For nearly a century Japan, with approximately 500,000 Catholics by the early 1600s, was the most spectacular success story in Asia for European missionaries. Why did so many convert? Some undoubtedly were attracted by the Christian message of salvation, but others hoped to gain economic or political advantage. The daimyo of Omura seems to have converted in the hope of attracting more trade to his port city of Nagasaki, and Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) the general who unified approximately half of Japan, encouraged Christian missionaries to undermine the political influence of the powerful and wealthy Buddhist monasteries. Nobunaga's tolerance of missionary activity was the main reason for the many converts in the region around Kyoto, Japan's imperial city.
Although the dynamics of Japanese politics at first favored the European missionary effort, when those dynamics changed, Christianity was persecuted and finally crushed. Nobunaga's successor, Hideyoshi (15 36-1598), launched the antiforeign, anti-Christian policy that culminated in the Tokugawa exclusion edicts. Hideyoshi distrusted Europeans' motives after the Spaniards conquered the Philippines and came to question the loyalty of certain dalmyo who had converted. In 1597 he ordered the execution by crucifixion of nine Catholic missionaries and seventeen Japanese converts. In their singleminded pursuit of stability and order, the early Tokugawa also feared the subversive potential of Christianity and quickly moved to obliterate it, even at the expense of isolating Japan and ending a century of promising commercial contacts with China, Southeast Asia, and Europe.
Japan's isolation policy was fully implemented by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the grandson of Ievasu and shogun from 1623 to 1641. He issued edicts that essentially closed Japan to all foreigners and prevented Japanese from leaving. The first of the following two documents, the most famous of Iemitsu's edicts, is directed to the two commissioners of Nagasaki, a port city in southern Japan and a center of Christianity; the second deals with the continuing missionary efforts of Portuguese Jesuits, who refused to abandon their activities despite the regime's persecution.
QUESTIONS FOR ANALYSIS
1. Japanese ships are strictly forbidden to leave for
1 Modern Tokyo, the seat of the Tokugawa
9. No single trading city shall be permitted to purchase
all the merchandise brought by foreign ships.
4 Members of Japan's military aristocracy.
15. The goods brought by foreign ships which remained
unsold may not be deposited or accepted for deposit.
You are hereby required to act in accordance with the Provisions set above. It is so ordered.
7 A galleon, an oceangoing Portuguese ship.
1. The matter relating to the proscription of Christianity
is known [to the Portuguese]. However, heretofore they have secretly transported
those who are going to propagate that religion.
In view of the above, hereafter entry by the Portuguese galeota is forbidden. If they insist on coming [to Japan], the ships must be destroyed and anyone aboard those ships must be beheaded. We have received the above order and are thus transmitting it to you accordingly.
The above concerns our disposition with regard to the galeota.
With regard to those who believe in Christianity, you are aware that there is a proscription, and thus knowing, you are not permitted to let priests and chose who believe in their preaching to come aboard your ships. If there is any violation, all of you who are aboard will be considered culpable. If there is anyone who hides the fact that he is a Christian and boards your ship, you may report it to us. A substantial reward will be given to you for this information.
This memorandum is to be given to those who come on Chinese ships. [A similar note to the Dutch ships.]