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Remains of Legendary Lost English Samurai Unearthed in Japan

Remains of Legendary Lost English Samurai Unearthed in Japan

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The skeletal remains of a legendary English samurai who landed in Japan in 1600 AD, on his way to the New World with an ill-fated Dutch convoy, have been positively identified by archaeologists.

The real-life action adventure story of 17th century English mariner, William Adams, was immortalized in James Clavell's novel “ Shōgun” and in the 1980s hit-TV series by the same name starring Richard Chamberlain. According to a 1980s Evening Independent article, Clavell said that it was reading a sentence in his daughter's textbook that stated that “in 1600, an Englishman went to Japan and became a samurai,” which inspired him to write the novel.

Although the story of Adams’ life is well documented, his final resting place has remained a sealed archaeological mystery for more than four centuries, however, last year a team of archaeologists excavating a graveyard on the island of Hirado, in the Nagasaki prefecture of Japan, had reason to believe they had finally discovered his remains.

The Converted English Samurai

William Adams was born in 1564 AD and in 1598 AD, he joined a voyage of five Dutch ships in Rotterdam, bound on a quest for the untold riches of the New World. Adams was among the crew of the one surviving ship that was washed ashore, and he was detained in Osaka Castle by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun, or chief of the samurai caste that ruled Japan at that time. After befriending the legendary Japanese warlord, Adams became so valuable to the ruler that that he was forbidden from leaving the island, where he became known as the “blue-eyed samurai.”

1707 map of Japan, with a cartouche representing the audience of the English samurai William Adams with the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Adams impressed the shogun so much, that despite having a wife and children in England, Adams betrothed a Japanese woman called Yuki and they had two children, Joseph and Susanna, and it is recorded that the English mariner was awarded samurai status and “showered with gifts including 90 slaves,” according to a report in the Daily Mail . And when the shogun eventually permitted the sailor-warrior his return to his family and life in England, Adams refused the offer and decided to live the rest of his life in Japan.

Not One Smoking Gun, But Many Layers of Evidence

The ancient mariner’s bones, of which only 5% were recovered, were discovered inside a funerary urn that had initially been excavated at the Hirado graveyard in a 1931 dig. At that time the skeleton was found in what archaeologists called a “Western-style grave,” which led to the rumor that this was indeed the final resting place of Adams. Then, a headstone was discovered nearby bearing the sailor’s adopted Japanese name, “Miura Anjin.” And now archaeologists at the University of Tokyo using modern tools of analysis have confirmed that the mysterious man died somewhere between 1590 and 1620 AD, which is precisely when Adams died.

Headstone of the English samurai William Adams or Miura Anjin in Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan.

The scientists’ excitement levels were raised when their primary analysis suggested the skeleton’s DNA was that of a northern European male who had died between 40 and 59 years of age. And now, on the 400th anniversary of the sailor's death in 1620 AD, forensic researchers in both Japan and Britain have announced that they have their man, according to an article in The Telegraph . Professor Richard Irving, a member of the Tokyo-based William Adams Club, told the Telegraph that the discovery is “consistent with the known characteristics of Adams himself, in terms of sex, country of ancestral origin, age at death, and year of death.”

  • Sex, Scandal, and Allure: The Erotic Art of Shun-ga from Edo to Early Modern Japan
  • The Amazing Story of Yasuke: The Forgotten African Samurai
  • The Honorable Death: Samurai and Suicide in Feudal Japan

A Sexually Repressed Sailor Looking For Stimulation

While Clavell’s “ Shōgun” was maybe the best adaptation of Adams’ life in Japan, it was not the first, as William Dalton wrote Will Adams, The First Englishman in Japan: A Romantic Biography in 1861. Then in 1932 Richard Blaker published The Needlewatcher, a carefully composed work of historical fiction, which de-mythologized the life of Adams. A couple of less successful renditions of the story were told in the 1960s and 70s before Christopher Nicole's Lord of the Golden Fan was published in 1973 only two years before Calavell’s Shōgun.

According to the University of Columbia , this last work is “light pornography” revealing the darker side of the sailor, as a sexually frustrated Englishman crushed by the socials norms and morals at the time, who sought sexual freedom in the Orient where he has numerous sexual encounters. And with 90 slaves, many of whom were “barley legal,” it would seem this book was also a work of careful historical fiction.

How a Locksmith, a Dictator and a WWII General Are Connected to $22 Billion in Lost Treasure

Roxas v. Marcos was a classic David and Goliath tale, a battle between two wildly mismatched opponents.

Goliath in this case was the ruthless Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, a man with a personal fortune estimated in the billions of dollars and an army of thugs and torturers at his command.

David was a 27-year-old Filipino locksmith and amateur treasure hunter named Rogelio Roxas.

At stake in the fight was a golden Buddha statue and other loot Roxas said he had unearthed from a secret underground tunnel. It was believed to be part a long-rumored stash of plunder that Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita had buried in the Philippines in the waning days of World War II. Marcos’ agents had stolen it from Roxas at gunpoint. Roxas wanted it back.

When Roxas v. Marcos finally played out in a Honolulu courtroom, more than 20 years later, Roxas would not only win, but win big. The jury ordered the Marcos family to pay a staggering $22 billion, then the largest award on record.

Jose Roxas, right, holds the Golden Buddha as Henry Roxas, son of Rogelio, the original owner of the buddha, watches at a courthouse in Baguio City, where it was ordered released to the trusteehip of the Roxas family on Monday June 24, 1996.

12. Tomoe Gozen (巴 御前)

Tomoe Gozen (1157?-1247?) was an onna-bugeisha (女武芸者, female martial artist) who served Minamoto no Yoshinaka during the Genpei War (1180-1185). Before the samurai became a formalized caste in the Edo Period (1603-1868), women were trained to use naginata spears and kaiken daggers to protect communities with few male fighters. In fact, the legendary Empress Jingu is said to have led an invasion of Korea in the year 200 after her emperor-husband was slain in battle, though whether this invasion ever actually happened remains a matter of debate.

The Genpei War was fought between the powerful Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) clans, both offshoots of the imperial line. Tomoe had a number of achievements in the war, leading 1,000 cavalry, surviving a battle of 300 against 6,000, and collecting opponents' heads like postage stamps. In The Tale of the Heike (平家物語・Heike Monogatari), an epic poem about the conflict compiled by at least 1309, it's written that in addition to Tomoe's beauty, "She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swords-woman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot."

As the Genpei War came to a close, Yoshinaka vied for power over the entire Minamoto Clan. While he was defeated by his cousin Yoritomo (who went on to found the Kamakura Shogunate), it's recorded that Tomoe unhorsed, pinned and decapitated Yoritomo's strongest warrior at the Battle of Awazu in 1184. What became of her thereafter is unclear, and the role of onna-bugeisha faded toward the Edo Period, though Tomoe reemerged as a popular figure in ukiyo-e prints and kabuki plays.

Japan: A Ceramic Jar With Thousands of Bronze Coins Unearthed at a Samurai’s Residence

According to archaeologist Yoshiyuki Takise of the Saitama Cultural Deposits Research Corporation, the coins, which were cast in China, may have been an offering to the deity of the earth, or may simply have been buried for safekeeping.

Markings on a wooden tablet found on the rim of the jar indicate it could contain as many as 260,000 coins, a number that Takise says far exceeds what one would expect to find in circulation in what was then a rural area.

Ohara-tei (Site of Old Samurai Residence)

Samurai (侍) were the hereditary military nobility and officer caste of medieval and early-modern Japan from the 12th century to their abolition in the 1870s. They were the well-paid retainers of the daimyo (the great feudal landholders). They had high prestige and special privileges such as wearing two swords. They cultivated the bushido codes of martial virtues, indifference to pain, and unflinching loyalty, engaging in many local battles. During the peaceful Edo era (1603 to 1868) they became the stewards and chamberlains of the daimyo estates, gaining managerial experience and education. In the 1870s samurai families comprised 5% of the population. The Meiji Revolution ended their feudal roles, and they moved into professional and entrepreneurial roles. Their memory and weaponry remain prominent in Japanese popular culture.

Left to right: ceramic jar, jar with coins, and wooden tablet. (Courtesy Saitama Cultural Deposits Research Corporation)

Samurai Quotes

&ldquoTakamasa Saegusa: 'Seigen, a mere member of the Toudouza, had the effrontery to sully the sacred dueling ground. For that reason, our lord had already decided to subject him to tu-uchi before long. Cut off his head immediately, and stick it on a pike!'

Gennosuke could hardly believe his ears. Such an insult to Irako Seigen was unwarranted. It was pride. For Gennosuke, Irako Seigen was pride itself.

Takamasa Saegusa: 'Fujiki Gennosuke! It is the way of the samurai to take the head of the defeated enemy on the battleground. Do not hesitate! If you are a samurai, you must carry out the duty of a samurai!'

Saegusa, Lord of Izu, continued shouting, but Gennosuke did not attend. That word 'samurai' alone reverberated through his body.

If one aims at the juncture between the base of the skull and the spine, decapitation is not that difficult, but Gennosuke could muster no more strength than a baby. He grew pale and trembled with the strain. He could only hack with his sword as if he were sawing wood. He felt nauseated, as if his own cells one after another were being annihilated. But this.

Lord Tokugawa Tadanaga: 'I approve.'

Takamasa Saegusa: 'Fujiki Gennosuke, for this splendid action you have received words of thanks from our lord. As a sign of his exceptional approval, you shall be given employment at Sunpu Castle. This great debt will by no means be forgotten. From this day forward you must offer your life to our lord!'

Prostrating himself, Gennosuke vomited.&rdquo
― Takayuki Yamaguchi, シグルイ 15

&ldquoIt is the genius of life that demands of those who partake in it that they are not only the guardians of what was and is, but what will be.

