Story of Japan - R. Van Bergen

The Dutch in Japan

In the fifty years that had gone by since the Portuguese first landed in Japan, they had made many converts. In Kiushiu alone they baptized more than fifty thousand Japanese and founded fifty churches. The daimio of Arima (ah-ree-mah), Bungo (Boon-goh), and Omura (oh-moo-rah)  were among the number who embraced Christianity, although they did not openly favor the new religion.

The trade with Japan was exceedingly valuable to Portugal, for many tons of gold, silver, and copper were exported from Japan every year. The large profit from such a trade made other nations of Europe anxious to obtain a share of it; and because, at that time, the English and the Dutch were the most enterprising, it was natural that one of these should first become a rival of the Portuguese.

The Dutch had fitted out some ships to go trading in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and had engaged an Englishman, Will Adams, to act as their pilot, just as they had taken Henry Hudson to steer one of their ships to America. Here is what Will Adams says of himself:—

"Your worships shall understand that I am a Kentish man, born in a town called Gillingham, two English miles from Rochester, and one mile from Chatham, where the queen's (Elizabeth's) ships do lie; and that, from the age of twelve years, I was brought up in Limehouse, near London, being 'prentice twelve years to one master, Nicholas Diggins, and have served in the place of master and pilot in her majesty's ships, and about eleven or twelve years served the worshipful company of the Barbary merchants, until the Indian traffic from Holland began, in which Indian traffic I was desirous to make a little experience of the small knowledge which God had given me.

"So, in the year of our Lord God 1598, I hired myself for chief pilot of a fleet of five sail of Hollanders, which was made ready by the chief of their Indian Company; the general of this fleet was called Jacques Mayhay, in which ship, being admiral, I was pilot."

The fleet set sail from Holland on the 24th of June, 1598. The ships of those days were small and carried, besides a strong crew to defeat any enemy who might attack them, and the necessary arms, a very heavy cargo, so that there was not much room for provisions or fresh water. Before these vessels had crossed the equator, so many of their crew were sick that they were compelled to seek the nearest land, which was the coast of Guinea, and here many of their men died, among whom was their admiral,—or general, as they called him.

After more than nine months they reached the Straits of Magellan, in April, 1599, "at which time," says honest Will, "the winter came, so that there was much snow: and our men, through cold on the one side and hunger on the other, grew weak." Although there were no charts of the Straits of Magellan at that time, Adams preferred that route to going round Cape Horn; but they were forced to winter there, you can easily imagine under what hardships, and it was the 24th of September before they succeeded in getting into the Pacific.

Here they were caught in a storm which scattered the ships, the Erasmus, of which Adams was the pilot, making for the coast of Chile, where Adams waited twenty-eight days for the other vessels to join him. They, however, were never heard of with the exception of one which they lost sight of again on the 24th of February, 1600. It had been decided that they should make for Japan, for the greater part of their cargo consisted of woolen cloths, "which would not be much accepted in the East Indies because they were hot countries."

"On the 11th of April, 1600," Will Adams continues, "we saw the high land of Japan, near unto Bungo; at which time there were no more than five men of us able to go. The 12th of April we came hard to (close to) Bungo, where many country barks came aboard us, the people whereof we willingly let come, having no force to resist them. And at this place we came to an anchor.

"The people offered us no hurt, but stole all things that they could steal; for which some paid dearly afterward."

The pilot here gives a hard name to the Japanese, but does full justice to the authorities. Theft was and is very severely punished in Japan. But the humbler classes of the people are full of curiosity, and they did not think that they were stealing when they pilfered from the ships. When people go traveling in foreign countries, they will now and then chip off little pieces of monuments or statues, yet they do not consider it stealing; and it was from the same feeling that the Japanese took whatever they could find.

The Portuguese were at that time at war with Holland; but even if this had not been the case, it was not to be expected that they would welcome a rival. You must remember, besides, that they were devout Catholics, who detested the Protestants, and it was chiefly on account of religion that Holland was making war upon Spain and Portugal. You will understand, therefore, that the Portuguese did all they could to give the strangers a bad reputation, and honest pilot Adams says:—

"The evil report of the Portuguese caused the governor and common people to think ill of us, in such manner that we looked always when we should be set upon crosses, which is the execution in this land for piracy and other crimes. Thus daily more and more the Portugals (Portuguese) incensed the justice and people against us."

But the Japanese acted on the whole very honorably. The daimio sent soldiers on board to see that none of the cargo was stolen; they piloted the ship into a safe harbor, until the regent (Iyeyasu) decided what should be done, and in the meanwhile they obtained permission to land their sick, among whom was the captain, and were given a comfortable house. Iyeyasu, at this time, was at Osaka, and he sent orders that Will Adams and one of the sailors should be brought, before him. The story is told so simply and in such a straightforward manner by him, that I will let him tell it to you in his own words. It will also show you what kind of a man Iyeyasu was:—

"So, taking one man with me, I went to him, taking my leave of our captain, and all the others that were sick, and commending myself into His  hands, that had preserved me from so many perils of the sea. I was carried in one of the king's (regent's) galleys to the court at Osaka, about eighty leagues from the place where the ship was. The 12th of May, 1600, I came to the great king's city, who caused me to be brought into the palace, being a wonderful costly house, gilded with gold in abundance.

