Ch 14 - Western Contacts
Rebellion at Shimabara
Shifting political winds and aggressive missionaries pushed the Tokugawa shogunate toward a Japanese policy of national seclusion. The Shimabara Rebellion in 1637 marked the final brutal act in Japan's tolerance of foreign presence and led to the expulsion of all foreigners except the Dutch, who remained on Deshima Island in Nagasaki Bay.
In the early years of the seventeenth century, the Tokugawa shogunate sent its own trading ships abroad in search of Chinese silks, hides and ceramics, principally to Indo-China and the Philippines. To distinguish themselves from the infamous pirate ships that sailed the China Seas, Japanese traders carried a special license issued by the bakufu. Licensed or not, many of these Japanese seamen had all the affrontery of the wako pirates who preceded them and it was not uncommon for friction and fighting to break out in the foreign ports they visited. In 1608, Andre Pessao, acting governor of Macao and captain of the next "Black Ship" to Nagasaki, attacked a ship of Japanese troublemakers. Fifty of the surviving sailors surrendered and were returned to Japan, but only after signing an affidavit that absolved the Portuguese from killing their shipmates. The sailors reported the incident to Tokugawa Ieyasu and claimed they signed the document under duress.
Tokugawa Ieyasu hesitated to retaliate against Captain Pessao when he arrived in Nagasaki aboard the Madre de Deus, since the ship's cargo represented such a valuable economic benefit to Japan. At about the same time, the Spanish galleon San Francisco ran aground in Edo Bay. The ship's captain, Governor Don Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco, was brought to Edo and asked if the Spanish could meet the Japanese demand for silk. The governor's enthusiastic reply that Spain would gladly send two or three ships each year to Japan proved to Tokugawa Ieyasu the Japanese could live without the Portuguese. They also found they could play the Spanish off against the Portuguese and the Protestant Dutch and English off against the Spanish Catholics. In early January 1610, the Japanese struck a blow against the Portuguese from which they never fully recovered when they attacked and sank the Madre de Deus as it departed Nagasaki.
In 1609, the same year the Dutch received Japanese permission to establish a trading base at Hirado, administrator Jacques Specx sent a shipload of pepper to Tsushima Island, bound for Korea. Thedaimyo of Tsushima sent the ship back to Hirado. It was difficult for the VOC to swallow that the trade monopoly with Korea was in hands other than theirs and they were keen to change that situation. In 1611, Tokugawa Ieyasu received a letter from The Hague in Holland dated December 18, 1610, and addressed to the "most Almighty Emperor and King of Japan." In his letter, Prince Maurits asserted the true object of the Catholics in Japan was the fomentation of political dissension and civil strife. He also wrote:
"Furthermore my subjects are willing to visit and trade sincerely all countries and places, I thus request Your Imperial Majesty that the same trade on Corea may favor Your Majesty's help."
Despite the lovely words, the prince got nothing. In fact, the message struck a raw nerve.
Tokugawa Ieyasu once tolerated the presence of Christian missionaries, but he soon concluded they were a potential menace to Japan. His advisors warned him that Christian doctrine enjoined the faithful to obey their spiritual leaders (the Jesuits), not their temporal leader (the Shogun). The Dutch and English fanned growing suspicions that Christian missionaries were actually the forerunners of Spanish colonization and attempts to dominate the Far East. These suspicions were enhanced by the arrogance of Sebastian Vizcaino, who obtained Japanese permission to survey Japan's east coast in 1611-1613 for ports that could be used by Spanish galleons bound for Mexico from the Philippines if they were blown off course. Ieyasu became further irritated against the Christians by intrigues involving the Christian daimyo Lord Arima in Kyushu and by the discovery that some of Tokugawa's own household were Christians.
