Gulf of Cadiz, Spanish Coast
The wind was from the southwest as the fishing boat Estrella del Este approached the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. On their right stood the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, at which the great ships of the flota, the Spanish treasure fleet, were loaded and unloaded. On their left, the crew could see the salt marshes and sand dunes of Las Marismas.
The Estrella was not new to the trade, its paint bright and ironwork gleaming, a puppy barking as its master took it out hunting for the first time. Nor was it an old boat, its paint flaked off, its hull patched up again and again, an old hound which wearily rose to its feet when its master called it to the door. It was middle-aged . . . not unlike its captain.
Captain Luis stood at the prow, his hand shading his eyes as he studied the water ahead of him. From time to time he called instructions to his son, who held the tiller. They looked much alike. Each wore a feathered red wool bonete, a brown linen shirt with a hood further covering ears and chin, and over it a sea-blue jacket tied at the waist. Below the waist they wore baggy trousers and leather shoes. While both were olive-skinned, beardless, and shorter than the other fishermen on board, the son was a bit taller than the father, and he had his mother’s eyes.
The fishing boat passed easily over the sandbar at the mouth. The same could not be said of the galleons of the flota. They needed the guidance of the bar pilots of Sanlucar to find the ever-shifting deep channel, and even then, each year at least one galleon ran aground.
Luis and his crew were done with fishing for this trip, but the same was not true of the terns and gulls that incessantly patrolled the river. The river turned north, and their boat, Estrella, turned with it. They passed a salt pan. Some hunter, human or animal, invisible to Luis, startled the flamingos that were feeding on shellfish there and they rose all at once, reminding Luis of paper kites taking to the air.
Their destination was their home, the little town of Coria del Rio. It was perhaps eighteen leagues upriver from Sanlucar, and less than three downriver from the great city of Seville. While only ships of not more than three hundred tons could sail as far as Seville, the city was nonetheless the hub of the Indies trade. There, on the steps of its cathedral, captains and masters recruited their crews for voyages to the Americas, to Africa, to the Levant, or even to the Spice Islands. There, too, in part of the old Moorish palace, was the Casa de Contratación de Indias, the House of Trade with the Indies, which granted licenses to ships and crew, appointed the admiral and chief pilot of the flota, collected the king’s share of the proceeds of trade, and searched the returning ships for contraband.
As the Estrella continued its progress upriver, Luis remained vigilant. There were many sandy shallows on the Guadalquivir, not to mention the sunken hulks of galleons that had been wrecked on those shallows; a merchant vessel drawing more than four or five codos would take a full week to travel from Sanlucar to Seville, or back. The more lightly laden Estrella could travel much faster, if the wind was fair, but even it had to worry about snags.
Most of the fishermen of Coria del Rio contented themselves with river catch—shrimp, or perhaps albur de estero. But Luis was more venturesome and went into the storm- and corsair-plagued waters of the Gulf of Cadiz for tuna, swordfish, and other delicacies. They kept these alive in floating fish baskets trailing the Estrella. Of course, these had to be hauled in close whenever they rounded a snag.
Coria del Rio
Luis and his crew tied up the Estrella at the little dock in Coria, and carried most of the catch to the local fish market, which was only a few yards away. There was haggling, of course, but Luis dealt with the same man every week, and they knew the steps of the dance, both lead and follow. They shook hands at last and shared a cup of cheap wine to seal the deal. It was time for Luis to head home.
As a boat captain, rather than a mere hand, Luis had a house of his own. It was just one story, and made of whitewashed mud-brick covered with red roof tiles, but at least it wasn’t a mere hut, or shared with other families. This being Andalusia, it was square, with a central patio, which all of the rooms opened onto. A good part of the patio was devoted to his wife’s vegetable garden, where she grew artichokes and asparagus.
Luis was carrying one prize specimen, a large swordfish, that he had saved for his family. His wife looked up when he came in the door of their common room.
“Hello, I have brought dinner home for us, and I have coin, too. Our son has gone off with his friends, so we will eat without him.”
