A wooden statue of Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) is back in his native Netherlands for a special exhibition after nearly 400 years in Japan.

According to Tsutomu Yamamoto, conservator of the statue collection at the Tokyo National Museum, the statue arrived in Japan aboard the Liefde, which set sail June 27, 1598, becoming the first Dutch ship to reach Japanese shores.

The ship, owned by a Rotterdam-based trading firm, arrived in Usuki Bay in Kyushu’s Bungo (now the city of Usuki, Oita Prefecture) on April 29, 1600, after drifting at sea. Of its 110-member crew, only 24 survived, including its English captain, William Adams, who later became a commercial agent, informant and interpreter for the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. Later, the statue came under the ownership of Ryukoin Temple in Sano, Tochigi Prefecture.

For a long time, it was believed the wooden statue was made in Japan. But starting in the Taisho Era (1912-1926), it came to be regarded as having an association with Christianity based on the design of the clothing worn by the figure.

When a photograph of the statue was displayed in Italy in a 1926 exhibition of items related to the propagation of Christianity, a Dutch researcher recognized it as a statue of Erasmus.

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