In 1543, three Portuguese travelers aboard a Chinese ship drifted ashore on Tanegashima, a small island near Kyushu. They were the first Europeans to visit Japan. In 1548, Francis Xavier, a Jesuit, arrived from Goa to introduce Christianity to the Japanese. Thereafter a stream of Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries came to Japan. The Japanese called them nanban (southern barbarians) because they sailed to Japan from the south. Portuguese merchants brought tin, lead, gold, silk, and wool and cotton textiles, among other goods, to Japan, which exported swords, lacquer ware, silk, and silver.
Portuguese trade with Japan prospered until 1641, when Christianity was banned by the Japanese government, and Portuguese traders were replaced by the Dutch, who did not engage in missionary work. The Dutch and Chinese had exclusive trade rights with Japan until 1859, when five nations-the United States, England, France, Russia, and Netherlands began commercial relations with Japan.
The Japanese were fascinated by the Portuguese because of their ships, exotic appearance, costumes, language, and merchandise. They depicted these foreigners in great detail in paintings and screens. This work portrays the arrival of a Portuguese ship at the port of Nagasaki. On the left are the captain and his crew, who have just landed; some cargo is still being unloaded. On the right, they are proceeding to a Christian church. At its entrance, Jesuit priests welcome the party. Some Japanese townsfolk are observing them curiously.