It is exactly 400 years since the samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga established the first ever diplomatic contact between Japan and Spain when, after a 12-month journey, his ship made its landfall in the small town of Coria del Rio on the River Guadalquivir in Andalusia.
And to commemorate that encounter, Prince Naruhito, pictured, the heir to the Japanese throne, ensured that part of his state visit to Spain last week included a visit to Coria del Rio. Among those who greeted him were some of the hundreds of Coria del Rio modern-day inhabitants whose surname is Japón.
Japón is Spanish for Japan and indicative, the Coria del Rio inhabitants claim, that some of Tsunenaga’s group of accompanying nobles stayed behind after their three-year visit to Italy and Spain and married local women.
Historians have backed up this theory, pointing out that Japón first appears as a surname in 1642 in Coria del Rio, some 30 years later. The modern-day Japóns from Coria include the rector of Andalusia’s International University, Juan Manuel Suárez Japón, and a former football referee, José Japón Sevilla. The youngest Japón, Carmen, was born on 10 March this year and is the daughter of Juan Francisco Japón Carvajal, president of the Hasekura Tsunenaga Hispano-Japanese association.
To commemorate the four centuries of links between the two cultures, Prince Naruhito planted a cherry tree (a symbol of friendship in Japan) next to Hasekura’s statue – itself a present from Sendai, the town where he set sail, to Coria del Rio in the early 1990s.