Japanese slaves taken to Mexico in 16th century

A rare document has been found that records the transport of Japanese people to Mexico as slaves in the late 16th century, the first documentation of Japanese people crossing the Pacific Ocean.

Lucio de Sousa, a special researcher at University of Evora in Portugal, and Mihoko Oka, an assistant professor at the Historiographical Institute, University of Tokyo, discovered the information among Inquisition records stored at the General Archives of the Nation in Mexico.

Their findings are scheduled to be published abroad soon.

The names of three people born in Japan were found in the document. Their names--Gaspar Fernandes, Miguel and Ventura--are not written in Japanese, but the word "xapon" (Japan) is written after their names. All three are believed to have been male.

Gaspar was born in Bungo, currently Oita Prefecture. He was sold as a slave by a Japanese merchant to a Portuguese merchant named Perez on a seven-peso, three-year contract in Nagasaki in 1585, when Gaspar was 8. He is believed to have worked as a servant in Perez's home, but further details are unknown.

A bottle of high-grade olive oil cost eight pesos at that time in Spain.

Ventura's history is unknown, but Miguel was sold by a Portuguese slave trader to Perez in Spanish Manila in 1594.

Perez was arrested in 1596 in Manila and convicted of secretly being a Jew. Perez's family crossed the Pacific Ocean from Manila to Spanish Acapulco in Mexico in December 1597 for a second round of interrogations before the Inquisition.

The three Japanese names were written in the record as Perez's slaves.

Gaspar testified at the hearing about Perez's religious practices, including what he ate. In 1599, he and Ventura appealed to the authorities that they were not slaves, and they were released in 1604.

The Tensho boy mission, which was sent by the Japanese Christian lord Otomo Sorin to the pope and kings of Europe in 1582 and travelled to Rome via the Indian Ocean, saw Japanese slaves around the world. In 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned the trade of Japanese nationals.

At that time, Spain and Portugal had promoted the slave trade in Asia, including Japan, as part of their colonial policies.

The Pacific route from Manila to Acapulco was established in 1565, and there is information about Japanese who crossed the Pacific Ocean. For example, Japanese slaves were sold in South America in 1596, but the details are unknown.

"The record is a rare document that clearly establishes that Japanese people crossed the Pacific Ocean before Japan closed itself to the world [in 1639]. At that time, many Japanese likely travelled to the American continent," Oka said.

Become a fan on Facebook