THE NAMBAN EXPERIENCE
Luis Francisco Martínez Montes
Namban-jin strolling along a Japanese street
Silence, the extraordinary novel by Endo Shusaku, deals with the aftermath of the failed encounter between the Christian West and Japan during early Modernity. The cinematic translation of the novel by Martin Scorsese has brought that almost neglected episode in history to the attention of a broader public, also in Spain. In fact, the attraction the Japanese feel towards many things Spanish surprises most Spaniards visiting Japan for the first time. Japanese women, as any expert will corroborate, are particularly apt at mastering the infinite nuances of flamenco dancing. At the heart of the Shibuya trendy shopping district in Tokyo there is a narrow pedestrian street named España. Not far from the temple of Ise there is an entire amusement park inspired on Spanish history and architecture. One of the most delicious Japanese spongy cakes is called Castela, after Castilla, one of the formative kingdoms of Spain. Tellingly, the best Castela cakes are still made in Nagasaki, a port city opened for limited foreign trade at the instigation of a Spanish missionary, Cosme de Torres, in 1571. Although all these facts could be considered as just anecdotic examples, among many others, of Japan’s appetite for the exotic, they are related to a fascinating, albeit frustrated episode in the early modern history of globalization.
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