Kyoto through to the Chūgoku region), Bungo, and Shimo (all areas in Kyushu apart from Bungo) regions. One of three types of educational institution (the Seminario, Noviciado, and Collegio) were founded in a number of different places.  There Europeans were taught the Japanese language while Japanese learnt foreign languages and studied Christianity. These institutions provided the material for the development of churches by producing ordained Japanese priests. Valignano also ordered all European missionaries to adopt Japanese mores and customs. When this proviso was rejected by Padre Cabral, Valignano had him replaced (as head of proselytizing activities) with Gaspar Coregio.(202-203)

In the 11th month of Tenshō 8 (1580), Valignano, in line with his reform plan, had a Noviciado built within the confines of Nyūjima, and installed the priest Pedro Ramon as its head (about whom we shall hear more later). In the 1st month of the following year, Valignano had a Collegio erected in Funai. Such reforms as these produced positive results, and the number of converts increased.(203) In the 3rd month of the same year (1581), Valignano left Bungo and travelled to the lodgings of Padre Organtino in the Kinai region. There he devoted himself to missionary activities and managed to gain an audience with Oda Nobunaga. At the beginning of the 10th month, Valignano returned to Bungo.(203) He attended the laying of the foundation stone for a church that was being built in Usuki, and served as a priest to this church. At the end of the month, he departed Bungo and (after passing through Amakusa) one month later arrived back in Hizen where he was greeted by Ōmura Sumitada (大村純忠) and Arima Harunobu (有馬晴信).(204)

For Valignano, who had revitalized missionary activities in Japan, such successes needed to be brought to the attention not only of the various lords and aristocrats in Japan, but to the pope in Rome and the King of Portugal. It is then that he had the idea to sending adolescent messengers to Europe. Records for these messengers are found within the `Tenshō Shōnen Kenō Shisetsu` (天正少年遣欧使節). What follows is a summary drawn from records used to piece together the facts behind the adolescent envoys` mission (these records being Volume 11 of the Dai Nippon Shiryō (大日本史料, Separate Volumes 1 and 2), the `Tenshō Kenō Shisetsu Ki` (天正遣欧使節記) of De Sande, and the `Tenshō Shōnen Shisetsu` (天正少年使節) of Matsuda Kōichi). (204)

In order to bring his plan to fruition, Valignano consulted with Ōmura Sumitada, Arima Harunobu, and Sōrin, and chose four students from among the pupils at the Seminario to be messengers – these students were Itō Mancio (伊東マンショ, or Manshō), Chijiwa Miguel (千々石ミゲル), with assistants Nakaura Julian and Hara Martino. It appears that Valignano`s decision regarding the youths and their role was taken quite suddenly. At any rate, on the 28th day of the 1st month of Tenshō 10 (1582), Valignano, together with his young charges, stepped aboard a Portuguese vessel and set sail from Nagasaki. At the time, Julian was 16 years old, while Mancio and the others were all 13 years old. (204)

After passing by way of Macao, the Malaccas, and Cochin, they finally docked at the port of Goa. At Goa Valignano received a message from the head of the Jesuit order in Rome, ordering him to assume command of duties as head of the region of India. From here on the youths would have to travel on to Rome without their illustrious companion. In his place, Valignano had Nũno Rodriguez appointed as chaperone. After passing around the Cape of Good Hope (in Japanese Kibōhō, or 喜望峰), the boys` vessel arrived in Lisbon on the 11th day of the 8th month of Tenshō 12. In the 10th month, they travelled on to the Spanish capital of Madrid. On the 12th day of the same month, they had an audience with the king of Spain and Portugal, Philip the II, thereby fulfilling one of the goals of their mission.(205)

