How and why we got the port of Nagasaki

*Abbreviated translation of Valignano to Mercurian, Nagasaki, 15 August 1580; previously published in J. F. Moran, 'Valignano in Japan 1580', pp. 205-2.


In this letter I want to tell Your Paternity how and why we got the port of Nagasaki.

As soon as I arrived here and met Don Bartolome, lord of Omura, he asked me very insistently to accept this port for the church, and he gave it to us and desired us to accept it for three main reasons:


1. Because he was very much afraid that Ryuzoji (a pagan who is now lord of all this kingdom of Hizen) would ask him for this port, which he greatly desires. If he gave it to him he would lose the profit from the ships, which he needs, and if he refused he would have to go to war with him, which is what he feared more than anything else. To escape from this dilemma he thought it would be a good solution to give it to the Church. He would still have his rights, and if it belonged to the Church Ryuzoji would not demand it.

2. Because it would guarantee him in perpetuity the profits from the said ships, because if Nagasaki belonged to the fathers then the Portuguese would never cease to come here.

3. Because he thought it would also ensure the safety of his person and his land. Whatever happened he could always take refuge there and would never lose his land.


We discussed this question long and often, not only with those who were here in Shimo but also with those in Miyako and Bungo, and with only one or two exceptions all thought that it was not only good but necessary to accept, for the following reasons:


1. Don Bartolome's reasons were very urgent. If Ryuzoji did take Nagasaki he would be much more powerful, having the profit from the ships, and would be able to pursue his war with the king of Bungo much more effectively. This would be very bad for Christianity.

2. It would be a great refuge for persecuted Christians, and antiChristian lords, knowing this, would be much less repressive.

3. It would also be a refuge for us, and a safe place for our so necessary property.

4. It would give us enough income to keep up the residences in Don Bartolome's kingdom. Don Bartolome has given us 1,000 ducats which the Portuguese pay as harbour dues, and we have divided this into three parts, one for the fortification and upkeep of the port itself, one to use to persuade Christian or pagan lords to favour or not to impede conversions, and one for the upkeep of the said residences.

5. Eventually there is going to be a bishop here, and Nagasaki, if the Society does not want it, would be very useful to him.


So I decided to accept, and Nagasaki now belongs to us. Don Bartolome also gave us Mogi, which is one league from here.


The main problem is that as we are now lords of this place we have to administer justice. We cannot leave this to the lord of the whole area because it is not the custom, and because their justice is very unsatisfactory. They make no distinction between civil and criminal cases, nor between ecclesiastical and secular. But it is normal for the lords to give the captaincy of the land to yakunin. The lord is still the owner, but the yakunin have full powers, and do not have to refer or report to the lord. So we got Don Bartolome to make some just laws, to be observed in this port, modifying the Japanese laws as best we could to make them just. He gave authority to whomever we nominate as yakunin of this port to administer justice, including the death penalty, according to these laws. So it is the lord who confers power over life and death, etc., but the yakunin is to be changed each year, so the superior of Japan can deal with him if he is unsatisfactory, by changing or reprehending him.


Although the gift of Nagasaki is unconditional, I accepted it on condition that we could give it up whenever we wanted, even just on the authority of the superior of India or even of the superior of Japan. This ought to be so because things are so changeable in Japan, and we might need to give up Nagasaki at short notice, and also because things here are not as they are in Europe. The lords and others here may take back what they have given and even what they have sold. If for some reason this should happen we do not intend to resist, as there is no higher authority here to which we can appeal. And besides, we are so dependent on the ship. If it failed to come for two or three years our whole position would be totally different. Property here does not mean the same as it does in Europe, and it is not possible to operate on the same assumptions as in Europe.


Your Paternity should ask His Holiness the Pope to issue a brief giving us wider faculties, so that without scruple we can exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction, so as, for example, to be able to make new laws with the sanction of capital punishment.


All this may seem very strange, but things really are different here in Japan.