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Villages on Kashiragashima IslandVillages on Kashiragashima Island

(Ⅲ) Hidden Christians’ endeavours to continue and spread their religious faith


Yuko It was in these villages that Hidden Christians passed on their faith after their migration to the island under the guidance of a Buddhist man. Formerly, that once had been used for sick people; therefore, there were no pre-existing communities.

The villages on Kashiragashima Island bear testimony to the efforts of the Hidden Christians to maintain their faith through migration to an island that was once used for the sick, and which other communities therefore avoided. The Hidden Christian migrants from Sotome first settled in Tainoura on Nakadori Island and later moved to this uninhabited island under the direction of a Buddhist man. They continued their secret faith in an isolated environment. Following the Discovery of Hidden Christians at Oura Cathedral, they initially used the house of a Hidden Christian leader in an open valley facing the sea as a temporary church. Later they constructed a new church near the temporary one, visually marking the end of Hidden Christians’ tradition.

Kashiragashima Island is quite a small island with a circumference of barely 8 km located in Kamigoto, the northern part of the Goto Islands. The island includes the remains of a graveyard bearing testimony to the Hidden Christians’ migration to an island which had been used for the sick, the grave of the Buddhist who directed the migration and cultivation of the island, and the site of a Hidden Christian leader’s house that was used as the temporary church as well as the site of a church built after the end of the ban on Christianity.

The island is separated from neighbouring Nakadori Island (the main island in the Kamigoto area) by a 150-meter-wide strait, which frequently experiences violent tidal flows. The perimeter terrain of this mountainous island is mostly steep cliffs, and there is a small beach on the northern coast of the island. The island remained isolated and uninhabited even in premodern times, with only sporadic use for fishing activities and the like. Historical records from the middle of the 19th century state that the island was used for the sick. Tombs, presumably those of inhabitants at that time, were found on the beach of the Shirahama area in the north part of the island by an archaeological excavation.

In 1858, Maeda Gidayu, a Buddhist from Arikawa Village on Nakadori Island, moved to Kashiragashima Island to open up this frontier area and settled in Fukuura on the northern coast. With its relatively mild sea winds and a small river, Fukuura provided the best conditions for human habitation on the island and it could also serve as a modest natural port. Gidayu built a house near the seacoast, founded a Shinto shrine behind it as the guardian deity of the area, and built a graveyard for his family in an adjoining location in later years.

During the next year, Gidayu invited several households from Tainoura Village on Nakadori Island to settle there also. These newcomers were Hidden Christians who had initially migrated to Nakadori Island from Sotome under the agreement between the Omura clan and the Goto clan. The Hidden Christians decided to follow the Buddhist man by outwardly behaving as Buddhists and further to migrate to Kashiragashima Island so that they could avoid conflicts with pre-existing Buddhist communities on Nakadori Island and live there more peacefully.

They first settled at Shirahama beach and cultivated the slopes extending from the beach up to the mountains behind the settlement by constructing stone retaining walls to make terraces, and grew potatoes as their main form of sustenance. In later years, they established Hidden Christian villages and farmlands in other areas, namely Tajiri on the southern coast of the island and Hamadomari on the western coast. While they outwardly behaved as Buddhists affiliated with a Buddhist temple on Nakadori Island, they continued their secret faith under the guidance of their own religious leaders.

Hearing the news of the Discovery of Hidden Christians at Oura Cathedral in 1865, leaders of Hidden Christian communities in the Nagasaki region began to contact European missionaries of the cathedral. Hidden Christian leaders in the Kamigoto area also secretly visited Oura Cathedral. They revealed their centuries-long secret faith and invited the missionaries to visit their islands. As a result, the Hidden Christians on Kashiragashima Island rejoined the Catholic Church.

In 1867, Domingo Matsujiro, the principal Hidden Christian leader in the Kamigoto area whose father had served as the Mizukata in Sotome, moved to Kashiragashima Island. He built a house in the Shirahama area and used it as a temporary church, receiving a missionary from Oura Cathedral. The locals constructed a new wooden church near the temporary church in 1887, which was used until 1914. This construction symbolically marks the end of Hidden Christians’ tradition on Kashiragashima Island. In 1919, the present Kashiragashima Church was built using local sandstones at the site of the temporary church through 10 years of volunteer work of locals. Near the seacoast in the Shirahama area, graveyards were also established for former Hidden Christians who rejoined the Catholic Church after the lifting of the ban.

01_頭ヶ島の集落
01_Villages on Kashiragashima Island
01_頭ヶ島の集落
02_白浜集落の発掘写真(1995)
02_Photos taken during archaeological excavation in the Shirahama area (1995)
02_白浜集落の発掘写真(1995)
03_白浜集落の発掘写真(人骨)
03_Human bones unearthed during archaeological excavation in the Shirahama area
03_白浜集落の発掘写真(人骨)
04_福浦集落
04_Fukuura area
04_福浦集落
05_前田家の墓_池田勉撮影
05_Graves of the Maeda family (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
05_前田家の墓_池田勉撮影
06_前田長平の名が刻まれた墓碑_池田勉撮影
06_Gravestone inscribed with the name of Maeda Chohei (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
06_前田長平の名が刻まれた墓碑_池田勉撮影
07_頭ヶ島由来記が刻まれた墓碑_池田勉撮影
07_Gravestone with ‘Kashiragashima Yuraiki (The Origins of Kashiragashima Island)’ inscribed on it (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
07_頭ヶ島由来記が刻まれた墓碑_池田勉撮影
08_白浜集落_池田勉撮影
08_Shirahama area (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
08_白浜集落_池田勉撮影
09_田尻集落の石積みを伴う耕作地_池田勉撮影
09_Farmland in the Tajiri area developed with the help of stone walls (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
09_田尻集落の石積みを伴う耕作地_池田勉撮影
10_「仮の聖堂」跡を示す石碑_池田勉撮影
10_Stone monument indicating the location of the temporary church (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
10_「仮の聖堂」跡を示す石碑_池田勉撮影
11_初代頭ヶ島教会堂跡(現在の頭ヶ島天主堂)
11_Current Kashiragashima Church standing on the site of the first church
11_初代頭ヶ島教会堂跡(現在の頭ヶ島天主堂)
12_カトリックに復帰した人々の墓地_池田勉撮影
12_Graveyard of those who rejoined the Catholic Church (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
12_カトリックに復帰した人々の墓地_池田勉撮影

Basic information

Map
Designation title as cultural assetsLocationDesignation categoryYear of designation
Stone-built Village Landscape of Sakiura in ShinkamigotoShinkamigoto Town, Minamimatsuura District, Nagasaki PrefectureImportant Cultural Landscape selected by the national government2012
Kashiragashima ChurchShinkamigoto Town, Minamimatsuura District, Nagasaki PrefectureImportant Cultural Property designated by the national governmentFirstly in 2001 and additionally in 2003

Access

Kashiragashima Church(”Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region” Information Centre)

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