Christian Nagasaki

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The Dream of Christian Nagasaki: World Trade and the Clash of Cultures, 1560-1640, McFarland&Company, Jefferson, NC., 2016, xii, 286 páginas. Volver a Hesselink, Reinier H. Bibliografía Japón.

Reseña de Stephen Turnbull (Leeds) en The Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 46, nº 1, invierno 2020, p. 165-169. Disponible en internet en DOI:, más información en [consultado el 5 de agosto de 2022].

The history of Nagasaki is a fundamental part of the interaction between Japan and the West during the time once referred to almost casually as [End Page 165] Japan's Christian Century. This book returns us to that concept, but by no means triumphantly. Instead the Christianization of Japan is presented as an unfulfilled dream, for which the Jesuit enclave of Nagasaki would become a powerful symbol. Fortified twice—first in wood by the early missionaries and then in formidable stone following Nagasaki's donation to the Society of Jesus—it would flourish for a short time as a European colony in all but name until being confiscated by Hideyoshi.

Nagasaki was the third choice as the base for the Portuguese mission within the friendly domain of the kirishitan daimyō Ōmura Sumitada. Two promising alternatives, Yokoseura and Fukuda, had proven vulnerable to attack, while Nagasaki possessed a deep natural harbor situated within a sea gulf protected by its naga saki (long cape). The land immediately around was almost completely undeveloped, but its defensive capacity was evident, and indeed a small fort had been erected at its highest point by Nagasaki Jinzaemon, a retainer of the Ōmura baptized as Bernardo, who guarded the place that bore his name. After much land clearance and building, Nagasaki became the normal anchorage for the annual naó (trading vessel) from 1571 onward. It also became a safe refuge for Christian families who had been uprooted from their old homes for one reason or another, and the Jesuit historian-missionary Luís Fróis notes people moving to the settlement from the Amakusa Islands and the Shimabara Peninsula. Nagasaki would play a vital part in the story of the Jesuit mission in Japan and would gain even more significance when the Portuguese were expelled from Japan in 1639 because, as the home of a handful of Dutch traders, it became Japan's only window on the European world for over two hundred years.

Hesselink tells the story of Nagasaki's first century of turbulent existence in immense detail. No one who reads it can fail to learn something new, because there is just so much included. Take, for example, the story of how the Jesuits were challenged on their own doorstep in 1573 by the hostile Fukabori Sumimasa, described by Fróis as "a great pirate" and the "avowed enemy of God's laws" whose territory lay at the tip of Nagasaki's cape. Francisco Cabral, the Jesuit leader in Japan, had to leave Nagasaki by ship, so Fukabori planned an attack on him. The Jesuits had, however, anticipated just such a move and assembled a fleet of seven ships equipped with firearms. Fukabori nevertheless assaulted them with alacrity, killing five or six men using his own musketeers and capturing one of the ships. The other Portuguese vessels retreated hastily to Nagasaki, forcing Cabral to take a different route overland and giving the pirate leader a symbolic victory over the European incomers.

The ambush showed the Jesuits how vulnerable the seaborne approach to their precious settlement of Nagasaki could be, but worse was to come later that same year. Following Fukabori's example of aggression, his brother Saigō Sumitaka advanced overland against Nagasaki. The inhabitants fell into a panic and fled to the wooded hills around, taking with them their most [End Page 166] precious sacred objects from the churches, which they believed would soon come under attack. Bernardo Nagasaki was on the point of surrender when a messenger arrived with the news that his overlord Ōmura Sumitada was still alive and was urging him and the Christian population of Nagasaki to stand firm until order could be restored. The Jesuits gathered their flock and the decision was made to give Nagasaki its first proper fortifications by erecting a perimeter fence around the promontory and cutting a ditch through its land side. "And so," writes Fróis in his Historia, "it became a fortress: the place that is now Nagasaki."

Saigô Sumitaka moved quickly to stop the defense works being completed, bringing boats up close to the fence, discharging guns into the town, and forcing the population to use the cover of darkness for their foraging and ditch digging. The subsequent and little-known siege of Nagasaki lasted throughout winter of 1573-74. Frustrated by the continued resilience of the defenders, the brothers decided upon a major assault to wipe the Christian community from the face of Japan. The attack was launched shortly after midnight during the week of Easter when houses and other buildings outside the perimeter were burned in preparation for an assault trough the fence. It was a demoralizing experience for the defenders who where convinced that their end had come, but four Christian samurai originally from Shiki on the Amakusa Islands chose to disregard the advice of their priest to sit tight and instead sallied out from Nagasaki in a suicidal attack. So sudden and unexpected was the assault that nine of the enemy leaders were cut down before the brave Nagasaki men were themselves killed. Seeing what they had achieved by their example, their fellow defenders followed them in a furious advance and drove the besiegers back to their boats. The enemy commanders ordered a withdrawal and Nagasaki was saved.

Hesselink goes on to describe in colorful detail much better known events such as Hideyoshi's takeover of Nagasaki and the city's precarious position under the Tokuwaga. We are introduced intimately to a host of characters including the sophisticated and wily Murayama Toan, who plays an unexpected role as defender of the faith when the Christians of Nagasaki come under dire