SENDAI – Historian Naotsugu Hamada has proposed a new theory about the 1613 mission that Date Masamune, Sendai’s then-feudal lord, sent to Europe and Mexico, arguing that he may have intended to use funds from trade with Mexico to reconstruct Tohoku, which had been rocked by a quake-tsunami disaster just two years earlier.
It is traditionally believed that Date (1567-1636), who built Sendai Castle and founded the city, dispatched the Keicho mission, named after the contemporary era, purely to boost his own name and reputation.
But the 73-year-old Hamada, a resident of Sendai, came up with the alternative theory after the city and many other areas in the northeast were devastated by the March 11, 2011, killer quake and tsunami.
Hamada said he and other victims of the disaster struggling to rebuild their hometowns can identify with Date, who worked equally hard to reconstruct the region after the 1611 temblor, estimated at magnitude 8.1, also triggered devastating tsunami, claiming approximately 5,000 lives.
In 1966, Hamada became a curator at Sendai City Museum after obtaining a master’s degree in art history at Tohoku University, also in the capital of Miyagi Prefecture.
He became fascinated with a portrait of Hasekura Tsunenaga (1571-1622), a samurai who headed the 1613 mission, and a certificate of Roman citizenship that he brought home. Both items are housed at the museum.
Ever since, Hamada has been studying documents to determine the historical significance of the mission.
“I had a strong interest in the spirit and eagerness of a man from Tohoku to conduct diplomatic negotiations with people overseas and have been absorbed in the research,” Hamada said.
In 2010, Hamada was appointed director of the Keicho Mission Ship Museum in Miyagi’s coastal city of Ishinomaki. But the following year, the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami partly flooded the museum, destroying a replica of the Sant Juan Bautista, the ship used for the mission. The building later served as an evacuation center.
The catastrophe reminded Hamada of historical records of the 1611 quake and tsunami that struck Tohoku’s Sanriku coast. Afterward, Date is thought to have devoted himself to rebuilding his Sendai domain, developing new rice paddies and salt fields.
The 180-member mission departed in October 1613 to hold negotiations with King Philip III in Spain and Pope Paul V in Rome on launching direct trade with Mexico, at the time a Spanish colony.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the vessel’s departure and the documents related to the mission have been designated by UNESCO as valuable records in its Memory of the World documentary heritage program.
“History shows that our ancestors embarked on a journey with a significant purpose following the (1611) earthquake and it could offer emotional support to victims of the (March 2011) temblor,” Hamada said.