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Modern History Sourcebook:
Will Adams:
My Coming to Japan, 1611

[Tappan Introduction]: Will Adams was the first Englishman to make his home in Japan. His knowledge of shipbuilding made him so useful to the emperor that, although he was treated with honors and liberality, he was not allowed to leave the country. The Japanese of the street in Yedo which was named for him still hold an annual celebration in his memory. The letter from which the following extracts are taken was written in 1611. It begins with his departure from the coast of Peru.

IT was agreed that we should leave the coast of Peru and direct our course for Japan, having understood that cloth was good merchandise there and also how upon that coast of Peru the king's ships were out seeking us, having knowledge of our being there, understanding that we were weak of men, which was certain, for one of our fleet for hunger was forced to seek relief at the enemies' hands in Saint Ago. So we stood away directly for Japan, and passed the equinoctial line together, until we came in twenty-eight degrees to the northward of the line, in which latitude we were about the twenty-third of February, 1600. We had a wondrous storm of wind as ever I was in, with much rain, in which storm we lost our consort, whereof we were very sorry. Nevertheless with hope that in Japan we should meet the one the other, we proceeded on our former intention for Japan, and in the height of thirty degrees sought the northernmost cape of the fore-named island, but found it not by reason that it lay false in all cards and maps and globes; for the cape lies in thirty-five degrees and one half, which is a great difference. In the end, in thirty-two degrees and one half we came in sight of the land, being the nineteenth day of April. So that between the Cape of St. Maria and Japan we were four months and twenty-two days; at which time there were no more than six besides myself that could stand upon his feet.

So we in safety let fall our anchor about a league from a place called Bungo. At which time came to us many boats and we suffered them to come aboard, being not able to resist them, which people did us no harm, neither of us understanding the one the other. The king of Bungo showed us great friendship, for he gave us a house and land, where we landed our sick men, and had all refreshing that was needful. We had when we came to anchor in Bungo, sick and whole, four and twenty men, of which number the next day three died. The rest for the most part recovered, saving three, which lay a long time sick, and in the end also died.

In the which time of our being here, the emperor hearing of us sent presently five galleys, or frigates, to us to bring me to the court where His Highness was, which was distant from Bungo about eighty English leagues. So that as soon as I came before him, he demanded of me of what country we were. So I answered him in all points, for there was nothing that he demanded not, both concerning war and peace between country and country; so that the particulars here to write would be too tedious. And for that time I was commanded to prison, being well used, with one of our mariners that came with me to serve me.

A two days after, the emperor called me again, demanding the reason of our coming so far. I answered: We are a people that sought all friendship with all nations, and to have trade in all countries, bringing such merchandise as our country did afford into strange lands in the way of traffic. He demanded also as concerning the wars between the Spaniards or Portugal and our country and the reasons; the which I gave him to understand of all things, which he was glad to hear, as it seemed to me.

In the end I was commanded to prison again, but my lodging was bettered in another place. So that thirty-nine days I was in prison, hearing no more news, neither of our ship nor captain, whether he were recovered of his sickness or not, nor of the rest of the company; in which time I looked every day to die, to be crossed [crucified] as the custom of justice is in Japan, as hanging in our land. In which long time of imprisonment, the Jesuits and the Portuguese gave many evidences against me and the rest to the emperor that we were thieves and robbers of all nations, and, were we suffered to live, it should be against the profit of His Highness and the land; for no nation should come there without robbing; His Highness's justice being executed, the rest of our nation without doubt should fear and not come here any more: thus daily making access to the emperor and procuring friends to hasten my death. But God, that is always merciful at need, showed mercy unto us and would not suffer them to have their wills of us. In the end, the emperor gave them answer that we as yet had not done to him nor to none of his land any harm or damage; therefore against reason and justice to put us to death. If our countries had war the one with the other, that was no cause that he should put us to death; with which they were out of heart that their cruel pretense failed them. For which God be forever-more praised.

