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History of Japanese Christianity


Christian history in Japan was started when St. Francis Xavier came to Japan as a first Christian

missionary in 1549. Then Christianity was spread in Nagasaki region. However, unparalleled

hidden Cristian history was started from when Toyotomi Hideyoshi Shogunate proclaimed Christian

ban in 1587. During ban on Christianity, people secretly continued to faith while surviving in the

midst of the conventional society and Japanese religions.

Since ban on the Christianity was lifted in 1873, new Christian history in Japan has begun.



1549  St. Francis Xavier came Kagoshima Japan as a first Christian missionary and

           commenced the Christian history in Japan

1550  St. Francis Xavier came Hirado as a Christian missionary

1551  Catholic Hirado Church was constructed as first church in Japan

1557   Introduction of Catholicism to Ikitsuki, Kasuga in Hirado

1563  Omura Sumitada, feudral lord of Nagasaki who was first lord convert to Christianity

1569  Todos os Santos Church was constructed as first in Nagasaki by Gaspal Villera

1571  Nagasaki Port was opend to Portugal by feudral lord Omura Sumitada

1580   Arima Harunobu, lord of Arima convert to Christianity and the Seminario was

          established in Kuchinotsu as first in Japan

1582  Arima Harunobu teamed up with Kyushu Christian lords Otomo Sorin and ura Sumitada

          to dispatch the Tensho Mission to the Pope in Rome

1587  Shogunate, Toyotomi Hideyoshi proclaimed Christian ban

1590  The Tensho Mission retured to Nagasaki

1597  The Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan, were a group of Catholics who were

          executed by crucifixion on February 5 at Nagasaki. Their martyrdom is especially

          significant in the history of the Catholic Church in Japan.

1603 Tokugawa Shogunate was established and the natioal isolation policy was applied

1614 The Tokugawa Shogunate prohibited Christianity throughout Japan

1622 five Christians were martyred at Nakae no Shima in Hirado

1624 three Christians were martyred at Nakae no Shima in Hirado

1627 twenty seven Christians were martyred at Unzen Jigoku

1637 Shimabara Rebellion : a peasant uprising against bakufu’s persecution of Christians

         under the leadership of Amakusa Shiro

1637 Lorenzo Luiz from Philippines martyred at Nashizaka hill in Nagasaki

1641 Dejima, the small artificial island was opened as Dutch trading port in Nagasaki 

1644  Last Christian missionary in Japan is martyred

1853     Mathew C Perry came to Uraga; the Commodore of the US navy, who played a

             significant role in Japanese history, succeeded in opening Japan to foreign countries

1854    Treaty between the USA and Japan : ending the isolation policy and opening the country

1858    Treaty of Amity and Commerce between USA, Netherlands, Russia, England, France and

            Japan ; allow religious freedom in foreign residential areas

1862     The 26 Japanese Martyrs at Nishizaka Hill in Nagasaki were canonized by Pope Pius IX.

1865     Oura Cathedral was built as the basilica of Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan 

1868     Meiji Restoration, the most important event in Japanese history, which heralded a new era

             of modernization in Japan. This revolution restored the imperial rule to Japan after more

             than 250years of Tokugawa Shogunate

1873     Ban on the Christianity was lifted

1882     Shitsu Church in Sotome construction started by Father de Rotz’s design

1909     Shitsu Church was completed 

1914     Urakami Cathedral construction was completed, it was the largest Catholic church in East Asia

              at that time

1912     Yamada Church in Hirado was constructed

1917     Tabira Church in Hirado was constructed

1920     Kurosaki Church was completed by Father de Rotz’s design

1931     St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church in Hirado was constructed at the present location

1945     Atomic bomb dropped in Nagasaki on Aug. 9

    The most part of Nagasaki was destroyed, and a tremendous number of lives were lost.  

              and Urakami Cathedral was completely destroyed.

    About 73,000 died instantly, and up to 60,000 were injured.

