Kashiragashima Photo: Burcu Basar

Five places linked to Japan’s hidden Christians

By Burcu Basar

In 1569, a port was established in Nagasaki to harbor Portuguese merchant ships, which brought not only trade but Christianity to Japan. Catholic influence grew so strong that Nagasaki was referred to as “Little Rome.” However, once Christianity was banned in 1614, the threat of persecution led Japanese followers to practice their faith in secret and form Kakure Kirishitan, the hidden Christians of Japan.

In 2018, twelve sites linked to the Kakure Kirishitan culture were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, bringing this dark, enthralling part of Japan’s history into the light.

It’s taken me multiple visits to Nagasaki to appreciate its historical and cultural significance. Recently, inspired by the movie "Silence" and the excellent John Dougill book, "In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians," I set out to re-explore Nagasaki and Western Kyushu Islands and the Goto Islands.

Oura Cathedral: Japan’s oldest church

Oura Cathedral was selected as a National Treasure in 1933. Photo: Burcu Basar

My first stop was Oura Cathedral (established 1864) in Nagasaki City, Japan’s oldest surviving wooden church. The towering basilica, perched on a hill among skinny palm trees, features traditional European neo-gothic architecture. It was founded to honor the 26 Martyrs of Japan, Japanese and foreign Catholics executed by crucifixion in 1597.

In 1865, shortly after the church’s construction, Japanese Christians, who had been practicing their religion in secret for more than 200 years, met with the church priest, Father Petitjean. This was the first time that the Catholic church became aware of the hidden Christians of Japan. Pope Pius IX declared it “the Miracle of the Orient.”

Although not as atmospheric as the church itself, the nearby Christian Museum is an excellent place to learn more about the history of hidden Christianity in Nagasaki, thanks to the explanatory boards provided in English.

Click here to read more.

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Oura Cathedral has a nice atmosphere that do not depend on a big building, there was a short segment once in a TV show that dealt with the architecture while recreating the famous scene of priest Bernard Petitjean meeting with the remaining hidden Christians of Nagasaki and the scenes really presented the beauty of the place.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Christianity was proscribed in Japan like any religion has been/is anywhere because the powers-that-be are scared. Note how all religions are banned under Communism, and how only Islam is allowed in Saudi Arabia and so forth. Yet the religions survive and here's a great historical sight of it, even after the faiths are permitted again.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not a member of a religion nor fear it in the current world. Simply, nice architecture conveying a past history. Like some statues, there is no need for them to be removed or destroyed.

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People should continue to be able to put their ‘faith’ where they choose to find comfort, whether it be music, literature, the arts, science, …

… but never should they rely solely on social media, main stream media or governments.

With their Neo-tribalism, any of those are shown to rapidly, and rabidly, turn on their own members once one is declared a ‘heretic’ from their dogma.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Execution by crucifixion !

Just remember that .

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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