Hideyoshi and the Jesuits

Immediately, Hideyoshi's accession to power made little difference to Macao and the Jesuits; to them, probably, the warm welcome given to a storm-driven Spanish ship in 1584 by the daimyo of Hirado (losing trade to Nagasaki) may have seemed more ominous. Indeed, as the daimyo suggested that missionaries other than Jesuits would be well received, it was the first hint of a crack in their mercantile and religious monopoly. Only two or three years later the innocent maladroitness of the Jesuit Vice-Provincial, Gaspar Coelho, precipitated a crisis which, however, was bound to come fairly soon, given the rate of conversion among the western lords and their retainers, and the obvious danger of divided loyalties that this implied. Cuius regio, eius religio could after all go into reverse, and on a bigger scale.

In 1586 Coelho paid a courtesy visit to Hideyoshi at Osaka; the interview was cordial—as it turned out, too cordial. The Regent confided his plans for the invasion of Korea and China, asking for the aid of two Portuguese carracks. Anxious to please, and showing much less than the traditional subtlety of his Order, Coelho rashly agreed, and even proffered further Portuguese aid for the Korean war, though obviously he had no way of making good such promises. Worse, he went on to pledge—unasked—his influence to rally the Christian daimyo of Kyushu against Shimazu; just the interference in local politics that wiser Jesuit heads had always warned against. To Hideyoshi, here was clearly another over-mighty subject in the making, the more dangerous for his foreign backing. The Christian lords were horrified at Coelho's presumption, but Hideyoshi kept his own counsel, even granting the Jesuits privileges superior to those of the Buddhist priests, and Coelho nestled happily in his fool's paradise.[66]

In July 1587 Hideyoshi was at Hakata after the Kyushuan victory, and here Coelho entertained him on shipboard.[67] To all appearance the party was a great success, and Hideyoshi went ashore with some of Coelho's Portuguese wine—which ironically may have incited rather than mollified him. In the middle of the night a shaken Coelho was roused by the Regent's couriers and presented with four extremely pointed questions about Jesuit and Portuguese activities, ranging from alleged forcible conversions, destruction of temples, and slaving, to the eating of useful animals like horses and cows. He made what reply he could, but during the day—25 July 1587—an edict was issued giving all Jesuit Fathers twenty days to leave Japan; but ‘As the Great Ship comes to- 168 -trade, and this is quite different, the Portuguese can carry on their commerce unmolested’. A leading and actively Christian daimyo, Takayama Ukon, had already been stripped of his fief for refusing to recant.

Coelho temporised, pointing out that they could leave only by the Great Ship, not due to sail for some months, and this excuse was accepted; but the ban was strengthened and extended: all symbols of the Faith were prohibited, and all Japanese Christians were ordered to recant, or to suffer exile or death. Coelho now tried to incite armed resistance by the Christian lords and wrote to Goa, Macao, and Manila for armed succours; all of those he approached had much more sense than to comply, and his ecclesiastical superiors were furious at his ineptitude. Their cooler stance was justified: Hideyoshi took no serious steps to enforce expulsion, and only a handful of Jesuits actually left; the rest carried on, if less publicly than of old, though a quarter of their establishments were actually destroyed. Takayama had obviously been disciplined pour encourager les autres; but other leading converts, such as Konishi Yukinaga, soon to make a great name for himself in Korea, were even moved to the danger-spot of western Kyushu.

In fact, the Jesuits were considered (fallaciously, in their own opinion) as indispensable interpreters and intermediaries with the Macaonese traders, a factor of special importance when Hideyoshi was amassing supplies and wealth for the Korean project; as Father Alessandro Valignano put it, with gentle cynicism,

with this Great Ship, and with our doing them all these little

favours, they deceive themselves, and they are nearly all of them

convinced that if the padres were not here, the Japanese could not

deal with the Portuguese, which opinion is of no small help to us

at this juncture.[68]

Valignano, who had taken the Japanese youths to Rome in 1582, was officially permitted to bring them back in 1590.[69] His earlier experience in Japan (when he had supported a policy of acculturation by the Fathers to Japanese ways), his tact, the splendour of his embassy and the presents it brought, put things back on the old footing, and Hideyoshi even defied ‘his own prohibition by strolling through the gilded halls of the Juraku palace wearing a rosary and Portuguese dress’.[70]

Nevertheless, a clear warning had been given. Coelho's good wine, missionary interference with the supply of girls for Hideyoshi's court pleasures, were trivial secondary factors, if factors at all; more important perhaps was the Regent's increasing tendency to arbitrary action on impulse, a resultant of success and power. But while it is true that ‘The dictator who changed three and twenty daimyo from their fiefs in a single day’ had no need to dissimulate in his earlier effusive display of friendship to the Jesuits, or ‘to truckle to [the] petty lordlings’ of Kyushu,[71] it was just as certainly not at all irrational for him to see in the rapid advances of the new Faith the beginnings of a subversive fifth column.- 169 -This, the simple view of his volte-face, is surely the right one, and it explains amongst other things the singling out of one Christian daimyo only, Takayama Udon, as an example and a warning.

The real threat to the Jesuits, when it did come, came doubtless not by the intent but without doubt by the actions of their co-religionists and fellow-subjects, the Franciscans of Manila: the storm had blown over for the time, but a cloud was rising in the south. Before it reached Japan, however, Hideyoshi had plunged into his Korean campaign, the greatest Japanese overseas operation before the wars, in the same waters, of 1894–5 and 1904–5.