Spaniards with the surname Japón meet a long-lost cousin – the descendant of a Japanese samurai who arrived in Spain in 1614

Spaniards with the surname Japón meet a long-lost cousin – the descendant of a Japanese samurai who arrived in Spain in 1614

A Japanese descendant of a 17th century samurai ambassador has visited Coria del Rio to pay homage to his ancestor and meet the town’s samurai descendants.

The samurai mission was dispatched from Japan by the feudal lord Date Masamune to foster trade links with Rome, Spain and Mexico between 1613 and 1620.  Its leader, Hasekura Tsunenaga, is generally considered to be the first Japanese ambassador in Europe and the Americas.  The delegation arrived in Coria del Rio, near Seville, Spain, in 1614 and set up an embassy there.  Six of the samurai stayed on in Coria del Río and today around 700 inhabitants bearing the surname Japón claim to be their descendants.

The name first appears on the town’s official documents from 1646 and originally it was common for their children to be named Hasekura de Japón.  The difficult Japanese pronunciation was eventually dropped and the family name Japón emerged.

A genetic inheritance identified as being common in Spanish Japón babies is the ‘Mongolian spot‘, a condition which causes blue spots on the skin of the babies’ buttocks, but which normally disappears 3 to 5 years after birth.  The condition is present in 95-100% of Asian infants, but usually in just 1-10% of Caucasians.  It was reported earlier this year that Japanese researchers are planning to analyse the DNA of the Spanish Japóns to verify their origins, but no update has been reported yet.

This week, 65 year-old Hasekura Tsunetaka, a 13th-generation descendant of Hasekura Tsunenaga, travelled in his ancestor’s footsteps from Japan to Coria delRio and met around 30 of the Spanish Japóns.  He dressed in full samurai rig to lay flowers at the base of a bronze statue of his ancestor which stands in the town park.  His visit was to repay the support offered by Coria del Rio following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 which devastated its twin city of Sendai.  Sendai was founded by Date Masamune in 1600 and was Hasekura Tsunenaga’s point of departure in 1613.

Hasekura Tsunetaka told the Daily Yomiuri, “I heard that a memorial ceremony for victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and charity fund-raising for the disaster victims were held here.  I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Juan Francisco Japón said that the Spanish Japóns were impressed by Hasekura Tsunetaka’s gesture, and they felt as if they had met their ancestor in person.

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Posted by Abroad in the Yard on Friday, 14 August 2015