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Kasuga Village and Sacred Places in Hirado (Nakaenoshima Island)Kasuga Village and Sacred Places in Hirado (Nakaenoshima Island)

(Ⅱ) Formation of the tradition of continuing the Christian faith


Yuko Hidden Christians concealed their faith in this village by venerating the mountain and island as their sacred places and the sites on which their ancestors had been martyred.

Hidden Christians in Kasuga Village continued their religious faith on their own by venerating nature sites as sacred places, such as the mountain that had been regarded as sacred by the pre-existing religious communities and the island where early Japanese Catholics had been executed. Mt. Yasumandake, which had been a sacred site for Buddhists and Shinto practitioners long before the introduction of Christianity to Japan, became an object of worship of Hidden Christian communities. Nakaenoshima Island, where a group of Japanese Catholics were martyred during the early period of the ban, was also venerated, and the Hidden Christians gathered holy water for the baptismal ceremony and other rituals from this site. The Hidden Christian communities in Kasuga did not rejoin the Catholic Church, even after the lifting of the ban on Christianity, and instead decided to continue with their own distinctive religious system, nurtured during the ban. However, this system gradually declined and barely exists in the village any longer.

Kasuga Village and Sacred Places in Hirado is a collective name for the former Hidden Christian village, a mountain and an island in the northwest of Hirado Island that provided focus for the Hidden Christian faith. Kasuga Village is located on the western coast of Hirado Island in a valley extending down from Mt. Yasumandake, east of the village. In Kasuga Village, there are remains of Catholic graves on Maruoyama Hill dating back to the period of the initial introduction of Christianity to Japan, houses in which devotional tools were secretly kept in closets during the ban, and Hidden Christian graveyards. In Mt. Yasumandake facing Kasuga Village and venerated by Hidden Christian villagers, there are Hakusan-hime Shrine and its frontal approach way, associated stonework, the remains of Saizenji Temple, as well as the natural forests around the summit that were managed during the ban. Off the coast from Kasuga Village, there is Nakaenoshima Island, where a group of Japanese Catholics were executed. As a result, this island also came to be venerated as a martyrdom site by Hidden Christians.

In 1550, Catholicism was introduced to Hirado Island by Francis Xavier and it then spread to the western coast of the island after the baptism of the Koteda clan who ruled the area. A letter written by a Jesuit in 1563 reveals that Kumi, or small religious community units, had been established in Kasuga.

Later, however, the Matsura clan, who ruled Hirado Island, prohibited Christianity in their domain, and the Christian Koteda clan had to leave the island in 1599. Although Christianity was prohibited under the Tokugawa Shogunate, some underground missionaries visited Hirado from time to time. All missionary contact came to an end when Father Camillo Costanzo was martyred in 1622 in Hirado. In the complete absence of missionaries from then on, Hidden Christians in Kasuga Village had to maintain their religious communities themselves and then covertly passed down their faith to future generations under the guidance of the leaders of the Kumi.

Hidden Christians in Kasuga Village formed two religious communities which maintained their faith and nurtured their unique system which was able to fit in with the pre-existing society and established religions. In the leaders’ houses there were Buddhist and Shinto altars, in addition to a separate closed room called the Nando where Hidden Christian devotional tools were concealed; those tools were called Nandogami. The Hidden Christians worshipped Mt. Yasumandake as a sacred place for their faith. It had been an object of ancient mountain worship long before the introduction of Christianity to Japan.

