History of Japan: Christians in Oita and Nagasaki

 Geography and History are linked very strongly and often can help to explain why cultures develop in certain ways. We can also analyse traditions, philosophy, religion and political structures of the past to better understand the present. I wanted to develop my understanding of the religious makeup of Oita and Beppu. As we learned in class among many Northeast Asian Countries there “is a shared moral philosophy derived from Confucianism”. During my research of this region I discovered that Oita was under the control of a famous Daimyo named Otomo Sorin. It is rather interesting to me that these Daimyos from the Sengoku period live onward in the imaginations of their former subjects and are often venerated in festivals, literature, and pop culture. I wanted to attend a festival to see this for myself during my visit to Oita city I saw Otomo Sorin depicted with a Christian Cross. I also noticed that the Portuguese missionary and founder of the Jesuits, Francis Xavier has a statue directly adjacent to a statue of Otomo. These monuments are situated prominently outside the train station in the city square. I became interested in how the influences of Christianity had shaped this region and political developments of the past. In my research I will describe the historical developments of Otomo’s conversion, instances of conflict arising from religious differences and the current distribution of churches in comparison to the native Japanese Shinto and Buddhism. I will also attempt to describe and list locations of particular historical significance in relation to the Christianization of Beppu and Oita City.

  I found in my research that Kyushu was one of the main points of contact with European traders. In fact Dejima island is an artificially created island in the bay of Nagasaki where European traders were allowed to stay and trade their goods. I discovered that the antiquated term for the European traders is “nanban” or “southern barbarians”. Europeans arrived with advanced technologies such as matchlock guns and powerful ships. The Europeans accidentally stumbled upon Japan when a typhoon washed up a ship of Portuguese traders on Tanegashima Island. Unbeknownst to the Japanese the world had been split into two spheres in the Treaty of Tordesillas which the Pope mediated between the Catholic powers of Spain and Portugal. Due to this treaty the Portuguese were given permission to exploit Japan for the famous three g’s god, glory and gold. Otomo himself most likely saw the advanced “nanban” technologies and saw converting to Christianity as more of a strategic move, rather than a religious revelation. Otomo was also the most prominent of all the sengoku period Daimyos to convert to Christianity and one of the few to meet with Francis Xavier directly.

 Francis Xavier was already an experienced missionary whose main focus had been converting Goa and Southern India. Xavier found significantly less fortune in Japan where he struggled significantly to understand the language. Eventually Xavier alongside three Japanese converts were able to spread Christianity where it gained its initial foothold in South West Japan. The main sects of Christianity that appeared was Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and much later Protestantism. Beppu known as Bungo during the Sengoku period was allowed religious tolerance under Otomo who allowed his people to continue to practice shintoism or convert to the new and foreign religion of Christianity.

   After his conversion in 1578 Otomo used his favor with the Europeans to exploit them for guns, financial gain and assistance in his civil war against the other major Western clans the Shimazu and Mori. Eventually however Shimazu was assisted by the unifier of Japan Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the Otomo clan was destroyed. Despite the pacification of Otomo Christianity remained entrenched in Kyushu particularly in Nagasaki and islands in the West.

  Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned the arrival of new Jesuit monks and outlawed Christianity seeing the popularity of the religion as a personal threat to his power. Under Tokugawa and the Edo Bakufu Christianity was completely outlawed. Famously 26 Japanese Christians were martyred by crucifixion on a hill outside of Nagasaki. Christian missionaries were banned for 250 years and Japanese Christians were forced to go into hiding. “Kakure Kristians” developed, meaning literally “shadow christians”. Congregations were forced to hold services inside people’s homes. This period was similar to the period when Christians were persecuted by Roman Emperors. Finally in the 1850’s the ban on Christianity was lifted in the Meiji restoration and Churches were free to appear publicly. Several beautiful churches sprang up in Nagasaki and the surrounding islands.

  Let us now evaluate the present day implications of these historical facts. According to the World Value Survey there “may be up to three million Japanese Christians”. Most Japanese Christians live in the Western part of Kyushu because this was one of the main meeting points between Europeans and Japanese. After World War II many protestant preachers from the United States also protletyzed in Japan and protestant sects such as Lutherans and Methodists appeared in Japan. Even now I discovered Mormon missionaries in Beppu. Christians do not really hold any political power in Japan because japan prides itself on having a secular government.

