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  • Spencer Low

The Portuguese in Japan

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

Arriving from southern China, the Portuguese were called "Southern Barbarians" (南蛮) by the Japanese. These barbarians brought lucrative trade and subversive ideas with them.

Arrival of a Portuguese ship, one of a pair (Nanban screens), Six panel folding screen, 1620–1640. Japan. Ink, colors, and gold on paper. Courtesy of the Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection

The first Europeans to lay eyes on Japan were three Portuguese traders (one of whom was known to be a certain António da Mota) who showed up on Tanegashima (種子島) Island near Kyushu in 1543. The Chinese junk they were on ended up shipwrecked there during a typhoon, and after communicating with the local Japanese using Chinese characters, the entire crew stayed six months on Tanegashima. During this time, the local blade smiths started learning the secret of making firearms.

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