Kanō Sanraku (attr.), Untitled Namban byōbu, ca. 17th century, Azuchi-Momoyama period, Suntory Museum the Art, Akasaka, Japan.

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Masterfully crafted into hinged leaves and enclosed within a lacquer frame, the Japanese Namban folding displays or the Namban byōbu contain a fascinating visual record of the come of Portuguese ships in ~ the island the Kyushu in 1543. The incidental visit from this exotic foreigners to be the major theme of this artworks. These display screens are the culmination of Japanese curiosity and bemusement as well as their considerable apprehension in ~ the unexpected arrival.


Kano School, Untitled Namban byōbu, ca. 1630-1650, Edo period, Portland Museum that Art, Portland, ME, USA.

Origins of Byōbu

Byōbu or folding display screens have ancient Chinese roots dating back to the Han empire in the 8th Century. The heritage spread throughout the far East and developed separately in Japan. Byōbu space often consisted of of a collection of panels that are decorated with artwork and also calligraphy and they may even serve helpful purposes together room dividers.


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Arrival of a Portuguese ship, ca. 1620-1640, Edo period, eastern Art Museum, san Francisco, CA, USA. Detail.

Origins that Namban Art

Namban art describes a large area of work, a testimony to the first cultural exchange in between Southern Europeans and the Japanese in the 16th century. It consist of a wide variety of art developed in both Japanese and also Western styles. The Namban display screens are but one that its manifestations that administer a vivid, albeit not totally visually accurate historical record the encapsulates the Japanese reaction come their very first foreign visitors.


Arrival the the Europeans, ca. Beforehand 17th century, Edo period, nationwide Museum of asian Art, Washington DC, USA.

Southern Barbarians

Namban or Nanban is a Sino-Japanese word the translates into “southern barbarians”. This rather harsh term was provided to refer to the merchants and also travelers who docked top top Chinese ports from the South, particularly referring come the southern Asian and Southeast asian merchants and also traders. This term infect Japan and also evolved to incorporate the Portuguese that arrived native the southerly sea route.


Arrival the the Europeans, ca. At an early stage 17th century, Edo period. Christie’s. Detail.

The Incidental come of the Portuguese

In 1543 a disastrous storm resulted in a Chinese delivery to drift ~ above Tanegashima, a tiny Japanese island near Kyushu. This ship occurred to it is in carrying three Portuguese travelers, Japan’s first-ever europe tourists. Thereafter, several much more ships followed and also there to be an influx of merchants and also missionaries passionate to lug their wares and their belief to this newly found market. Vendors imported precious and also semi-precious metals, textiles, lacquer, etc. To Japan. Francis Xavier, the significant Jesuit stationed in Goa, became the very first to introduce Christianity come Japan in 1551.


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Arrival that the Europeans, ca. Beforehand 17th century, Edo period, national Museum of eastern Art, Washington DC, USA.

Subjects of the Namban Byōbu

A usual composition that these screens portrays the Japanese coast on the right and also the ocean on the left. The screens depict the reasonably tall foreigners of different races in exotic clothing. These room lively depictions that the hustle and also bustle that a busy port. The display screens go into good detail consisting of the arrival of foreign ships, the loading, and unloading of cargo, and also foreign warriors. Locals function on the display screens too, frequently inspecting your guests.

Also had in these artworks room the newly presented Christian icons, such together churches and priests. Hence indicating the the missionaries’ trips to Japan boring fruit in spite of the ultimate ban ~ above Christianity in 1641.


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Untitled Namban byōbu, ca. 17th century, Azuchi-Momoyama period. Wikimedia Commons. Detail.

Several of the Namban byōbu were painted by renowned artists of the upstream Kano-school, well-known for their an excellent precision and careful attention to detail. That is, therefore, exciting to keep in mind that the depictions in these artworks were occasionally implausible. The ships appear to be imagined or adjusted from europe artworks and not the typical ships that the Portuguese employed follow me this route. Furthermore, the mrs Europeans portrayed were pull in Chinese quite than europe garb. It has been theorized that this was likely as result of the fact that this artists may have never actually checked out a foreign ship or european female v their very own eyes. Although trade flourished, the foreign visitors were minimal to certain areas of a designated port and were constantly supervised throughout their stay in Japan. On the other hand women to be not allowed to disembark ~ above Japanese ports at all and also stayed top top the merchant’s ships during their stop. These policies were implemented to discourage any type of notion of long-term settlement by these southerly barbarians!


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Arrival of the Europeans, ca. At an early stage 17th century, Edo period, The Metropolitan Museum that Art, NY, USA.

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The decrease of Portuguese profession in Japan

The Portuguese conquered the European-Japanese trade industry for practically a century till an eventual decline after the Japanese ban on Christianity in 1641. Once Portuguese trade came to an end, Namban arts decreased as well. That is estimated that 60 come 80 Namban byōbu room in presence today, leaving behind an artistic tribute to the unforeseen initiation that the world’s an initial trade relationship between Japan and Europe.