The shock of the first encounter of Japan and the West in the sixteenth century is brought to life on these screens. On the left Portuguese traders have landed at Nagasaki and are busy offloading their cargo. On the right the captain-major leads a colorful procession through town to a Christian church that was deliberately designed to harmonize with the native style. The church is shown separated from the rest of town by a moat. The immense Portuguese ship was a cause of much wonder and excitement at the time of its annual visit. The Portuguese made large profits exchanging Chinese silk for Japanese silver. The carrack set off for Macao and Japan from Goa, the center of the Portuguese empire in Asia, and many of the crew are dark-skinned natives of the Indian subcontinent. Japanese artists catered to a widespread curiosity about the marvelous costumes and strange physiognomy (facial hair, large noses, taller stature) of the "southern barbarians" (so called because they arrived from the south).
Portuguese ships were permitted access to Japan between 1571 and about 1640, when the shogun put into effect a seclusionist policy that closed the country to all outsiders other than Chinese merchants, a handful of Dutch traders, and occasional Korean emissaries. In 1614 an edict was published prohibiting Christianity. The screens are most likely the work of an anonymous "town painter" (machi eshi) of the early Edo period and are very close in style to three other pairs: in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, New York and the Kanagawa Prefecture Museum of Art in Yokohama. The Japanese scholar Takamizawa Tadao, attributed this group to the hand of Kano Domi (shortened from Domingos or Dominus), a Christian convert, who is known to have visited Kyushu, and probably Nagasaki, in 1592. He left Japan in 1603 for Manila and was associated with the Franciscan friars.