1950     Pope Pius XII designated the Nishizaka Hill in Nagasaaki of Martyrdom of 26 Japanese

             Saints as an official Pilgrimage site for Catholics

1959     Urakami Cathedral replacement was built

1981     Pope John Paul II visited in Nagasaki

1982     Saint Teresa of Calcutta commonly known as Mother Teresa visited in Nagasaki

1987    Saint Lorenzo Ruiz was canonized by the same pope in the Vatican city on 18 October,

            making him the first Filipino Saint

2000    Ebdo Shusaku ( novelist of Silence ) Literary Museum is opened in Sotome

2018    Hidden Christian site is registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage

2019     Pope Francis visited Nagasaki on Nov.24 and and calls for a ‘world without Nuclear

             Weapons’ at the Ground Zero.

Christian missionary work in Nagasaki in 1550


Christian missionary activities in Japan began after Francis Xavier came to

Hirado in 1550.

The Jesuit missionaries who accompanied Francis Xavier carried out missionary

activities in Hirado, Omura, Nagasaki, Goto, Kuchinotsu, Shimabara, Iki,

Amakusa, Bungo, etc. And then many people converted to Christianity.


main missionaries;

Cosme de Torres (Spanish), Juan Fernandes (Spanish), Luis de Almeida (Portuguese),

Gaspar Vilela (Portuguese), Luis Frois (Portuguese), Melechor de Figueiredo

(Portuguese), Alessandro Valignano (Italian)

Nagasaki was a small Rome in 1569


Todos os Santos Church, the first church in Nagasaki, was built in 1569.

Federal lord Omura and the Jesuits made an agreement to make Nagasaki

a port for trade with Nanban. (Portugal and Spain) in 1570.

Nagasaki Port was opened and the first Portuguese ship arrived in 1571.

And development of the town of cape was started as Christian town in 1571

and the small Church of San Paulo was constructed at the tip of cape.


After that following Churches were constructed.

Misericordia Headquarters Church in 1583

Santa Maria Church in 1600

Santa Clara Church in 1603

Santiago Church in 1604

San Juan Petista Church in 1605

San Antonio Church in 1606

San Pedro Church in 1607

San Francisco Church in 1611

San Agustin Church in 1612

For 45 years after the first church was built, Nagasaki developed as a Christian town,

and by 1614, most of the 25,000 people were Christians.


It was as if Nagasaki was a small Rome.


However, due to the Tokugawa Shogunate’s Ban on Christianity in 1614, most of the

church buildings were destroyed within 15 days from November 3rd.

Opening the port created Christian town Nagasaki in 1570


Nagasaki Port was opened in 1570 by Sumitada Omura, who was the first feudal lord

in Japan to be baptized as a Christian.

At that time, there was a Christian family who immigrated with Figueiredo.

Many of them were people fleeing persecution, coming from Shimabara, Iki, Goto,

Hirado, and Yamaguchi. This was the beginning of the Christian town Nagasaki.


Sumitada Omura donated the territories of Nagasaki and Mogi to the Jesuits in order

to fend off attacks from nearby enemies.

In 1580, Japan Society of Jesus established its headquarters in Nagasaki.


Tensho youth mission to Europe in 1582


In 1582, four youth boarded a ship bound for Europe at Nagasaki Port.

They were dispatched as representatives of Japanese Christian federal lords,

and departed with Alessandro Valignano who was Jesuit missionary who

planned the Youth mission.  

Four youth were Ito Mansho Ito, Chijiwa Miguel, Hara Martino, Nakaura Julian

who were around 13 years old.



The purpose of the mission is to show the four people who studied at Arima

Seminario about Europe and to convey the greatness of Europe to the

Japanese people.

By introducing the boy raised by the Jesuits to Europe, the mission was to

highlight the achievements of Japan’s missionary work and gain support from

the Pope and the King of Portugal.


Two years and six months after leaving Nagasaki, they finally arrived in Europe.

He first had an audience with Philip II at Rispon, and was subsequently welcomed

in various places.