Now in this time that I was in prison the ship was commanded to be brought so near to the city where the emperor was as she might be (for grounding her); the which was done. Forty-one days being expired, the emperor caused me to be brought before him again, demanding of me many questions more, which were too long to write. In conclusion he asked me whether I were desirous to go to the ship to see my countrymen. I answered very gladly, the which he bade me do. So I departed and was free from imprisonment. And this was the first news that I had that the ship and company were come to the city. So that with a rejoicing heart I took a boat and went to our ship, where I found the captain and the rest recovered of their sickness; and when I came aboard with weeping eyes was received, for it was given them to understand that I was executed long since. Thus, God be praised, all we that were left alive came together again.

From the ship all things were taken out, so that the clothes which I took with me on my back I only had. All my instruments and books were taken. Not only I lost what I had in the ship, but from the captain and the company generally what was good or worth the taking was carried away; all which was done unknown to the emperor. So in process of time having knowledge of it, he commanded that they which had taken our goods should restore it to us back again; but it was here and there so taken that we could not get it again, saving 50,000 R in ready money was commanded to be given us and in his presence brought and delivered in the hands of one that was made our governor, who kept them in his hands to distribute them unto us as we had need for the buying of victuals for our men with other particular charges. In the end the money was divided according to every man's place; but this was about two years that we had been in Japan, and when we had a denial that we should not have our ship, but to abide in Japan. So that the part of every one being divided, every one took his way where he thought best. In the end, the emperor gave every man, much as was worth eleven or twelve ducats a year, namely, myself, the captain, and mariners all alike.

So in process of four or five years the emperor called me, as divers times he had done before. So one time above the rest he would have me to make him a small ship. I answered that I was no carpenter and had no knowledge thereof. "Well, do your endeavor," said he; "if it be not good, it is no matter." Wherefore at his command I built him a ship of the burden of eighty tons or thereabout; which ship being made in all respects as our manner is, he coming aboard to see it, liked it very well; by which means I came in favor with him, so that I came often in his presence, who from time to time gave me presents, and at length a yearly stipend to live upon, much about seventy ducats by the year with two pounds of rice a day daily. Now being in such grace and favor by reason I learned him some points of geometry and understanding of the art of mathematics with other things, I pleased him so that what I said he would not contrary. At which my former enemies did wonder, and at this time must entreat me to do them a friendship, which to both Spaniards and Portuguese have I done, recompensing them good for evil. So to pass my time to get my living, it hath cost me great labor and trouble at the first; but God hath blessed my labor.

In the end of five years I made supplication to the king to go out of this land, desiring to see my poor wife and children according to conscience and nature. With the which request the emperor was not well pleased, and would not let me go any more for my country, but to bide in his land. Yet in process of time, being in great favor with the emperor, I made supplication again, by reason we had news that the Hollanders were in Shian and Patania; which rejoiced us much with hope that God should bring us to our country again by one means or other. So I made supplication again, and boldly spoke myself with him, at which he gave me no answer. I told him if he would permit me to depart, I would be a means that both the English and Hollanders should come and traffic there. But by no means he would let me go. I asked him leave for the captain, the which he presently granted me. So by that means my captain got leave, and in a Japan junk sailed to Pattan; and in a year's space came to Hollanders. In the end, he went from Patane to Ior, where he found a fleet of nine sail, of which fleet Matleef was general, and in this fleet he was made master again, which fleet sailed to Malacca and fought with an armado of Portugal; in which battle he was shot and presently died; so that, as I think, no certain news is known whether I be living or dead. Therefore I do pray and entreat you in the name of Jesus Christ to do so much as to make my being here in Japan known to my poor wife, in a manner a widow and my two children fatherless; which thing only is my greatest grief of heart and conscience. I am a man not unknown in Ratcliffe and Limehouse, by name to my good Master Nicholas Diggines and M. Thomas Best and M. Nicholas Isaac and William Isaac, brothers, with many others; also to M. William Jones and M. Becket. Therefore may this letter come to any of their hands or the copy, I do know that compassion and mercy is so that my friends and kindred shall have news that I do as yet live in this vale of my sorrowful pilgrimage; the which thing again and again I do desire for Jesus Christ his sake.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song, and Art, Volume I: China, Japan, and the Islands of the Pacific, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), pp. 325-331.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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