Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga was the first official Japanese ambassador to the Americas and Europe, having traveled there in the early 17th century.
He was a Samurai whose mission from Japan to the Christian west spanned from 1613 through 1620 and it was the last one until 1862!
Mon of the daimyo Date Masamune
The objective was to establish a close relationship with the West and increase trade to the benefit of the Japanese. Hasekura was sent by the daimyo (regional powerful lord) Date Masamune of Sendai who had plans to become the Shogun.
In the correspondence that the daimyo sent with Hasekura, it was said that he was planning to convert to Christianity and offered to accept Catholic mercenaries.
This came at a time when Christianity had started taking root in Japan and a number of them were converting, though not all feudal lords welcomed the new religion. Hasekura and his entourage were among those who were at least friendly towards the religion and the majority converted during their trip.
Hasekura himself converted in Spain in 1615 and on February 17th was baptized by King Philip III’s personal chaplain and had as his godfather the Duke of Lerma. His Christian name was Felipe Francisco Hasekura.
Of interest is that on Hasekura’s way to Rome to meet with the Pope, he had to spend a few days in Saint Tropez due to bad weather. While there, he met with French nobles marking the first official contact between France and Japan in history.
There are some funny stories from the French side about their “exotic” visitors:
“They never touch food with their fingers, but instead use two small sticks that they hold with three fingers.”
“They blow their noses in soft silky papers the size of a hand, which they never use twice, so that they throw them on the ground after usage, and they were delighted to see our people around them precipitate themselves to pick them up.”
“Their swords cut so well that they can cut a soft paper just by putting it on the edge and by blowing on it.”
(Marcouin, Francis and Keiko Omoto. Quand le Japon s’ouvrit au monde. Paris: Découvertes Gallimard, 1990. ISBN 2-07-053118-X. Pages 114–116)
In Rome, he got to meet the Pope and made many high level contacts with members of the Church. The people of Rome, to whom he became endeared, even made him a Citizen of Rome.
On the return trip to Japan, several of Hasekura’s men decided to stay behind in Spain where their descendants still carry the surname “(Hasekura de) Japon”.
To continue the story of this mission, when Hasekura returned all those years later to Japan, his home country was a very different place.
Almost immediately after giving his report to the daimyo, Christianity became an outlaw religion. All Christians had to change their religion otherwise they would either face exile (for nobles) or death (for everyone else).
Hasekura remained faithful to the end and among his remains a rosary, a cross and other items were found.
During his years in Europe, he acquired a Coat of Arms and they are depicted above. The blazon is: Argent a two arrows in saltire overall a swastika Sable.