Japanese Christians have witnessed some of the most brutal and desperate attempts to eradicate Christianity.
According to details, Japan has witnessed several attempts to eradicate Christians from the Japanese soil, however, the underground Christians kept the faith alive in Japan all through a period of 300 years of fierce persecution, which however, is hardly known to the world.
Now the ‘Hidden Christians’ are being recognised in an exhibition showcasing the moving story of Christians who remained true to their faith without priests, seminaries or churches.
In line with archives found in the Vatican Library several testimonies of Christians who lived in Japan between the 16th and 19th centuries recounted immense violence and humiliation. Father Mario Marega, who was a missionary to Japan in the early 20th century, collected several such letters and other related documents which were written on brittle rice paper. Vatican archives and library has of late restored the collection of Fr. Marega.
According to these archives Christianity was brought in Japan in 1549, followed by rapid growth of the Japanese Church. Soon Christians were targeted and persecuted under the rule of Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. A Spanish captain alarmed Hideyoshi by a report fabricated in order to impress the Japanese. The Spanish captain reported to Hideyoshi that the Christian missionaries were there to prepare the way for a European conquest. As a direct result, in February 1597, 26 Christians were crucified.
This was not all, persecution was to be augmented when Tokugawa Ieyasu who succeeded Hideyoshi decided to utterly eradicate Christianity from Japan altogether. In due course of time, a Protestant English trader, named Will Adams, informed local Japanese leaders that the religious wars ruining Europe were because of the Catholic priest.
Later in 1614 a proclamation of eviction was publicised. This proclamation stated, “the Kirishitan band have come to Japan…longing to disseminate an evil law, to overthrow true doctrine, so that they may change the government of the country and obtain possession of the land” (CR Boxer, The Christian Century in Japan).
Up to this point of time, Japan had a Christian population of about 300,000. Moreover, Japanese city Nagasaki was described as ‘The Rome of Japan’ for the great number of Christians there.
Sadistically, during the rule of a Japanese ruler Iemitsu, terrible cruelty was used against Christians. According to one English witness 55 Christians which included women and children were burnt alive. He recounted that when these 55 Christians were being burnt alive the Christians who were present at that moment were singing hymns and psalms as they burned. As a result of this courageous attitude of Christians Iemitsu decided to torture Christians.
Afterwards, Imietsu strictly prohibited the Christian missionaries to enter in to Japan. Nonetheless, some of the Christian missionaries did try to enter and were captured by the authorities in 1643. These missionaries were tortured and forced to deny their faith. According to the narration by a Dutch eyewitness, “looking exceedingly pitiful, their eyes and cheeks strangely fallen in; their hands black and blue and their whole bodies sadly misused and macerated by torture”.
One brutal and profane method used to determine whether a person was a Christian was the “fumie”, which was a picture of Jesus or the Virgin Mary on which suspected Christians were ordered to step on. If the person would refuse or was hesitant it was concluded that the person was a Christians. There was a time when church was considered extinct in Japan.
However, the Christian faith was kept alive in the heart of Japan by the underground Christians. They kept on practicing their faith and with the passage of time, church began to take roots again.