—Thomas Nō Kannon, The Lady and the Samurai +&rdquo
― douglas laurent, The lady and the samurai

&ldquoSamurai: I have searched for you a very long time.
Kari: Do not waste breath, kill. It is our way here.
Samurai: Not before I have my say, Corpse-eater.
Kari: No wonder you took so long to find me.

on Valkyrie Kari,, Garden of the Dragons, Vol, iiii&rdquo
― Douglas Laurent

&ldquoGarden of the Dragons (The ’Halla, Vol. # 3)
Chapter Ten Excerpt (original editing)

Hachiman, surveys he the woe,
Wipes his brow, hate does flow.
A ruined life, heh, a loss of face,
He must have her now, to his disgrace
(Wed to Kari now, locked in time and place).

Battle over, moon still shines,
Lilies float soft in quiet time.
Scented visions and memories sear remains,
Of this terrible night of what was feigned.

Visuals lithe, of sword and blade,
Disguise the carnage and the pain.
Petals soft, they hide our gaze,
And cover the ground and its grave.

Flowers and moon in water light,
T'winkills the calm of a zen-burst night.
Now to life, the poem to seek repose,
And bury beneath those riddles she holds.

Nectars sweet, precious flowers,
A fragranted grave that allures and empowers.

beat, tells the way,
Of things long remembered and a far lost day.
How many memories, Kari knew,
That stain with age, being so few.

Samurai remembers - feels it as a man,
Clutches he his fist wind in hand. . . .

". . .I have searched for you a very long time."
"Do not waste breath, kill. It is our way here."
"Not before I have my say, Corpse-eater."
"No wonder you took so long to find me."

"I have had a lot of time for thought," quietly he,
"- T'is a shame we could not agree."
"No more room for that," forcefully he snapped,
"You dishonored me twice and now, I will take one back."

"- Not enough? Hachi," said cordially she,
"If you are going to - cut the artery, please."
Tilt she her neck, exposed but her vein,
Samurai frowned, decidedly vain.

Looked he at his hands -
"They're already too bloody for today."

"Hummph. Such trite man'ers are atrocious.
For yourself you are much too engaged."

("Yet, a moment and it is done," thought he,
"But to gain it thus, a hollow travesty.
I must face her in all her strength,
The bladed Valkyrie, the one called great").

"I could kill you now, but I'd rather not,
This room is too unbecoming for the proper job."

"Charmed that you still think so highly of me."

"- Only then of your haunted beauty, I shall be free."

Feeling that weight, slowly dropped he his blade,
Time enough - rituals to cleanse and to pray.
Tossed his sword, pined her down -
Smooshed her face to the floor, Pinching it to a frown.
"Oh no, my little angel, you have it all wrong!
I mean only to kill you when you are strong.
Do not fear, I won't let anyone harm you in strife,
In the meantime, try not to flirt with your life.
Stay healthy - then we shall settle our love, unrequite."

A biting grin creased Samurai's scarved face,
"Let us fix it properly, according to my r'ace."
"Bushido," mouthed Kari, her voice empty as the word.
"And there will be no running away this time -
Rest assured."

Slowly withdrew he and left the room,
"Bastard," spit Kari, caustic of his doom.
The girl breathing vexiously, then calmly in the dark,
The door closed, silent, the light dribbling out.

Sounds below, drip mute in time,
Reality presses, she makes her fate thind.

And Skuld drinking, contemplates she her sibylline,
It was her hour now, the night of the wolverine.&rdquo
― douglas laurent

&ldquoIt is the genius of life that demands of those who partake in it that they are not only are guardians of what was and is, but what will be.

—Thomas Nō Kannon, The Lady and the Samurai +&rdquo
― douglas laurent

&ldquoLaForche for his standing, understood Christina’s seditious intents, and for that, he monitored and hated the rude Vixen of Woe. Innumerable times they had quarresquabbled, sometimes very loudly, both during and after class. Christina’s wit, as fast as her blade, for the most part won the scathingly bitter, single-edged dialogues, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of LaForche. It was no big secret that trying to deal with his Anti-Mr. Spock logic was like trying to cross a baking salt-flat desert mid-summer with nothing to drink or eat except stale crackers and a big jar of out-dated defunct Peter Pan peanut butter, its original “crunch” now being only pasty sand mouth goo. She often asked herself how could you argue against no mind. It was an unassuming study in stupility to say the least.

—Christina Brickley, The Lady and the Samurai&rdquo
― douglas laurent

&ldquoValley of the Damned (# 1 The 'Halla)

As she sat teary, another story arose,
Young and full of vigor hewed with manymanymany
years of repose.
“Comrades” she brightened, “listen again to my tale,
Of courage and power, and how evil can never prevail.

—Valkyrie Kari, Saint of the Blade
Chapter 15, Valley of the Damned

Footnote: In one form or another, everybody hears but very few listen. It is a lost art. Like developing a taste for classical art, music or fine wine, listening is a skill, a ‘taste’ to develop, an “acquired sound.”

Deep Past

Miyagi’s history neither began nor ended with the age of samurai. There is evidence of prehistoric peoples dating back as far as twenty thousand years ago. Ancient shell mounds have been unearthed along Miyagi’s coast, fascinating relics that can still be visited today. Twelve hundred years ago, before the reign of the samurai began, Miyagi was on the northern edge of the territory controlled by the Emperor in Kyoto and inhabited by the Emishi people. Exhibits at the Tohoku History Museum recreate and give insight into these ages.

The Sword of Goujian

Sword of Goujian. Photo by Siyuwj CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1965, the Sword of Goujian was discovered by an excavation team, in a tomb in Hubei, China. Archaeologists believe that it is an artifact from around 771 to 403 BC.

What was truly stunning and confused all researchers was that the blade of the sword was perfectly untarnished, despite the fact that it had been buried in damp conditions for over two millennia. When one archaeologist tested his finger on its edge, the blade drew blood.

Sword of Goujian, Hubei Provincial Museum. Photo by Siyuwj CC BY-SA 4.0

It is beautifully decorated and made of copper, bronze, tin, and small amounts of iron. According to the engravings on the blade near the hilt, the sword belonged to one of the most famous emperors, Goujian, the King of Yue State.

Inexplicably, the Sword of Goijuan defies the tests of time. Due to its mythical endurance, the sword is regarded as a state treasure in China and is on display at the Hubei Provincial Museum.


Adams was born in Gillingham, Kent, England. When Adams was twelve his father died, and he was apprenticed to shipyard owner Master Nicholas Diggins at Limehouse for the seafaring life. [4] He spent the next twelve years learning shipbuilding, [5] astronomy, and navigation before entering the Royal Navy. [5]

With England at war with Spain, Adams served in the Royal Navy under Sir Francis Drake. He saw naval service against the Spanish Armada in 1588 as master of the Richarde Dyffylde, a resupply ship. [5] In the same year he is recorded to have married Mary Hyn in the parish church of St Dunstan's, Stepney. [5] Soon after, Adams became a pilot for the Barbary Company. [5] During this service, Jesuit sources claim he took part in an expedition to the Arctic that lasted about two years, in search of a Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia to the Far East. [5] The veracity of this claim is somewhat suspect, because he never referred to such an expedition in his autobiographical letter written from Japan its wording implies that the 1598 voyage was his first involvement with the Dutch. The Jesuit source may have misattributed to Adams a claim by one of the Dutch members of Mahu's crew who had been on Rijp's ship during the voyage that discovered Spitsbergen. [6]

..I am a Kentish-man, borne in a Towne called Gillingam, two English miles from Rochester, one mile from Chattam, where the Kings ships lye : and that from the age of twelve yeares, I was brought up in Lime-house neere London, being Prentise twelve yeares to one Master Nicholas Diggines, and have served in the place of Master and Pilot in her Majesties ships, and about eleven or twelve yeares served the Worshipfull Company of the Barbarie Marchants, untill the Indian Trafficke from Holland began, in which Indian Trafficke I was desirous to make a little experience of the small knowledge which God had given me. So, in the yeare of our Lord God, 1598. I was hired for chiefe Pilot of a Fleete of five sayle, which was made readie by the chiefe of the Indian Company Peter Vanderhag, and Hance Vanderueke.

Attracted by the Dutch trade with India, Adams, then 34 years old, shipped as pilot major with a five-ship fleet dispatched from the isle of Texel to the Far East in 1598 by a company of Rotterdam merchants (a voorcompagnie, predecessor of the Dutch East India Company). His brother Thomas accompanied him. The Dutch were allied with England and as well as fellow Protestants, they too were also at war with Spain fighting for their independence.

