THE PORTUGUESE were the first western Europeans to arrive in Japan, back in the 16th century. Now, more than four centuries on, that trading and diplomatic link has been celebrated in Lisbon as part of Japan Week, an international event that takes place in a different country each year. The arrival of a Portuguese ship at the island of Tanegashima, in 1543, marked the beginning of a flourishing trade in ceramics and porcelain, textiles and wood block painting and a fascination with Japanese culture and literature.
In fact, the first bilingual Japanese dictionary was Portuguese-Japanese and many Portuguese words pepper the Japanese language. It is said that the word ‘arigatou’ (thank you) is a derivative of the Portuguese word ‘obrigado’ because the Japanese didn’t have a simple one-word term of thanks in their own language.
For Portugal’s part, they are accredited with introducing both the shotgun and tobacco into Japan, as well as the continued popularity of writers such as Wenceslau de Moraes and the Japanese love of Portuguese traditional music such as Fado.
Japan Week was officially inaugurated in the historic setting of the Jerónimos monastery in Belém, with the participation of more than 500 Japanese business people, students, musicians, dancers and artists. It was followed by seven days of colourful cultural events, centred at the Teatro Municipal de São Luís, including bamboo drum playing, traditional Kappore dance and music, Asian music by Genki-Kai Chakkiri Norio and a Kimono fashion show. There was also traditional Japanese folk dancing, the Atami Frauen Japanese Choir, horizontal harp playing, Yosakoi dancing and martial arts to name but a few.
In his speech at the inauguration ceremony, the Japanese Ambassador to Portugal, Hideichiro Hamanka, said that the decision to hold Japan Week in Lisbon marked a continuation of a cultural and economic exchange of experiences that has been going on for five centuries. “This initiative counts on the participation of more than 1,500 Japanese people and their families who have arrived from all over Japan. The shows are of a high quality and similar to those carried out by professionals,” he said.
“It is my sincere wish that all of the cultural expressions organised for the week, including dance, painting, calligraphy, music and sculpture, as well as the traditional tea drinking ceremonies, will act as instruments to deepen the relationship that exists between the two countries.”