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San Juan Bautista 1613

San Juan Bautista 1613

Replica of the Japanese-built 1613 galleon San Juan Bautista, in Ishinomaki, Japan.

                          Name:     San Juan Bautista
                          Builder:     Date Masamune
                          Laid down:     1613
                          Launched:     1613
                         Commissioned:     September 1613
                         Fate:     Sold to Spain
                         General characteristics
                         Displacement:     500 long tons (508 t)
                         Length:     55.35 m (181 ft 7 in) o/a
                         Beam:     11.25 m (36 ft 11 in)
                         Draught:     3.8 m (12 ft 6 in)
                         Propulsion:     3-masted sailboat
                         Complement:     180
                         Armament:     16 cannons

San Juan Bautista ("St. John the Baptist") (originally called Date Maru, 伊達丸 in Japanese) was one of Japan's first Japanese-built Western-style sailing ships. She crossed the Pacific in 1614. She was of the Spanish galleon type, known in Japan as nanban-sen (南蛮船, lit. "Southern Barbarian ships").

She transported a Japanese diplomatic mission of 180 people during the first leg of their trip to the Vatican as envoys to Pope Paul V, headed by Hasekura Tsunenaga and accompanied by the Spanish friar Luis Sotelo. After transporting Hasekura to the Spanish possessions of Mexico, the ship returned to Japan. Hasekura and the embassy went on to Europe, eventually reaching Rome.


San Juan Bautista was built in 1613 by Date Masamune, the Daimyo of Sendai in northern Japan, in Tsuki-No-Ura harbour (Ishinomaki, Miyagi). The project had been approved by the Bakufu, the Shogun's government in Edo.

The Shogun already had two smaller ships (80 and 120 tons) built for him by the English pilot William Adams, and the larger one, the San Buena Ventura, was given to Spanish shipwrecked sailors for their return to Mexico in 1610. The Shogun also issued numerous permits for Red seal ships, destined to Asian trade and incorporating many elements of Western ship design.

San Juan Bautista is reported to have required 45 days' work, with the participation of technical experts from the Bakufu, 800 shipwrights, 700 smiths, and 3000 carpenters. Two Spanish men are also reported to have participated to the endeavour: the friar Luis Sotelo, and the Spanish captain Sebastian Vizcaino.

These efforts were seen with disapproval by the Spanish government in Manila, and Los Rios Coronel suggested that Luis Sotelo should not be allowed into Japan any further (C.R. Boxer).

Two trans-Pacific round-trips

Upon completion, the ship left on October 28, 1613 for Acapulco in Mexico, with around 180 people on board, consisting of 10 samurai of the Shogun (led by the Minister of the Navy Mukai Shooken), 12 samurai from Sendai, 120 Japanese merchants, sailors, and servants, and around 40 Spaniards and Portuguese. The ship arrived in Acapulco on January 25, 1614 after three months at sea.

After a year in Acapulco, the ship returned to Japan on April 28, 1615, as Hasekura continued to Europe. It seems that around 50 specialists in mining and silver-refining were invited to Japan on this occasion, so that they could help develop the mining industry in the Sendai area. A group of Franciscans led by Father Diego de Santa Catalina, sent as a religious embassy to Tokugawa Ieyasu also sailed on the ship. The San Juan Bautista arrived in Uraga on August 15, 1615.

In September 1616, the San Juan Batista headed again to Acapulco, at the request of Luis Sotelo. She was sailed by Captain Yokozawa Shogen, but the trip went wrong and around 100 sailors died en route. San Juan Bautista finally arrived in Acapulco in May 1617. Sotelo and Hasekura met in Mexico for the final trip back to Japan. In April 1618 the San Juan Bautista arrived to the Philippines, where she was sold to the Spanish government there, with the objective of building up defenses against the Dutch. Hasekura returned to Japan in 1620.

Nicolas de Cardona, in his 1632 edition of "World Exploration", published this view of the bay and city of Acapulco, mentioning the presence of "a ship from Japan" (letter "D"), probably the San Juan Bautista (Gonoi, p53). Cardona was in Acapulco between end of 1614 and March 21, 1615. The full legend reads:

A. The ships of the expedition.
B. The castle of San Diego.
C. The town.
D. A ship that has come from Japan.
E. Los Manzanillos.
F. El Grifo.

The San Juan Bautista is represented in Claude Deruet's painting of Hasekura Tsunenaga in Rome in 1617, as a galleon with Hasekura's flag (red swastika on orange background) on the top mast.

Itinerary and dates of the travels of Hasekura Tsunenaga

San Juan Bautista today

A new San Juan Bautista was reconstructed in 1993 on the basis of the records of the House of Date. Although the exact blueprints have not been found, the ship’s dimensions were recorded properly, permitting the reconstitution. The ship is currently on display in a theme park in Ishinomaki, in northern Japan, close to the location where she was originally built. The replica survived the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami intact with minor damages, and there are hopes of using the ship as a symbol of the town's reconstruction.


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