Defeated Japanese Exiles in Siam, 1600s

After the American Civil War of 1861–65, many defeated Confederates resettled in Mexico or Brazil. Many defeated Japanese also found refuge in exile as Japan’s long period of warfare (Sengoku) drew to a close around 1600. Among the most successful of the exiles was young Yamada Nagamasa (山田長政 1590–1630).

Yamada Nagamasa lived in the Japanese quarters of Ayutthaya, home to another 1,500 Japanese inhabitants (some estimates run as high as 7,000). The community was called “Ban Yipun” in Thai, and was headed by a Japanese chief nominated by Thai authorities. It seems to have been a combination of traders, Christian converts who had fled their home country following the persecutions of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, and unemployed former samurai who had been on the losing side at the battle of Sekigahara:

“From the years of Gen’na (1615-1624) through the later years of Kan’ei (1624-1644), the Ronin or warriors who lost their lords after the defeats of the battle of Osaka (1614-15) or the earlier battle of Sekigahara (1600), as well as the defeated Christians of the Shimabara uprising, went to settle in Siam in great numbers” …

The Christian community seems to have been in the hundreds, as described by Padre Antonio Francisco Cardim, who recounted having administered sacrament to around 400 Japanese Christians in 1627 in the Thai capital of Ayuthaya (“a 400 japoes christaos”) …

The Japanese colony was highly valued for its military expertise, and was organized under a “Department of Japanese Volunteers” (Krom Asa Yipun) by the Thai king.

In the space of fifteen years, Yamada Nagamasa rose from the low Thai nobility rank of khun to the senior of Okya, his title becoming Okya Senaphimuk. He became the head of the Japanese colony, and in this position supported the military campaigns of the Thai king Songtham, at the head of a Japanese army flying the Japanese flag. He fought successfully, and was finally nominated Lord of Ligor (modern Nakhon Si Thammarat), in the southern peninsula in 1630, accompanied by 300 samurai …

Following Yamada’s death in 1630, the new ruler and usurper king of Siam Prasat Thong (1630-1655) sent an army of 4000 soldiers to destroy the Japanese settlement in Ayutthaya, but many Japanese managed to flee to Cambodia. A few years later in 1633, returnees from Indochina were able to re-establish the Japanese settlement in Ayutthaya (300-400 Japanese) …

Nagamasa now rests in his hometown in the area of Otani. The remnants of the Japanese quarters in Ayutthuya are still visible to visitors, as well as a statue of Yamada in Siamese military uniform.

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Filed under Japan, Thailand, war

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