Silence (novel)

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Silence novel.jpg
Author Shūsaku Endō
Original title Chinmoku
Translator William Johnston
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Genre Historical fiction
Publisher Peter Owen (UK) / Taplinger Publishing Company (USA)
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print

Silence (沈黙 Chinmoku?) is a 1966 novel of historical fiction by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō. It is the story of a Jesuit missionary sent to 17th century Japan, who endures persecution in the time of Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden Christians") that followed the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion. The recipient of the 1966 Tanizaki Prize, it has been called "Endo’s supreme achievement"[1] and "one of the twentieth century’s finest novels".[2] Written partly in the form of a letter by its central character, the theme of a silent God who accompanies a believer in adversity was greatly influenced by the Catholic Endō's experience of religious discrimination in Japan, racism in France, and a debilitating bout with tuberculosis.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

The young Portuguese Jesuit Sebastião Rodrigues (based on the historical Italian figure Giuseppe Chiara) is sent to Japan to succor the local Church and investigate reports that his mentor, a Jesuit priest in Japan named Ferreira, based on Cristóvão Ferreira, has committed apostasy. Less than half of the book is the written journal of Rodrigues, while the other half of the book is written either in the third person, or in the letters of others associated with the narrative. The novel relates the trials of Christians and the increasing hardship suffered by Rodrigues.

Fr. Rodrigues and his companion Fr. Francisco Garrpe arrive in Japan in 1639. There they find the local Christian population driven underground. To ferret out hidden Christians, security officials force suspected Christians to trample on a fumie, a crudely carved image of Christ. Those who refuse are imprisoned and killed by anazuri (穴吊り), which is by being hung upside down over a pit and slowly bled.

Rodrigues and Garrpe are eventually captured and forced to watch as Japanese Christians lay down their lives for the faith. There is no glory in these martyrdoms, as Rodrigues had always imagined – only brutality and cruelty. Prior to the arrival of Rodrigues, the authorities had been attempting to force priests to renounce their faith by torturing them. Beginning with Fr. Ferreira, they torture other Christians as the priests look on, telling the priests that all they must do is renounce their faith in order to end the suffering of their flock.

Rodrigues' journal depicts his struggles: he understands suffering for the sake of one's own faith; but he struggles over whether it is self-centered and unmerciful to refuse to recant when doing so will end another’s suffering. At the climactic moment, Rodrigues hears the moans of those who have recanted but are to remain in the pit until he tramples the image of Christ. As Rodrigues looks upon a fumie, Christ breaks his silence:

“You may trample. You may trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. You may trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”

Rodrigues puts his foot on the fumie, and it is assumed the Christians are released, though the novel does not give direct resolve regarding their fate.


Silence received the Tanizaki Prize for the year's best full-length literature. It has also been the subject of extensive analysis.[4] William Cavanaugh refers to the novel's "deep moral ambiguity" due to the depiction of a God who "has chosen not to eliminate suffering, but to suffer with humanity."[5] Endō, in his book A Life of Jesus, states that Japanese culture identifies with the "one who 'suffers with us' and who 'allows for our weakness....with this fact always in mind, I tried not so much to depict God in the father-image that tends to characterize Christianity, but rather to depict the kind-hearted maternal aspect of God revealed to us in the personality of Jesus."[6]


Masahiro Shinoda directed the 1971 film Chinmoku, an adaptation from the novel.[7]

Composer and poet Teizo Matsumura wrote the libretto and music for an opera with the same title, which was premiered at the New National Theatre in Tokyo in 2000.[8]

In 2007, American film director Martin Scorsese announced his intention to direct an adaptation of the book which he had hoped to film in summer 2008.[9] In 2009, it was announced on that Daniel Day-Lewis and Benicio del Toro were signed to star in Scorsese's film adaptation. In 2013, Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Issei Ogata and Ken Watanabe were attached, which entered production in January 2015.[10] In 2014, Adam Driver was attached to the film adaptation.[11] In January 2015, Watanabe was forced to leave the project due to scheduling issues and was replaced by Tadanobu Asano.[12] The film is set to release on December 23, 2016.

The novel inspired Symphony no. 3, "Silence", composed in 2002 by Scottish musician James MacMillan.[13]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Shusaku Endo’s Silence" by Luke Reinsma, Response of Seattle Pacific University,Volume 27, Number 4, Autumn 2004
  2. ^ "We Have Never Seen His Face" (PDF).  (121 KiB) by Brett R. Dewey for the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2005, p. 2
  3. ^ Dewey 2005, p. 3
  4. ^ "Suffering the Patient Victory of God: Shusaku Endo and the Lessons of a Japanese Catholic" by Brett R. Dewey, Quodlibet: Vol 6 Number 1, January–March 2004
  5. ^ "The god of silence: Shusaku Endo's reading of the Passion – critique of the Japanese novel 'Silence'" by William T. Cavanaugh, Commonweal, March 13, 1998
  6. ^ "The Christology of Shusaku Endo" by Fumitaka Matsuoka, Theology Today, October 1982, p. 295
  7. ^ "Chinmoku (1971)", Internet Movie Database (accessed 20 February 2010)
  8. ^ "Tokyo NNT website" (accessed 15 February 2011)
  9. ^ "Next for Scorsese: 17th-century Japan" by Angela Doland, Associated Press, 24 May 2007
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Asano Replaces Watanabe In Scorsese's SILENCE"
  13. ^ "BBCSSO/Runnicles" by Rowena Smith, The Guardian, 28 April 2008