"The Japanese and the Jesuits" examines the attempt by sixteenth-century Jesuits to convert Japan to Christianity. Directing the Jesuits was the Italian Alessandro Valignano, whose own magisterial writings, many of them not previously translated or published, are the principal source material for this account of one of the most remarkable of all meetings between East and West.
Valignano arrived in Japan in 1579. In promoting Christianity, he always sought the support of the ruling classes. He taught the missionaries to adapt themselves thoroughly to Japanese customs, etiquette, and culture, and insisted that they master the Japanese language. He brought a European printing press to Japan, turning out grammars and dictionaries of Japanese for the missionaries, as well as works of instruction and devotion for the Japanese Christians.
Following Valignano's death, Christianity was proscribed and missionaries banished from Japan. This does not detract from his remarkable achievements, however. He understood perfectly well that foreign missionaries by themselves were not capable of converting Japan to Christianity. One of his principal concerns was the training of Japanese Jesuits and priests, and breaking down the barriers between them and the Europeans. Few people have been more acutely aware of the tensions or grappled more determinedly with the problems in Japanese-Western relationships than Valignano.