The shifting political winds and aggressive missionaries finally tested the limits of Tokugawa Hidetada's patience. On January 27, 1614, he issued an edict that prohibited the practice of Christianity in Japan. Although the edict was not strictly enforced, it had a chilling effect on missionaries and Christians alike, many of whom survived only by being discreet. Two years later, Shogun Tokugawa restricted all foreign merchants, except the Chinese, to the ports of Nagasaki and Hirado and restricted foreign residents to Edo, Kyoto, and Sakai. A dramatic example of the vigorous and determined campaign to root out Christian missionaries and their followers occurred in 1621, when a Japanese junk transporting two Spanish Franciscans was intercepted off the Formosa coast and escorted to Hirado. Both friars were executed on orders from the Shogun, along with the entire ship's crew and every Christian prisoner in the jails of Suzuta and Nagasaki. On September 10, 1622, fifty-five Christians were publicly burned or beheaded in Nagasaki, including a number of women and children. A total of 120 missionaries and converts were executed in Japan that year.
Tokugawa Iemitsu, Hidetada's son and the third Tokugawa Shogun, celebrated his rise to power in early 1623 by ordering fifty Christians burned at the stake in Edo. He persecuted Christians with a cold-blooded fervor that exceeded that of his father and grandfather. Iemitsu accelerated Japan's growing tendency toward seclusion by further tightening the restrictions on foreigners, securing the benefits of foreign trade for himself, and preventing the Kyushu daimyo from increasing their power through independent trade with foreigners.
Tokugawa Iemitsu expressed Japan's official seclusion policy in five separate directives issued between 1633 and 1639 to his two commissioners in Nagasaki. The first of his edicts closed Japan to all outside foreign interference. The seventeen-article directive issued in 1633 prohibited all Japanese ships and subjects from leaving Japan for a foreign country without a license. Any Japanese subject living abroad, except those who had resided abroad less than five years and had been unavoidably detained, would be put to death if they tried to return to Japan. He ordered the Nagasaki commissioners to investigate anyone suspected of being a Christian and offered a reward to anyone who revealed the location of a foreign priest. Foreign ships arriving in Japan were put under armed guard and thoroughly searched for foreign priests. Any foreigner who helped a foreign priest or any other prohibited foreigner would be imprisoned.
The shogun's edicts of 1634 and 1635 were similar to the first, but the 1635 edict was more specific in its prohibitions . By 1636, no Japanese ship, without exception, could leave Japan for any reason and those who were already on foreign shores were absolutely forbidden to return. A fourth edict, issued in 1636, contained nineteen articles that further increased the pressure against foreigners. The children of "southern barbarians" (Portuguese and Spanish) were forbidden from remaining in Japan and any Japanese who adopted these children, together with the children, were handed over to the Portuguese for deportation.
Beginning in 1569, the Shimabara Peninsula, which stretches southeastward from Nagasaki, and the Amakusa Islands to the south of the peninsula became home to thousands of Christian converts thanks to the missionary activities of Father Luis d'Almeida and the supportive efforts of the Christian daimyo Konishi Yukinaga. After Lord Konishi's defeat by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Kyushu became the domain of Lord Matsukura Shigemasa, a brutal tyrant who squeezed the peasants for nearly everything they had. In addition to the regular taxes paid by each household, which included an annual tribute of rice, wheat and barley, farmers were forced to turn over 80% of their crops and livestock and obliged to perform other tasks that increased Lord Matsukura's wealth. Lord Terazawa Hirotaka, Governor of Nagasaki, heavily taxed his subjects in the small town of Shimabara and conscripted laborers to build the massive Shimabara Castle, completed in 1625. High taxes and forced labor did not exhaust Lord Terazawa's harsh demands. The peasants of Amakusa and Shimabara were also mercilessly persecuted for their foreign faith and punished for the slightest offenses. The most common punishments were crucifixion, being boiled alive, or being hung over a burning pit and left to suffocate.
Less than a year after Lord Terazawa Hirotaka's death in 1633, his son, Terazawa Katakata, Lord of Amakusa, joined with Lord Matsukura in executing peasants who could not pay their taxes. The shogun's anti-Christian edicts only added to the sport. A farmer who refused to pay up was forced to wear a coat made of straw (mino, in Japanese) which was then was set ablaze. According to Nicholas Koeckebacker, the Dutch administrator in Hirado, the Japanese described the victim's agonizing pain as mino odori, or "raincoat dancing."