She came over and hugged him, “Welcome home. I will fry that up.”
As she prepared their meal, Luis relaxed in his chair. The walls of their common room were adorned, like any Spanish home, with crosses and religious pictures. Only a discerning eye would notice that several of these came from far away—from Madrid, from Genoa, even from Rome and Mexico City. They were, in fact, souvenirs of his travels.
The village of Coria del Rio was home mostly to farmers and fishermen. Most of the farmers had never even gone as far as Seville. Most of the fishermen lived off the river, not the sea.
But Luis—Luis do Japon—had crossed two oceans. Two decades ago, he had gone by the name of Kinzo. He had been a samurai, a retainer of the great daimyo Date Masamune. Date Masamune had given sanctuary to the Franciscan friar Luis Sotelo. Kinzo had been one of the Date clan samurai converted by Sotelo, and had taken the Christian name “Luis” in his honor. And Sotelo had taught Luis Latin and Spanish.
Consequently, Luis do Japon had been chosen to be a member of the honor guard of Date Masamune’s emissary to Spain and the Pope, Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga. The Hasekura embassy arrived in Seville in October 1614, and went on to visit Madrid, Rome, and many other cities. But by the time they returned to Seville in 1616, grim news had arrived from the Far East: In January 1614, all Christian missionaries were ordered to leave the “country of the kamis and the buddhas,” and it was made illegal for a samurai to be a Christian.
In 1617, the news was no better, but Lord Hasekura decided that it would be better to wait in Manila, close to home, than in Seville. He sailed west, but Luis was one of six Japanese who Hasekura ordered to stay in Spain, and “behave as good Catholics.”
Friar Sotelo was ordered to return to New Spain. Friar Sotelo’s brother, Don Diego de Cabrera, had wine and oil warehouses in Coria del Rio so, needing to settle the six Japanese somewhere, the friar arranged lodgings for them there, where his brother could keep an eye on them.
De Cabrera warned them that the authorities looked with suspicion on long-term foreign residents who were not married to Spanish women, and they took the hint. Luis married, and now had a teenage son and daughter.
If his wife’s family had hoped that by this marriage connection, they might eventually profit from Spanish trade with Japan, those hopes had not been realized. In 1624, the Shogun banned the Spanish, because the merchants smuggled in missionaries. There was still trade between Macao and Nagasaki, but that was controlled by the Portuguese. And of course, his family would have nothing to do with the Dutch heretics.
Nonetheless, the marriage had prospered, and some of his wife’s relatives were now merchants in Seville, with small investments in the flota trade. And Luis visited them when he had business in the city.
Triana suburb, Seville
As Luis do Japon walked along La Calle Larga, the main street of the Triana district, he became conscious that something was wrong. People stopped speaking as he approached, drew away as he came nigh, stared at him as he passed. One even made a sign to avert the evil eye.
Like every Spanish townsman, he walked the streets armed with a sword and knife. Unlike them, he carried the two swords of his former samurai rank, the katana and the shorter wakizashi, as well as a tanto, a dagger.
He surreptitiously made sure that they were all loose in their scabbards, and continued on, his head turning subtly back and forth to make sure that no one was following him with ill intent.
A fraction of his attention went to trying to decipher the reason for the hostility, as it might tell him who to be wary of. Did the fishermen of the Triana resent the intrusion of one from Coria del Rio? If so, it was vexing; he wasn’t even here to sell fish, but rather to get supplies that were available more cheaply in Seville than anywhere else.
A roof tile whizzed past his head. He dove into a stall, shouldered past those standing inside, and went out the back.
Luis remembered that one of his wife’s brothers lived a couple of streets over, closer than the chandler that was his original destination. He went there quickly and cautiously and knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” came a voice.
“Your brother-in-law, Luis. Let me in, in the name of God.”
There was a pause.
“Hurry!” Luis demanded.
The door opened. Juan Cardozo scowled at him. “I hope you have not brought trouble to this door.”
