Kakure Kirishitan

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The Virgin Mary disguised as Kannon, Kirishitan cult, 17th century Japan. Salle des Martyrs, Paris Foreign Missions Society.

Kakure Kirishitan (隠れキリシタン?, Japanese for "Hidden Christian") is a modern term for a member of the Japanese Catholic Church during the Edo period that went underground after the Shimabara Rebellion in the 1630s.[1][2]


A Dehua porcelain "Guanyin bringing child" statue, interpreted to be "Maria Kannon" in connection with Christian worship. Nantoyōsō Collection, Japan.

Kakure Kirishitans are called the "hidden" Christians because they continued to practice Christianity in secret. They worshipped in secret rooms in private homes. As time went on, the figures of the saints and the Virgin Mary were transformed into figurines that looked like the traditional statues of the Buddha and bodhisattvas.[3] The prayers were adapted to sound like Buddhist chant, yet retained many untranslated words from Latin, Portuguese and Spanish. The Bible and other parts of the liturgy were passed down orally, due to fears of printed works being confiscated by authorities.[1] Because of the expulsion of the Catholic clergy in the 17th century, the Kakure Christian community relied on lay leaders to lead the services.

In some cases, the communities drifted away from Christian teachings. They lost the meaning of the prayers and their religion became a version of the cult of ancestors, in which the ancestors happened to be their Christian martyrs.

Approximately 30,000 secret Christians, some of whom had adopted these new ways of practicing Christianity, came out of hiding when religious freedom was re-established in the mid-19th century after the Meiji Restoration. The Kakure Kirishitan became known as Mukashi Kirishitan (昔キリシタン?), or "ancient" Christians, and emerged not only from traditional Christian areas in Kyushu, but also from other rural areas of Japan.[1]

The majority of Kakure Kirishitan rejoined the Catholic Church after renouncing unorthodox, syncretic practices. Some Kakure Kirishitan did not rejoin the Catholic Church, and became known as the Hanare Kirishitan (離れキリシタン, separated Christians).[1] Hanare Kirishitan are now primarily found on the Urakami and Gotō Islands.[2]

Modern extinction of Hanare Kirishitan[edit]

Following the legalization of Christianity and secularization of Japan, many Hanare Kirishitan lineages ended abruptly. Traditionally, boys learned the rituals and prayers from their fathers; when boys were uninterested or moved away from the homes, there would be no one left to continue the lineage.

For a while, Hanare Kirishitans were thought to have died out entirely, due to their tradition of secrecy. A group on Ikitsuki Island in Nagasaki prefecture, which had been overlooked by the Japanese government during the time of persecution, made their practices public in the 1980s and now perform them for audiences; however, these practices have acquired some attributes of theatre, such as the telling of folktales and the use of statues and other images which most underground Christians had never created.

The anthropologist Christal Whelan uncovered some Hanare Kirishitans on the Gotō Islands where Kakure Kirishitans had once fled. There were only two surviving priests on the islands, both of whom were over 90, and they would not talk to each other. The few surviving laity had also all reached old age, and some of them no longer had any priests from their lineage and prayed alone. Although these Hanare Kirishitans had a strong tradition of secrecy, they agreed to be filmed for her documentary Otaiya.[4]

In Japanese culture[edit]

  • Shusaku Endo's acclaimed novel Silence draws from the oral history of the local Kirishitan communities pertaining to the time of the suppression of the Church, as do certain of his short stories, including "Mothers" and "Unzen."
  • Noted Japanese composer Yasuhide Ito has written a well-known[5][6][7] work for symphonic band, called Gloriosa, that was inspired by the music of the Kakure Kirishitans.[6]
  • The anime series Samurai Champloo is largely based on the related Shimabara Rebellion and its aftermath. Lead female Fuu is a descendant of the Kakure Kirishitan; her father is a Christian and he left the family to not have them killed.[citation needed]
  • The josei manga Amakusa 1637 by Michiyo Akaishi is about six friends from the 20th century, who in the middle of a trip to Nagasaki are tossed in the past -- and land few weeks before the Shimabara Rebellion. When one of them (a young woman named Natsuki) is mistaken for Shiro Amakusa, they decide to use their knowledge of the past and their own Christian faith to stop the massacre.[citation needed]
  • The anime series Rurouni Kenshin featured an arc inspired by the persecution of the Kakure Kirishitan. The lead antagonist is a swordsman named Shougo Mutou, who claims to be the second coming of Shiro Amakusa and gets ready to start an armed Christian movement in the Shumabara arc, similar to the aforementioned Shimabara Rebellion. Shougo and his sister Sayo are the only survivors of a whole Kakure Kirishitan village that was destroyed by the Japanese military years before the arc itself took place.[citation needed]
  • Rin Tohsaka, one of the main characters in the visual novel Fate/stay night is a descendant of a Kakure Kirishitan lineage.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "S". Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2012. OCLC 56431036. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  2. ^ a b "隠れキリシタン" [Kakure Kirishitan]. Dijitaru Daijisen (in Japanese). Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2012. OCLC 56431036. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  3. ^ "マリア観音WebSite". 3.ocn.ne.jp. Retrieved 2012-12-21. 
  4. ^ "Kakure Kirishitan". Catholiceducation.org. 2000-02-04. Retrieved 2012-12-21. 
  5. ^ "Yasuhide Ito". Retrieved 2007-12-02. 
  6. ^ a b "WASBE". Retrieved 2007-12-02. 
  7. ^ "Philwinds: Composers' Corner: Yasuhide Ito". Retrieved 2007-12-02. 

External links[edit]