Hasekura Tsunenaga and His Travels

During the early 17th Century, daimyō Date Masamune of Sendai sent a delegation to Europe led by Hasekura Tsunenaga. The first Japanese people to settle in Spain were members of the delegation he led.  Spain has a town called Coria del Rio, where about 700 people share the surname “Japon”. The people were descendants of the delegation from an embassy led by Hasekura Tsunenaga.

Hasekura Tsunenaga

Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga (1571–1622), also baptized as Francisco Felipe Faxicura in Spain, was a Roman noble of Japanese Imperial descent. He was a Japanese samurai, a retainer of Date Masamune and had ancestral ties to Emperor Kanmu. From 1613 through 1620, Hasekura headed a diplomatic mission to the Vatican in Rome and to Spain. He traveled through New Spain (a colonial territory of the Spanish Empire in the New World north of the Isthmus of Panama), arriving in Acapulco and departed from Veracruz,  and visited various ports-of-call in Europe. This important mission was dubbed the Keichō Embassy and follows the Tenshō Embassy of 1582.

Hasekura’s diplomatic visit to Spain and Rome was cordially received but it came at a not so opportune time when Japan was moving towards the suppression of Christianity. European monarchs like the King of Spain refused the trade agreements Hasekura had been seeking.

Hasekura statue in Coria del Rio.| Yifricc

On his return trip home to Japan, Hasekura and his companions re-traced his route through New Spain in 1619, sailed from Acapulco for Manila, and heading off north to Japan in 1620. He died of an illness a year later. Hasekura is considered to be the first Japanese ambassador in the Americas and Spain.

In 1617, instead of returning home with Hasekura to Japan, six samurai chose to remain in the town of Coria del Rio near Seville, in Spain. Today, approximately 700 of Coria’s 25,000 residents use the surname Japón (originally Hasekura de Japón). This identifies them as the descendants of the first Japanese official envoy to Spain.

Coria del Rio. | José Manuel Calvo

The name Japón first appeared on an official document in 1646. Some babies born in Coria are known to display the Mongolian spot, common among Asians. In 1992, a statue of Hasekura Tsunenaga was donated to the city by Japan.