ASIA212Varley

The future prospects of both portuguese traders and

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Unformatted text preview: ese traders to Japan. Europe was at the time aflame with the fervor of the Counter Reformation, and the king of Portugal had undertaken sponsorship of the recently formed and militantly aggressive Society of Jesus. It was, in fact, one of the leaders of the Jesuits, St. Francis Xavier (1506– 52), who inaugurated Christian missionary activity in Japan. During his stay there from 1549 until 1551, Xavier developed a strong liking for the Japanese people as well as high optimism for the prospects of conversion among them. Comparing the Japanese to others the Jesuits were then seeking to convert, he observed: “Judging by the people we have so far met, I would say that the Japanese are the best race yet discovered and I do not think you will find their match among the pagan nations.”2 Another of the early Jesuit missionaries to Japan commented: “These Japanese are better disposed to embrace our holy Faith than any other people in the world.”3 No doubt one reason why Xavier and other European visitors of this age to the Far East felt a certain preference for the Japanese over other Asians they encountered was that the warring, feudal conditions of sixteenth-century Japan reminded them so much of home. The Jesuits in particular, with their special liking for martial order and discipline, could readily appreciate the rigorous lifestyle of Japan’s ruling samurai class. Here are some of their observations about the Japanese martial spirit: “The Japanese are much braver and more warlike than the people of China, Korea, Ternate and all the other nations around the Philippines.” “There is no nation in the world which fears death less.” “I fancy that there are no people in the world more punctilious about their honour than the Japanese, for they will not put up with a single insult or even a word spoken in anger.”4 Most of the missionary work of the Jesuits in the first decade or so after their arrival in Japan was restricted to those daimyo domains in Kyushu where the Portuguese trading ships made their calls. Not until the rise of Nobunaga were conditions sufficiently settled to allow them to extend their proselytizi...
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