“The longer you leave me standing out here, the more likely that is to happen,” said Luis.
“Well, get in here, quick!”
As soon as the door closed behind them, Luis told Juan what had happened, and then asked, “So what grievance do the Sevillians have against fishermen from Coria?”
“It has nothing to do with Coria, and everything to do with you being Japanese. You haven’t heard?”
“Word only just hit the streets, but a year ago, a horde of your people sacked Manila, and killed every Spaniard in the city. A “president’s eyes only” correo came from Veracruz to the House of Trade this past week, on an aviso that sailed the Atlantic out of season, so of course many were curious. The House of Trade must have tried to keep it secret, but well . . .” He shrugged. “‘The crew of the aviso knew all about it. So soon the wenches in the taverns and brothels also knew. By now, it is all over the Triana.”
“How could Japan have attacked Manila?” asked Luis. “Manila is hundreds of miles from Japan, and we don’t have siege artillery. Or a fleet.”
Juan issued a mirthless chuckle. “Opinion in the taverns is divided as to whether the Japanese were transported there by the Dutch or by demons out of Hell.”
“Fuck!” said Luis. “So, when I walk outside, as soon as anyone sees my eyes . . .” As a full-blooded Japanese, his eyes had the characteristic epicanthic fold.
“Yes, you have a problem. If you were a medieval knight, you could put on your helmet and lower the visor. But you’d be a bit conspicuous in the here and now.”
“That’s true,” said Luis. He pulled a piece of paper and some coin out of his purse. “These are the supplies I was supposed to pick up at the chandler we use. Can you buy them and have them delivered to my boat, on the Arenal? It’s the Estrella, as I am sure you know, and we are beached in front of the Puerto de Macarena. In the meantime, I’ll figure out how to get out of Seville with my skin still attached.”
“Good luck on that,” said Juan. “But I’ll do what I can.”
That night, a tapada, a veiled woman, left Juan’s home, carrying a large bag.
“The veil itches,” said Luis.
“It was your idea. You rejected mine,” said Juan.
“I’d rather be a woman under a veil than a corpse in a coffin,” said Luis.
“Keep your voice down,” warned Juan. “In fact, don’t talk at all. You’re no castrato.”
As they progressed toward the Arenal, Luis fretted. His swords were hidden inside the bag, wrapped so they wouldn’t clink together. But that also meant that if it came to a fight, all he had was his dagger.
For that matter, even if his disguise weren’t penetrated, there was the matter of the law. For women to cover their faces was, in the view of the authorities, a sign that they had a licentious purpose. There was a fine of 3,000 marevedis for each offense. A night watchman might impose the fine, or at least demand a bribe to overlook it. The watchman might even insist that Luis remove the veil, in which case, well, he would need his dagger.
Even though he was a good Catholic, Luis found himself holding his breath as he approached the castle that stood at the Triana end of the bridge of boats that crossed the Guadalquivir to Seville proper. The castle that held the offices of the Holy Inquisition.
Despite these perils, Luis made it to the Estrella, unhindered.
Juan leaned toward him. “Your supplies should be on board, I had them delivered this afternoon. Good luck, and stay out of sight as much as you can until things blow over.” He hurried off.
Luis hefted the bag and lowered it over the deck rail. He tried to be quiet but the bag didn’t cooperate, and the deckhand sleeping on the deck stirred. He raised his head, and said, “Well, hello, young lady, come aboard and let’s get to know each other better. You can even keep the veil on . . . .”
“It’s me, you idiot,” whispered Luis. “Keep your voice down and take my bag.”
“Captain?” the deckhand squeaked.
“Help me aboard. This damn dress is a bit restrictive.”
The deckhand, fortunately, was from Luis’ wife’s side of the family and looked perfectly Hispanic. Hence, he had not encountered any problems during the day, other than losing half his pay at gambling and spending the other half on the booze he had just been sleeping off.