"Coming before the king (Iyeyasu), he viewed me well, and seemed to be kind and wonderful favorable. He made many signs unto me, some of which I understood, and some I did not. In the end there came one who could speak Portuguese. By him the king demanded of what land I was, and what moved us to come to his land. I showed unto him the name of our country, and that our land had long-sought out the East Indies, and desired friendship with all kings and potentates in way of merchandise, having in our land divers commodities, which these lands had not; and also to buy such merchandise in this land as our country had not.

"Then the great king asked whether our country had wars. I answered him, 'Yea, with the Spaniards and Portugals (Portuguese), being in peace with all other nations.' Further, he asked me in what did I believe. I said, 'In God that made heaven and earth.' He asked me divers other questions of things of religion, and many other things, as what way we came to his country. Having a chart of the whole world with me, I showed him through the Straits of Magelhaens (Magellan); at which he wondered, and thought me to lie.

"Thus, from one thing to another, I abode with him till midnight. And having asked me what merchandise we had in our ship, I showed him samples of all. In the end, he being ready to depart, I desired that we might have trade of merchandise, as the Portugals (Portuguese) had. To which he made me an answer, but what it was I did not understand. So he commanded me to be carried to prison. But two days after he sent for me again, and inquired of the qualities and conditions of our countries, of wars and peace, of beasts and cattle of all sorts, of heaven and the stars. It seemed that he was well content with all mine answers. Nevertheless, I was commanded to prison again; but my lodging was bettered in another place (but I received better lodging in another place).

"So I remained nine-and-thirty days in prison, having no news neither of our ship nor captain, whether he were recovered of his sickness, nor of the rest of the company (crew)."

All this time the Portuguese were trying to induce Iyeyasu to have Adams and his fellow sailors executed, but after considering the question he answered thus, according to Adams:—

"That as yet we had done no hurt or damage to him nor to any of his land, and that therefore it was against reason and justice to put us to death; and if our countries and theirs (Portugal) had wars one with the other, that was no cause that he should put us to death." Adams adds: "The emperor (regent) answering them in this manner, they were quite out of heart that their cruel pretense failed; for the which, God be praised!

"Now, in this time that I was in prison, the ship was commanded to be brought so near to the city, where the emperor was, as she might, the which was done. So the one-and-fortieth day of my imprisonment, the emperor (regent) called me before him again, demanding of me many questions more, which are too long to write. In conclusion he asked me whether I were desirous to go to the ship to see my countrymen. I answered that I would very gladly do it; so he bade me go. Then I departed and was freed from imprisonment. And this was the first news that I had that the ship and company were come to the city.

"Wherefore, with a rejoicing heart, I took a boat and went to our ship, where I found the captain and the rest recovered of their sickness. But at our first meeting aboard we saluted one another with mourning and shedding of tears; for they were informed that I was executed and long since dead."

Everything had been taken out of the ship, but Iyeyasu would have no such robbery. He had the cargo and personal property collected and ordered money to be given to the captain and his crew to procure food and other necessaries. He had, in the meanwhile, returned to Yedo, and ordered the ship to be brought there. The sailors mutinied, demanding all the money, and Iyeyasu refused to allow them to return. They now scattered, each man going where he pleased. They received during life two pounds of rice per day each, and about $20 per month, a liberal allowance, in days when everything was cheap.

Tree on the coast


But Adams rose in great favor with the regent. He tells us: "So, in process of four or five years, the emperor (Iyeyasu) called me, as he had done divers times before, and would have me to make him a small ship. I answered that I was no carpenter, and had little knowledge thereof. 'Well,' saith he, 'do it so well as you can; if it be not good, it is no matter.' Wherefore at his command I built him a ship, of the burthen of eighty tons, or thereabouts; which ship being made in all proportions as our manner is, he coming aboard to see it, liked it well; by which means I came in more favor with him, so that I came often into his presence, and, from time to time, he gave me many presents. Now being in such grace and favor with the emperor (Iyeyasu), by reason I taught him some points of geometry and the mathematics, with other things, I pleased him so, that what I said could not be contradicted. At which my former enemies, the Portuguese, did greatly wonder, and entreated me to befriend them to the emperor in their business; and so by my means, both Spaniards and Portugals (Portuguese) have received friendship from the emperor, I recompensing their evil unto me with good."

The captain of the Erasmus  was at length permitted to return. He carried letters from Adams to England, where the pilot had a wife and two children. Adams hoped that when it was known where he was, some effort would be made to obtain his release, for Iyeyasu found his services too valuable to allow him to return. He received a piece of a land and the revenue of a village for his support. His tomb was discovered about twenty years ago at Hemi (hay-mee), a village on the railroad between Yokohama and Yokosuka (yo-kos'-kah). There is a street in Tokyo, An-jin (an-jeen)  Cho,—Pilot Street,—named after him.