The Chinese themselves first mentioned Japan in their written history during 57AD within the book of Han, which states how the Chinese Emperor gifted a golden seal to “Wa” – the first name referring to Japan. Despite such early relations with China, Japan remained alien to the West for centuries.
Marco Polo never made it to his fabled land of silver and gold. Christopher Columbus, who had been drawn in by Polo’s description of the far-Eastern country, set out yet failed to reach its shores. It wasn’t until 1543 that the first Westerners made contact with “Zipangu”; the country we recognise today as Japan – and by accident, too!
While they commented on the Western guest’s long facial features, and inability to eat with chopsticks, the local Daimyo (feudal lord) of Tanegashima was very interested in their Western weapons. Antonio, Antonio, and Fransciso’s firearms caught the Daimyo’s eye, resulting in him purchasing two matchlock muskets from the sailors before requesting his swordsmiths to replicate them.
After the first meeting more Portuguese ships entered Japan, starting with three to four average-sized ships sailing to the country yearly; a number which gradually increased, as well as the size of the ships.
This became known as “Nanban Boueki” (南蛮貿易) – the Southern barbarian trade. Portuguese explorers, missionaries, and merchants flocked to Japan where they established Catholicism and trade. Daimyo were initially impressed by the trading; due to the Wakou raids (piracy occurring on the shores of China, Korea, and Japan) the Chinese Emperor had blocked Japan from trade (despite the Wakou being of mixed ethnicity), so the Portuguese who still had decent relations with China would trade Chinese goods with Japan. These goods, primarily silk and Chinese porcelain, were appreciated and made a positive start to trade with Japan, aiding in its success as these were both goods which had been acquired in the past. It could also be argued that it aided Portuguese trade by starting it with something familiar, so the new Western goods had more time to be introduced before being introduced in trade.
Religion followed the missionaries, who were set to convert what was written at the time as “at least on Japanese”. Daimyo Omura Sumita was the first to convert to Christianity, it was also he who opened the port of Nagasaki to Portuguese trade.
It could be debated that the introduction of Western guns was the largest influence the Portuguese introduced, even more so than religion (although both the guns and Christianity were abolished around the same time).
Of course, gunpowder and such had been introduced to Japan long before the Portuguese did; firearms (teppoi; literally meaning “iron cannon”) appeared in Japan as early as the 13th Century through interactions with the Chinese, although they were never really used. The way of the Samurai was more honourable, and a sword considered more “civilized” by Japanese perspective. With Japanese culture as it was, there was never a particular need for use of these bulky weapons relying on gunpowder.
In 1567, Daimyo Takedo Shingen announced “… guns will be the most important arms. Therefore, decrease the number of spears per unit and have the most capable men carry guns.” An historian could describe the increase of guns to be incredibly altering to Japanese society; war before Western interference occurred very differently. During battle, one Samurai from each opposing side would walk to the middle of the battlefield and shout their own name before initiating combat: a fight to the death using their swords. Another common occurrence was would be one Samurai riding into the centre of the battlefield and challenging the opposition for an opponent to step forward and fight. Obviously, the introduction of guns would create major change to this system. Guns had the ability to change warfare from honourable samurai duels to faceless warriors shooting one another down.
One key event in Japanese history which an historian could describe as the first occurrence of “modern warfare” was Nagashino no tatakai (長篠の戦い) – the battle of Nagashino (1575).
Nobunaga himself was already feared and in control of a large part of Japan – it was said that his name alone could induce fear, though it was this battle which ultimately made sure he was the most powerful Daimyo at the time.
He placed his ashigaru above a river with steep banks which slowed the enemy’s cavalry charge and allowed his forces to shoot from behind their shields. Samurai warriors cut down those who made it past the gunmen. Nobunaga’s strategy resulted in a victory over the 12,000 strong army, before going on to behead the remaining 3000 of Takada’s forces located within the besieged castle. This battle allowed Nobunaga to become almost undefeatable, which helped Tokugawa Ieyasu who eventually succeeded him (after Nobunaga’s general Toyotomi Hideyoshi) and removed the remaining threats before becoming Shogun.
In this way, It could be argued that of all things introduced by Westerners muskets were the most important due to the firepower’s aid in Nobunaga’ peak of power, which was a key feature to Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康) coming to power after him and therefore, the Edo Jidai (江戸時代).
As well as bringing western guns to Japan, Portuguese trade also lead to trade with Spain and introduced new foods, such as the custom modern-day sushi shop feature of tempura.
Adams had been on board a Dutch trading ship, Liefde, which had originally set travel for South Africa, and only supposed to change course to Japan if that failed. When they arrived in the year 1600 it was the Portuguese missionaries - not wanting a man of Protestant religion in Japan as they were already trying to convert people to Catholicism - who claimed Adams’ and his crew of approximately 20 (surviving from over 100) to be pirates, and therefore crucified. Nevertheless, it was on Shogun Tokugawa’s command that they be spared from prison and death. Adams met Tokugawa for questioning three times between May and June that year, at the end of which Adams requested trade privileges to be opened to the Dutch like they had allowed for Portugal.
Tokugawa was intrigued by Adams’ knowledge of ships and requested him to build the first two Western-styled ships in Japan, ultimately developing the Japanese standard Red Seal ships. Adams also told the Shogun of England and assured that his people would not try to convert Japanese civilians to their religion. Furthermore, Adams became a major player in opening trade to the English, and in 1618 establishing a trading factory for that purpose, although it dissolved three years later after his death.
Taken from Wikimedia
Sengoku Jidai, the warring states period, came to an end as Japan was finally unified and Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun. Despite trusting Adams, Tokugawa appeared to generally dislike Westerners – especially Christianity, which was a religion where people worshiped a god over him, and he took care in abolishing it in 1614. Trade was later blocked, all except the Dutch trading point at Nagasaki harbour, mostly due to Portuguese missionary’s attempts of sneaking in.