At the time, Philip was master of the seas, held Europe in his grasp, and possessed colonies in the Americas, Africa, and India. He was an absolute monarch with the wealth and power of the world at his command. On the day of their audience, the youths wore the traditional garb of samurai warriors (namely katana and wakizashi swords, together with tabi socks, zōri straw sandals, and hakama pleated trousers). The king provided them with a splendid coach, which transported them to the palace. At the palace they had an audience with the king, together with his son the prince regent and the queen. At this meeting, Itō Mancio attempted to greet Philip in the usual European style by kissing the regent`s hand. However Philip did not extend his hand, instead raising Mancio off his knees and giving him a warm embrace. He then repeated this gesture with the other boys. It was indeed a great honour to be met in such a fashion.(205-206) The king then enquired about the clothes the boys were wearing, and picked up one of the zōri sandals, examining it with great interest. The boys then presented Philip with gifts.(206)

Mancio and Miguel had both been given the responsibility of acting as representatives of Sōrin, the Ōmura, and Arima families. Hence (in this capacity) they greeted Philip in Japanese, and presented him with documents from each respective lord. Philip cast his eye over the documents, and was surprised to find that they were written in vertical script. In Sōrin`s letter, he (Sōrin) mentioned that he had heard of Philip and of the many realms under his control from the priests of the Jesuit order. However as ocean voyages were frought with danger, and as he lived such a long way away he had not, until this time, been able to exchange greetings directly with Philip. He explained that he had dispatched messengers for this very purpose, as well as to express his fealty to the pope in Rome. He also mentioned that he had held an audience with monsignor Valignano, the consequences of which was the decision to send the adolescent messengers. Originally Sōrin had planned to send his nephew, Itō Geronimo of Hyuga, however as this was not possible, he had sent Geronimo`s brother, Mancio, instead. Sōrin concluded his letter by stating that he wished for Philip`s protection for both the Church in Japan and himself.(206)

After the relatively eventful meeting with Philip, the boys made their way to the Spanish port of Alicante, from which they set sail for Italy. They arrived at the port of Livomo, and from there made their way to Rome, lodging within the headquarters of the Jesuit order. The date was the 21st day of the 2nd month of Tenshō 13 (1585), and more than three years had passed since the boys first left Japan. On the 22nd, the boys had their historic audience with Pope Gregory the XIII. This meeting had not been organized by Valignano, but was instead an honour which took the form of a public audience normally reserved for kings and emperors. The 84 year old pope received documents presented on behalf of Sōrin, Ōmura, and Arima, and welcomed his guests warmly, remarking how moved he was to be able to greet messengers who had travelled so far.(207) However, a few days after Pope Gregory met the boys, he passed away, to be replaced by a new head of the Church of Rome, Sixtus V. The boys were granted an audience with the new pope, from whom they received the same kind of generosity and kindness as Sixtus` predecessor. It appears that the boys had heard from ordinary citizens of Rome some fairly critical comments regarding the new pope`s appearance yet his humility and intellect had been roundly praised, the aspects for which Sixtus had received the rights to the city of Rome. Afterwards the boys were presented with replies from Sixtus addressed to the three Christian daimyō of Kyushu.

On the 6th day of the 5th month of Tenshō 13, the boys left Rome filled with many memories of their visit and proceeded to travel around northern Italy, visiting Loreto, Bologna, Venice, Milan, and Genoa, before making their way by sea once again to Spain, where they landed at Barcelona. They then travelled via Madrid back to Lisbon, departing by ship from Portugal on the return route to Japan.(207)

The ship in which the boys were carried passed around the Cape of Good Hope and headed for India, landing at Goa on the 22nd day of the 4th month of Tenshō 15 (1587). Five days before the vessel docked at Goa, Ōmura Sumitada passed away in Hizen, and in the following month (the 5th month), Sōrin died at Tsukumi. On the 19th day of the 6th month, Toyotomi Hideyoshi announced his famous decree expelling all missionaries from Japan, which was a forerunner to the fate that the young envoys would meet upon their return to Japan.

