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Yamada Nagamasa (Japanese: 山田長政 Yamada Nagamasa; 1590—1630) was a Japanese adventurer who gained considerable influence in Thailand at the beginning of the 17th century. He became the ruler of the Nakhon Si Thammarat province in southern Thailand.
Yamada Nagamasa was born in Sumpu (Shizuoka) in 1590. He is said to have been a palanquin bearer of the lord of Numazu. He became involved in Japanese trade activities with South-East Asia during the period of the Red seal ships and settled in the kingdom of Ayutthaya (modern-day Thailand) from around 1612.
Japanese settlement in southeast Asia
Yamada Nagamasa lived in the Japanese quarters of Ayutthaya, home to another 7,000 Japanese inhabitants. The community was called "Ban Yapun" in Thai, and was headed by a Japanese chief nominated by Thai authorities. It seems to have been a combination of traders, Christians converts who had fled their home country following the persecutions of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, and unemployed former samurais 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" (Senrakoku Fudo-gunki, 17th century, quoted by Uchida Ginzo).
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")(Ishii Yoneo, Multi-cultural Japan).
The colony was active in trade, particularly in the export of deer-hide to Japan in exchange for Japanese silver and Japanese handicrafts (swords, lacquered boxes, high-quality papers). They were noted by the Dutch for challenging the trade monopoly of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The colony also had an important military role in Thailand.
Military involvement and lordship
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 Nakhon Si Thammarat, in the southern peninsula.
In 1626, Nagamasa offered a painting of one of his fighting ships to a temple of his hometown in Shizuoka. That painting was lost in a fire, but a copy of it remains to this day (shown here). It portrays a ship with Western-style rigging, 18 cannons, and sailors in samurai gear.
Nagamasa became involved in succession wars following the death of the King Songtham. He was wounded in combat in 1630, and then apparently poisoned through his wound, which led to his death.
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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