Adams (Will)

Will Adams, the first Englishman that ever resided in Japan, was a native of Gillingham, near Chatham, in the county of Kent. Having followed the sea from his youth up, he took service, in the year 1598, as "Pilot Maior of a fleete of five sayle," which had been equipped by Dutch merchants for the purpose of trading to Spanish America. From "Perow" a portion of the storm-tossed fleet came on to "Iapon," arriving at a port in the province of Bungo, not far from "Langasacke" (Nagasaki), on the 19th April, 1600. From that time until his death in May 1620, Adams remained in an exile which, though gilded, was none the less bitterly deplored. The English pilot, brought first as a captive into the presence of Ieyasu, who was then on the point of becoming practically what Adams calls him, "Emperour" of Japan, had immediately been recognised by that shrewd judge of character as an able and an honest man. That he and his nation were privately slandered to Ieyasu by "the Iesuites and the Portingalls," who were at that time the only other Europeans in the country, probably did him more good than harm in the Japanese ruler's eyes. He was retained at the Japanese court, and employed as a shipbuilder, and also as a kind of diplomatic agent when other English and Dutch traders began to arrive. In fact, it was by his good offices that the foundations were laid both of English trade in Japan and also of the more permanent Dutch settlement. During his latter years, he for a time exchanged the Japanese service for that of the English factory established by Captain John Saris at "Firando" (Hirado) near Nagasaki; and he made two voyages, one to the Luchu Islands and another to Siam. His constantly reiterated desire to see his native land again, and his wife and children, was to the last frustrated by adverse circumstances. So far as the wife was concerned, he partially comforted himself, sailor fashion, by taking another,-a Japanese with whom he lived comfortably for many years on the estate granted him by Ieyasu at Hemi, where their two graves are shown to this day. Hemi, at that time a separate village, has since become a suburb of the bustling modern seaport, Yokosuka, and a railway station now occupies the site of the old pilot's abode. Another adventurer, who visited him there, describes Will Adams's place thus: "This Phebe is a Lordshipp geuen to Capt. Adames pr. the ould Emperour, to hym and his for eaver, and confermed to his sonne, called Joseph. There is above 100 farms, or howsholds, vppon it, besides others vnder them, all which are his vassalls, and he hath power of lyre and death ouer them they being his slaues; and he hauing as absolute authoritie ouer them as any tono (or king) in Japan hath over his vassales." From further details it would seem that he used his authority kindly, so that the neighbours "reioiced (as it should seeme) of Captain Adames retorne." Will Adams's letters have been published by the Hakluyt Society in their "Memorials of Japon" (sic), and republished in a cheaper form at Yokohama. They are well-worth reading, both for the lifelike silhouette of the writer which stands out from their quaintly spelt pages, and for the picture given by him of Japan as it then was, when the land swarmed with Catholic friars and Catholic converts, when no embargo had yet been laid on foreign commerce, and when the native energy of the Japanese people had not yet been numbed by two centuries and a half of bureaucracy and timid seclusion.