Suwa Shrine

Suwa Shrine from [Manuscript map of Nagasaki, its harbor and surrounding region]. ca. 1741-65.

Just beyond these temples, an impressive shrine stands in the northernmost section of Nagasaki: the Suwa Shrine (“諏方社” or suwaji on the map, rendered in modern Japanese as “諏訪神社” or suwajinja) is a largest depicted structure in this 1741 depiction of Nagasaki. Its prevalence on the map suggests a certain level of importance to Nagasaki, and, indeed, with just a brief history of the shrine and its area, it is easy to discern the rationale for including it so vividly.

Beginning in the mid-16th century, the Portuguese and the Japanese established trading relationships, jumpstarted by the sudden (and, in many accounts, accidental) arrival of Portuguese seafarers in 1543. In addition to merely shipping European goods and buying Japanese products, the Iberians also began establishing an ecclesiastical network within Japan, providing transportation for missionaries, a hallmark of the early modern Portuguese Empire.

At first, the Christian presence was mostly brushed off by the daimyo of coastal Japan. Conflicts began in earnest in the late 1500s, when Spain, Portugal’s theological and commercial rival, commenced its own Japanese missions, pinching the Japanese government between two bickering religious groups. First in 1587 and then again in 1614, two separate shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Tokugawa Hideyoshi respectively, issued edicts banishing missionaries from Japan, aiming to curb the encroaching Christian presence without also quashing economic relations with Iberia. As a symbol of the strength and resilience of Japanese spirituality, Tokugawa Hideyoshi ordered the construction of Suwa Shrine in Nagasaki.

Suwa Shrine detail from "Urbs Nangasaki Cum Porti & Agro circumjacenti" from Kaempfer, The history of Japan, giving an account of the ancient and present state and government of that empire. London, 1727.

Placing in on a prominent location on the mountainside facing the harbor, it can be assumed the shrine was supposed to intimidate or dissuade the prominent Japanese Christian communities there. Given its prominence not only in this map but in other maps of Nagasaki made by other sources, it achieved these goals and carried a significant amount of symbolic and cultural weight in the port town.