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Kyushu Travel Guide

History of Christianity in Japan

 

Hidden Christian site is registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site

Japan’s unique practice of the Christian faith continued even during the ban on Christianity

 

Hidden Christian Site in Nagasaki, Shimabara and Amakusa Regions bear unique testimony

to the tradition of people and their communities who secretly transmitted their faith in

Christianity while surviving in the midst of the conventional society and its religions during

the time of prohibition.

 

 Nagasaki  

 

Oura Cathedral  / World Heritage

Basilica of Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan.

Built in 1865 under the supervision of the French priest Bernard Petitjean.

It was designated as a National Treasure in 1933 for its value as Japan’s oldest Gothic-style

Cathedral.

 

Entrance gate of Oura

Cathedral

Japan’s oldest Gothic-style

Cathedral building

Statue of Mary, at entrance of

Cathedral, installed in 1867


 

Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan     

On February 5, 1597, Paulo Miki and 25 others were crucified for their belief in God on order of

Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The martyrs including four Spaniards, one from Goa, India, one Mexican and 

20 Japanese demonstrated their spiritual unity despite differences in races, ages and professions.

Nishizaka hill, the site of

Martyrdom in 1597

The martyrs said that 

” All people, bless God ! ”  

The 26 Japanese martyrs have 

been canonized in 1862


 

 Sotome area Hidden Christian Site  / World Heritage 

When he discovered the underground Christians, Petitjean realized that there were many other

Christians hiding in the Sotome region.

He appointed de Rotz as the parish priest of the Shitsu and Kurosaki districts.        

  Shitsu Church

  Former Shitsu Aid Centre

  The Statue of Mary


 

Urakami Cathedral

Originally constructed in 1895 as a brick Romanesque building, after a long-standing ban on

Christianity was lifted. When completed in 1914, it was the largest Catholic church in East Asia.

The atomic bomb dropped on August 9, 1945 explored in Urakami, only 500m from the

cathedral, which was completely destroyed. What remained of the cathedral is now on display 

in the Atomic Bomb Museum.

A replacement the Cathedral

was built in 1959

Ruins of destroyed Urakami

Cathedral are displayed

Ruins of destroyed Cathedral,

displayed nearby Ground Zero


 

 Shimabara  &  Unzen   / Nagasaki-prefecture

 

Harajo Castle Ruins  / World Heritage

The Battle field of Shimabara Rebellion which was a peasant uprising agaist bakufu’s persecution of

Christians under the leadership of Amakusa Shiro in 1637.  Christian farmers rose in a riot due to their

grievance about the oppression by Matsukura Shigemasa. The Shogunate regarded this riot as Christian

rebellion and sent its punitive force, therefore locked themselves in the castle and with their leader

Amakusa Shiro Tokisada fought against the Shogunate. On February 27, 1638, he died in battle.

The following day, the castle fell. 37,000 Christians including women and children died a violent death.

Entrance to Harajo Castle

Ruins

Battle field of Shimabara

Rebellion

The Statue of Amakusa Shiro

 


 

Unzen jigoku

Jigoku, means Hell, is the number one attraction of Unzen with a peculiar smell of sulfur emitted

from the springs, and with white smoke rising from the ground over a wide area.

Unfortunately, this was once put into reality nearly 350 years ago during the time of religious

persecution in Japan.  30 Japanese Christians, failing to renounce their faith met  their death

here in the scalding spring of Jigoku.

Smoke rising from the ground

over a wide area

Martyrdom site of Christians

 

The Cross written the name of

six martyrs


 

 Amakusa    / Kumamoto-prefecture 

 

Hidden Christian of Amakusa

Christianity was first brought to Japan in 1549 by a Jesuit priest named Francis Xavier when

trading opened in Kagoshima. Not long after, it spread to neighboring areas such as Nagasaki

and Amakusa. In 1614, the Tokugawa regime felt threatened by the growth of Christianity out of

their fear of colonialism. Persecutions began and the eradication of Christianity started.

Missionaries and priests alike were killed, while those who practiced Christianity were given an

option to renounce their faith or face death. Some chose to convert to Shintoism and Buddhism

in order to hide their Christian faith.

Fed up with famine and cruel treatment, peasants from Amakusa organized a rebellion to fight

against the regime. This resulted in the Shimbara Rebellion, which is considered as one of the

largest revolts during the Edo period.

 


 

Oe Cathedral  / World Heritage

The oldest Catholic Church in Amakusa and was one of the first churches built right after the ban

on Christianity was lifted. The and Romanesque-style architecture and the chalky white structure

was rebuilt in 1933 by a French missionary priest named Father Garnier using his own money and

contributions from local Christians living in the area.


 

Sakitsu Village  / World Heritage

A Gothic-looking church is located on a cove of a fishing village. In 1934, a French priest

Augustin Halbout MEP purchased the premises of the former village headman and built a

wooden and concrete finished church, with Tetsukawa Yosuke’s design and construction.

He placed the altar at the very site where fumie or a test to ensure non-allegiance to

Christianity had been conducted.


 

Amakusa Shiro Memorial Hall

The theme Museum shows History of Christianity in Amakusa and Shimabara Rebellion

which was a peasant uprising agaist bakufu’s persecution of Christians under the leadership

of Amakusa Shiro in 1637.

 


 

 

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