The Adams brothers set sail from Texel on the Hoope and joined with the rest of the fleet on 24 June. [ citation needed ] The fleet consisted of:

  • the Hoope ("Hope"), under Admiral Jacques Mahu (d. 1598), he was succeeded by Simon de Cordes (d. 1599) and Simon de Cordes Jr. This ship was lost near the Hawaiian Islands
  • the Liefde ("Love" or "Charity"), under Simon de Cordes, 2nd in command, succeeded by Gerrit van Beuningen and finally under Jacob Kwakernaak this was the only ship which reached Japan
  • the Geloof ("Faith"), under Gerrit van Beuningen, and in the end, Sebald de Weert the only ship which came back in Rotterdam.
  • the Trouw ("Loyalty"), under Jurriaan van Boekhout (d. 1599) and finally, Baltazar de Cordes was captured in Tidore
  • the Blijde Boodschap ("Good Tiding" or "The Gospel"), under Sebald de Weert, and later, Dirck Gerritz was seized in Valparaiso. [8]

Jacques Mahu and Simon de Cordes were the leaders of an expedition with the goal to achieve the Chile, Peru and other kingdoms (in New Spain like Nueva Galicia Captaincy General of Guatemala Nueva Vizcaya New Kingdom of León and Santa Fe de Nuevo México). [9] The fleet's original mission was to sail for the west coast of South America, where they would sell their cargo for silver, and to head for Japan only if the first mission failed. In that case, they were supposed to obtain silver in Japan and to buy spices in the Moluccas, before heading back to Europe. [10] Their goal was to sail through the Strait of Magellan to get to their destiny, which scared many sailors because of the harsh weather conditions. The first major expedition around South America was organized by a voorcompagnie, the Rotterdam or Magelhaen Company. It organized two fleets of five and four ships with 750 sailors and soldiers, including 30 English musicians. [11]

After leaving Goeree on 27 June 1598 the ships sailed to the Channel, but anchored in the Downs till mid July. When the ships approached the shores of North Africa Simon de Cordes realized he had been far too generous in the early weeks of the voyage and instituted a 'bread policy'. [12] At the end of August they landed on Santiago, Cape Verde and Mayo off the coast of Africa because of a lack of water and need for fresh fruit. They stayed around three weeks in the hope to buy some goats. Near Praia they succeeded to occupy a Portuguese castle on the top of a hill, but came back without anything substantial. At Brava, Cape Verde half of the crew of the "Hope" caught fever there, with most of the men sick, among them Admiral Jacques Mahu. After his death the leadership of the expedition was taken over by Simon de Cordes, with Van Beuningen as vice admiral. Because of contrary wind the fleet was blown off course (NE in the opposite direction) and arrived at Cape Lopez, Gabon, Central Africa. [13] An outbreak of scurvy forced a landing on Annobón, on 9 December. [14] Several men became sick because of dysentery. They stormed the island only to find that the Portuguese and their native allies had set fire to their own houses and fled into the hills. [15] They put all the sick ashore to recover and left early January. [16] Because of starvation the men fell into great weakness some tried to eat leather. On 10 March 1599 they reached the Rio de la Plata, in Argentina. [17] Early April they arrived at the Strait, 570 km long, 2 km wide at its narrowest point, with an inaccurate chart of the seabed. [13] The wind turned out to be unfavorable and this remained so for the next four months. Under freezing temperatures and poor visibility they caught penguins, seals, mussels, duck and fish. About two hundred crew members died. On 23 August the weather improved. [18]

When finally the Pacific Ocean was reached on 3 September 1599, the ships were caught in a storm and lost sight of each other. The "Loyalty" and the "Believe" were driven back in the strait. After more than a year each ship went its own way. [13] The Geloof returned to Rotterdam in July 1600 with 36 men surviving of the original 109 crew.) De Cordes ordered his small fleet to wait four weeks for each other on Santa María Island, Chile, but some ships missed the island. Adams wrote "they brought us sheep and potatoes”. From here the story becomes less reliable because of a lack of sources and changes in command. In early November, the "Hope" landed on Mocha Island where 27 people were killed by the people from Araucania, including Simon de Cordes. (In the account given to Olivier van Noort it was said that Simon der Cordes was slain at the Punta de Lavapie, but Adams gives Mocha Island as the scene of his death. [19] ) The "Love" hit the island, but went on to Punta de Lavapié near Concepción, Chile. A Spanish captain supplied the "Loyalty" and "Hope" with food the Dutch helped him against the Araucans, who had killed 23 Dutch, including Thomas Adams (according to his brother in his second letter) and Gerrit van Beuningen, who was replaced by Jacob Quaeckernaeck.

During the voyage, before December 1598, Adams changed ships to the Liefde (originally named Erasmus and adorned by a wooden carving of Erasmus on her stern). The statue was preserved in the Ryuko-in Buddhist temple in Sano City, Tochigi-ken and moved to the Tokyo National Museum in the 1920s. The Trouw reached Tidore (Eastern Indonesia). The crew were killed by the Portuguese in January 1601. [20]

In fear of the Spaniards, the remaining crews determined to leave the island and sail across the Pacific. It was 27 November 1599 when the two ships sailed westward for Japan. On their way, the two ships made landfall in "certain islands" where eight sailors deserted the ships. Later during the voyage, a typhoon claimed the Hope with all hands, in late February 1600.

In April 1600, after more than nineteen months at sea, a crew of twenty-three sick and dying men (out of the 100 who started the voyage) brought the Liefde to anchor off the island of Kyūshū, Japan. Its cargo consisted of eleven chests of trade goods: coarse woolen cloth, glass beads, mirrors, and spectacles and metal tools and weapons: nails, iron, hammers, nineteen bronze cannon 5,000 cannonballs 500 muskets, 300 chain-shot, and three chests filled with coats of mail.

When the nine surviving crew members were strong enough to stand, they made landfall on 19 April off Bungo (present-day Usuki, Ōita Prefecture). They were met by Japanese locals and Portuguese Jesuit missionary priests claiming that Adams' ship was a pirate vessel and that the crew should be executed as pirates. The ship was seized and the sickly crew were imprisoned at Osaka Castle on orders by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyō of Edo and future shōgun. The nineteen bronze cannon of the Liefde were unloaded and, according to Spanish accounts, later used at the decisive Battle of Sekigahara on 21 October 1600.

Adams met Ieyasu in Osaka three times between May and June 1600. He was questioned by Ieyasu, then a guardian of the young son of the Taikō Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler who had just died. Adams' knowledge of ships, shipbuilding and nautical smattering of mathematics appealed to Ieyasu.

Coming before the king, he viewed me well, and seemed to be wonderfully favourable. He made many signs unto me, some of which I understood, and some I did not. In the end, there came one that could speak Portuguese. By him, the king demanded of me of what land I was, and what moved us to come to his land, being so far off. I showed unto him the name of our country, and that our land had long sought out the East Indies, and desired friendship with all kings and potentates in way of merchandise, having in our land diverse commodities, which these lands had not… Then he asked whether our country had wars? I answered him yea, with the Spaniards and Portugals, being in peace with all other nations. Further, he asked me, in what I did believe? I said, in God, that made heaven and earth. He asked me diverse other questions of things of religions, and many other things: As what way we came to the country. Having a chart of the whole world, I showed him, through the Strait of Magellan. At which he wondered, and thought me to lie. Thus, from one thing to another, I abode with him till mid-night. (from William Adams' letter to his wife) [21]

Adams wrote that Ieyasu denied the Jesuits' request for execution on the ground that:

we as yet had not done to him nor to none of his land any harm or damage therefore against Reason or Justice to put us to death. If our country had wars the one with the other, that was no cause that he should put us to death with which they were out of heart that their cruel pretence failed them. For which God be forever praised. (William Adams' letter to his wife) [21]

Ieyasu ordered the crew to sail the Liefde from Bungo to Edo where, rotten and beyond repair, she sank.

In 1604, Tokugawa ordered Adams and his companions to help Mukai Shōgen, who was commander-in-chief of the navy of Uraga, to build Japan's first Western-style ship. The sailing ship was built at the harbour of Itō on the east coast of the Izu Peninsula, with carpenters from the harbour supplying the manpower for the construction of an 80-ton vessel. It was used to survey the Japanese coast. The shōgun ordered a larger ship of 120 tons to be built the following year it was slightly smaller than the Liefde, which was 150 tons. According to Adams, Tokugawa "came aboard to see it, and the sight whereof gave him great content". [21] In 1610, the 120-ton ship (later named San Buena Ventura) was lent to shipwrecked Spanish sailors. They sailed it to New Spain, accompanied by a mission of twenty-two Japanese led by Tanaka Shōsuke.

Following the construction, Tokugawa invited Adams to visit his palace whenever he liked and "that always I must come in his presence." [21]

Other survivors of the Liefde were also rewarded with favours, and were allowed to pursue foreign trade. Most of the survivors left Japan in 1605 with the help of the daimyō of Hirado. Although Adams did not receive permission to leave Japan until 1613, Melchior van Santvoort and Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn engaged in trade between Japan and Southeast Asia and reportedly made a fortune. Both of them were reported by Dutch traders as being in Ayutthaya in early 1613, sailing richly cargoed junks.

In 1609 [22] Adams contacted the interim governor of the Philippines, Rodrigo de Vivero y Aberrucia on behalf of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who wished to establish direct trade contacts with New Spain. Friendly letters were exchanged, officially starting relations between Japan and New Spain. Adams is also recorded as having chartered Red Seal Ships during his later travels to Southeast Asia. (The Ikoku Tokai Goshuinjō has a reference to Miura Anjin receiving a shuinjō, a document bearing a red Shogunal seal authorising the holder to engage in foreign trade, in 1614.)

Taking a liking to Adams, the shōgun appointed him as a diplomatic and trade advisor, bestowing great privileges upon him. Ultimately, Adams became his personal advisor on all things related to Western powers and civilization. After a few years, Adams replaced the Jesuit Padre João Rodrigues as the Shogun's official interpreter. Padre Valentim Carvalho wrote: "After he had learned the language, he had access to Ieyasu and entered the palace at any time" he also described him as "a great engineer and mathematician". [ citation needed ]

Adams had a wife Mary Hyn and 2 children in England, [2] but Ieyasu forbade the Englishman to leave Japan. He was presented with two swords representing the authority of a Samurai. The Shogun decreed that William Adams the pilot was dead and that Miura Anjin (三浦按針), a samurai, was born. According to the shōgun, this action "freed" Adams to serve the Shogunate permanently, effectively making Adams' wife in England a widow. (Adams managed to send regular support payments to her after 1613 via the English and Dutch companies.) Adams also was given the title of hatamoto (bannerman), a high-prestige position as a direct retainer in the shōgun's court. [23]

Adams was given generous revenues: "For the services that I have done and do daily, being employed in the Emperor's service, the emperor has given me a living" (Letters). He was granted a fief in Hemi (Jpn: 逸見) within the boundaries of present-day Yokosuka City, "with eighty or ninety husbandmen, that be my slaves or servants" (Letters). His estate was valued at 250 koku (a measure of the yearly income of the land in rice, with one koku defined as the quantity of rice sufficient to feed one person for one year). He finally wrote "God hath provided for me after my great misery" (Letters), by which he meant the disaster-ridden voyage that had initially brought him to Japan.