In the meantime the boys were again joined by Valignano in Goa and together they made their way to Japan. It was only after they docked at Macao that they learnt of the deaths of Sumitada and Sōrin, and expressed astonishment at the expulsion decree.(208) Valignano was not dissuaded, however, and pondered how he might be able to circumvent this problem. He would travel to Japan as a messenger of the viceroy of India, while his young charges would present Hideyoshi with numerous expensive gifts. This way they might be able to soften Hideyoshi`s resolve.(208)

After receiving Hideyoshi`s consent, the boys and Valignano made plans for re-entering Japan. On the 20th day of the 6th month of Tenshō 18 (1590), 8 years and 5 months after they had set out, the youths and Valignano arrived at Nagasaki. As both Sumitada and Sōrin were dead, only the vibrant Arima Harunobu was there to greet them on their return. Afterwards the boys travelled to the capital, where they had an audience with Hideyoshi at Jurakudai (聚楽第). The young envoys did not meet Sōrin`s successor Yoshimune nor Sumitada`s heir Yoshiaki (善前). Nevertheless, the boys had fulfilled the roles assigned to them.(208) Not much is known about what happened to these youths thereafter, particularly in the wake of Hideyoshi`s expulsion decree.  In the 9th month of Bunroku 1 (1592), Valignano departed Japan, and later died at Macao. Hara Martino was expelled from Japan, and apparently he too died at Macao. The main envoy on the trip, Itō Mancio, went on to act as an aid at a mission school in Arima, yet nothing is known of the details of this appointment. Chijiwa Miguel apparently renounced Christianity, while Nakaura Julian met a tragic end by being sentenced to death at Nagasaki. He died after being hung upside-down in a hole dug into the earth (and left for a prolonged period of time), a punishment known as `Anazuri`.(209)

In recent years, Matsuda Kōichi has published a thesis titled `The true nature of the Tenshō mission to Europe` (Tenshō Kenō Shisetsu no Shinsō) in which he reveals some interesting details on the young envoys. Matsuda mainly relies on a quote from a document written on the 24th day of the 9th month of Tenshō 15 (1587) by Pedro Ramon, the same figure who had been appointed as head of the mission school in Usuki by Valignano and who had now penned a letter from his sanctuary in Hizen Ikitsukijima (肥前生月島) addressed to the head of the Jesuit order in Rome. Although Ramon was unable to verify the details of the other envoys, he did discover that Sōrin had no idea who Itō Mancio was and had therefore not written Mancio any letters of introduction. When Sōrin asked… `why are these children being sent to Portugal?`, Ramon responded by saying …`to show them to (the Europeans)`. Ramon also claimed that Mancio was not Sōrin`s nephew, but a `relative of a relative`, a poor, destitute, almost orphan-like youth. Ramon argued that it was only right that Sōrin had doubts about sending such youth to Europe, as Ramon himself feared that the Europeans would be seen as simple and foolish for having laid honours on people that the Japanese themselves regarded with disdain. This was a veiled criticism of Valignano, however there is no (other) evidence to suggest that relations between the monsignor and Ramon were anything but cordial.(210)

In regard to the question of whether Sōrin`s letters were fakes, Professor Watanabe Sumio, after studying the signatures and seals affixed to the documents, has proven that they were all signed by Sōrin and are therefore genuine. As for the relationship between Sōrin and Mancio, the historical documents that derive from the European side on this matter are unquestionably reliable. Dr Matsuda suggests, however, that although Japanese documents apparently show that Sōrin`s grand daughter Akita Dono (阿喜多殿) was given as a bride to the son of Itō Yoshisuke, Itō Yoshimasu (伊東義益), the child of a union between Yoshimasu`s younger sister Chōjō Dono (町上殿) and Itō Sukeharu (伊東祐青) (known as Torachiyomaro (虎千代麿) ) was indeed Mancio. In spite of a number of problems with this hypothesis, it is true that at the time of the mission the Itō family were in exile under the protection of Sōrin following their flight from Hyuga and the Shimazu. It is possible that a misfortunate child of the Itō family was taken in by the church at Usuki, and later sent to the mission school at Hizen Arima, where he was discovered by Valignano. This would mean that Mancio was the grandchild of the head of the Itō household, of good stock, and although poor, was neither `mean nor base`.(210)

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© Greg Pampling. This page was modified in February 2012