His mind had been on dice, drink, and dames, not necessarily in that order, and if anyone in his vicinity had complained about the Japanese attack, he had been oblivious to it. Now, however, he was quick enough to understand that they had a problem. Or at least Luis had a problem and was making it his problem, too.
“What do you want me to do?” he sighed.
“Get the boat in the water at first light. Ask for help from your neighbors.”
‘Won’t they wonder how I got here by myself?”
“Tell them your skipper is sleeping off a drunk and will go into a rage if awakened prematurely. I’ll be hiding under a tarp.”
The following morning, Luis felt the boat lurch. As instructed, the deckhand had gotten help hauling the boat back into the river. Luis heard him call out his thanks as he poled them out from the bank. The current took hold of the boat, and they were on their way.
“You can come out now, Captain.”
Luis emerged slowly, shading his eyes with his hand as if the dawn light was bothering him. It was, but the main reason was to make it that much harder for anyone nearby to see the shape of his eyes.
Fortunately, even here at Seville, the Guadalquivir River was broad enough so that with the Estrella drifting down the center, no one on the bank could tell that he was Asian. And the crews of the few boats near enough to matter were intent on their own business, not searching for Japanese.
Luis’ home, Coria del Rio
Luis, his two fellow samurai, their adult sons, and the heirs of Luis’ deceased fellow guardsmen sat on chairs in Luis’ common room, sipping wine from pigskin containers.
“My vote is to leave,” said Gonzalo do Japon. “Matters are going badly for the Spanish Crown, neh? A Spanish army defeated by the heretics of Grantville. And Spanish rule over the Netherlands is in, shall we say, even more doubt than before.
“The king will need money for more troops, but the loss of Manila means loss of revenue from at least one, maybe two, Manila galleon runs.
“I expect that the Crown will raise taxes, which will cause . . . disgruntlement . . . here. How better to distract the populace from their new burden than to appeal to their honor, to say that it is necessary to put the Japanese in their place.
“This is not a problem that will blow over in a week, or a month. We will be living with this for years.”
Luis nodded. “There’s certainly a chance you’re right. What do you propose?”
“We can take a ship to Rome. Nowhere was our embassy more warmly welcomed than in Rome. We even had an audience with the Holy Father. And our lord was named a Senator of Rome!”
Luis heard several coughs and indistinct murmurs from behind the screen dividing the common room. On the other side the Spanish wives and adult daughters of the ex-samurai sat on cushions, listening to the debate but not participating. Not yet, at least.
“And are you proposing that we go to Rome with or without our families? ”
Luis heard more coughs and murmurings.
“With them, of course,” said Gonzalo hastily. “And our valuables, and perhaps some of our household goods, if they aren’t too costly to transport.”
Luis snorted. “And how will we support them? I do not think that there is a shortage of fishermen in Rome. The Pope who welcomed us, Paulus Quintus, died in 1621. And his successor in 1623. We have no sure expectation of patronage from Papa Urbanus Octavus.
“Did you think we could become translators? Our knowledge of Japanese is now rusty from disuse, and few missionaries are still sent there.”
“Our katanas, at least, are not rusty,” said Gonzalo. “We could hire out as guards or teach our fighting arts.”
“And how often have you practiced your fighting skills since you settled in Coria del Rio? Back home, when I practiced iaijutsu, I would do a thousand fast draws in a row. And that would have been considered a normal iaijutsu workout. ”
Gonzalo looked sheepish. “Not daily, certainly. I thought that becoming a Spanish fisherman was like taking the tonsure and retiring from the world, or choosing to be a farmer rather than a samurai after the Separation Edict—the beginning of a ‘second life,’ in which martial arts were no longer central. I do kata still, but as, as a form of meditation, when I am not too tired from a day’s fishing.”
“Anyway,” said their fellow samurai, Juan do Japon, “there are risks just in getting to Sanlucar and finding a ship to take us to Rome, or anywhere else, for that matter.”
