A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Recently Discovered Portrait of Ito Mancio (Mansho) – on Display in Room 7 of the Honkan at the Tokyo National Museum (Thru July 10)

By Avi Landau

Ito Mansho

Portrait of Ito Mansho (1585 – by Domenico Tintoretto) Discovered in Italy In March 2014, this portrait is believed, (based on inscriptions made on the canvas) to be a depiction of Ito Mansho, who in 1582, at the age of 13, sailed from Nagasaki to Europe (stopping at various places along the way) as part of what is known as the Tensho Embassy. Mancio and the three other Japanese Christian boys with him, were greeted with great fanfare wherever they went and they were received by monarchs and the Pope. The work is currently in Tokyo in celebration of the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and Japan.

National Museum

Madonna (Madonna of the Thumb) Smuggled into Japan in 1708 by the Italian missionary Giovanni Battisti Sidotti, who had been inspired by stories of missionaries being martyred in Japan – a country in which Christianity had been strictly banned. Siddoti got to the Philippines and waited till he could find a ship to drop him off at Yakushima, where disguised as a Japanese, he was quickly arrested. After being tranfered to Edo he was interrogated by the scholar Arai Hakuseki who wrote two books based on his conversations with the Italian. Spared execution and torture (thanks to Hakuseki`s intervention), Siddoti was confined to the Christian Mansion ( prison) at which he died at the age 46. His remains were discovered and identified in the spring of 2016 at the site of the former KIRISHITAN YASHIKI (Christian Mansion) The painting is an Important Cultural Property of Japan – painted in the late 17th century. Formerly kept at the Nagasaki Magistrates Office, but now part of the collection at National Museum.

National Museum

These 16th-17th century portraits of Three Saints were long kept at the Nagasaki Magistrates Office (the equivalent of Spain`s Inquisition). The one on the left was rendered on canvas not available in Japan at that time and is assumed to have been brought from Europe by missionaries. The copy on the right is believed to have been made at one of the Christian seminarios that had been established in Japan (on the island of Kyushu) in the 16th century. It is known that brother Giovanni Niccolo, originally from Naples Italy, had arrived in Japan in 1583 and taught European art painting techniques. Both these works have been designated Important Cultural Properties.


Tensho Embassy

In 1582 ( the 10th year of the Tensho Era), four 13 year old Japanese boys, students at the Arima Seminario (Jesuit Preparatory School) on the island of Kyushu, Japan, were sent to Europe, as representatives of certain Japanese feudal lords who had converted to Christianity. The boys were away for eight years, and caused quite a sensation in Europe. Here are the boys – Juliao Nakaura (top left) Mancio Ito (top right) Martinho Hara (bottom left) and Miguel Chijiwa (bottom right). All the boys were eventually ordained as priests. Ito and Chijiwa died of natural causes in Nagasaki (Chijiwa left the Jesuits before Christianity was abolished). Hara was banished from Japan in 1614 and became an active Jesuit in Macau where he died in 1629. Nakaura was tortured to death for his beliefs by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1633. He was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2008


Statue of the Japanese boys

Statue  of the 4 Japanese boys who set out from Nagasaki in 1582 and sailed for Europe as part of what is known in English as the “Tensho Embassy” (after the Tensho Era 1573-1592, during which the journey took place). Perhaps the Japanese term for the “Embassy ” – the “TENSHO- KEN O- SHO-NEN SHISETSU (天正遣欧少年使節) – The Tensho Era Youth Mission to Europe”  is more appropriate, since the boys were not representing the Emperor or a Shogun, but certain Christian feudal lords on the island of Kyushu. The boys sailed first sailed to  Macau, then Malaca, Goa and Mozambique, before rounding the Cape of Good Hope and heading for Europe. They toured Portugal, Spain and Italy before heading back to Japan. They made it back home 8 years after they had departed.

Alessandro Valignano

Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606) was an Italian Jesuit missionary who came to Japan in 1579 as the Visitor of Missions, to check on how his brotherhood`s work was going in this part of the world. Believing that Japan would become a great Christian nation (there would be a peak number of about 300,000 Christians on the island of Kyushu before the religion was banned in the early 17th century) and worked hard to make that prediction come true. He reformed Jesuit missionary practices, established seminaries (in defunct Buddhist temples) and also conceived of the idea of sending Japanese Christians to Europe. the purpose of doing so was two-fold : to show Europeans how successful his work was going (and raise funds) – as well as exposing future Japanese priests to the glories of European culture. Valignagno, however, only accompanied the embassy as far as Goa, India

Italian book

Relatione del Viaggio, et arriva in Europa, et Roma de` prencipi giapponessi (Concerning the Voyage of Four Young Japanese Men to Rome) published in Reggio, Italy in 1585 Important Cultural Property (of Japan) This book records the arrival of the Japanese Youth Mission in Livorno in 1585 and follows their progrees to Rome. It describes their meeting wwith the Medicis and the Pope. Many such books and articles were apparently written at the time, And it was European printing technology that ended up being the greatest influence on Japan on the Tensho Mission. A printing press was purchased and taken back to Japan. The numerous books that were printed with the newly introduced technology are called Christian Editions (KIRISHITAN BAN)



The remains of the zealous Italian missionary Giovanni Battista Sidotti (discussed above) were discovered in April 2016 in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

Maria Kannon?

Maria Kannon? This statue, had long been hidden in the woods on a hill near the Hanamuro intersection in Tsukuba. It is now kept at Kakuo-ji, a Zen temple (of the Soto Sect) where it is known as the Koyasu Kannon ( the Kannon who eases the suffering of Children). Given its striking similarity to the images used by hidden Christians in Japan, and the fact that there is an extant KO-SATSU official announcement board from the end of the Edo Period confirming the ban on Christianity, that there were hidden Christians in the Tsukuba area.


Jinryu ji

At first glance, this stone carving on the precincts of Jinryu-ji, a Buddhist temple in Tsuchiura City, looks like a typical Nyoirin Kannon , a deity long worshipped in Japan by women praying for conception and easy delivery. Apparently though, it was used by hidden Christians during the period in which their religion had been strictly prohibited (upon penalty of death by torture). It is still known as the Maria Kannon. Interestingly, like the Kakuo-ji Temple mentioned above (at which there is a more obvious Maria Kannon) Jinru-ji is affiliated with the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhism. During the Edo Period (when Christianity was banned), both temples were within the Tsuchiya Domain (Tsuchiura).


Sakura History Museum

A traditional KO-SATSU announcement board (dated 1867) re-affirming the ban on Christianity. At the Sakura History Museum, a short walk from the Kakuo-ji Temple (where you can see a secret Maria Kannon )


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