Japan museum finds oldest diplomatic letter sent from Vietnam

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The oldest diplomatic letter sent from Vietnam to Japan in 1591 that the Kyushu National Museum recently found. Photo: Kyushu National Museum  

A Japanese museum has found what is thought to be the first diplomatic letter sent from Vietnam to Japan, which expresses a strong desire to have trade with that country.  

Tong Quoc Hung, deputy director of the Hoi An town Department of Culture and Information, said July 5 the letter was written on March 21, 1591, during the reign of King Le The Tong.

In Japan, General Toyotomi Hideyoshi, considered one of the unifiers of Japan, was then kampaku or regent under the reign of Emperor Go-Yōzei.

The writer was presumably a senior royal official, the Fukuoka-based Kyushu National Museum said.

Vietnam was then known as An Nam, a name given by the Chinese.

The museum said it had bought the letter from an old bookstore in Kyoto, Japan's imperial capital.

Vietnam News Agency quoted the museum as saying that the style of the letter and its stamp resemble other letters sent from An Nam to Japan.

Imperial Japan received around 20 diplomatic letters sent from An Nam, with the previous oldest thought to be one sent to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu of the Edo period in 1601.

Reio Fujita, head of the museum's conservation and restoration office, said the letter was possibly sent through a trader purporting to be a royal messenger.

Japanese traders of the time are known to have passed themselves off as royal messengers to make trading in Southeast Asian countries easier.

Japanese experts said there was no known correspondence between Hideyoshi and An Nam, and the identities of the so-called Japanese messengers mentioned in the letter Chin Ryo Zan and Ryugen are not known.

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