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On the Transportation of the European Liturgical Objects to Japan in the 16th Century and Their Use by the “Kirishitan”

On the Transportation of the European Liturgical Objects to Japan in the 16th Century and Their Use by the “Kirishitan”

By Yoshie Koijma

XIV International Economic History Congress (2006)

Introduction: Contact between Japan and the West was initiated in the middle of the 16th century with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1543 at Tanegashima Island near Nagasaki. Relationships were especially intense during the second half of the 16th century and the 17th century, and during the period of Christianization by Western missionaries which lasted until 1639 when the Japanese government forbade the Christian religion and officially ordered to close all ports to the West, except in a few cases.

In this period various sorts of “luxury” items were shipped from the West to the East and vice versa. In long distance trade between completely different worlds, exoticism of itself implied some decisive luxury value quite apart from mere physical value. At this presentation I will survey at first what could be luxury and exoticism in the case of both Western products for the Japanese and Japanese products for the Europeans, and subsequently I will examine how this sense of luxury functioned for the Christianization of Japan and the persecutions of “Kirishitan” (“Christians” in old Japanese) in the following period, taking into consideration several liturgical objects brought by missionaries from Europe. And finally I will refer to some art works of extremely high quality, hidden for centuries and still conserved by “Kirishitan” families, on which I am currently undertaking research.

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