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  • The Dream of Christian Nagasaki: World Trade and the Clash of Cultures, 1560–1640 by Reinier H. Hesselink
  • Lane R. Earns
The Dream of Christian Nagasaki: World Trade and the Clash of Cultures, 1560–1640. By Reinier H. Hesselink. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2016. 300pages. Softcover $49.95.

Reinier Hesselink’s book represents a prodigious effort to confront the complexity of issues involved in writing a history of early Christian Nagasaki and demonstrates the multifarious skills required to do so effectively. To accomplish his ambitious task, it was necessary for Hesselink to research Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian missionaries (Jesuit, Franciscan, Augustinian, and Dominican) and traders who came to Japan via India, Southeast Asia, China, the Philippines, and Mexico to spread word of the [End Page 76] Catholic Reformation and gain riches by filling a void in the lucrative world and regional silver trade. And this work was just on the European side; the author, of course, also had to navigate numerous contemporaneous Japanese documents generated at the central and local levels.

The introduction of Christianity into Japan, and specifically Nagasaki, depended on Jesuit missionaries serving as trade and cultural intermediaries between southern European traders on the one hand and Japanese political, military, and merchant officials on the other. This strategy proved to be dangerous in the long run, however, as it resulted in the exile, torture, and sometimes death of not only European missionaries but many of their Japanese Christian followers as well. While it took less than a century for the Christian vision to end in tragedy for the missionaries and converts, for Japanese leaders the Christian encounter ultimately endowed them with primacy over the country’s foreign trade and political, military, and administrative dominance over the territory of Nagasaki. It also led to Japanese control measures that eliminated Christianity in the port town and sent surviving Japanese Christians underground into rural hamlets, coastal towns, and sparsely populated islands in the region.

Hesselink lays out the book’s theme in the opening statement of his introduction: “This is the story of the birth of the city of Nagasaki, where two different worlds [Japan on one side and Portugal and Spain on the other] intersected in a prolonged and intensive manner” (p. 1), most intensely in the arenas of trade and religion (and possibly political administrative control). Through military might, the Portuguese established trading posts and administrative centers for their sea-based empire in Arabia, India, Southeast Asia, and China before making their way to Japan in search of a trading entrepôt in Kyushu. They eventually established a port town at Nagasaki, which allowed them to fill the vacuum of trade for Chinese silk and Japanese silver that had been opened up following the Ming government’s crackdown on rampant piracy in the area. The Society of Jesus, then recently established, took the lead in spreading Catholicism to Asia and, as in Europe and the Americas, had considerable early success converting the upper classes, who in turn forced the conversion of others in their territories. In Japan, this meant that the Jesuits not only tried to convert the samurai, especially the daimyo, but at times even behaved as samurai themselves. To Hesselink, the Jesuits “became the founders of a military colony, called Nagasaki” (p. 4). Soon, however, their strategy presented problems, in that the “Society of Jesus ostensibly [was] dedicated to spiritual goals and its priests in Japan [had] founded a strategic stronghold dedicated to monopolizing the China trade brought by the Portuguese merchants. Without the China trade, it was impossible for the mission to survive in Japan” (p. 5). This contradiction, between faith and trade, eventually led to the Society’s downfall in Japan. It also contributes to one of Hesselink’s primary challenges in the book: he claims the Jesuits’ positioning between economic and religious interests makes their records ultimately historically unreliable because they tried to deny, or at least dramatically downplay, their role in the temporal affairs of Kyushu and Nagasaki. [End Page 77]

Hesselink organizes the book into three overarching chronological parts, each composed of subsections assigned a topical title and a representative individual. While this framework offers a structured and personalized approach...


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