Adams' estate was located next to the harbour of Uraga, the traditional point of entrance to Edo Bay. There he was recorded as dealing with the cargoes of foreign ships. John Saris related that when he visited Edo in 1613, Adams had resale rights for the cargo of a Spanish ship at anchor in Uraga Bay. [ citation needed ]

Adams' position gave him the means to marry Oyuki (お雪), the adopted [1] daughter of Magome Kageyu. He was a highway official who was in charge of a packhorse exchange on one of the grand imperial roads that led out of Edo (roughly present-day Tokyo). Although Magome was important, Oyuki was not of noble birth, nor high social standing. Adams may have married from affection rather than for social reasons. Adams and Oyuki had a son Joseph and a daughter Susanna. Adams was constantly traveling for work. Initially, he tried to organise an expedition in search of the Arctic passage that had eluded him previously. [ citation needed ]

Adams had a high regard for Japan, its people, and its civilisation:

The people of this Land of Japan are good of nature, courteous above measure, and valiant in war: their justice is severely executed without any partiality upon transgressors of the law. They are governed in great civility. I mean, not a land better governed in the world by civil policy. The people be very superstitious in their religion, and are of diverse opinions. [24] [25]

In 1604 Ieyasu sent the Liefde's captain, Jacob Quaeckernaeck, and the treasurer, Melchior van Santvoort, on a shōgun-licensed Red Seal Ship to Patani in Southeast Asia. He ordered them to contact the Dutch East India Company trading factory, which had just been established in 1602, in order to bring more western trade to Japan and break the Portuguese monopoly. In 1605, Adams obtained a letter of authorization from Ieyasu formally inviting the Dutch to trade with Japan. [24] [ citation needed ]

Hampered by conflicts with the Portuguese and limited resources in Asia, the Dutch were not able to send ships to Japan until 1609. Two Dutch ships, commanded by Jacques Specx, De Griffioen (the "Griffin", 19 cannons) and Roode Leeuw met Pijlen (the "Red lion with arrows", 400 tons, 26 cannons), were sent from Holland and reached Japan on 2 July 1609. The men of this Dutch expeditionary fleet established a trading base or "factory" on Hirado Island. Two Dutch envoys, Puyck and van den Broek, were the official bearers of a letter from Prince Maurice of Nassau to the court of Edo. Adams negotiated on behalf of these emissaries. The Dutch obtained free trading rights throughout Japan and to establish a trading factory there. (By contrast, the Portuguese were allowed to sell their goods only in Nagasaki at fixed, negotiated prices.)

The Hollandes be now settled (in Japan) and I have got them that privilege as the Spaniards and Portingals could never get in this 50 or 60 years in Japan. [24]

After obtaining this trading right through an edict of Tokugawa Ieyasu on 24 August 1609, the Dutch inaugurated a trading factory in Hirado on 20 September 1609. The Dutch preserved their "trade pass" (Dutch: Handelspas) in Hirado and then Dejima as a guarantee of their trading rights during the following two centuries that they operated in Japan. [ citation needed ]

In 1611, Adams learned of an English settlement in Banten Sultanate, present-day Indonesia. He wrote asking them to convey news of him to his family and friends in England. He invited them to engage in trade with Japan which "the Hollanders have here an Indies of money." [24]

In 1613, the English captain John Saris arrived at Hirado in the ship Clove, intending to establish a trading factory for the British East India Company. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) already had a major post at Hirado.

Saris noted Adams praise of Japan and adoption of Japanese customs:

He persists in giving "admirable and affectionated commendations of Japan. It is generally thought amongst us that he is a naturalized Japaner." (John Saris)

In Hirado, Adams refused to stay in English quarters, residing instead with a local Japanese magistrate. The English noted that he wore Japanese dress and spoke Japanese fluently. Adams estimated the cargo of the Clove was of little value, essentially broadcloth, tin and cloves (acquired in the Spice Islands), saying that "such things as he had brought were not very vendible". [ citation needed ]

Adams traveled with Saris to Suruga, where they met with Ieyasu at his principal residence in September. The Englishmen continued to Kamakura where they visited the noted Kamakura Great Buddha. (Sailors etched their names of the Daibutsu, made in 1252.) They continued to Edo, where they met Ieyasu's son Hidetada, who was nominally shōgun, although Ieyasu retained most of the decision-making powers. During that meeting, Hidetada gave Saris two varnished suits of armour for King James I. As of 2015, one of these suits of armour is housed in the Tower of London, the other is on display in the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds. The suits were made by Iwai Yozaemon of Nanbu. They were part of a series of presentation armours of ancient 15th-century Dō-maru style. [26]

On their return, the English party visited Tokugawa again. He conferred trading privileges to the English by a Red Seal permit, giving them "free license to abide, buy, sell and barter" in Japan. [27] The English party returned to Hirado on 9 October 1613.

At this meeting, Adams asked for and obtained Tokugawa's authorisation to return to his home country. But, he finally declined Saris' offer to take him back to England: "I answered him I had spent in this country many years, through which I was poor. [and] desirous to get something before my return". His true reasons seem to lie rather with his profound antipathy for Saris: "The reason I would not go with him was for diverse injuries done against me, which were things to me very strange and unlooked for." (William Adams letters)

Adams accepted employment with the newly founded Hirado trading factory, signing a contract on 24 November 1613, with the East India Company for the yearly salary of 100 English Pounds. This was more than double the regular salary of 40 Pounds earned by the other factors at Hirado. Adams had a lead role, under Richard Cocks and together with six other compatriots (Tempest Peacock, Richard Wickham, William Eaton, Walter Carwarden, Edmund Sayers and William Nealson), in organising this new English settlement.

Adams had advised Saris against the choice of Hirado, which was small and far away from the major markets in Osaka and Edo he had recommended selection of Uraga near Edo for a post, but Saris wanted to keep an eye on the Dutch activities.

During the ten-year operations of the East Indian Company (1613 and 1623), only three English ships after the Clove brought cargoes directly from London to Japan. They were invariably described as having poor value on the Japanese market. The only trade which helped support the factory was that organised between Japan and South-East Asia this was chiefly Adams selling Chinese goods for Japanese silver:

Were it not for hope of trade into China, or procuring some benefit from Siam, Pattania and Cochin China, it were no staying in Japon, yet it is certen here is silver enough & may be carried out at pleasure, but then we must bring them commodities to their liking. (Richard Cocks' diary, 1617)

The Portuguese and other Catholic religious orders in Japan considered Adams a rival as an English Protestant. After Adams' power had grown, the Jesuits tried to convert him, then offered to secretly bear him away from Japan on a Portuguese ship. The Jesuits' willingness to disobey the order by Ieyasu prohibiting Adams from leaving Japan showed that they feared his growing influence. Catholic priests asserted that he was trying to discredit them. In 1614, Carvalho complained of Adams and other merchants in his annual letter to the Pope, saying that "by false accusation [Adams and others] have rendered our preachers such objects of suspicion that he [Ieyasu] fears and readily believes that they are rather spies than sowers of the Holy Faith in his kingdom." [28] [29]

Ieyasu, influenced by Adams' counsels and disturbed by unrest caused by the numerous Catholic converts, expelled the Portuguese Jesuits from Japan in 1614. He demanded that Japanese Catholics abandon their faith. Adams apparently warned Ieyasu against Spanish approaches as well.

After fifteen years spent in Japan, Adams had a difficult time establishing relations with the English arrivals. He initially shunned the company of the newly arrived English sailors in 1613 and could not get on good terms with Saris. But Richard Cocks, the head of the Hirado factory, came to appreciate Adams' character and what he had acquired of Japanese self-control. In a letter to the East India Company Cocks wrote:

I find the man tractable and willing to do your worships the best service he may. I am persuaded I could live with him seven years before any extraordinary speeches should happen between us." (Cocks's diary)

Adams later engaged in various exploratory and commercial ventures. He tried to organise an expedition to the legendary Northwest Passage from Asia, which would have greatly reduced the sailing distance between Japan and Europe. Ieyasu asked him if "our countrimen could not find the northwest passage" and Adams contacted the East India Company to organise manpower and supplies. The expedition never got underway.

In his later years, Adams worked for the English East Indian Company. He made a number of trading voyages to Siam in 1616 and Cochinchina in 1617 and 1618, sometimes for the English East India Company, sometimes for his own account. He is recorded in Japanese records as the owner of a Red Seal Ship of 500 tons.

Given the few ships that the Company sent from England and the poor trading value of their cargoes (broadcloth, knives, looking glasses, Indian cotton, etc.), Adams was influential in gaining trading certificates from the shōgun to allow the Company to participate in the Red Seal system. It made a total of seven junk voyages to Southeast Asia with mixed profit results. Four were led by William Adams as captain. Adams renamed a ship he acquired in 1617 as Gift of God he sailed it on his expedition that year to Cochinchina. The expeditions he led are described more fully below.

1614 Siam expedition Edit

In 1614, Adams wanted to organise a trade expedition to Siam to bolster the Company factory's activities and cash situation. He bought and upgraded a 200-ton Japanese junk for the Company, renaming her as Sea Adventure and hired about 120 Japanese sailors and merchants, as well as several Chinese traders, an Italian and a Castilian (Spanish) trader. The heavily laden ship left in November 1614. The merchants Richard Wickham and Edmund Sayers of the English factory's staff also joined the voyage.