Gonzalo took a puff on a pipe. The Portuguese had introduced tobacco smoking to the Japanese, and the Spanish were equally addicted. “We . . . we could pool our resources, and buy a ship, and crew it ourselves. And our Spanish-born relatives can front for us until we are on the open sea.”
Luis shook his head. “Most of them have never even been through the Straits. And you think they will agree to leave Spain forever? No, we need to find a better solution. Let me talk to de Cabrera, since he settled us here in the first place. I will send word begging for him to come here, since we don’t wish to chance the streets of Seville right now.”
“The great irony,” said Don Diego de Cabrera, “is that however bad it may be for Spain in general, the fall of Manila will lead to the rise of Seville. The ships of the flota carry European goods from Seville to New Spain and Tierra Firme. But the galleons of the Pacific carry Chinese goods from Manila to New Spain, undercutting us. Why, the Chinese silk weavers even imitate Christian religious art!
“The Council of Seville has repeatedly petitioned the kings of Spain to restrict, even abolish, the Manila trade. The king’s order of 1593 limited the volume of the trade, required the payment of duties before the goods could be sold in New Spain, and prohibited their transshipment to Tierra Firme, but the Manila and Acapulco merchants have maliciously flouted the king’s will.”
“So we should just keep our heads down, and this will all blow over soon?” asked Luis hopefully.
De Cabrera shook his head sorrowfully. “It is bad enough when Spain is defeated by another European power, like the Swede. It cannot disregard an attack by a pagan nation. I have no doubt that some counteraction will be taken. If not seeking to recapture Manila, then perhaps a bombardment of some Japanese city.”
“Yes, yes,” said Luis, “but that is a matter for princes. Spain has been at war with the Dutch heretics off and on for many years, and the Dutch were, my brother told me, the shogun’s allies against Manila, yet Dutchmen have come to Seville to trade since I first came to this country. They may be watched by the Inquisition, they may be charged special fees, but if they behave themselves they have no more fear of violence in the city than a Spaniard would. Why should one from Japan fare worse? Here in Coria, our neighbors have known us for decades. They know us to be good Catholics and loyal to Spain.”
“It is the way of the world,” said de Cabrera. “You look different. The news from Manila besmirches the honor of Spain, and yet most Spaniards are impotent to address the true cause of their grief and anger. When you walk by, they see that by persecuting you, they can restore their honor. It is not your neighbors, but my neighbors, who do not know you, who you rightly fear.”
“So, should we flee to some other Catholic country?” asked Gonzalo.
De Cabrera pondered the question. “No . . . it is a last resort. You will be able to take only a portion of your property, and selling the rest in haste, you are likely to get a poor price. The attempt at flight might be detected, and taken as an admission of guilt, that you are spies for your emperor. Or as an admission that you have reverted to paganism, and so exciting the attention of the Inquisition. Even if you safely leave Sanlucar, the crew of the ship that offers you passage might seek to take advantage of you. When the moriscos were expelled from Spain, some were robbed, raped, even murdered.
“No, you must speak to your wives, and have them speak to their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters, and those in turn speak to their relations.
“Truthfully, now. Does your parish priest think well of you?”
“I am sure he does,” said Juan. “Of the six of us who came to Corio in 1614, only three are still alive, but we have never missed a service in the twenty-odd years we have lived here, even when we have been sick or injured.”
“That is good,” said de Cabrera. “I will speak to him, and see whether he might preach a sermon that will promote good will.”
The three ex-Japanese followed de Cabrera’s advice, and received assurances from their relatives and neighbors that in Coria, at least, they were held blameless for the actions of their distant former countrymen.
“Having the support of the people of Coria is gratifying,” said Gonzalo, “but how can we fish on the river? Or buy or sell in Seville or Sanlucar? Close up, they’ll see that we have almond eyes.”
“That’s a problem,” Luis admitted.
“We could pretend to be mestizo,” said Juan. “When we were in New Spain, I saw many indios who could pass for nihonjin if they wore kimono and geta. And at least a few of the mestizo took after them.”
