The Portuguese in Japan

Discover the story presented on the Namban Silkscreens

Namban Screens (1601/1610) by Kano schoolNational Museum Soares dos Reis

The presence of the Portuguese, namban-jin, in Japan, starting in the mid-16th century was a source of great inspiration for Japanese artist of the time.

Set on a gold-leaf background, this composition created by the Kano School details the historical moment of the arrival of Portuguese sailors in Japan.

On the left hand side the nau can be seen arriving. To the right, sailors and merchants go about their business on the pier.

The ship is a significant vessel for its time, having three masts a forecastle and an aftercastle. The balcony of the stern was used for defence. This was also the location of the captain's quarters, whereupon his chair (with a cover) would be placed.

The row-boats carry with them to the pier all types of merchandise.

Silk kept in rolls was purchased by the Portuguese in Guangzhou (China), was very sought after by the Japanese elites.

There is a narrative to this composition: the captain, having already disembarked looks on as sailors manoeuvre the ship into the pier.

The clothes depicted are very elaborate, their fabric, accessories and color have all been rendered in detail, consequently reiterating social distinctions between slaves and nobleman. The figures have been stylised and their facial features simplified.

This is the standard depiction of a Portuguese person in these silkscreens: protruding nose, hair, beard, moustache and dark eyes.

In the second screen of the pair, golden clouds delimit locations and events. In the bottom, a street filled with mercantile activity is depicted. At the top of the screen we are shown the residence of Jesuit missionaries.

In this scene a merchant adjusts a set of scales to weigh the silver used to pay for the merchandise.

Here we are presented with a soroban (abacus) a traditional Japanese device for doing sums, it used to run the accounts of this lucrative trade. This instrument is seldom seen in namban screens.

The goods exchanged are presented in a shop: heaped rolls of silk, and symbols of western attire including swords and hats.

This chair is an exotic object - it is a symbol of different cultural customs.

These Portuguese noblemen, easily identified by their outfits and gold crucifixes stroll through the port.

A crossing of paths on a Japanese port - a Portuguese nobleman holds his hat in his hands whilst standing next to a missionary resident.

Jesuit missionaries outside the door of the mission.

The christian mission is marked by a cross. Inside a figure sits holding a cup of tea, a symbol that Japanese customs have been adopted by the missionaries.

Credits: Story

Curator: Ana Cristina Almeida (MNSR)
Content: Paula Oliveira (MNSR)
Support: Mafalda Macedo (MNSR volunteer)
Digital Production: Luis Ramos Pinto (DGPC)
Translation: Luis Ramos Pinto (DGPC)
Photographic Credits: Google Arts & Culture
Thanks: Google Arts & Culture

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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