Japan as Seen by Foreigners in History

Japan as Seen by Foreigners in History – 歴史上の外国人が見た日本

[Echoes of Japan – April 2024 Issue]


Among the historical figures widely known in Japan, many foreigners visited Japan and left comments or episodes about the country.


At the end of the 16th century, when Japan was in the Sengoku period, the world was said to be in the Age of Exploration.


 Christian missionary Francis XAVIER comes to Japan from Portugal for missionary work.


Xavier and his missionary group stated in letters that the Japanese people possess splendid culture and high morals, surpassing any other non-Christians, valuing honor more than money within their hierarchical society.


“History of Japan” written by the missionary Luis FROIS has become a valuable source for understanding medieval history.


It is said that this document strongly reflects the individual’s position and emotions, as it highly praises ODA Nobunaga, the ruler of this era, while harshly criticizing TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi, who succeeded him in unifying the country.


Nobunaga, who adopted Western civilization, was tolerant of Christian missionary work. Hideyoshi inherited Nobunaga’s policies but upon learning that the Portuguese were buying and enslaving Japanese people, he banned missionary work and expelled the missionaries.


From the beginning of the Edo period when the country closed its doors, through the opening of Japan in the late Edo period, to the early Meiji period (17th to 19th centuries), many records exist where foreign visitors wrote about their impressions of Japan.


The German physician Philipp SIEBOLD arrived in Japan as a Dutchman and was impressed by the unmanned vending stalls, where priced items were displayed, in Edo (modern-day Tokyo).


 Heinrich SCHLIEMANN, a German archaeologist, noted that the boatman returned him extra money when he rode a ferry in Japan.


 Also, many foreigners who have visited Japan have left numerous comments about the country.


These comments cover a wide range of topics, including the beauty of nature and the richness of the four seasons, as well as Japan’s expertise in learning from foreign cultures, such as which flowers are planted in each house and the literacy of the common people.


It can be said that these cultural aspects praised by foreigners have been inherited in present-day Japan.


Leave a Reply