The Samurai Summary

The Samurai is a 1980 novel centered on a Japanese samurai and a Spanish priest in the seventeenth century, when Christianity was largely disallowed in Japan.

  • Rokumon Hasekura, a samurai, joins the Franciscan Father Velasco and several Japanese merchants and envoys on a voyage to Mexico.
  • The group travel to Mexico City in hopes of establishing a trading partnership and then continue on to Spain, where they have an audience with the pope.
  • Having converted to Christianity for the sake of the mission, Hasekura is executed after returning to Japan, while Velasco is burned at the stake.

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Last Updated on June 10, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 822

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Christians are persecuted in Japan, except in the northeast region, the domain of Lord Ishida. Under orders from the shogun to create a port in the northeast to rival Nagasaki, and to open up trade routes to Europe, Lord Ishida builds a large galleon using Spanish labor and expertise. He then sends a delegation in this galleon to Mexico. On board are four envoys, including Rokumon Hasekura, the samurai of the title; the Spanish priest Father Vrais Luis Velasco, who acts as interpreter; and a group of Japanese merchants with wares to sell in the New World.

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After a perilous voyage, the galleon reaches Acapulco, and the delegation proceeds overland to Mexico City. Velasco, who is overwhelmingly ambitious to become bishop of Japan and establish Christianity—and in particular the Franciscan order—on a firm footing there, contrives to have a group of Japanese merchants baptized. This secures the goodwill of the archbishop and the viceroy, who was initially reluctant to meet the Japanese delegation.

The viceroy receives his Japanese visitors, and Hasekura presents him with letters promising a warm welcome for Spanish Catholics in the northeast if a trading partnership can be established. However, the viceroy protests that he has no authority to agree to such a partnership, which requires the approval of the king in Madrid and perhaps even the pope in Rome. Velasco, who had wanted to travel on to Europe in any case, leads the delegation onward, across Mexico to Veracruz, in preparation for a voyage across the Atlantic. This is a dangerous journey, as there are insurrections against the Spanish along the route, but Velasco conceals these dangers from the Japanese envoys. One of their number, Matsuki Chusaku, who is more politically astute than the others, refuses to go with them and returns to Japan from Mexico. When the other envoys discover the danger for themselves, the most experienced soldier among them, Tanaka Tarozaemon, takes command of the expedition.

The envoys and Velasco eventually reach Veracruz and make a crossing of the Atlantic even longer and more arduous than their voyage across the Pacific to Mexico. Before they leave Veracruz, Velasco receives a letter from his uncle, who tells him that the Jesuits have been mustering opposition against his plans to send more missionaries to Japan and that he must be prepared to debate with them when he arrives in Madrid. Velasco believes that the surest way to guarantee success is to convert the Japanese envoys to Christianity.

When the envoys reach Madrid, Velasco finds that there is little enthusiasm for his project among the aristocracy or the clergy. His family try to dissuade him from proceeding. Nonetheless, Velasco goes before the Council of Bishops to debate with the Jesuit Father Valente. The debate is inconclusive, and Velasco remains certain that the bishops must be convinced by a demonstration of faith on the part of the Japanese envoys. He persuades them to undergo the rite of baptism, for the sake of the mission.

After the three envoys have been baptized, it appears that they will be accepted as ambassadors and granted an audience with the King of Spain. However, as soon as the Council of Bishops has announced this decision, news comes from Japan that Christianity has been banned there, and Christians are once again being persecuted throughout the country. Faced with an ignominious return, the envoys decide to go to Rome, to see if the pope has any better information about the situation in Japan than the Spanish king.

In Rome, the Japanese envoys and Velasco are granted an audience with the pope, but only after it is clear that their cause is hopeless. Tanaka reads the letter from Lord Ishida out loud, but no one understands it, except Velasco, who does not trouble to translate. The pope says that he will pray for Japan, but it is clear that no action will be taken.

The envoys retrace their steps to Mexico, where Tanaka commits ritual suicide. They cross the Pacific to Manila, where Velasco remains in the Franciscan monastery, while Nishi and Hasekura, the two remaining envoys, eventually find a ship to take them to Japan. Once they arrive, they find that the hostility to Christianity there is so extreme that they are treated with suspicion, despite the fact that their conversion was purely a matter of form. Although his conversion was insincere, the samurai begins to understand the appeal of Jesus, a man who suffered and who will never desert those who turn to him.

Velasco returns to Japan after a year in the Philippines. He is arrested and sent to jail, while the samurai is placed under house arrest due to his past association with Velasco and his conversion to Christianity. Velasco is burned at the stake and learns immediately before he dies that Hasekura and Nishi have also been executed for their conversion to Christianity.

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