Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Havana, Cuba Part 2: Keicho Embassy of 1613

About 120 years after Cristobal Colon’s landing in Cuba, Rocuyemon Foxecura, or Hasekura (1571-1622), the chief delegate of the Keicho Embassy (as it was later referred to historically) and his troupe of 20 took to the sea from Veracruz, Mexico to Havana, Cuba on board the Spanish Armada in July 1614 on their way to Europe. Rocuyemon was a Samurai retainer serving a powerful Sendai Daimyo Date Masamune (1567-1636), who was close to Taiko Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa Shogunate. His mission was to open up trade relations with Espana and Nueva Espana (Mexico) and to ask the Vatican Pope to send missionaries to Sendai.

Rocuyemon was accompanied by Luis Tesolo, a Franciscan friar, as assistant and interpreter. Although the Embassy was cordially received in Europe, the answers they got were noncommittal both from Spain and Rome, as it happened at a time when Japan was moving toward the suppression of Christianity. What they found upon return from an eight year absence was Christian persecution and Tokugawa’s forced isolation policy. Rocuyemon died in obscurity shortly after.

The very existence of the travels of Rocuyemon was forgotten in Japan until the reopening of the country after the Meiji Restoration. In 1873, Tomomi Iwakura, head of Japanese embassy to Europe, learned about the Keicho Mission and was surprised when he was shown documents during their visit to Venice, Italy.

The rediscovery of Rocuyemon’s embassy inspired a community in Sendai and their efforts culminated in obtaining an UNESCO Memory of the World Listing designated for 1) Portrait of Rocuyemon, 2) Certificate of Roman Citizenship and 3) Portrait of Pope Paul V. Since the beginning of the new millennium, Sendai Ikuei Gakuen (Junior and Senior High school) has been exchanging students with Cuban counterparts for sports and music events. When the Ikuei Gakuen celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2001, Ikuei donated Rocuyemon’s statue to Havana City. Citizens of Sendai raised funds to send 30 students for the unveiling ceremony at Malecon on the waterfront.

The Cuban government conferred a decoration to Ikuei Gakuen Principal Kato in 2011. Despite the damage from the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami the same year, about 400 Sendai citizens took part in the celebration in Havana and prayed with Cubans for the disaster victims and the quick recovery of Sendai and areas hit hard.

2013 was the year of the 400th anniversary of Rocuyemon’s visit. Rocuyemon has surely reestablished his fame and historical significance after 400 years. His statue in Havana is positioned such that the fan he is holding points to Rome from Havana.

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