 I wanted to investigate clearly the comparison between christian churches and shinto temples in Beppu. I used google maps to find the location of several of these churches and temples. I also took several pictures of various locations I traveled to that helped me to understand my research. I will differentiate pictures that I took myself and photos I found on the internet. I will show some of the important sites around Oita.

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Photo I took of Otomo Sorin Statue in Oita City

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Photo I took of a float in a festival depicting Otomo Sorin with a cross on his chest to show his Christianity

 

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Me at the Festival among the floats (dashi)       Visiting a Shinto shrine in Beppu with Jizos

 

 

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Beppu Churches (12)                                                                                 Beppu Temples (15)

 

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Higashi Beppu Temples                                              Higashi Beppu Churches (6)

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Thanks to these maps I can see that the amount of Churches and Temples is roughly equal in Beppu. There are 12 Churches and 15 Temples. The distribution of the temples are somewhat unequal and most of the temples to be in the Northern part of Beppu and further away from the sea. I also compared Higashi Beppu and there was a strong concentration of churches in one area. I hypothesize that perhaps in the 1600’s there may have been trade with Europeans in the inner city close to the main port. This may have affected demographics and caused more Christians to live in urban areas. Often times religion is hereditary and passed down through generations perhaps these current day christians are descendants of the “hidden christians” from the Edo Periods.

  To supplement my research I also discussed the conversion of Otomo Sorin with my Japanese History professor Hasuda sensei. I asked professor Hasuda what were some of the implications of Christianity’s arrival in the 1500’s he explained to me that the lower caste people were more likely to convert because they would receive welfare and a better sense of community. Hasuda also shared with me that almost all of the missionaries came from either Spain or Portugal and the Jesuits and Dominicans were the most active in Asia. He discussed how the Jesuits found even more success in converting the Vietnamese to Christianity partly because they were a French Colony. It is also well known that the Philippines is a very Catholic country mostly due to its Spanish Colonial period.

  I also discovered an interesting anecdote about issues that faced Christians in Nagasaki after the Atomic bombing. Due to weather issues the crew of the Boxcar the USAF crew that dropped the Fat Man bomb diverted its course from downtown Nagasaki to the Urakami district. The Urakami district had been one of the cities districts which housed many of the social outcasts and lower caste peoples. Despite the fact that the Japanese caste system was banned in the Edo period the burakumin caste still suffered discrimination. Christians and burakumin were often grouped together in impoverished areas. After the bomb fell some Japanese who were shinto said that the gods were punishing the Christian population in Urakami and blamed them.

 

Photo from the Japan Times Article “Nagasaki’s ‘Providential’ Nightmare Shaped by Religious, Ethnic Undercurrents.”

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Urakami Cathedral after the Bomb

 

Conclusions

Christians went through a period of growth in Japan upon contact with Europeans who mostly hailed from Portugal. Trade with Europeans was mostly concentrated in Kyushu specifically Nagasaki. Otomo Sorin Daimyo of Bungo (modern day Oita) Converted in order to receive guns and financial support from European powers. Under Otomo his subjects were allowed religious freedom and Christianity in Oita grew. During the Edo Bukufu (Tokugawa Period) Christians were banned due to isolationist and xenophobic policies. During this time Christians were persecuted and even crucified. Finally in the 19th century Christianity was allowed once more and several churches sprung up especially in Nagasaki and Western Kyushu. Otomo retains a legacy as the most prominent Daimyo ever to convert to Christianity.

 

Sources:

Google Search, Google, www.google.com/maps.

“Nagasaki’s ‘Providential’ Nightmare Shaped by Religious, Ethnic Undercurrents.” The Japan Times, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/07/national/history/nagasakis-providential-nightmare-shaped-religious-ethnic-undercurrents/#.W_EvQZMzZmA.

“Once Hidden, the History of Japanese Christianity Gains UN Recognition.” Crux, 3 July 2018, cruxnow.com/global-church/2018/07/03/once-hidden-the-history-of-japanese-christianity-gains-un-recognition/.

Ledford, Adam. “Christians in Kyushu: A History.” Tofugu, Tofugu, 8 Jan. 2015, http://www.tofugu.com/japan/history-of-christianity/.

 

 

 

 

 

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