The expedition was to purchase raw silk, Chinese goods, sappan wood, deer skins and ray skins (the latter used for the hilts of Japanese swords). The ship carried £1250 in silver and £175 of merchandise (Indian cottons, Japanese weapons and lacquerware). The party encountered a typhoon near the Ryukyu Islands (modern Okinawa) and had to stop there to repair from 27 December 1614 until May 1615. It returned to Japan in June 1615 without having completed any trade.

1615 Siam expedition Edit

Adams left Hirado in November 1615 for Ayutthaya in Siam on the refitted Sea Adventure, intent on obtaining sappanwood for resale in Japan. His cargo was chiefly silver (£600) and the Japanese and Indian goods unsold from the previous voyage. [ citation needed ]

He bought vast quantities of the high-profit products. His partners obtained two ships in Siam in order to transport everything back to Japan. Adams sailed the Sea Adventure to Japan with 143 tonnes of sappanwood and 3700 deer skins, returning to Hirado in 47 days. (The return trip took from 5 June and 22 July 1616). Sayers, on a hired Chinese junk, reached Hirado in October 1616 with 44 tons of sappanwood. The third ship, a Japanese junk, brought 4,560 deer skins to Nagasaki, arriving in June 1617 after the monsoon. [ citation needed ]

Less than a week before Adams' return, Ieyasu had died. Adams accompanied Cocks and Eaton to court to offer Company presents to the new ruler, Hidetada. Although Ieyasu's death seems to have weakened Adams' political influence, Hidetada agreed to maintain the English trading privileges. He also issued a new Red Seal permit (Shuinjō) to Adams, which allowed him to continue trade activities overseas under the shōgun's protection. His position as hatamoto was also renewed. [ citation needed ]

On this occasion, Adams and Cocks also visited the Japanese Admiral Mukai Shōgen Tadakatsu, who lived near Adams' estate. They discussed plans for a possible invasion of the Catholic Philippines. [ citation needed ]

1617 Cochinchina expedition Edit

In March 1617, Adams set sail for Cochinchina, having purchased the junk Sayers had brought from Siam and renamed it the Gift of God. He intended to find two English factors, Tempest Peacock and Walter Carwarden, who had departed from Hirado two years before to explore commercial opportunities on the first voyage to South East Asia by the Hirado English Factory. Adams learned in Cochinchina that Peacock had been plied with drink, and killed for his silver. Carwarden, who was waiting in a boat downstream, realised that Peacock had been killed and hastily tried to reach his ship. His boat overturned and he drowned.

Adams sold a small cargo of broadcloth, Indian piece goods and ivory in Cochinchina for the modest amount of £351. [ citation needed ]

1618 Cochinchina expedition Edit

In 1618, Adams is recorded as having organised his last Red Seal trade expedition to Cochinchina and Tonkin (modern Vietnam), the last expedition of the English Hirado Factory to Southeast Asia. The ship, a chartered Chinese junk, left Hirado on 11 March 1618 but met with bad weather that forced it to stop at Ōshima in the northern Ryukyus. The ship sailed back to Hirado in May. [ citation needed ]

Those expeditions to Southeast Asia helped the English factory survive for some time—during that period, sappanwood resold in Japan with a 200% profit—until the factory fell into bankruptcy due to high expenditures. [ citation needed ]


Unlike many constitutional monarchs, the emperor is not the nominal chief executive. Most constitutional monarchies formally vest executive power in the monarch, but the monarch is bound by convention to act on the advice of the cabinet. In contrast, Article 65 of the Constitution of Japan explicitly vests executive power in the Cabinet, of which the prime minister is the leader. The emperor is also not the commander-in-chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The Japan Self-Defense Forces Act of 1954 explicitly vests this role with the prime minister.

The emperor's powers are limited only to important ceremonial functions. Article 4 of the Constitution stipulates that the emperor "shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in the Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government." It also stipulates that "the advice and approval of the Cabinet shall be required for all acts of the Emperor in matters of state" (Article 3). Article 4 also states that these duties can be delegated by the Emperor as provided for by law.

While the emperor formally appoints the prime minister to office, Article 6 of the Constitution requires him to appoint the candidate "as designated by the Diet", without giving the emperor the right to decline appointment.

Article 6 of the Constitution delegates to the emperor the following ceremonial roles:

  1. Appointment of the Prime Minister as designated by the Diet.
  2. Appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as designated by the Cabinet.

The emperor's other duties are laid down in Article 7 of the Constitution, where it is stated that "the Emperor, with the advice and approval of the Cabinet, shall perform the following acts in matters of state on behalf of the people." In practice, all of these duties are exercised only in accordance with the binding instructions of the Cabinet:

  1. Promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders, and treaties.
  2. Convocation of the Diet.
  3. Dissolution of the House of Representatives.
  4. Proclamation of general election of members of the Diet.
  5. Attestation of the appointment and dismissal of Ministers of State and other officials as provided for by law, and of full powers and credentials of Ambassadors and Ministers.
  6. Attestation of general and special amnesty, commutation of punishment, reprieve, and restoration of rights.
  7. Awarding of honors.
  8. Attestation of instruments of ratification and other diplomatic documents as provided for by law.
  9. Receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers.
  10. Performance of ceremonial functions.

Regular ceremonies of the emperor with a constitutional basis are the Imperial Investitures (Shinninshiki) in the Tokyo Imperial Palace and the Speech from the Throne ceremony in the House of Councillors in the National Diet Building. The latter ceremony opens ordinary and extra sessions of the Diet. Ordinary sessions are opened each January and also after new elections to the House of Representatives. Extra sessions usually convene in the autumn and are opened then. [8] [ non-primary source needed ]

Although the emperor has been a symbol of continuity with the past, the degree of power exercised by the emperor has varied considerably throughout Japanese history.

Origin (7th - 8th centuries AD) Edit

In the early 7th century, the emperor had begun to be called the "Son of Heaven" ( 天子 , tenshi, or 天子様 tenshi-sama) . [9] The title of emperor was borrowed from China, being derived from Chinese characters, and was retroactively applied to the legendary Japanese rulers who reigned before the 7th–8th centuries AD. [10]

According to the traditional account of the Nihon Shoki, Japan was founded by Emperor Jimmu in 660 BC. However most modern scholars agree that Jimmu and the nine first emperors are mythical. [11]

Modern historians generally believe that the emperors up to Suinin are "largely legendary" as there is insufficient material available for verification and study of their lives. Emperor Sujin (148-30 BC) is the first emperor with a direct possibility of existence according to historians, but he is referred to as "legendary" due to a lack of information. [12] [ better source needed ] The emperors from Emperor Keiko to Emperor Ingyo (376–453 AD) are considered as perhaps factual. Emperor Ankō (401–456), traditionally the 20th emperor, is the earliest generally agreed upon historical ruler of all or a part of Japan. [13] [ original research? ] The reign of Emperor Kinmei (c. 509 –571 AD), the 29th emperor, is the first for whom contemporary historiography is able to assign verifiable dates [14] [15] however, the conventionally accepted names and dates of the early emperors were not confirmed as "traditional" until the reign of Emperor Kanmu (737–806), the 50th sovereign of the Yamato dynasty. [16]

Archaeological information about the earliest historical rulers of Japan may be contained in the ancient tombs known as kofun, constructed between the early 3rd century and the early 7th century AD. However, since the Meiji period, the Imperial Household Agency has refused to open the kofun to the public or to archaeologists, citing their desire not to disturb the spirits of the past emperors. Kofun period artefacts were also increasingly crucial in Japan as the Meiji government used them to legitimise the historical validity of the emperor's reclaimed authority. [17] In December 2006, the Imperial Household Agency reversed its position and decided to allow researchers to enter some of the kofun with no restrictions.

Disputes and Instability (10th century) Edit

The growth of the samurai class from the 10th century gradually weakened the power of the imperial family over the realm, leading to a time of instability. Emperors are known to have come into conflict with the reigning shogun from time to time. Some instances, such as Emperor Go-Toba's 1221 rebellion against the Kamakura shogunate and the 1336 Kenmu Restoration under Emperor Go-Daigo, show the power struggle between the imperial court and the military governments of Japan.

Factional control (530s - 1867) and Shōguns (1192 - 1867) Edit

There have been six non-imperial families who have controlled Japanese emperors: the Soga (530s–645), the Fujiwara (850s–1070), the Taira (1159–1180s), the Minamoto and Kamakura Bakufu (1192–1333), the Ashikaga (1336–1565), and the Tokugawa (1603–1867). However, every shogun from the Minamoto, Ashikaga, and Tokugawa families had to be officially recognized by the emperors, who were still the source of sovereignty, although they could not exercise their powers independently from the shogunate.

From 1192 to 1867, sovereignty of the state was exercised by the shōguns, or their shikken regents (1203–1333), whose authority was conferred by Imperial warrant. When Portuguese explorers first came into contact with the Japanese (see Nanban period), they described Japanese conditions in analogy, likening the emperor with great symbolic authority, but little political power, to the pope, and the shōgun to secular European rulers (e.g., the Holy Roman Emperor). In keeping with the analogy, they even used the term "emperor" in reference to the shōguns and their regents, e.g. in the case of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, whom missionaries called "Emperor Taico-sama" (from Taikō and the honorific sama). Empress Go-Sakuramachi was the last ruling Empress of Japan and reigned from 1762 to 1771. [18]

Meiji Restoration (1868) Edit

After the United States Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry's Black Ships forcibly opened Japan to foreign trade, and the shogunate proved incapable of hindering the "barbarian" interlopers, Emperor Kōmei began to assert himself politically. By the early 1860s, the relationship between the imperial court and the shogunate was changing radically. Disaffected domains and rōnin began to rally to the call of sonnō jōi ("revere the emperor, expel the barbarians"). The domains of Satsuma and Chōshū, historic enemies of the Tokugawa, used this turmoil to unite their forces and won an important military victory outside of Kyoto against Tokugawa forces.

