Prince Naruhito's visit marks 400 years of Japanese ties with Spain

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 12:24am


Crown Prince Naruhito has launched a celebration of Japan's 400-year relationship with Spain on a visit that will take him to a curious town where many residents still carry the name "Japon" to honour the Japanese who visited in the 17th century.

Naruhito, the 53-year-old son and heir of Emperor Akihito, embarked on a week-long visit on Monday, to include formal niceties such as meetings with the Spanish royal family and the opening of a Japan-Spain business co-operation council.

The prince will leave Madrid tomorrow to tour other cities and to visit the small town of Coria del Rio, population about 30,000, not far from the Andalusian capital of Seville in southern Spain.

There, Naruhito will visit a bronze statue of the samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga, who led a historic seven-year diplomatic mission to Europe that departed Japan in October 1613 and arrived in Spain a year later.

Tsunenaga, who was baptised during his time in Spain, travelled to Coria del Rio on the Guadalquivir River, where he stayed for a period. Some of the delegation are believed to have stayed on after his return to Japan in 1620.

Hundreds of residents in Coria del Rio carry the family name "Japon" to mark their supposed Japanese ancestry.

According to the Spanish media, many babies in the town are born with the "Mongolian spot", a temporary bruise-coloured birthmark that is common among people of north Asia but which can also occur among Europeans.

Naruhito opened his visit by meeting with Prince Felipe at El Pardo palace in Madrid on Monday.

He and Felipe were to open a Japan-Spain business co-operation meeting yesterday. A lunch was also to be held in Naruhito's honour, hosted by King Juan Carlos and the royal family.

Naruhito goes to the northwestern university city of Salamanca tomorrow. He heads to Coria del Rio and Seville the following day.

The Japanese royal will wrap up his tour with a visit to the pilgrims' destination of Santiago de Compostela on Saturday before returning to Japan.

The Japan-Spain celebrations will feature a string of concerts and exhibitions including a collection of Japanese prints going back to the 17th century to go on display this week at the Prado museum in Madrid.