"CLOSED COUNTRY EDICT OF 1635"
OF THE PORTUGUESE, 1639"
Introduction: For nearly a century Japan, with approximately 500,000 Catholics by the early
1600s, was the most spectacular success story in Asia for European missionaries. Why did so
many convert? Some undoubtedly were attracted by the Christian message of salvation, but
others hoped to gain economic or political advantage. The daimyo of Omura seems to have
converted in the hope of attracting more trade to his port city of Nagasaki, and Oda
Nobunaga (1534-1582) the general who unified approximately half of Japan, encouraged
Christian missionaries to undermine the political influence of the powerful and wealthy
Buddhist monasteries. Nobunaga's tolerance of missionary activity was the main reason for
the many converts in the region around Kyoto, Japan's imperial city.
Although the dynamics of Japanese politics at first favored the European missionary effort,
when those dynamics changed, Christianity was persecuted and finally crushed. Nobunaga's
successor, Hideyoshi (15 36-1598), launched the antiforeign, anti-Christian policy that
culminated in the Tokugawa exclusion edicts. Hideyoshi distrusted Europeans' motives after
the Spaniards conquered the Philippines and came to question the loyalty of certain daimyo
who had converted. In 1597 he ordered the execution by crucifixion of nine Catholic
missionaries and seventeen Japanese converts. In their singleminded pursuit of stability and
order, the early Tokugawa also feared the subversive potential of Christianity and quickly
moved to obliterate it, even at the expense of isolating Japan and ending a century of
promising commercial contacts with China, Southeast Asia, and Europe.
Japan's isolation policy was fully implemented by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the grandson of Ievasu
and shogun from 1623 to 1641. He issued edicts that essentially closed Japan to all
foreigners and prevented Japanese from leaving. The first of the following two documents,
the most famous of Iemitsu's edicts, is directed to the two commissioners of Nagasaki, a port
city in southern Japan and a center of Christianity; the second deals with the continuing
missionary efforts of Portuguese Jesuits, who refused to abandon their activities despite the
Reading #1: CLOSED COUNTRY EDICT OF 1635
Japanese ships are strictly forbidden to leave for foreign countries.
No Japanese is permitted to go abroad. If there is anyone who attempts to do so
secretly, he must be executed. The ship so involved must be impounded and its owner
arrested, and the matter must be reported to the higher authority.
If any Japanese returns from overseas after residing there, he must be put to death.