On March 23, 1585, Japan had an audience with the Pope and made its grand d

ebut on the world stage. After that, they also visited various parts of Italy.


When they returned to Nagasaki in 1590, Christianity was being prohibited.

Therefore, their achievements were suppressed due to the ban on Christianity.

It was not until 1858, when religious freedom was recognized, that their activities

were evaluated.


26 Saints were the first martyrs in Japan in 1597


26 Christians arrested in Kyoto who were consisted of 20 Japanese, 4 Spaniards,

1 Mexican, and 1 Portuguese.

They were forced to walk barefoot to Nagasaki for about a month.

On February 5, 1597, all 26 Christians arrived at Nishizaka and were tied to Crosses.


Paul Miki said from the Cross

All of you who are here, please listen to me.

I did not com from the Philippines, I am a Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society

of Jesus.

I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been

teaching the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am very happy to die for such cause, and see my death as great blessing from the Lord.

At this critical time, when you can rest assured that I will not try to deceive you, I want to stress

and make it unmistakably clear that man can find no way to salvation other than the Christian

way. The Christian law commands that we forgive our enemies and who have wronged us.

I must therefore say here that I forgive Taikosama (Hideyoshi).


I would rather have all the Japanese become Christians.

(From Luis Frois’s Martyrs Records, 1597)

Santo Domingo Church, built in 1609


Santo Domingo Church was built in 1609 by Dominican Father Francisco de Morales

in Nagasaki after demolishing a church in Kagoshima.

However, five years later, the church was destroyed due to the ban on Christianity.


The ruins of this church were discovered in 2002 during an excavation survey conducted

in conjunction with the rebuilding of the Sakuramachi Elementary School building.

Now, the Santo Domingo Church Ruins Museum was established. Excavated artifacts, ruins,

and Christian-related materials discovered in Nagasaki are on display.

Ban on Christianity in 1612


The number of Christians in Japan continued to increase, and reaching 300,000 in 1614.

Fearing the ever-increasing number of Christian rebellions, Tokugawa Shogunate finally

issued a ban on Christianity in Nagasaki in 1612, and two years later in 1614 throughout

the country in Japan.


After that, the history of martyrdom began in various places.

・in 1617, 4 missionaries were martyred in Omura

・in 1622, Genna great martyrdom (55 Christians) at Nishizaka

・in 1622-24, Ikutsuki and Nakae-no-shima island martyrdom

・from 1627, Unzen jigoku martyrdom

・1633, Nakaura Julian martyred in Nishizaka

・in 1637, Shimabara Rebellion

・in 1644, Konishi Manjo martyrdom, Domestic priests become absent

・in 1657, Persecution of Christians in Omura

・in 1790, Persecution of Christians in Urakami

・in 1839, Persecution of Christians in Urakami

・in 1856, Persecution of Christians in Urakami

Hidden Christians from 1612


Oppression against Christians began with the Tokugawa shogunate’s ban

on Christianity. The missionaries were expelled to oversea countries, and

those who remained secretly in Japan were also captured and martyred.

Konishi Mansho who was the last Priest during the ban on Christianity,

was also martyred in 1644.

In the absence of priests, believers pretended to be Shinto or Buddhist

ostensibly in order to protect their faith.

The Christian organizations were created in each village to continue the

Christian faith and the faith was passed down from parents to children and

from children to grandchildren.


Hidden Christian

Even after lifted ban on Christianity, people who continue to practice their

faith in the same way as before are called “Hidden Christians”.

Hidden Christians in Nagasaki have been passed down since the ban on

Christianity in Hirado, Ikitsuki, the Goto Islands, Sotome, and around Nagasaki.


Genna great Martyrdom in 1622


25 years after the martyrdom of the 26 Saints, the blood of Christians was shed

once again at Nishizaka in Nagasaki.


55 Christians were martyred who were arrested at Suzuta Prison in Omura and

Kurusu Prison in Nagasaki.

These included Italian missionary Carlo Spinola and Portuguese missionary

Domingos Jorge.