Situated to the east of Kasuga Village at an altitude of 536 meters, Mt. Yasumandake is the highest mountain in the Hirado area. Its wide expanse is covered by lush primeval forests of Japanese evergreen oak (Quercus acuta). Hakusan-hime Shrine and its frontal approach, the stonework at the summit, and the remains of Saizenji Temple are also important features on the mountain. Hakusan-hime Shrine was established in 718, and is also known as Hakusan Gongen. The shrine building at the summit was reconstructed during the modern period, while both the Torii gate and the approach way paved with stones were built before the Edo period. Behind the shrine are various types of stonework, including a small stone shrine known as a Kirishitan Hokora (or literally a Hidden Christian shrine). Saizenji Temple, close to the Hakusan-hime Shrine’s approach, was established at the same timing as the shrine, and ruins of its foundation stones, pond and stone structures still remain. It is known from a Catholic missionary’s letter written in the 16th century that a mountain-based Buddhist group led by Saizenji Temple had significant influence in the area during the latter half of that century, calling itself ‘Yasumandake’, and this group was hostile to missionaries. However, in the later years during the ban on Christianity, the Hidden Christian faith and the conventional Japanese religious views based on Buddhism and Shinto had become multi-layered, and that made Mt. Yasumandake a sacred mountain not only for Buddhists and Shinto practitioners but also for Hidden Christians. There was an approach connecting Kasuga Village and the mountain summit that could be used by the villagers to offer prayers to the mountain. In a Hidden Christian prayer titled ‘Kamiyose-no-Oratio’ that has been cherished since the period of the ban, the mountain is respectfully called ‘Yasumandake-sama’ or ‘Yasumandake-no-Okunoin-sama’ (or literally ‘Inner temple of Yasumandake’), demonstrating that the mountain was an important object of worship for the Hidden Christians as well.

Nakaenoshima Island is an uninhabited island located about 2 km off the northwestern coast of Hirado Island, extending about 400m from east to west and 50m from north to south. Its highest point is 34.6 meters above the sea level. There are various records of Japanese Catholics executed on this island by the Hirado clan in the early stages of the ban on Christianity. The island was venerated by Hidden Christians in Kasuga and other villages on the western coast of Hirado Island as a martyrdom site. There, they carried out a ritual called the Omizutori (or literally ‘water-drawing’) ceremony to collect the holy water that seeped out from the stones.

Hidden Christians venerated Mt. Yasumandake and Nakaenoshima Island in such a way that it looked like they were carrying out the standard rituals of conventional religions and folk customs, while concealing their true inner faith.

In 1865, the news of the Discovery of Hidden Christians at Oura Cathedral immediately reached the Hidden Christians in Hirado. This opened a new phase for the traditions of the Hidden Christian faith. Catholic devotional tools created outside Japan in the 19th century and kept as one of the Nandogami in Kasuga Village suggest that Hidden Christians had contacted missionaries from the Paris Foreign Missions Society. However, the Hidden Christian communities in Kasuga did not rejoin the Catholic Church, even after the lifting of the ban on Christianity, and instead decided to continue with their own distinctive religious system, nurtured during the ban. This system gradually declined during the 20th century and barely exists in the village any longer.

01_平戸の聖地と集落_日暮雄一撮影
01_Kasuga Village and Sacred Places in Hirado (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
01_平戸の聖地と集落_日暮雄一撮影
02_丸尾山
02_Maruoyama hill
02_丸尾山
03_春日集落_池田勉撮影
03_Kasuga Village (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
03_春日集落_池田勉撮影
04_春日集落の潜伏キリシタン墓地
04_Hidden Christian graveyard in Kasuga Village
04_春日集落の潜伏キリシタン墓地
05_安満岳山頂にある石の参道と鳥居_日暮雄一撮影
05_Paved approach way to a Shinto shrine and Torii gate on the summit of Mt. Yasumandake (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
05_安満岳山頂にある石の参道と鳥居_日暮雄一撮影
06_信心具(オテンペンシャ、個人所蔵)
06_Devotional item known as Otenpensha (kept by a villager)
06_信心具(オテンペンシャ、個人所蔵)
07_安満岳山頂の石造物群_日暮雄一撮影
07_Stonework on the summit of Mt. Yasumandake (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
07_安満岳山頂の石造物群_日暮雄一撮影
08_西禅寺跡_池田勉撮影
08_Site of Saizenji Temple (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
08_西禅寺跡_池田勉撮影
09_中江ノ島_日暮雄一撮影
09_Nakaenoshima Island (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
09_中江ノ島_日暮雄一撮影
10_中江ノ島での「お水取り」(島の館蔵)
10_Omizutori ceremony held on Nakaenoshima Island
10_中江ノ島での「お水取り」(島の館蔵)

Basic information

Map
Designation title as cultural assetsLocationDesignation categoryYear of designation
Cultural Landscape of Hirado IslandHirado City, Nagasaki Prefecture Important Cultural Landscape selected by the national government2010

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Kasuga village and sacred places in Hirado(”Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region” Information Centre)

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