The first documentation of Japanese people crossing the Pacific Ocean has been discovered by researchers amongst the Inquisition records in the General Archives of the Nation in Mexico. Three names were found in the document, not written in Japanese but with the word “xapon” (Japan) written after their names.
Lucio de Sousa, a special researcher at University of Evora in Portugal, and Mihoko Oka, an assistant professor at the Historiographical Institute, University of Tokyo found the rare document showing that the three, believed to be slaves owned by a Portuguese merchant named Perez. Oka said this document is important to show that Japanese crossed the Pacific Ocean before Japan closed itself to the world in 1639. The names in the document are Gaspar Fernandes, Miguel and Ventura – all believed to be male.
Gaspar was born in Bungo, now Oita Prefecture, and as an 8 year old, was sold to Perez on a seven-peso three-year contract in Nagasaki. He probably worked as a servant in Perez’ home but further details are not indicated in the documents. It is worth noting that a bottle of high-grade olive oil cost eight pesos at that time, one peso more than a slave. Miguel was sold by a Portugese slave trader to Perez, this time in Spanish-occupied Manila in 1594. There are no records about the other slave, Ventura. When Perez was arrested and convicted of being a Jew, his family, including servants, crossed the Pacific Ocean from Manila to Mexico in 1597 for more questioning by the Inquisition. Gaspar testified at the hearing about Perez’ religious practices. He and Ventura told the authorities they were not slaves and were released in 1604.
As early as 1582, the Tensho boy mission, sent by the Japanese Christian lord Otomo Sorin to the pope and kings of Europe saw Japanese slaves around the world, but had no documents to support it. Japanese slaves were sold in South America in 1596, but details are unknown because there was no documentation. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, known as Japan’s second “great unifier”, banned the trade of Japanese nationals in 1587, but based on these discovered documents, that obviously wasn’t the case.
[ via Yomiuri ]