Living in grinding poverty and unable to tolerate the unceasing insolence and atrocious tyranny of the governors and Lord Matsukura's officers, the peasants of Shimabara believed the end was near and desperately looked for a savior to deliver them. They found him in Masuda Shiro, a charismatic sixteen-year-old who quickly emerged as a rebel leader. In October 1637, peasants from Shimabara and the nearby Amakusa islands, together with large numbers of ronin (samurai without a master), launched a rebellion. Angry peasants, armed with only with swords, rakes and rocks directed much of their anger at Shimabara Castle. They burned the town of Shimabara to the ground, killing one of the governors and more than thirty noblemen. In one instance, when a farmer's virgin daughter was seized, stripped, and tortured with burning sticks for his nonpayment of debts, the man retaliated by killing an "officer of justice" and his companions. Once the gauntlet had been thrown down, there was no turning back.
On November 8, as soon as the Portuguese "Black Ship" sailed from Nagasaki for Macao, the Governors of Nagasaki also departed for the imperial court at Edo. Soon after they reached Edo they got word of the rebellion spreading in Shimabara. Without waiting to learn of the details, Lord Matsukura Shigemasa and the Nagasaki daimyo hurriedly set out from Edo to meet the challenge. Since Nagasaki was designated a Crown city, Lord Terazawa Katakata quickly marshaled reinforcements to guard the suburbs. Over 40,000 men of Chikugo camped in the hills around Nagasaki under orders to defend the city and keep its inhabitants under surveillance. No one could move around freely without offering documents to prove their residence. Lord Terazawa also dispatched nine noblemen with 3,000 samurai from northern Kyushu to suppress the Amakusa rebels and punish the ringleaders. The rebels decimated Lord Terazawa's small force two days later, killing 2,800 men in a pitched battle fought on December 27.
On January 2, 1638, Lord Matsukura and Lord Terazawa set out for Shimabara accompanied by a force of 500 samurai. An additional 800 samurai from Omura along with four large ships arrived in Nagasaki to guard the river approach to the city. The same day, 800 samurai from Hizen arrived at Isahaya, about twenty miles west of Shimabara. The daimyo established their field headquarters in a village about a mile-and-a-half from Shimabara Castle to await the arrival of imperial troops from Edo. The Amakusa rebels suffered heavy casualties in a repeat engagement on January 3, and at least 1,000 survivors escaped to Shimabara to fight alongside rebels led by Masuda Shiro.
During their rampage, the rebels destroyed Japanese religious symbols, replaced them with Christian emblems and took control of the abandoned Hara Castle at the southern tip of the peninsula. Within the castle's massive walls guarded by three moats, they assembled a force of 35,000 men, not including numerous women and children, under the banner of the Christian cross. In capturing Hara, they burned the daimyo's rice stores and ships and came very close to capturing Shimabara Castle. Soon after the rebellion began, Christian converts from Amakusa and Shimabara began openly proclaiming their adherence to Christianity. Many carried banners emblazoned with Portuguese inscriptions such as "Louvada seia o Santissimo Sacramento" (Praised be the most Holy Sacrament) and "San Tiago." This physical evidence may well have confirmed their "treason" to Tokugawa Iemitsu, but they were not traitors. They were men and women driven to the brink of despair with nothing to lose by rebelling against a rapacious government.
On January 4, while the rebels were still enjoying their brief "victory," ten ninja warriors arrived at Hara from Omu Province. Every night for the next two weeks these veterans of the Battle of Sekigahara secretly entered the castle to gather intelligence and map the castle's defenses. Fifteen days later they sent a detailed report to the shogun in Edo. Tokugawa Iemitsu sent an army of over 10,000 men to lay siege to the rebel stronghold at Hara Castle. Armed with little more than a few guns, swords and lances, the rebels defiantly taunted their attackers and managed to inflict heavy losses on government forces without losing a man. Lord Matsukura scavenged some fifty pieces of artillery from Japanese ships in Nagasaki in addition to a large number of smaller weapons taken from Chinese ships and bombarded the castle. He also requested the Dutch send an armed ship from Hirado to bomb the fortress from the sea. The Dutch ship had little effect on the siege and the rebels managed to kill two Dutch sailors before it departed.
