THE JESUIT INTERPRETATION OF POLITICAL INSTABILITY IN JAPAN

Lettera del p. Alessandro Valignano. Visitatore della Compagnia di Giesu nel Giappone e nella Cina de’ 10 d’Ottobre del 1599. (with) Sopplimento dell’Annua 1600

Rome, Luigi Zannetti, 1603.

£3,950

FIRST EDITION. Two works in one, separate title page to each. 8vo. Pp. 102, (ii). A-E8, F12. (last blank). Roman letter, preface in Italic. Woodcut printer’s device on both titles, floriated woodcut initials and woodcut tailpiece. Light age yellowing, foxing, oil stain to a few leaves. A perfectly acceptable copy in old vellum, recased.

Rare first edition of these two hugely important letters from the Jesuit missions in Japan, sent in the crucial period after the death of Hideyoshi during the instability before the victory of Ieyasu at Sekigahara. This book comprises two letters, the first sent in 1599 by Valignano (pp. 3-40), the second in 1601 by Valentim Carvalho (pp. 41-102). The latter’s preface explains that the Annual Letter for 1600 had not arrived, so this Sopplimento had been appended instead to Valignanos’s letter for 1599. Both report on the changing political conditions in Japan following Hideyoshi’s death in 1598. In his letter Valignano expressed his hopes that the political impasse in Japan would continue despite the tension that marked the relations of the different governing bodies. He recognised that the church would prosper under a politically divided regime. He described the political factions that emerged and made predictions about the future political situation. The political instability was a boon for the Jesuit missions and Valignano also announces that the mission had achieved 40,000 baptisms since February of that year.

“Jesuit documentation is particularly useful for this turbulent period. The missionaries knew the country well enough to be able to express their personal opinions. Nevertheless, when explaining the evolution of the political situation in Japan to the outside world, they transmitted expectations that were very similar to those of the Japanese population in general. Thus, their accounts are particularly interesting and useful for our understanding of these decisive years that preceded the coming to power of the Tokugawa dynasty.” Joao Paulo Oliveira e Costa, ‘Tokugawa Ieyasu and the Christian Daimya During the Crisis of 1600.’

The annual letters, apart from their political and religious information, also constituted the only up-to-date first-hand account of Japan, its cities, economy, industries, armed forces, geography, climate and people, that was then available in western Europe. “Valentim Carvalho’s supplement to the Annual letter of 1600,… published in 1603, reports Ieyasu’s friendliness and favours towards the mission and judges that the mission is in as good a state as it was in 1586, before Hideyyoshi’s anti-Christian edict” Donald F. Lach ‘East Asia.’ Both Carvalho and particularly Valignano were involved at the highest level of the interaction between the Japanese authorities and Jesuits, and provide extraordinary insight into trade negotiations, the shifting political situation, and the delicate balancing act required to ensure the safety of the missions.

BM STC It. C17th. p. 453. Streit, V, pp. 372-373. Cordier, Japonica 235. Sommervogel, v. II, col. 791 (the Sopplimento only).

L1577

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