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Sakitsu Village in AmakusaSakitsu Village in Amakusa

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


Yuko In this fishing village, Hidden Christians were able to continue practising their faith over time by substituting everyday items used in daily life and work for Christian devotional objects.

Hidden Christians in Sakitsu Village in Amakusa concealed their faith by substituting everyday items that were used in their livelihoods for Christian devotional tools during the ban on Christianity. Under the guidance of their religious leaders, they nurtured a religious system specific to their fishing village—involving veneration of devotional tools such as statues of the Japanese traditional deities Daikokuten and Ebisu as Deus, the God of the Christian faith, and abalone shells that had special significance as their mother-of-pearl patterns were associated with the Virgin Mary. After the lifting of the ban, the Hidden Christians rejoined the Catholic Church, and beside a Shinto shrine where they had secretly offered prayers during the ban they built a church, marking the end of Hidden Christian tradition.

Sakitsu Village is a fishing village located in the western part of Amakusa Shimoshima Island. It contains the site of the house of Mizukata in which Hidden Christians’ devotional tools have been kept right up to the present day, the Sakitsu Suwa Shrine where Hidden Christians secretly offered the Oratio prayer, the site of the house of village headmen from the Yoshida family, in which the Efumi ceremony took place, and the site of the Former Sakitsu Church built beside the Sakitsu Suwa Shrine after the Hidden Christians rejoined the Catholic Church following the lifting of the ban on Christianity.

The village was established as early as the 15th century, where the Jesuit Luis de Almeida started missionary work in 1569. Therefore, many villagers converted to Catholicism and many devotional tools from Europe were brought to the village.

During the ban on Christianity, every year in the house of the village headman, authorities conducted the Efumi ceremony, forcing all of the residents to trample on an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary to prove that they were not Christians. All villagers were officially registered in a book called the Shumon Aratamecho, in which the authorities recorded each villager’s name and the temple he or she belonged to. The Hidden Christians were registered on the village temple, and at the same time they outwardly affiliated themselves with the Sakitsu Suwa Shrine and behaved as Shinto practitioners in order to camouflage their secret faith with Japanese conventional beliefs. The Sakitsu Suwa Shrine has been the seat of the village’s guardian deity since its establishment in 1647. Prayers have long been offered to the deity for large fish catches and maritime safety.

In Sakitsu Village, there is the house site of religious leaders, known as the Mizukata, who conducted baptisms and other ceremonies. Hidden Christian villagers maintained the small units of their religious community called the Kogumi since the 16th century, and their leaders Mizukata conducted baptisms, funerals, and other rituals based on the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar.

In this fishing village, the religious practice of the Hidden Christians was closely associated with their livelihood. They venerated statues of the traditional Japanese divine beings associated with large fish catches, Daikokuten and Ebisu, as Deus, linked mother-of-pearl patterns of abalone shells to the image of the Virgin Mary, and made medals from shells of the white-lipped pearl oyster. The medals and other types of devotional tools that were associated with sea are still kept in the house of Mizukata’s descendants.

When 70% of the villagers were exposed as Hidden Christians in the Amakusa Kuzure crackdown of 1805, they were only told to hand over their devotional items to the Sakitsu Suwa Shrine and the authorities tacitly accepted them by treating their belief as just a ‘different religion’.

After Catholic missionaries returned to Japan in the latter half of the 19th century, the Hidden Christians in Sakitsu Village were baptised afresh and they rejoined the Catholic Church. They built the first Sakitsu Church in 1888 at the site offered by a Catholic who had served as a Mizukata during the ban on Christianity. This site was adjacent to the Sakitsu Suwa Shrine where they had once offered Oratio prayers in secret during the ban. This church was eventually relocated and rebuilt due to the effects of aging. A convent building, which still exists, was later founded on the site after the relocation of the church.

The present church was constructed in 1934 at the site of the house of former village headmen from the Yoshida family. This is where the Efumi ceremony took place during the ban. This came about because the French missionary, Father Halbout, strongly wished to build a church symbolising the revival of Catholicism at the same place in memory of the Efumi ceremony. Tatami mats were used for the flooring from the very beginning, and its altar was set up on the very place where the Efumi ceremony was carried out.

01_天草の崎津集落
01_Sakitsu Village in Amakusa
01_天草の崎津集落
02_崎津諏訪神社_日暮雄一撮影
02_Sakitsu Suwa Shrine (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
02_崎津諏訪神社_日暮雄一撮影
03_崎津諏訪神社の大祭_池田勉撮影
03_Festival of Sakitsu Suwa Shrine (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
03_崎津諏訪神社の大祭_池田勉撮影
04_信心具(アワビ貝、個人所蔵)_池田勉撮影
04_Devotional item (an abalone shell), kept by villagers (Photo by Ikeda Tsutomu)
04_信心具(アワビ貝、個人所蔵)_池田勉撮影
05_信心具(城蝶貝メダイ、個人所蔵)_池田勉撮影
05_Devotional item (medals made from shells of white-lipped pearl oysters), kept by villagers (Photo by Ikeda Tsutomu)
05_信心具(城蝶貝メダイ、個人所蔵)_池田勉撮影
06_初代崎津教会堂後(旧修道院)_池田さん撮影
06_The site of the first Sakitsu Church and the convent (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
06_初代崎津教会堂後(旧修道院)_池田さん撮影
07_崎津庄屋役宅跡(現在の崎津教会)_日暮雄一撮影
07_Site of the house of former village headmen (the current Sakitsu Church) (Photo by Higurashi Yuichi)
07_崎津庄屋役宅跡(現在の崎津教会)_日暮雄一撮影
08_畳敷きの崎津教会堂内部_日暮雄一撮影
08_Interior of Sakitsu Church with tatami mat flooring (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
08_畳敷きの崎津教会堂内部_日暮雄一撮影

Basic information

Map
Designation title as cultural assetsLocationDesignation categoryYear of designation
Cultural Landscape of Sakitsu and Imatomi in AmakusaAmakusa City, Kumamoto PrefectureImportant Cultural Landscape selected by the national governmentFirstly in 2011 and additionally in 2012

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Sakitsu Village in Amakusa(”Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region” Information Centre)

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