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The historic KEICHO Embassy

After suffering a terrible earthquake in his lands and aware of the isolation of Japan from Europe, the enterprising and visionary great feudal lord DATE MASAMUNE decided, at the start of the 17th century, to organize a great expedition to establish trade relations with Spain, the world power at that time, and a religious agreement with the Vatican. 

With this in mind, in 1613 the galleon Date Maru left Japan under the command of the noble Samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga bound for Spain. This was the powerful Keicho Embassy, made up of dozens of Japanese merchants and 22 authentic Samurai warriors that would lead to the first great official meeting between Japanese and Western culture.

In 1614 the galleon landed in the port of Seville and was warmly received by thousands of Sevillians and the main authorities of the city. From here, they then settled in the nearby town of Coria del Río.

However after three years of meetings and negotiations at the highest level in Seville, Madrid and Barcelona, the embassy failed in sealing its commercial agreements with King Felipe III and in securing a religious agreement with Pope Paul V, but it left a deep mark.

A group of these Samurai, fascinated by the passion, creativity and warmth of the Spanish population, decided to stay in Coria del Río – the first “Mediterranean Samurai” – and their fruitful inheritance to their hundreds of descendants is the sharing of the same surname: ” Japón” .

This is a fascinating story that came to light in the early 90’s and in which we want to highlight the work of the Hasekura Association of Coria del Río and the Wa Rei Ryu Association of Barcelona. Both of these organisations have been instrumental in studying, documenting and disseminating these relevant historical facts.

Hasekura in Catalonia

In recent years, historians and researchers have conducted extensive studies into the time spent and the activity conducted by the Keichō Embassy in Coria del Rio, Sevilla, and Madrid. However, the results only contain a vague description of the passage of the ambassadors through Catalonia on their way to the Vatican to meet Pope Paul V.

For this reason, Marcelo Japón and the cultural project “Mediterranean Samurai” decided to investigate in Catalonia and the Japanese city of Sendai (origin of the Keicho Embassy) the existing information on the matter and found two very valuable sources – the historian Scipione Amati’s book “HISTORY OF THE REGNO DI VOXU DEL GIAPONE” and the great study of this book carried out by José Koichi Oizumi and Juan Gil in “History of the Embassy of Idate Masamune to Pope Paul V”.

This is a brief synthesis of Hasekura’s passage and its Embassy of Samurai through Catalonia in 1615.

 

After meeting with the King Felipe III of Spain, the Keichō Embassy received the approval of the court to continue its trip to Barcelona, from where Hasekura would embark onto Rome to meet with Pope Paul V. The Embassy, after visiting Zaragoza, arrived in Fraga on the border with Catalonia, where a detachment of cavalry awaited them to escort the Samurai on to the city of Lleida. This was an essential measure given the great insecurity of the roads in Catalonia at that time with many thieves and bandits like Joan de Serrallonga.

In Lérida, a company of soldiers on horseback was waiting for Hasekura to escort him to Barcelona. However, before that, Hasekura requested to visit the famous Monastery of Montserrat, which for the great Samurai was comparable to the Great Temple of Zuiganji, in Matsushima. This request was granted and after passing through Igualada, they arrived at the “sacred mountain”. The Embassy was received with great honour by the Abbot of the monastery and Hasekura, who was housed in the royal chamber, spent long hours with the Abbot and the monks learning the secrets of the Monastery and its valuable library.

After their stay in Montserrat, Hasekura and his entourage departed for Barcelona and arrived at its walls one Saturday afternoon, where two floats were waiting to take them to a noble house located on the Ramblas. From here, the port of the city and “La Avenida de la Marina” (the current Paseo Isabel II), which was frequented by the Barcelona aristocracy, could be observed.

 

Hasekura was informed there that measures had already been taken for the journey up to the Vatican and to thus contact the Viceroy of Catalonia. It was then that Hasekura and his entourage spent a few days in Barcelona visiting the Convent of Jesus and its famous gardens, Avenida de la Marina, La Casa de la Diputación and the “Iglesia Mayor” (current cathedral), while the plans to be able to embark towards Rome were being finalised with the Barcelona Deputies and the City Council.

Initially they were offered two frigates from Genoa and a brig from Barcelona to carry out the crossing. However, after Hasekura learned that said passage would be delayed more than desired, it was finally decided to leave for Rome with the use of “Faluas”. The journey took them several days and they stopped in locations such as Saint-Tropez, Genoa and Cività Vecchia.

Although Catalonia is still a passageway for those Samurai on their way to Rome, it was undoubtedly a very important episode for Hasekura and his entourage to get to know Catalonia and in particular the Monastery of Montserrat and Barcelona. A “connection” that has since then been prolonged and reinforced in a very relevant way today.

 
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