Father Francis Xavier, with three other Catholic Jesuits missionaries, arrived at Japan on July 27, 1549 and went ashore at Kagoshima, the principal port of the province of Satsuma, on the island of Kyushu. Francis worked for more than two years in Japan spreading the gospel.
From 1550-1560, more Christian missionaries began arriving in Japan. At first they were welcomed as the ruling Shōgunate hoped it would build better trade relations with the west, particularly Spain and Portugal. (Trevino)
Ieyasu Tokugawa became shogun in 1603 after defeating his rivals by using guns brought into Japan by the Europeans. His successors, however, began to fear that the growing trade with the West and influence of Christianity would directly challenge the Japanese value system. (Tokugawa)
In the isolation edict of 1635, the shogun banned Japanese ships or individuals from visiting other countries, decreed that any Japanese person returning from another country was to be executed, and placed severe restrictions on visits by foreign trading vessels. (Thompson)
Isolationism ended on July 8, 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry of the US Navy, commanding a squadron of two steamers and two sailing vessels, sailed into Tokyo harbor aboard the frigate Susquehanna.
Perry returned again on February 13, 1854 with an even larger force of eight warships, forced Japan to enter into trade with the US and demanded a treaty permitting trade and the opening of Japanese ports to US merchant ships.
While Japan was in ‘Isolation,’ does that mean Japanese did not have contact with the rest of the world, including Hawai‘i? Actually, no … there is evidence that Japanese made it to the islands during isolation – possibly, even before Captain Cook.
Japanese junks have been blown to sea, and finally stranded with their occupants upon distant islands, and have reached even the continent of America, in the 46th degree of north latitude. (Jarves)
In 1806, the ‘Inawaka Maru,’ a small Japanese cargo ship, was shipwrecked off Japan and remained adrift in the Pacific for more than seventy days. An American trading vessel, the Tabour, sailing eastward in the northern Pacific on her return voyage from China, rescued the emaciated crew of the Inawaka-maru and brought them to O‘ahu on May 5, 1806. (Kona & Sinoto)
“On the second day after their arrival, the building of a house for the Japanese was started, probably on orders of the chief. More than fifty persons were engaged in cutting trees from the mountains and building a house with a thatched roof. Only four days after their arrival, the house was completed, and the eight Japanese moved in.”
“People brought kalo (taro) and ʻuala (sweet potatoes) in gourd containers while the house was being constructed. A fence was built around the house when the Japanese moved in to prevent others from entering, and a cook was assigned to prepare meals for them.”
The Japanese remained in Hawai’i for more than three months until an American ship offered to take them home; on August 17, 1806, all eight Japanese left O‘ahu aboard the Perseverance. (Kona & Sinoto)
This was not the only early contact Japanese had with the Islands; in December, 1832, a Japanese junk was wrecked on O‘ahu, after having been tossed upon the ocean for eleven months. But four, out of a crew of nine, survived. Similar accidents, no doubt, happened centuries since. (Jarves)
“A junk laden with fish, and having nine hands on board, left one of the northern islands of the Japanese group for Jeddo, but, encountering a typhoon, was driven to sea.”
“After wandering about the ocean for ten or eleven months, they anchored on the last Sunday of December, 1832, near the harbor of Waialea (believed to mean Waialua,) O‘ahu. Their supply of water during the voyage had been obtained from casual showers.”
“On being visited four persons were found on board; three of these were severely afflicted with scurvy, two being unable to walk and the third nearly so. The fourth was in good health, and had the sole management of the vessel.”
“After remaining at Waialea (Waialua) for five or six days, an attempt was made to bring the vessel to Honolulu, when she was wrecked off Barber’s Point, on the evening of January 1, 1833. Everything but the crew was lost, with the exception of a few trifling articles. The men remained at Honolulu eighteen months, when they were forwarded to Kamtschatka.” (Spectator; American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal)
Were there earlier encounters (or at least evidence of Japanese to the Hawaiians?) Some suggest it is found in the Hawaiian interest in iron, and some of the iron implements notes by Cook’s crew at the time of his Contact with the Islands.
Since some of the terms for ‘iron’ also are applied to ‘foreigners,’ the indications are that the various Polynesians learned of iron while in Polynesia, either directly through foreigners, or by means of wreckage from foreign ships. The early Polynesians were not iron producers, because, valuing the metal as they did, they apparently were unable to obtain it by smelting. (Stokes)
Captain James Cook’s journal notes that when he made contact, his crew noted the specific interest the Hawaiians had in iron. “Their having the actual possession of these, and their so generally knowing the use of this metal, inclined some on board to think, that we had not been the first European visitors of these islands.”
Cook noted that the people he met on Kauaʻi were not “acquainted with our commodities, except iron; which however, it was plain, they had … in some quantity, brought to them at some distant period. … They asked for it by the name of hamaite.” It is interesting to note that a Spanish word for iron ore is “Hematitas”.
“The only iron tools, or rather bits of iron, seen amongst them, and which they had before our arrival, were a piece of iron hoop about two inches long, fitted into a wooden handle, and another edge tool, which our people guessed to be made of the point of a broadsword.” (Cook’s Journal)
Captain Clerke’s record (Jan. 23, 1778) notes, “This morning one of the midshipmen purchased of the natives a piece of iron lashed into a handle for a cutting instrument; it seems to me a piece of the blade of a cutlass; it has by no means the appearance of a modern acquisition …”
“… it looks to have been a good deal used and long in its present state; the midshipman … demanded of the man where he got it; the Indian pointed away to the SE ward, where he says there is an island called Tai, from whence it came.” (Stokes)
Referring back to the midshipman’s information, it may be noted that there is no island named Tai to the south-east of Waimea, Kauai, where the matter was discussed, and since tai (kai) is the term for “sea” and the current sweeps up to Waimea from the south-east, it therefore appears that the implement was floated in, from the sea.
It was the reference that “people guessed to be made of the point of a broadsword” that caught the attention of Stokes (former Curator of Polynesian Ethnology and Curator-in-charge of the Bernice P Bishop Museum,) who speculated that rather than the end of a broadsword, the Hawaiians may have had a deba bocho (a Japanese fish-knife.)
Stokes noted that swords generally break straight across, making it difficult (impossible) to be “lashed into a handle.” Rather, the deba bocho has a tang that is driven into a wooden handle.
The tang would have been concealed from view by Cook’s crew and “These men, ‘accustomed to the sword,’ would naturally think first in terms of weapons. It is certain they were unfamiliar with Japanese domestic utensils because Japan had then been isolated from foreigners for more than a century.” (Stokes)
Whether it actually was a knife and whether it drifted in on wreckage or was brought by a Japanese fisherman (before Cook’s arrival in the Islands) is not clear.
Beachcombing finds of Japanese glass balls (fishing floats,) as well as marine debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami, suggest the possibility of earlier Japan contact with the Islands (especially in the context that a Japanese fishing boat and its survivors landed in the Islands in 1832.)