The roads and fields around Hara Castle were littered with countless men who died from exposure to the bitter cold winter weather, many of whom had never fired a shot. Rebel raids, such as the deadly assault on February 3 which killed over 2,000 Hizen warriors, the governor and many noblemen, only compounded the attackers' misery. Masuda Shiro's rebellious peasants fiercely held off the shogunate's samurai for four months until dwindling supplies and cold weather began to take their toll. In early February, six defectors from Hara Castle brought Lord Matsukura some welcome news. Hara Castle had provisions for only seventy days and the defenders along the outer perimeter lacked both gunpowder and provisions.
Government forces decisively crushed the rebellion on Amakusa by mid-February. Fifty diehard rebels crossed the narrow strait to Shimabara and joined with the rebels in Hara Castle for the final showdown. Beginning on March 10, a combined force of nearly 200,000 warriors under the command of Lord Itakura Shigemasa assembled on the plains of Shimabara: 30,000 from Chikuzen, 40,000 from Higo; 25,000 from Chikugo, 2,700 from Bungo, 3,000 from Amakusa, 5,000 from Omura, 3,000 from Hirado, and 500 men belonging to Lord Terazawa Katakata. Faced with the prospect of a long siege and certain starvation, the rebels took the initiative and conducted a night assault against the Hizen, Bungo and Chikugo forces on April 4. Captured prisoners from the confused battle that left 380 rebels dead, revealed that the rebels were without food, gunpowder and ammunition. Hizen samurai took advantage of the information and captured the castle's outer defense perimeter on April 12. The castle moats filled with the dead and dying as rebels withdrew toward the main castle, reduced to throwing cooking pots at their attackers.
Fires surrounded Hara Castle during the rebellion's brutal and merciless final act on April 15, 1638. Between 5,000 and 6,000 rebels chose to burn rather than surrender. Many rebels threw their children into the flames to prevent them from being taken and cruelly put to death. After taking Hara Castle, government forces systematically slaughtered everyone they encountered. Not a single rebel survived the Battle at Hara Castle except those who fled, and they were later hunted down and executed. Masuda Shiro was captured and decapitated and his head was sent to Nagasaki and exhibited. The ferocity of the final assault is evident from the 10,800 rebel heads taken in the final two days of fighting and placed in the fields beneath the castle walls. Stretcher cases, countless wounded and servants weeping for their dead masters filled the roads leading from Shimabara; gruesome testimony to the brutality of the battle. The castle itself was later destroyed and the combined lands of Shimabara and Amakusa were divided among various daimyo.
The governors and daimyo of Kyushu tried to make the insurrection in Shimabara and Amakusa appear to be the result of religious fervor, largely to deflect attention from their own despotic excesses and prevent their losing favor with the Tokugawa shogunate. The violence of the rebellion and the setbacks encountered by the shogun's forces stunned the bakufu in Edo. Despite the economic benefits brought to Japan by the Black Ships from Macao, Tokugawa Iemitsu saw the hand of foreign Christian adversaries in the Shimabara Rebellion. He now feared not only Christianity, but the possibility that Spain would try to duplicate through force of arms and conversion in Japan what it had already achieved in the Philippines.
Determined to end the Portuguese trade, Tokugawa Iemitsu resolved to prohibit Christianity in Japan and issued an edict that called for a policy of strict national seclusion. No foreign ships were allowed to enter Japanese ports, and no Japanese citizen was permitted to leave or reenter Japan. The Portuguese trade ships arriving in Japan that year were turned away without unloading their cargo. In May 1639, the bakufu expressly forbid Portuguese ships from coming to Japan and all Portuguese and all children of mixed racial parentage were ordered out of the country. The last of the Portuguese Black Ships remaining in Japan sailed for Macao on October 17, 1639, carrying news of the end of an epoch.
