The Far West

In the Komyoji, Sendai

In the Komyoji, Sendai

Several years ago, the cost of obtaining the images for a book I’d written ended up amounting to more than I’d been paid to write it. Ever since then, I have worked on the policy that if I am going to be contractually obliged to get photographs and the expense is going to be several thousand pounds, I might as well get them myself and use the trip to amass more materials. Which is why I am here in Sendai, former seat of the Date clan, slowly assembling the pieces of information for a putative book about their most famous accomplishment. In 1614, Date Masamune sent several samurai on a long voyage. In a ship they’d built themselves, they crossed the Pacific, walked over Mexico, and then boarded a Spanish vessel bound for Europe. The leader of the group, Hasekura Tsunenaga (or Philip Faxecura in European accounts) eventually met the Pope in Rome, before beginning his long trip back to Japan. By the time he returned to Sendai, several years later, Christianity had not merely fallen out of fashion but had become a capital offence. His mission was entirely in vain, and he died of unknown causes soon afterwards.

He is buried in the grounds of the Komyoji temple in Sendai. The man in the picture is the sub-priest Ken Ouchi, who is showing me a wall-painting of Hasekura’s mission, donated to the temple by artist Tetsuro Hama. He very kindly took time away from cleaning the temple for the upcoming equinox celebrations to show me the interiors and also Hasekura’s modest grave.

He asked me where I was from, and I told him.

“Oh!” he said. “Britain! My wife and daughter are studying English there. In a place called Cardiff!” The reach of the Torchwood Institute is far indeed.

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