In 1868, Emperor Meiji was restored to nominal full power and the shogunate was dissolved. A new constitution described the emperor as "the head of the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty", and he “exercises them, according to the provisions of the present Constitution”. His rights included to sanction and promulgate laws, to execute them and to exercise "supreme command of the Army and the Navy". The liaison conference created in 1893 also made the emperor the leader of the Imperial General Headquarters.

World War II (1939 - 1945) Edit

Emperor Showa, also known as Hirohito was in power during World War II, controlled both the sovereign of the state and the imperial forces. [19] The role of the emperor as head of the State Shinto religion was exploited during the war, creating an Imperial cult that led to kamikaze bombers and other manifestations of fanaticism. This in turn led to the requirement in the Potsdam Declaration for the elimination "for all time of the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest". [20]

In State Shinto, the emperor was believed to be an arahitogami (a living god). Following Japan's surrender, the Allies issued the Shinto Directive separating church and state within Japan. Hirohito (Emperor Showa) was excluded from the postwar Tokyo war crimes trial, and his reign, which began in 1926 until his death in 1989. Scholars still debate about the power he had and the role he played during WWII. [19]

Contemporary (1979 - ) Edit

By 1979, Emperor Shōwa was the only monarch in the world with the monarchical title "emperor." Emperor Shōwa was the longest-reigning historical monarch in Japanese's history and the world's longest reigning monarch until surpassed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in July 2008. [21] On April 30, 2019, Emperor Emeritus Akihito abdicated from his reign due to health issues. [22] The previous time abdication occurred was Emperor Kōkaku in 1817. Naruhito ascended on May 1, 2019, referred to as Kinjō Tennō.

Current constitution Edit

The constitution provides for a parliamentary system of government and guarantees certain fundamental rights. Under its terms, the Emperor of Japan is "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people" and exercises a purely ceremonial role without the possession of sovereignty.

The constitution, also known as the Constitution of Japan ( 日本国憲法 , Nihonkoku-Kenpō, formerly written 日本國憲法 ) , the "Postwar Constitution" ( 戦後憲法 , Sengo-Kenpō) or the "Peace Constitution" ( 平和憲法 , Heiwa-Kenpō) , was drawn up under the Allied occupation that followed World War II and was intended to replace Japan's previous militaristic and quasi-absolute monarchy system with a form of liberal democracy. Currently, it is a rigid document and no subsequent amendment has been made to it since its adoption.

Realm & territories Edit

Historically the titles of Tennō in Japanese have never included territorial designations as is the case with many European monarchs. [ citation needed ] The position of emperor is territory-independent—the emperor is the emperor, even if he has followers only in one province (as was the case sometimes with the southern and northern courts). [ citation needed ]

During the Kofun period the first central government of the unified state was Yamato in the Kinai region of central Japan. [23] The territory of Japan has changed throughout history. Its largest extent was the Empire of Japan. In 1938 it was 1,984,000 km 2 (800,000 sq mi). [24] The maximum extent including the home islands and the Japanese colonial empire was 8,510,000 km 2 (3,300,000 sq mi) in 1942. [25] After its defeat in World War II the empire was dismantled. The contemporary territories include the Japanese archipelago and these areas. Regardless of territorial changes the Emperor remains the formal head of state of Japan. During most of history, de facto power was with Shoguns or Prime Ministers. The Emperor was more like a revered embodiment of divine harmony than the head of an actual governing administration. [ citation needed ] In Japan, it was more effective for ambitious daimyo (feudal lords) to hold actual power, as such positions were not inherently contradictory to the emperor's position. [ citation needed ] The shoguns and prime ministers derived their legitimacy from the Emperor. [ citation needed ] The parliamentary government continues a similar coexistence with the Emperor. [ citation needed ] The first recorded instance of the name Nihon 日本 was between 665 and 703 during the Asuka period. [26] This was several centuries after the start of the current imperial line. [27] The various names of Japan do not affect the status of the Emperor as head of state.

Education Edit

The emperors traditionally had an education officer. In recent times, Emperor Taishō had Count Nogi Maresuke, Emperor Shōwa had Marshal-Admiral Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō, and Emperor Akihito had Elizabeth Gray Vining as well as Shinzō Koizumi as their tutors. [28]

Emperors, including his family, had to get an education at Gakushuin University by the Meiji Constitution. [29]

There are two Japanese words equivalent to the English word "emperor": tennō ( 天皇 , "heavenly sovereign") , which is used exclusively to refer to the Emperor of Japan, and kōtei ( 皇帝 ) , which is used primarily to describe non-Japanese emperors. Sumeramikoto ("the Imperial person") was also used in Old Japanese. The term tennō was used by the emperors up until the Middle Ages then, following a period of disuse, it was used again from the 19th century. [30] In English, the term mikado ( 御門 or 帝 ), literally meaning "the honorable gate" (i.e. the gate of the imperial palace, which indicates the person who lives in and possesses the palace compare Sublime Porte, an old term for the Ottoman government), was once used (as in The Mikado, a 19th-century operetta), but this term is now obsolete. [3]

Traditionally, the Japanese considered it disrespectful to call any person by his given name, and more so for a person of noble rank. This convention is only slightly relaxed in the modern age and it is still inadvisable among friends to use the given name, use of the family name being the common form of address. In the case of the imperial family, it is considered extremely inappropriate to use the given name. Since Emperor Meiji, it has been customary to have one era per emperor and to rename each emperor after his death using the name of the era over which he presided. Before Emperor Meiji, the names of the eras were changed more frequently, and the posthumous names of the emperors were chosen differently. [ citation needed ]

Hirohito, as usually called in English outside Japan, was never referred to by his name in Japan. He was given posthumous name Shōwa Tennō after his death, which is the only name that Japanese speakers currently use when referring to him. [ citation needed ]

The current emperor on the throne is typically referred to as Tennō Heika ( 天皇陛下 , "His (Imperial) Majesty the Emperor"), Kinjō Heika ( 今上陛下 , "His Current Majesty") or simply Tennō, when speaking Japanese. Emperor Akihito received the title Daijō Tennō ( 太上天皇 , Emperor Emeritus), often shortened to Jōkō ( 上皇 ), upon his abdication on 30 April 2019, and is expected to be renamed Heisei Tennō ( 平成天皇 ) after his death and will then be referred to exclusively by that name in Japanese.

Origin of the title Edit

Originally, the ruler of Japan was known as either 大和大王 / 大君 (Yamato-ōkimi, Grand King of Yamato), 倭王 / 倭国王 (Wa-ō/Wakoku-ō, King of Wa, used externally) or 治天下大王 (Ame-no-shita shiroshimesu ōkimi or Sumera no mikoto, Grand King who rules all under heaven, used internally) in Japanese and Chinese sources before the 7th century. The oldest diplomatic reference to the title 天子 (Tenshi, Emperor or Son of Heaven) can be found in a diplomatic document sent from Emperor Suiko to the Sui Dynasty of China in 607. In this document, Empress Suiko introduced herself to Emperor Yang of Sui as 日出處天子 (Hi izurutokoro no tenshi) meaning "Emperor of the land where the sun rises". [31] [32] The oldest documented use of the title 天皇 (Tennō, heavenly emperor) is on a wooden slat, or mokkan, that was unearthed in Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture in 1998 and dated back to the reign of Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jitō in the 7th century. [33] [34]

Throughout history, Japanese emperors and noblemen appointed a spouse to the position of chief wife, rather than just keeping a harem or an assortment of female attendants.

The Japanese imperial dynasty consistently practiced official polygamy until the Taishō period (1912–1926). Besides his empress, the emperor could take, and nearly always took, several secondary consorts ("concubines") of various hierarchical degrees. Concubines were allowed also to other dynasts (Shinnōke, Ōke). After a decree by Emperor Ichijō ( r . 986–1011 ), some emperors even had two empresses simultaneously (identified by the separate titles kōgō and chūgū). With the help of all this polygamy, the imperial clan could produce more offspring. (Sons by secondary consorts were usually recognized as imperial princes, too, and such a son could be recognized as heir to the throne if the empress did not give birth to an heir.)

Of the eight reigning empresses of Japan, none married or gave birth after ascending the throne. Some of them, being widows, had produced children before their reigns. In the succession, children of the empress were preferred over sons of secondary consorts. Thus it was significant which quarters had preferential opportunities in providing chief wives to imperial princes, i.e. supplying future empresses.

Apparently, the oldest tradition of official marriages within the imperial dynasty involved marriages between dynasty members, even between half-siblings or between uncle and niece. Such marriages were deemed [ by whom? ] to preserve better the imperial blood or they aimed at producing children symbolic of a reconciliation between two branches of the imperial dynasty. Daughters of other families remained concubines until Emperor Shōmu (701–706)—in what was specifically reported as the first elevation of its kind—elevated his Fujiwara consort Empress Kōmyō to chief wife.

Japanese monarchs have been, as much as others elsewhere, dependent on making alliances with powerful chiefs and with other monarchs. Many such alliances were sealed by marriages. However, in Japan such marriages soon became incorporated as elements of tradition which controlled the marriages of later generations, though the original practical alliance had lost its real meaning. A repeated pattern saw an imperial son-in-law under the influence of his powerful non-imperial father-in-law.

