In October 1613, Date Masamune, (nicknamed the one-eyed dragon), feudal lord of Sendai and one of the most powerful figures in Japan sent a delegation of merchants and Samurai warriors to Europe with the important mission of establishing diplomatic and commercial relations with Spain, a great world-power at the time. He also sent them to achieve a religious agreement with the Vatican through the Franciscan monk “Sotelo” who accompanied the delegation. This expedition, baptised as the Keicho Embassy, was headed up by the great Samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga, and would go down in history as the first major Japanese mission of this nature in the West.
Approximately one year later, after a long and arduous journey, they arrived at Sanlucar de Barrameda where the Duke of Medina, Sidonia, was waiting for them and provided them with the necessary boats and facilities to embark upon the Guadalquivir River to reach Seville. It was there where Hasekura and his entourage of Samurai were received by not only the inhabitants, but also the political and ecclesiastical authorities, and were housed at the Real Alcazar Palace. Previously, before obtaining the necessary permits to meet with the authorities of Seville, the members of the Embassy were accommodated in the town of Coria del Río, at the Port of Seville, where they left a deep and indelible mark.
The Keicho Embassy remained in the country for almost three years, and during their stay, they visited various cities and neighbourhoods such as Sanlucar de Barrameda, Coria del Rio, Seville, Cordoba, Toledo, Madrid, Lleida, Igualada, Montserrat, and Barcelona. On their way to the Vatican, they also passed through Saint-Tropez, Florence, Genova and Rome amongst other cities.
In order to reach a diplomatic and trade agreement with Spain, Hasekura Tsunenaga met King Felipe III in the capital. During his meeting, the Samurai delivered to the monarch an imperial letter from Date Masamune, in which he expressed his claims of friendship in favour of mutual benefit. As a gesture of goodwill, Hasekura was baptised in the convent of the Barefoot of Madrid in a ceremony that was attended by the Spanish aristocracy at the time. Impressed by this gesture, Felipe III agreed to honour the imperial offer and authorised the departure of the Japanese Embassy towards Rome.
In Rome itself, Hasekura and his compatriots received a warm welcome by the local authorities and had several hearings with Pope Paul V. After hearing the requests of the Keicho Embassy, the Pope passed on the request to send more missionaries to Japan and sent through them a letter to pass onto King Felipe III where he announced the return of the Embassy, a letter to Date Masemune and a letter to the Christians in Japan. Without any guarantee of a firm commitment, the Samurai had to begin their journey back to Spain.
Despite all the good intensions that the Embassy set out with, and all the efforts made by Hasekura Tsunenaga to achieve his objectives, the results achieved were not what they had expected for many reasons, one of which being religious motives. It was at this stage that the individuals on the Embassy were asked to leave, and Hasekura Tsunenaga decided to head back in 1617. Nevertheless, many of the Samurai decide to remain forever in their newly adopted country due to the growing fascination in our land and culture.
Although the Keicho Embassy did not succeed in its mission, nor did it achieve the desired objectives, the establishment and continuation of a community of men and women with the surname “Japón” in Coria del Río constitutes a living testimony and an indelible memory of that expedition. Following on, both communities have strengthened their ties of friendship, fostering cultural exchange between the two countries and promoting common initiatives that have received recognition from the Japanese Imperial House as well as the future Emperor of Japan: Prince Naruhito, who in 2013, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the departure of the Keichō Embassy, visited Coria del Río and paid tribute to the descendants of that expedition by planting a cherry tree on the Carlos de Mesa promenade as a symbol of a lasting friendship.