Visiting rules and access

To learn the history of the property

character The property, ‘Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region’, is an outstanding testimony to the history of people and their communities who secretly transmitted their faith in Christianity during the time of prohibition spanning more than two centuries in Japan. Here we introduce how Hidden Christians’ tradition of continuing their religious faith was formed, spread and ultimately ended, as well as its historical background.
  1. Animation Video (3 min. version)
Introduction to the Nagasaki Region
Introduction to the Hidden Christian

(Ⅰ)Origin of the tradition of continuing the Christian faith

Catholicism was first introduced to Japan by a Jesuit priest, Francis Xavier, in 1549. It spread nationwide due to the evangelising activities of the Jesuits who came to Japan after Xavier, and also due to the protection afforded by baptised feudal lords (Kirishitan Daimyo) who sought to profit from overseas trade. However, the ban on Christianity, which had begun with an edict issued by Toyotomi Hideyoshi expelling the missionaries, was tightened under the Tokugawa Shogunate, by which all the churches were destroyed and all the missionaries were ordered to leave Japan. In 1637, during the nationwide ban on Christianity, remaining Catholics took up arms against the tyranny of their local lord and were besieged in Hara Castle. The Shogunate was shocked at this Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion and adopted its national seclusion policy (known as Sakoku) to prohibit the arrival of Portuguese ships that could be used to smuggle missionaries into Japan. After the last missionary within Japan had been martyred in 1644, the remaining Japanese Catholics could only maintain their faith and communities on their own in secret. These believers are referred to as Hidden Christians. Many such communities disintegrated in rapid succession in the latter half of the 17th century due to a series of large-scale crackdowns on remaining Catholics, forcing them to either renounce their religious faith or be martyred.

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

Hidden Christian communities disappeared in Japan except for the Nagasaki region, where Catholic missionary activities had taken place more extensively than in any other parts of Japan in the initial phase of the introduction of Catholicism. This region provided the foundations for the maintenance of the secret faith even into the 18th century and afterwards. Here, Hidden Christians nurtured a distinctive religious system and continued to practise their secret faith in various ways. Those in Kasuga Village and Sacred Places in Hirado venerated a mountain, an island and other natural sites as sacred places or as sites of martyrdom. Those in Sakitsu Village in Amakusa substituted everyday items that were used in their life and work for Christian devotional objects. Those in Shitsu Village in Sotome continued their religious practices by themselves based on the Catholic liturgical calendar and the Christian catechism, and they secretly venerated sacred images. Those in Ono Village in Sotome combined their faith with common Shinto practices. In this way, the Hidden Christians in these villages nurtured their religious system based on secrecy.

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

To cope with increases in the population in Sotome, some of the villagers began to migrate to the Goto Islands and other remote areas at the end of the 18th century. Many of the migrants were Hidden Christians, and they decided where to settle, considering how they could live alongside pre-existing communities and their religions. These destinations included abandoned pasturelands on Kuroshima Island that needed redevelopment, untouched land on Hisaka Island, an island that was regarded as sacred by Shinto practitioners (Nozaki Island), and parts of Kashiragashima Island that had been used for sick people and therefore had no settled communities. Specific sites and devotional tools provided a focus for the Hidden Christian faith, and the migration of Hidden Christians contributed to the continuation of their religious beliefs for over two centuries.
Specific sites and devotional tools provided a focus for the Hidden Christian faith, and the migration of Hidden Christians contributed to the continuation of their religious beliefs for over two centuries.

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(Ⅳ)The transitional phase in the religious identity of Hidden Christians, leading to the transformation and the end of their tradition

Following the opening of Japan to overseas trade in 1854, Catholic missionaries returned to Nagasaki and constructed Oura Cathedral for Westerners within the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement. In 1865, a group of Hidden Christians from Urakami came to the cathedral and revealed to the missionary that they had been practising Christianity in secret. This event came to be known as the Discovery of Hidden Christians, following which many Hidden Christian communities professed their faith despite the fact that the ban on Christianity was still in effect. The authorities once again strengthened the suppression of Christians, leading to the last wave of persecutions. In 1873, however, due to Western countries lodging strong protests to the Meiji Government, the ban on Christianity was eventually lifted in Japan. Consequently, Hidden Christians split into three groups: (1) those who reaccepted Catholicism under the guidance of the missionaries and rejoined the Catholic Church, (2) those who continued with their own practices nurtured during the lengthy period when the ban on Christianity was in place, and (3) those who decided to convert to Buddhism or Shinto.
Simple churches were built in the villages where the inhabitants reconverted to Catholicism. Among these churches, Egami Church on Naru Island is a representative example clearly demonstrating how traditional techniques were adopted to deal with the environment in the places Hidden Christians migrated to and visually marking the end of the cultural tradition nurtured during the ban on Christianity.

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