Beginning from the 7th and 8th centuries, emperors primarily took women of the Fujiwara clan as their highest-ranking wives – the most probable mothers of future monarchs. This was cloaked as a tradition of marriage between heirs of two kami (Shinto deities): descendants of Amaterasu with descendants of the family kami of the Fujiwara. (Originally, the Fujiwara descended from relatively minor nobility, thus their kami is an unremarkable one in the Japanese myth world.) To produce imperial children, heirs of the nation, with two-side descent from the two kami, was regarded as desirable – or at least it suited powerful Fujiwara lords, who thus received preference in the imperial marriage-market. The reality behind such marriages was an alliance between an imperial prince and a Fujiwara lord (his father-in-law or grandfather), the latter with his resources supporting the prince to the throne and most often controlling the government. These arrangements established the tradition of regents (Sesshō and Kampaku), with these positions held only by a Fujiwara sekke lord.

Earlier, the emperors had married women from families of the government-holding Soga lords, and women of the imperial clan, i.e. various-degree cousins and often even their own half-sisters. Several imperial figures of the 5th and 6th centuries such as Prince Shōtoku (574-622) were children of half-sibling couples. Such marriages often served as alliance or succession devices: the Soga lord ensured his domination of a prince who would be put on the throne as a puppet or a prince ensured the combination of two imperial descents, to strengthen his own and his children's claim to the throne. Marriages were also a means to seal a reconciliation between two imperial branches.

After a couple of centuries, emperors could no longer take anyone from outside such families as a primary wife, no matter what the potential expediency of such a marriage and the power or wealth offered by such a match. Only very rarely did a prince ascend the throne whose mother was not descended from the approved families. The earlier necessity and expediency had mutated into a strict tradition that did not allow for current expediency or necessity, but only prescribed the daughters of a restricted circle of families as eligible brides, because they had produced eligible brides for centuries. Tradition had become more forceful than law.

Fujiwara women often became empresses, while concubines came from less exalted noble families. In the last thousand years, sons of an imperial male and a Fujiwara woman have been preferred in the succession. The five Fujiwara families, Ichijō, Kujō, Nijō, Konoe, and Takatsukasa, functioned as the primary source of imperial brides from the 8th century to the 19th century, even more often than daughters of the imperial clan itself. Fujiwara daughters were thus the usual empresses and mothers of emperors. The Meiji-era Imperial House Law of 1889 made this restriction on brides for the Emperor and crown prince explicit. A clause stipulated that daughters of Sekke (the five main branches of the higher Fujiwara) and daughters of the imperial clan itself were primarily acceptable brides. The law was repealed in the aftermath of World War II. In 1959 the future Emperor Akihito became the first crown-prince for over a thousand years to marry a consort from outside the previously eligible circle.

In Japanese mythology, the sacred treasures were bestowed on Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of the goddess Amaterasu, at the advent of Tenson kōrin. Amaterasu sent him to pacify Japan by bringing the three celestial gifts that are used by the emperor. [35] The account of Ninigi being sent to earth appears in the Nihon Shoki. The Three Sacred Treasures were inherited by successive Japanese emperors, which are the same as or similar to the sacred treasures in mythology. These three gifts signify that the emperor is the descendant of Amaterasu. The three sacred treasures are:

During the succession rite (senso, 践祚), possessing the jewel Yasakani no Magatama, the sword Kusanagi and the mirror Yata no Kagami are a testament of the legitimate serving emperor. [36]

The origins of the Japanese imperial dynasty are obscure, and it bases its position on the claim that it has "reigned since time immemorial". There are no records of any emperor who was not said to have been a descendant of other, yet earlier emperor ( 万世一系 bansei ikkei). There is suspicion that Emperor Keitai (c. AD 500) may have been an unrelated outsider, though the sources (Kojiki, Nihon-Shoki) state that he was a male-line descendant of Emperor Ōjin. However, his descendants, including his successors, were according to records descended from at least one and probably several imperial princesses of the older lineage.

Millennia ago, the Japanese imperial family developed its own peculiar system of hereditary succession. It has been non-primogenitural, more or less agnatic, based mostly on rotation. Today, Japan uses strict agnatic primogeniture, which was adopted from Prussia, by which Japan was greatly influenced in the 1870s.

The controlling principles and their interaction were apparently very complex and sophisticated, leading to even idiosyncratic outcomes. Some chief principles apparent in the succession have been:

  • Women were allowed to succeed (but there existed no known children of theirs whose father did not also happen to be an agnate of the imperial house, thus there is neither a precedent that a child of an imperial woman with a non-imperial man could inherit, nor a precedent forbidding it for children of empresses). However, female accession was clearly much more rare than male.
  • Adoption was possible and a much used way to increase the number of succession-entitled heirs (however, the adopted child had to be a child of another member agnate of the imperial house).
  • Abdication was used very often, and in fact occurred more often than death on the throne. In those days, the emperor's chief task was priestly (or godly), containing so many repetitive rituals that it was deemed that after a service of around ten years, the incumbent deserved pampered retirement as an honored former emperor.
  • Primogeniture was not used – rather, in the early days, the imperial house practiced something resembling a system of rotation. Very often a brother (or sister) followed the elder sibling even in the case of the predecessor leaving children. The "turn" of the next generation came more often after several individuals of the senior generation. Rotation went often between two or more of the branches of the imperial house, thus more or less distant cousins succeeded each other. Emperor Go-Saga even decreed an official alternation between heirs of his two sons, which system continued for a couple of centuries (leading finally to shogun-induced (or utilized) strife between these two branches, the "southern" and "northern" emperors). Towards the end, the alternates were very distant cousins counted in degrees of male descent (but all that time, intermarriages occurred within the imperial house, thus they were close cousins if female ties are counted). During the past five hundred years, however, probably because of Confucian influence, inheritance by sons – but not always, or even most often, the eldest son has been the norm.

Historically, the succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne has always passed to descendants in male line from the imperial lineage. Generally, they have been males, though over the reign of one hundred monarchs there have been nine women (one pre-historical and eight historical) as emperor on eleven occasions.

Over a thousand years ago, a tradition started that an emperor should ascend relatively young. A dynast who had passed his toddler years was regarded suitable and old enough. Reaching the age of legal majority was not a requirement. Thus, a multitude of Japanese emperors have ascended as children, as young as 6 or 8 years old. The high-priestly duties were deemed possible for a walking child. A reign of around 10 years was regarded a sufficient service. Being a child was apparently a fine property, to better endure tedious duties and to tolerate subjugation to political power-brokers, as well as sometimes to cloak the truly powerful members of the imperial dynasty. Almost all Japanese empresses and dozens of emperors abdicated and lived the rest of their lives in pampered retirement, wielding influence behind the scenes. Several emperors abdicated to their entitled retirement while still in their teens. These traditions show in Japanese folklore, theater, literature, and other forms of culture, where the emperor is usually described or depicted as an adolescent.

Before the Meiji Restoration, Japan had eleven reigns of reigning empresses, all of them daughters of the male line of the Imperial House. None ascended purely as a wife or as a widow of an emperor. Imperial daughters and granddaughters, however, usually ascended the throne as a sort of a "stop gap" measure – if a suitable male was not available or some imperial branches were in rivalry so that a compromise was needed. Over half of Japanese empresses and many emperors abdicated once a suitable male descendant was considered to be old enough to rule (just past toddlerhood, in some cases). Four empresses, Empress Suiko, Empress Kōgyoku (also Empress Saimei), and Empress Jitō, as well as the legendary Empress Jingū, were widows of deceased emperors and princesses of the blood imperial in their own right. One, Empress Genmei, was the widow of a crown prince and a princess of the blood imperial. The other four, Empress Genshō, Empress Kōken (also Empress Shōtoku), Empress Meishō, and Empress Go-Sakuramachi, were unwed daughters of previous emperors. None of these empresses married or gave birth after ascending the throne.

Article 2 of the Meiji Constitution (the Constitution of the Empire of Japan) stated, "The Imperial Throne shall be succeeded to by imperial male descendants, according to the provisions of the Imperial House Law." The 1889 Imperial Household Law fixed the succession on male descendants of the imperial line, and specifically excluded female descendants from the succession. In the event of a complete failure of the main line, the throne would pass to the nearest collateral branch, again in the male line. If the Empress did not give birth to an heir, the Emperor could take a concubine, and the son he had by that concubine would be recognized as heir to the throne. This law, which was promulgated on the same day as the Meiji Constitution, enjoyed co-equal status with that constitution.

Article 2 of the Constitution of Japan, promulgated in 1947 by influence of the U.S. occupation administration, provides that "The Imperial Throne shall be dynastic and succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial Household Law passed by the Diet." The Imperial Household Law of 1947, enacted by the ninety-second and last session of the Imperial Diet, retained the exclusion on female dynasts found in the 1889 law. The government of Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru hastily cobbled together the legislation to bring the Imperial Household in compliance with the American-written Constitution of Japan that went into effect in May 1947. In an effort to control the size of the imperial family, the law stipulates that only legitimate male descendants in the male line can be dynasts, that imperial princesses lose their status as Imperial Family members if they marry outside the Imperial Family, [37] and that the emperor and other members of the Imperial Family may not adopt children. It also prevented branches, other than the branch descending from Taishō, from being imperial princes any longer.

Current status Edit

Succession is now regulated by laws passed by the National Diet. The current law excludes women from the succession. A change to this law had been considered until Princess Kiko gave birth to a son.

Until the birth of Prince Hisahito, son of Prince Akishino, on September 6, 2006, there was a potential succession problem, since Prince Akishino was the only male child to be born into the imperial family since 1965. Following the birth of Princess Aiko, there was public debate about amending the current Imperial Household Law to allow women to succeed to the throne. In January 2005, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi appointed a special panel composed of judges, university professors, and civil servants to study changes to the Imperial Household Law and to make recommendations to the government.