In June 1640, the Macao Senate foolishly dispatched an empty Portuguese trade ship to Nagasaki carrying four of its leading citizens who hoped to plead for a resumption of trade. The Governor of Nagasaki received the entourage graciously, but the Grand Council at Edo answered by ordering sixty-one of the ship's multinational compliment executed. Thirteen Chinese crewmen were released to return to Macao with the dreadful news. The official rescript concerning the execution of the Macao Embassy directly linked the actions of the "worm-like barbarians of Macau" with the Shimabara Rebellion.
"If we had not destroyed and annihilated them [the rebels] as quickly as possible, their numbers would have greatly increased, and the revolt would have spread like the rebellion of Chang Lu [revolt of Yellow Turbans in China in 184 AD] . . . The instigators of this revolt were deserving of the severest punishment, and therefore a government envoy was sent to Nagasaki, warning your people that they should never return to this country, and that if they did, everybody on board the ships would be killed infallibly, . . ."
Japan had been moving toward isolation for some time, but the Shimabara Rebellion brought a quick end to Japanese contact with the outside world. Only the Dutch were allowed to remain in Japan, partly because of their assistance against the Christian rebels at Hara Castle and partly because they alone never declared themselves to be Christian, or at least never expressed any intention to conduct missionary activities. In 1640, the Dutch factory on Hirado was ordered to move to Deshima, a rocky, artificial island exactly one hectare in size originally built in Nagasaki Bay in 1635-36 to house Portuguese merchants.
Deshima was tightly packed with offices, warehouses, guest houses for visiting officers and dignitaries, and employee barracks. There was no church or minister, since the Dutch were prohibited from practicing Christianity on Deshima. Food provided by the VOC and the Japanese included chickens, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables. Those who died on Deshima had to be taken five miles out to sea and dumped overboard, since the Japanese prohibited burials on the island. Every Dutch ship that anchored at Nagasaki had to lock its artillery pieces and turn over all weapons and bibles to the Japanese along with the ship's sails and rudder to prevent it from leaving without permission. The Dutch had to live on Deshima without their wives and families and were prohibited from crossing the small bridge between the island and the mainland without permission and that was seldom granted. If the Japanese wanted contact with the Dutch for any reason, a small delegation was permitted to cross the bridge. The Chinese, though initially unfettered in their trade with Japan, were eventually placed under similar restrictions.
The Japanese considered Holland to be a vassal state, but had only a vague idea of its actual location and their demeanor towards the Dutch was, at best, well-mannered arrogance. The Dutch were considered foul-smelling strangers and expected to behave humbly and respectfully toward all Japanese. Most of the VOC chiefs succeeded in making themselves "beloved and pleased" by bearing every condition imposed by the Japanese and telling them whatever they liked to hear. Any VOC chief who failed to properly "butter-up" the Japanese and caused friction was quickly replaced.
Dutch behavior toward the Japanese on Deshima and Dutch attitudes towards local populations elsewhere in East Asia were as different as night and day. VOC contracts with local chiefs were highly advantageous to the Dutch and if local "savages" dared to complain or, worse, dared to violently resist the Company, it hit back with a heavy hand. For example, after eight VOC employees died during a Chinese attack against the settlement at Provintien on Formosa, the Dutch military took revenge for the shedding of "Dutch Christian blood" by killing between two and three thousand Chinese in a twelve day period. Deshima proved that business could be conducted differently. If the Japanese saw no advantage to the Dutch presence, they would have expelled them just as they had the Portuguese. Likewise, if the situation had not proved so profitable to the Dutch, they would never have stayed. The different approach taken with the Japanese proved the Dutch understood that one could earn just as much profit with a little "buttering up," as by shedding blood.
The sudden move toward national seclusion legitimized and strengthened the shogun's authority domestically and effectively removed Japan as an active participant in the Ming Chinese tribute system in East Asia. The momentous decision to embark on a policy of seclusion and isolation excluded Japan from the rapid advances in science, technology and industry that took place in the Western world over the next two hundred fifty years. Except for trade with the Ryukyu Islands and Choson, which was confined to Satsuma and Tsushima Island respectively, the only foreign trade permitted was with the Dutch and Chinese on Deshima Island. Japan closed its door to the outside world and kept it closed until the mid-nineteenth century. Unlike Choson however, the Japanese kept a small crack in the door. That small crack was Deshima.