Journey to Japan

  William Adams departed from Rotterdam in June 1598, leaving behind Mary who he had married a decade before, and their daughter, Deliverance. Supply issues had caused the departure to be delayed until very late in the season, and this became the cause of many woes during the voyage.

Adams’ last ever sighting of Europe was at Cape Vincent in Portugal, as the ships proceeded to the Cape Verde islands in late August. Combat ensued as they attempted to steal food from the locals to replenish their depleted supplies, they failed and continued with the thought and danger of hunger ever-present.

The threat of Portuguese and Spanish capture was also perpetual, and prevented the mission's five ships from using the best routes and anchorages. However, landfall was finally made in what is now Gabon, and then later a Portuguese-controlled island called Annobon, where fresh food was thankfully obtained.The Magellan Strait, still at this point in history only rarely navigated successfully, caused the death of hundreds. Due to having entered during the wrong season, it took more than six months to traverse the bitter, snowy, wind-battered seas, and by the time the ships eventually emerged, stores of food were gone, the vessels were badly damaged, and morale must have been at its lowest ebb.

Cape Vincent, Portugal c.1600 (Credit: Wikimedia)

In the chaos and tempests of the Southern Pacific Ocean, Adams' ship, Liefde, lost touch with her companions, and ended up trying to raid an indigenous settlement for much needed supplies. The men who landed were ambushed and massacred, and among the dead was Adams’ own brother Thomas. He and his surviving companions would have been numb with sorrow.

Having met up with one of the other ships, Hoop, also in dire straits, the decision was made to head for a land known to be cold – a potentially good market for their cargo of wool - and not under Spanish influence. Japan.

Kuroshima in Usuki, Oita Prefecture. Adams arrived here on19th April 1600.

Crucially, no one on board had been there before, and their charts were of uncertain accuracy.

From November 1599 until April 1600, quite good timing for the era, they sailed the largest body of water on the planet, managing to re-victual briefly at Guam. With only a fraction of the crew able to stand, on April 19th 1600, Liefde, now alone after Hoop's disappearance during the crossing, weighed anchor by the island of Kuroshima, near the town of Usuki in Kyushu.

Adams was the most senior officer able to stand, and hence he took command.

Kawachi Bay, Kuroshima where Adams' only surviving ship, Liefde arrived in Japan