- Japanese Travellers in Sixteenth-Century Europe: A Dialogue Concerning the Mission of the Japanese Ambassadors to the Roman Curia (1590) ed. by Derek Massarella
One of the more remarkable accomplishments of the Jesuit mission in Japan was what became known as the Tenshō shōnen shisetsu, or the Tenshō-era boys’ embassy to Europe of 1582–1590. The trip was conceived by Alessandro Valignano, Visitor of Missions in the Indies, as a way to convey to church and government leaders in Europe the value and importance of the Japanese mission, while also impressing upon Japanese converts the glory and majesty of the Christian world. Four Japanese boys and their companions were taken to India, around the horn of Africa, and through many of the major cities of Portugal, Spain, and Italy during a voyage that lasted eight years. Though not originally [End Page 272] planned as a formal embassy, the group was received as such at several stops along the way, including at the courts of King Phillip of Spain and the popes Gregory XIII and Sixtus V.1 Hoping to capitalize on a highly successful visit, Valignano decided to compile an account of the boys’ travels in dialogue form, in which the boys who had gone to Europe would inform their Japanese compatriots of all they had seen and heard. The Latin De Missione Legatorum Iaponensium ad Romanam curiam, . . . (hereafter De Missione)—translated from a no-longer-extant Spanish original—was printed in 1590 and consists of thirty-four chapters describing not only the events of the eight-year voyage, but also many of the major cities of Europe, as well as the dress, manners, education, architecture, governance, and wars of Europe at the time. Japanese Travellers in Sixteenth-Century Europe is the first English-language translation of this work and is accompanied by comprehensive annotations and an introduction by Derek Massarella. Though this review will not attempt to judge the accuracy of the translation, by J. F. Moran, the English text is a pleasure to read, and the copious notes draw deeply on primary and secondary sources on the Jesuit missions and on Europe in the sixteenth century. The volume is thus a welcome and very important contribution to the literature on the Jesuits in Japan and also on sixteenth-century Europe.
One of the strengths of Japanese Travellers is the informative and very thorough introduction by Massarella, which details the histories of the Jesuit mission in Japan, the embassy, and the publication of De Missione. In it, he takes up several issues related to the embassy and the text that have long been a source of debate among scholars, including the authorship of De Missione and doubts about the status of the boys on the trip. Recently, some scholars have questioned the conventional view that Eduardo de Sande merely translated De Missione into Latin from a Spanish original written by Valignano, arguing that de Sande may have been the main author of the Spanish text. Massarella draws on letters and other documents in the Jesuit archives to argue convincingly for Valignano’s authorship, while still acknowledging that there were other contributors to the text, including de Sande. Similarly, in dealing with questions of the boys’ status and accusations that the embassy was a “fraud”—two issues that surfaced soon after the boys’ return and have been taken up again in recent scholarship—Massarella performs a measured and thorough analysis of the issues and extant documents that refutes claims of fraud and clarifies how the Jesuits and the Europeans understood the status of the boys.
Another highlight of the introduction is a section that places De Missione in the context of the sixteenth-century literary genre of the dialogue, and within the older tradition of the laudes civitatum, or descriptions praising particular cities. The structure of De Missione appears didactic and artificial, and its effusive praise of Europe’s major cities and their wealth...