Japanese Prince to visit Spain’s ‘samurai’ town

Crown Prince Naruhito launches Monday a celebration of Japan's 400-year relationship with Spain on a visit that will take him to an Andalusian town where many residents still carry the name "Japón" to honour the Japanese who visited in the 17th century.

Japanese Prince to visit Spain's 'samurai' town
The Andalusian town of Coria del Río is home to around 600 people who may be descended from members of a 17th century Japanese diplomatic mission. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

Naruhito, the 53-year-old son and heir of Emperor Akihito, begins a week-long visit with formal niceties including a meeting with the Spanish royal family and the opening of a Japan-Spain business cooperation council.

But the prince will leave Madrid on Thursday to tour other cities and to visit the small town of Coria del Río, population about 30,000, not far from the Andalusian capital of Seville in southern Spain.

There, Naruhito will visit a statue to the samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga, who led a historic seven-year diplomatic mission to Europe — Japan's first — that departed Japan in October 1613 and arrived in Spain a year later.

Tsunenaga, who was baptized during his time in Spain, travelled to Coria del Rio on the Guadalquivir River, where he stayed for a period. Some of the Japanese delegation are believed to have stayed on even after his return to Japan in 1620.

Hundreds of residents in Coria, as it is known locally, carry the family name "Japón" to mark their supposed Japanese ancestry.

The youngest of these, Carmen, was born on March 10th and is the daughter of Juan Francisco Japón Carvajal, reported Spanish newspaper El País on Sunday. 

According to the Spanish media, many babies in the town are born with the "Mongolian spot", a temporary bruise-coloured birthmark that is common among people of north Asia but which can also occur among Europeans.

While in Coria del Río, Naruhito will see a bronze statue to Tsunenaga, erected to mark the first Japanese diplomatic mission to Spain.

While in Madrid, Naruhito's agenda includes a meeting with Spain's Crown Prince Felipe on Monday, opening a Japan-Spain business cooperation meeting Tuesday and being hosted for lunch in his honour on the same day by King Juan Carlos and the royal family.

On Thursday, he goes to the northwestern university city of Salamanca before heading to Coria del Río and Seville on Friday. The Japanese royal visits the pilgrims' destination of Santiago de Compostela on Saturday before returning to Japan.

The Japan–Spain celebrations will feature a string of concerts and exhibitions including a collection of Japanese prints going back to the 17th century to go on display from Tuesday at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

There will also be an exhibition about the 17th century Japanese mission at Seville's Archivo de Indias.

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