Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Japan
 and Philip II’s Castile (1590-1598)

2017 edition

Jonathan López-Vera

In 2013 and 2014, because of the anniversary of the visit of a Japanese embassy to king Philip III in 1614 there were constant mentions to the “400 years of relations between Spain and Japan”. Did these relations really exist? In this presentation we will –briefly– talk about the first official relations between Japan and Castile, or more specifically, between the government of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the one in Manila, through Castilian documents between 1590 and 1598.

We analyze original documents consisting mainly of letters and reports from governors and friars in Manila to the court of Philip II in Madrid. Through them, we witness how the timid official relations between the two countries were marked by mistrust and fear on the part of the Castilians, and how the evangelical cause –represented in this case by the order of the Franciscans– was instrumental in the course of events. In this documentation we see some episodes that were particularly significant in this period, such as the wreck of the galleon San Felipe in the Japanese coasts and the subsequent execution of the so-called “26 martyrs of Nagasaki”.

Japan was only interested in trade and possibly in Castilian-filipino vassalage; and Castile was only moved by the evangelization of the Japanese and preventing an invasion of the Philippines. With the exception of the latter, nobody achieved any of these goals. Thus, we could consider these relations as a failure, but we will need a much deeper research on the reasons for this failure, considering the special moment Japan was going through back in that moment of their history and the unique and peculiar leading figure of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.