Sun, Apr 10, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Spanish town proud of Japanese ancestry

CLOSE CULTURE In the town of Coria del Rio is celebrating all things Japanese after its was discovered that a group of samurais emigrated there in the early 17th century


Coria del Rio looks like just another southern Spanish village, but its residents carry their unique history in their genes. Nearly 650 of the 25,000 residents have the surname Japon (Japan) as an alleged sign that they descend from samurais who settled in the village in Seville province in the early 17th century.

"People here may not have a profound knowledge of Japanese culture, but they are proud of their Japanese ancestors," says culture official Cristina Isla Palma, who believes the case of Coria del Rio to be unique in Europe.

Many of the people called Japon became aware of the origin of their name only in 1992, when the Japanese city of Miyagi donated to Coria del Rio a statue of 17th century samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga Rokuyemon.

Japan's relations with Spain are believed to be its oldest with a European country. They date back to 1549 when Spanish Jesuit Saint Francisco Javier arrived in Japan hoping to convert its inhabitants to Christianity.

In 1613, Spanish monk Luis Sotelo persuaded northern Japanese feudal lord Date Masamune that his commercial fleet would find a lucrative market in the Spanish empire. A delegation of 180 people, headed by Hasekura, left for Spain to meet the king and organize trade relations.

When the group visited Coria del Rio a year later, they were received with honors. The story has it that six samurais decided to stay, because they liked fishing in the river.

"They probably liked the country life, and fell in love with local women," Isla Palma says.

The village has cultural exchanges with Japan, participates in events organized by the Japanese embassy in Madrid, and many residents have visited the Asian country.

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