Persecution of Christians in Japan
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (January 2008)|
After the first landing of Portuguese sailors in Japan in 1542, Christian proselyting led by Francisco Xavier started. In the following decades, many thousands of Japanese, including some princes' families, converted to Roman Catholicism in the form known as Kirishitan with the cooperation of the central government forming at that time.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi formally expelled the missionaries from the country in 1587, since he saw the influence of Jesuite, but above all Franciscan, monks as a threat to his position of power. For economic reasons, however, this decree was hardly enforced. Not until 1597, a year before Hideyoshi's death, were 26 Christians crucified (Martyrs of Nagasaki).
Hideyoshi's successor Tokugawa Ieyasu initially was tolerant because he profited from trade with the Portuguese, and probably also by the influence of his British consultant Williams Adams. But after Adams' death and after trade relations with Holland and England had had come into existence (by which also the conflict between Roman Catholic Christianity and Protestantism became known in Japan), he changed his attitude. The reason for this was the fear of Christian faith wars in Japan and the cognition that many Christians show greater loyalty among themselves and for the church than for him, the Shōgun. From about, 1612 Christianity was gradually prohibited.
This development reached its highlight under Ieyasu's successors Tokugawa Hidetada and Tokugawa Iemitsu, particularly after the predominantly Christian population of Kyūshū had risen in the Shimabara Rebellion against the shogunate in 1637. The uprising was crushed brutally; more than over 9,000 Christians were killed. Authorities of persecution were set up, with the goal of a nationwide persecution and extermination of the Christians. Anyone who was suspected of being a Christian had to abandon Christianity publicly and dishonor Christian symbols, which were called 踏み絵 (fumie, "step-on picture'"), as well as register in the Buddhist register of faith of Buddhist temples and visit those regularly. Those who refused to abandon their Christian faith were executed, often through public crucifixion or incineration.
Japanese Christianity evolved during this phase of peresecution to a new syncretic religion, Kakure Kirishitan, with influences of Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto. After the re-admission of Christianity (in 1873 under Tenno Meiji), the followers of this faith integrated into the emerging Christian congregations, but some refused this, as their heavily modified religion was not accepted by Western church organizations. They now are a dwindling minority, but whose religious ideas live on in several so-called new religions.
The missionary experience and the persecutions are portrayed in Shusaku Endo's novel Silence.
- The two empires in Japan by John M. L Young