The panel dealing with the succession issue recommended on October 25, 2005, amending the law to allow females of the male line of imperial descent to ascend the Japanese throne. On January 20, 2006, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi devoted part of his annual keynote speech to the controversy, pledging to submit a bill allowing women to ascend the throne to ensure that the succession continues in the future in a stable manner. Shortly after the announcement that Princess Kiko was pregnant with her third child, Koizumi suspended such plans. Her son, Prince Hisahito, is the third in line to the throne under the current law of succession. On January 3, 2007, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe announced that he would drop the proposal to alter the Imperial Household Law. [38]

Another proposed plan is to allow unmarried men from the abolished collateral branches of the imperial family to rejoin through adoption or marriage. This would be an emergency measure to ensure stable succession. It does not revise the Imperial Household Law. [39] This does not restore the royalty of the 11 collateral branches of the Imperial House that were abolished in October 1947.

Crown Prince Akishino was formally declared first in line to the chrysanthemum throne on November 8, 2020. [40]

During the Kofun period, so-called "archaic funerals" were held for the dead emperors, but only the funerary rites from the end of the period, which the chronicles describe in more detail, are known. They were centered around the rite of the mogari ( 殯 ), a provisional depository between death and permanent burial. [41]

Empress Jitō was the first Japanese imperial personage to be cremated (in 703). After that, with a few exceptions, all emperors were cremated up to the Edo period. [41] For the next 350 years, in-ground burial became the favoured funeral custom. Until 1912, the emperors were usually buried in Kyoto. [42] From Emperor Taishō onward, the emperors have been buried at the Musashi Imperial Graveyard in Tokyo.

In 2013, the Imperial Household Agency announced that Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko would be cremated after they die. [43]

Until the end of World War II, the Japanese monarchy was thought to be among the wealthiest in the world. [44] Before 1911, no distinction was made between the imperial crown estates and the emperor's personal properties, which were considerable. The Imperial Property Law, which came into effect in January 1911, established two categories of imperial properties: the hereditary or crown estates and the personal ("ordinary") properties of the imperial family. The Imperial Household Minister was given the responsibility for observing any judicial proceedings concerning imperial holdings. Under the terms of the law, imperial properties were only taxable in cases where no conflict with the Imperial House Law existed however, crown estates could only be used for public or imperially-sanctioned undertakings. Personal properties of certain members of the imperial family, in addition to properties held for imperial family members who were minors, were exempted from taxation. Those family members included the Empress Dowager, the Empress, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, the Imperial Grandson and the consort of the Imperial Grandson. [45] As a result of the poor economic conditions in Japan, 289,259.25 acres of crown lands (about 26% of the total landholdings) were either sold or transferred to government and private-sector interests in 1921. In 1930, the Nagoya Detached Palace (Nagoya Castle) was donated to the city of Nagoya, with six other imperial villas being either sold or donated at the same time. [45] In 1939, Nijō Castle, the former Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa shoguns and an imperial palace since the Meiji Restoration, was likewise donated to the city of Kyoto.

At the end of 1935, according to official government figures, the Imperial Court owned roughly 3,111,965 acres of landed estates, the bulk of which (2,599,548 acres) were the emperor's private lands, with the total acreage of the crown estates amounting to some 512,161 acres those landholdings comprised palace complexes, forest and farm lands and other residential and commercial properties. The total value of the imperial properties was then estimated at ¥650 million, or roughly US$195 million at prevailing exchange rates. [note 2] [45] [46] This was in addition to the emperor's personal fortune, which amounted to hundreds of millions of yen and included numerous family heirlooms and furnishings, purebred livestock and investments in major Japanese firms, such as the Bank of Japan, other major Japanese banks, the Imperial Hotel and Nippon Yusen. [45]

Following Japan's defeat in the Second World War, all of the collateral branches of the imperial family were abolished under the Allied occupation of the country and the subsequent constitutional reforms, forcing those families to sell their assets to private or government owners. Staff numbers in the imperial households were slashed from a peak of roughly 6,000 to about 1,000. The imperial estates and the emperor's personal fortune (then estimated at US$17.15 million, or roughly US$625 million in 2017 terms) were transferred to either state or private ownership, excepting 6,810 acres of landholdings. Since the 1947 constitutional reforms, the imperial family has been supported by an official civil list sanctioned by the Japanese government. The largest imperial divestments were the former imperial Kiso and Amagi forest lands in Gifu and Shizuoka prefectures, grazing lands for livestock in Hokkaido and a stock farm in the Chiba region, all of which were transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Imperial property holdings have been further reduced since 1947 after several handovers to the government. Today, the primary imperial properties include the two imperial palaces at Tokyo and Kyoto, several imperial villas and a number of imperial farms and game preserves. [47]

As of 2017, Akihito has an estimated net worth of US$40 million. [48] The wealth and expenditures of the emperor and the imperial family have remained a subject of speculation and were largely withheld from the public until 2003, when Mori Yohei, a former royal correspondent for the Mainichi Shimbun, obtained access to 200 documents through a recently passed public information law. Mori's findings, which he published in a book, revealed details of the imperial family's US$240 million civil list (in 2003 values). [49] Among other details, the book revealed the royal family employed a staff of over 1,000 people. [50] The total cost of events related to the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito was approximately 16.6 billion yen ($150 million) in 2019. This is 30% higher than Emperor Emeritus Akihito's accession (1990). [51]

The Little-Known Legend of Jesus in Japan

On the flat top of a steep hill in a distant corner of northern Japan lies the tomb of an itinerant shepherd who, two millennia ago, settled down there to grow garlic. He fell in love with a farmer’s daughter named Miyuko, fathered three kids and died at the ripe old age of 106. In the mountain hamlet of Shingo, he’s remembered by the name Daitenku Taro Jurai. The rest of the world knows him as Jesus Christ.

From This Story

A road sign points the way to what locals believe is Jesus’ grave in Northern Japan’s Shingo village (Jensen Walker / Getty Images) The burial ground to what some claim is Jesus' final resting place. (Jensen Walker / Getty Images)

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It turns out that Jesus of Nazareth—the Messiah, worker of miracles and spiritual figurehead for one of the world’s foremost religions—did not die on the cross at Calvary, as widely reported. According to amusing local folklore, that was his kid brother, Isukiri, whose severed ear was interred in an adjacent burial mound in Japan.

A bucolic backwater with only one Christian resident (Toshiko Sato, who was 77 when I visited last spring) and no church within 30 miles, Shingo nevertheless bills itself as Kirisuto no Sato (Christ’s Hometown). Every year 20,000 or so pilgrims and pagans visit the site, which is maintained by a nearby yogurt factory. Some visitors shell out the 100-yen entrance fee at the Legend of Christ Museum, a trove of religious relics that sells everything from Jesus coasters to coffee mugs. Some participate in the springtime Christ Festival, a mashup of multidenominational rites in which kimono-clad women dance around the twin graves and chant a three-line litany in an unknown language. The ceremony, designed to console the spirit of Jesus, has been staged by the local tourism bureau since 1964.

The Japanese are mostly Buddhist or Shintoist, and, in a nation of 127.8 million, about 1 percent identify themselves as Christian. The country harbors a large floating population of folk religionists enchanted by the mysterious, the uncanny and the counterintuitive. “They find spiritual fulfillment in being eclectic,” says Richard Fox Young, a professor of religious history at the Princeton Theological Seminary. “That is, you can have it all: A feeling of closeness—to Jesus and Buddha and many, many other divine figures—without any of the obligations that come from a more singular religious orientation.”

In Shingo, the Greatest Story Ever Told is retold like this: Jesus first came to Japan at the age of 21 to study theology. This was during his so-called “lost years,” a 12-year gap unaccounted for in the New Testament. He landed at the west coast port of Amanohashidate, a spit of land that juts across Miyazu Bay, and became a disciple of a great master near Mount Fuji, learning the Japanese language and Eastern culture. At 33, he returned to Judea—by way of Morocco!—to talk up what a museum brochure calls the “sacred land” he had just visited.

Having run afoul of the Roman authorities, Jesus was arrested and condemned to crucifixion for heresy. But he cheated the executioners by trading places with the unsung, if not unremembered, Isukiri. To escape persecution, Jesus fled back to the promised land of Japan with two keepsakes: one of his sibling’s ears and a lock of the Virgin Mary’s hair. He trekked across the frozen wilderness of Siberia to Alaska, a journey of four years, 6,000 miles and innumerable privations. This alternative Second Coming ended after he sailed to Hachinohe, an ox-cart ride from Shingo.

Upon reaching the village, Jesus retired to a life in exile, adopted a new identity and raised a family. He is said to have lived out his natural life ministering to the needy. He sported a balding gray pate, a coat of many folds and a distinctive nose, which, the museum brochure observes, earned him a reputation as a “long-nosed goblin.”

When Jesus died, his body was left exposed on a hilltop for four years. In keeping with the customs of the time, his bones were then bundled and buried in a grave—the same mound of earth that is now topped by a timber cross and surrounded by a picket fence. Though the Japanese Jesus performed no miracles, one could be forgiven for wondering whether he ever turned water into sake.

This all sounds more Life of Brian than Life of Jesus. Still, the case for the Shingo Savior is argued vigorously in the museum and enlivened by folklore. In ancient times, it’s believed, villagers maintained traditions alien to the rest of Japan. Men wore clothes that resembled the toga-like robes of biblical Palestine, women wore veils, and babies were toted around in woven baskets like those in the Holy Land. Not only were newborns swaddled in clothes embroidered with a design that resembled a Star of David, but, as a talisman, their foreheads were marked with charcoal crosses.

About Franz Lidz

A longtime senior writer at Sports Illustrated and the author of several memoirs, Franz Lidz has written for the New York Times since 1983, on travel, TV, film and theater. He is a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.

Watch the video: Unearthed 2,000-Year-Old Sword Still in Mint Condition (May 2022).