The novel explores the life and times of the 16th-century Portuguese missionary, Luis Frois. It is composed of a series of letters to and from Frois. Hideyoshi was uniting Japan during this turbulent period that is referred to as the Sengoku Jidai, or Period of the Warring States. He met Oda Nobunaga himself and witnessed many of the events that shaped what was to become Japan for some 250 years. Frois was given the name Policarpo, was born in 1532. He became an apprentice scribe in the Secretaria Real (the Royal Secretariat) in Lisbon, and in 1548, age 16, entered the Society of Jesus there, taking the name Luis.
In March of that year he departed for India, arriving in Goa in October. He was never to see his family again. He soon met Father Francis Xavier, as well as a Japanese convert from Kagoshima named Jiro.Frois worked for some years under the Provincial of India as the person in charge of reporting on East Asia to the church in Europe; and in 1563, age 31, he arrived in Japan for the first time, at Yokoseura, Nagasaki. In 1565 Frois journeyed to Kyoto, but with the downfall of his protector, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru, he was forced to take refuge in Sakai. It was in 1569 that he met Nobunaga at Nijo Castle and received permission to proselytize. He spent the ensuing years in missionary work while writing The History of Portuguese Territories in East India. In 1581, in the capacity of interpreter, he accompanied Visitor General Alessandro Valignano on the latter’s travels in Japan, and was welcomed in Kyoto and Azuchi by Nobunaga. Nobunaga died the following year. Alessandro ValignanoIn 1583, at age 51,
Frois began writing his History of Japan on the order of Vice Provincial of Japan Gaspar Coelho. Part One of the history was completed in 1586. In that year, Frois traveled to Arima, Amakusa, Nagasaki, Ohmura, Hirado, Sakai, Osaka and Kyoto in the company of the Vice Provincial. Hideyoshi promulgated the edict on the expulsion of the missionaries in 1587, and Frois was given this order by his envoy. From then on, Frois devoted himself to writing his history.In 1590, at age 60, Frois was sent to Macao, accompanying Visitor General Valignano. Three years later he returned to Nagasaki; and two years after that, in 1597, the persecution of Christians began in earnest in Japan. Frois’ last report was on the fate of the twenty-six martyrs crucified in Nagasaki. That year—1597—Frois died at the church in Nagasaki.