Osaka; What’s in a Name? Moniker Sought for ‘Barbarian’ Statue

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A “barbarian” statue stands on a bridge in Sakai.

SAKAI — What name would you give to the statue of a “barbarian?”

This lonely figure stands on a bridge near Sakai Station on the Nankai Line in Osaka Prefecture’s second largest city.

Around the beginning of the 16th century, people from the West, including those from Portugal and Spain, began arriving in the area. Japanese people at that time called them “Nambanjin,” which is Japanese for “barbarians from the south.” The statue was built 36 years ago based on the historical arrivals.

Sakai prospered as a trading port in the 16th century. Wealthy merchants built moats to protect the city from warfare, creating an autonomous city that was not ruled by feudal lords. Some of these moats still remain as canals in the old city center, and the statue has been placed on a bridge over one of the canals.

The bridge was built by Nankai Electric Railway Co. when the Nankai Main Line was elevated. The statue was reportedly created after it was suggested that having a “Nambanjin” would create interest. Bronze statues are not legally allowed to be placed on roads, so the figure was made out of aluminum and made as part of the bridge. The statue was later donated to the city.

The statue is 190 centimeters tall with a saber at its waist. According to the city government, it is thought to be the figure of a Portuguese arrival, but many people believe it is a statue of Spanish missionary Francis Xavier, who introduced Christianity to Japan. He visited Sakai in 1550 and the Xavier Park is located nearby. However, the figure is not modeled after anyone in particular, and it is known simply as “Nambanjin.”

As part of efforts to promote tourism in the area, a nonprofit organization that operates sightseeing boats in the city has begun soliciting names for the statue, which has been staring at the canal for 36 years without any given name. Its name is scheduled to be announced in January next year.