Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 188
The two main characters of the book are a Japanese warrior named Hasekura and a Spanish Franciscan missionary, Father Valesco. Throughout the novel, Hasekura is simply referred to as "the samurai," and the reader gains insights through the ever-evolving, challenging relationship between the samurai and Valesco. Both characters are authentic,...
(The entire section contains 1305 words.)
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- Critical Essays
The two main characters of the book are a Japanese warrior named Hasekura and a Spanish Franciscan missionary, Father Valesco. Throughout the novel, Hasekura is simply referred to as "the samurai," and the reader gains insights through the ever-evolving, challenging relationship between the samurai and Valesco. Both characters are authentic, offering very different (Eastern versus Western) perspectives on religion and culture. Other characters are mentioned in the development of the book, such as merchants, villagers, the family of the samurai, and four Japanese warriors, as well as the Japanese military leader, Tokugawa.
Additionally, the book gives slight reference to a few Catholic bishops and a high-ranking cardinal in the Vatican with whom Father Valesco tries to work for the acceptance of the Japanese. The Pope is also included as a minor character with whom the Japanese envoy meets in hopes of gaining approval for trade and partnership, contingent upon conversion. However, these are all secondary characters of the story.
With a clear focus on the personal struggles, beliefs, doubts, and discoveries of his two main characters, author Shūsaku Endō highlights elements of shared humanity throughout the globe.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512
Rokuemon Hasekura (roh-KEW-eh-mon), a rural samurai (military knight) with the rank of lance-corporal (yari-goch) in His Lordship’s gun corps. He is the master of the family fief in the marshland of northeastern Japan, a feudal vassal of the most powerful daimy (feudal nobleman) of the region. A short, well-built man in his early thirties, he has sunken eyes, high cheekbones, a flat nose, and long black hair tied up with white ribbon. Unprepossessing in appearance, he seems more a peasant than a samurai. Although he is a man of feeling, he never allows his face to register his emotions. Politically naïve, he is a simple man of few words and trusts his feudal superiors implicitly, granting them unquestioning obedience. Appointed by His Lordship to serve as an envoy to the Spanish viceroy of Nueva España (New Spain, modern Mexico), he functions as a heroic but gullible scapegoat, or “holy fool,” in the game of national politics. A confirmed Buddhist, he becomes an insincere Christian.
Lord Ishida, Hasekura’s immediate feudal superior and patron, a plump, dignified nobleman given to smiling.
His Lordship, Masamune Date (DAH-teh), the daimy ruling the region in which Ishida and Hasekura live.
Padre Vrais Luis Velasco
Padre Vrais Luis Velasco (VRAH-ees lew-EES veh-LAHS-koh), a Spanish Catholic priest from Seville and provincial of the Franciscan order of missionaries at Edo (modern Tokyo). He is also an interpreter for and an adviser to the Japanese government. Ambitious (he wants to be bishop of Japan), vainglorious, arrogant, condescending, scheming, deceitful, and basically unprincipled, he is a religious fanatic who is ruled by an intense passion, one that is often lustful. He rules and manipulates—by concealment and deceit—the four samurai envoys on their mission to Nueva España.
The Naifu, a Chinese title assumed by Ieyasu Tokugawa (eeih-YAH-sew toh-kew-GAH-wah), the first Tokugawa shgun, after naming his third son, Hidetada (hee-deh-TAH-dah), the second shgun, thus remaining the real ruler of Japan.
Lord Shiraishi, the houseman of His Lordship.
Yoz, Hasekura’s faithful servant and companion, several years older than he, who becomes a sincere Christian convert.
Nishi Kysuke, the youngest samurai among the four envoys. Boyish, high-spirited, and unreserved, he is curious about anything “new” and eager to learn about it.
Tanaka Tarozaemon, the oldest of the envoys. His body is plump. Stubborn and inclined to anger when frustrated, he seeks always to maintain the dignity appropriate for a samurai.
Matsuke Chsaku, a pale, gloomy samurai of slender build and grave and thoughtful expression. He is of quick intelligence and acute perception, with political savvy, but is always skeptical and cynical. He is contemptuous of his role as an envoy and returns to Japan rather than journeying to Europe with the others.
The man in Tecali
The man in Tecali, a Japanese Christian convert and former monk. Disenchanted with Catholic clerics and the church, he lives among the Indians in Nueva España and follows a Jesus of his own making.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 605
Abandoned by his patron, Lord Ishida, and no longer protected by the disgraced Lord Shiraishi, Hasekura comes to question the basic workings of Japan’s feudal society. Ideally, it is built upon the fulfillment of mutual obligations, but Hasekura sees how easily an insignificant member of it, one such as he, can be sacrificed to the policy decisions of the social elite. Cautioned to live quietly, he is allowed to go home to his family. In the process of destroying everything in his possession that suggests Christian sympathies, Hasekura comes upon a manuscript thrust into his hands by a Japanese living with the Indians in New Spain. A convert to Roman Catholicism, the man has rejected institutional religion for a personal relationship with Christ. The Man in Tecali (he has no other name) “had wanted not the Christ whom the affluent priests preached in the cathedrals of Nueva Espana, but a man who would be at his side, and beside the Indians, each of them forsaken by others.” Painfully aware of his own isolation, Hasekura turns to the Christ he rejected even at the moment of his own baptism. Arrested for having converted to Roman Catholicism during his journey abroad, Hasekura is tried and sentenced to death by a Japanese government intent on stamping out Western influences. Hasekura, on the way to his execution, accepts “emphatically” the import of Yozo’s parting words: “From now on...He will be beside you.”
If Hasekura’s rejection of class and culture for belief in Christ is dramatic, Father Velasco’s transformation is equally impressive. Barred by the Tokugawa regime from returning to Japan, Velasco slips into the country to continue the missionary effort that has gone underground since the prohibition of Christianity by the government. No longer does he desire to become Bishop of Japan; his motives are no longer political. Chastened by the collapse of the Japanese mission to New Spain, Velasco no longer believes in his own skill as a negotiator. He has a new humility. Captured and tried in Nagasaki, Velasco accepts the sentence of death and receives comfort from a Jesuit in his cell. Confessing his sins to this man on the eve of their execution, he says, “I confused my will with the will of God.” When he learns of the deaths of Hasekura and his fellow envoy Kyusuki Nishi, he expresses joy at the prospect of joining them: “Only the wind and the sound of collapsing firewood could be heard. Finally from within the white smoke which enveloped Velasco’s stake, a single cry rang out. ‘I...have lived!’”
Velasco’s words affirm his essential human dignity, and, as such, they represent Hasekura’s achievement as well. Both men have broken through the limitations of roles imposed by culture and personality. Both recognize the essential isolation of the individual, and both realize the comfort to be derived from the Christ envisioned by the Man in Tecali. This man is a type of Christ, as is Hasekura’s servant Yozo, for he seeks to serve the hopeless rather than to exploit them. Many of the other characters in End’s novel are genuinely exploitive. Chief among them is the series of Japanese political leaders, starting at the top of the society with the Naifu, including Ieyasu Tokugawa himself, who use both Hasekura and Velasco to further their particular ends. The feudal structure is characterized by such inhumanity, End suggests, because it values the integrity of the group over that of the individual. The same point is made about the court of the King of Spain and the Roman Curia surrounding the Pope.