Amakusa Shirō

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In this Japanese name, the family name is Amakusa.
Statue of Amakusa Shirō at Shimabara Castle

Amakusa Shirō (天草 四郎?, c.1621? – April 12, 1638) also known as Amakusa Shirō Tokisada (天草四郎時貞?) led the Shimabara Rebellion, an uprising of Japanese Catholics against the Shogunate. They were defeated and Shiro was executed at the age of 16, his head displayed on a pike near Nagasaki. Since the late 20th century, he has been featured in popular culture as a character in numerous manga, anime, and video games.


Shirō was born in 1621 in modern-day Kami-Amakusa, Kumamoto as the son of Catholic parents, Masuda Jinbei (益田 甚兵衛?), a former Konishi clan retainer, and his wife. (According to some sources, Shirō may have been the illegitimate son of Toyotomi Hideyori.) Portuguese Jesuit missionaries had been active in Japan since the late 16th century. By the age of 15, the charismatic youth was known to his Japanese Catholic followers as "heaven's messenger." Miraculous powers were attributed to him.[1]

Shiro was among Japanese Catholics who took over Hara Castle in a rebellion against the Shogunate. The mounted a coordinated defense that held off attackers. But the rebel force had no logistical support and their resolve weakened. Shiro was said to display posters in the castle to raise morale, saying "Now, those who accompany me in being besieged in this castle, will be my friends unto the next world."[citation needed]

One of the rebel soldiers, Yamada Uemonsaku, betrayed Shiro. He got a message to the Shogunate that rebel food supplies were becoming strained. The Shogunate forces made a final assault, taking Hara Castle in the process. The Shogunate forces massacred almost 40,000 rebels, including women and children. Yamada, who betrayed his fellow rebels, was the only recorded survivor.[citation needed]


Shiro was taken captive and executed after the castle was overtaken. His head was displayed on a pike in Nagasaki for an extended period of time as a warning to potential Christian rebels. His final words were: "I shall return after 100 years and take my revenge."[citation needed] Many Japanese Christians consider Shiro as a saint,[citation needed] but the Roman Catholic Church has not canonized him.


  • A statue of Amakusa Shirō was installed at Shimabara Castle.

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Hoffman, "The Christian Century", Japan Times, Dec. 2007

Further reading[edit]

  • Ivan Morris. The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan. London: Secker and Warburg (1975)

External links[edit]

This article incorporates text from OpenHistory.