“There are mestizo in Seville, but only a few come with each flota, and they usually don’t settle here. And I suspect that if they look much like us, they are in danger of being taken to be nihonjin and lynched, given the current mood of the city.”
Gonzalo spat. “I suppose we will have to become farmers and never leave Coria again. Stay away from the riverbank, too.”
“Not necessarily,” said Luis. “I have an idea. Do you have your reading glasses handy?” Few of the inhabitants of Coria del Rio were literate, but the converted samurai had been literate in their homeland and had learned to read Latin.
“Go get them,” said Luis. And while Gonzalo was away on this errand, Luis built up the fire.
“Here they are,” said Gonzalo.
“Give them to me,” said Luis, and once they were in his hands, he held them over the fire.
“What are you doing?”
“You are a fisherman, you have smoked fish, yes? I am smoking your lenses.”
As Gonzalo watched Luis do just that, he asked, “Whatever gave you this idea?”
“I had two recollections that mixed together. There was a Chinese scholar at Lord Date’s court. He came to Japan after the famines of 1590 and 1591, I believe. I was in attendance on the lord and they were talking about judicial proceedings. The scholar mentioned that in China, judges wear eyeglasses with lenses made of smoky quartz, so that the accused cannot guess what they are thinking from their expressions.
“So that seemed relevant, but I have no idea where to find smoky quartz here in Spain, and even if I did, it would probably be too expensive. But then I thought about how soot builds up on glass lanterns . . . .”
Gonzalo tried out the smoked glasses the next morning. The deposit of soot on the lenses indeed made it harder for passers-by to see the shape of his eyes, even in the bright morning light.
“It works,” he told Luis, “but I wonder what will happen to the soot coating when it rains. Or if we’re out in the open ocean and get hit by a wave, or even just sea spray. You think we could use mica, instead?” Mica was sometimes used instead of glass in ship’s lanterns and in spectacles for stone and metal workers.
“Isn’t it expensive?” asked Luis doubtfully. Most mica came to Spain from Russia or India. A little came from New Spain; there were trade routes still in operation that brought mica to the Olmecs and Maya of Mexico from sources unknown.
“We can buy the rejects,” said Gonzalo. “The sheets that are green or amber.”
“Or we can have lenses made locally, from green glass.”
The Japanese and half-Japanese fishermen of Coria del Rio started wearing green-tinted glasses that hid their distinctive eyes from any xenophobic Spaniards. So, too, did a few of their whole-blooded Spanish neighbors and relations, as a show of solidarity. They all found, much to their surprise and delight, that the glasses had another advantage; it made it easier to see in the bright sun of Andalusia. The custom of wearing the tinted glasses spread, first to other Corian fishermen, and then to the farmers as well.
And so the people of Coria del Rio came to be known along the length of the Guadalquivir as gente de ojos verdes — the “green-eyed ones.”
Author’s Note: The names of the Japanese who remained in Coria del Rio is not known, because the parish church records were destroyed by fire. “Kinzo” is the name of one who went to Rome. There are several accounts of the Hasekura embassy, and they are not in complete agreement with each other. I have relied mostly on Abraham, “The Japon Lineage in Spain,” in Japanese and Nikkei at Home and Abroad, and Meriweather, “Life of Date Masamune,” in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan. The embassy was sent by Date Masamune, who is a major character in my 1636: Seas of Fortune.
The full story of the Dutch-Japanese assault on Manila (and Cavite) will appear in 1636: Mandate of Heaven. Eric and I handed in the manuscript in Dec. 2015, but best guess is that it will be published in April-June 2018. Just to be clear, the Japanese did not in fact kill every Spaniard in the city of Manila, that’s merely what was rumored on the streets of Seville.
Eyeglasses were invented in Italy in the late thirteenth century. By the fifteenth century, they were widely exported throughout Europe, and the cheapest cost just a couple of shillings.
Glasses were worn by both sexes, and by both old and young, and the higher the social class, the larger the lenses. See Desfourneaux, Daily Life in Spain in the Golden Age 155-6 (1966).