I’d like to thank Patty Smith Hall for inviting me to guest blog today. I appreciate the chance to talk about the history of Christianity in Japan. I hope everyone enjoys it. (If not, there’s still a nice prize at the end for one lucky commenter.)
The first documented arrival of missionaries to Japan occurred in the mid-16th century. For Europeans, Japan had long been a fabled place mentioned in the writings of Marco Polo. Fable became reality in 1543 when an off-course Portuguese trading vessel landed on Tanegashima Island, just south of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. Annual trading visits soon followed and in 1549, a ship brought Francis Xavier, a founding member of The Jesuits, to establish a base in Nagasaki (on Kyushu).
The Christian message resonated in a country that had endured much civil war. The first church opened in Nagasaki in 1569 and converts nationwide totaled 20-30,000 by 1570. Efforts expanded to the capital city of Kyoto (on the main island) where a church was erected in 1576. However, language and cultural issues remained as missionaries attempted to force the Japanese to adopt western culture. Eventually, the missionaries began studying the Japanese language in earnest, adopting Japanese diet and practices. Converts grew at a faster rate, with a number of key daimyo (regional governors), along with their communities, embracing the faith.
Christianity faced a greater challenge than culture: warring between daimyo in a divided nation. The latter half of the 16th century in Japan saw the country unified by three people. The first, Oda Nobunaga (last name first), unified half the country. Nobunaga allowed Christianity, likely to gain support of Christian daimyos as well as irritate large Buddhist sects arrayed against him. Nobunaga was assassinated in 1582 and his most loyal general, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, rose to power. Unlike Nobunaga, Hideyoshi was suspicious of Christians due to European conquests in other parts of Asia. In 1587, Hideyoshi banned the religion. The ban, though, was mostly a political statement. He stripped the most prominent Christian daimyo of his fief and confiscated church property in Nagasaki. Christians downplayed their activities, but the religion continued to thrive, particularly in Kyushu.
In 1596, Hideyoshi proclaimed a second ban of Christianity. He arrested 24 Christians in Kyoto, humiliated them publicly, and sent them to Nagasaki. Two more were added to their total and all 26 were crucified in 1597. It is likely that persecutions would have continued. However, Hideyoshi died in 1598. By 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu established himself as ruler, beginning the 250-year reign of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Around this time, other European nations reached Japan, pressing for trade, and the Dutch gained the upper hand. By 1612, Christians numbered 220,000. However, concerns over possible Christian allegiance to Rome led Ieyasu to ban Christianity from the new capital of Edo (Tokyo). In 1614, all churches in Kyoto and Nagasaki were destroyed.
The next several years saw numerous martyrdoms as the government attempted to control the population. In 1629, the government began requiring suspected Christians to stomp on images of Christ and Mary. Those that didn’t were tortured, either to recant or to death. In 1635, Ieyasu’s grandson outlawed Catholics, restricted the Dutch, and prohibited other Europeans from entering and any Japanese from leaving. In 1638, a tax uprising of Christians in Kyushu was put down and approximately 37,000 people were executed. The religion was successfully driven underground. Further missionary visits to Japan saw those missionaries executed.
In 1853, four U.S. ships, under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry, steamed into Edo Harbor. Commodore Perry demanded that Japan open trade with the West. The arrival of these ships created an internal struggle that eventually produced the downfall of the Tokugawas. By 1873, Christians, descendants who’d maintained the religion in secret over two centuries, were allowed to openly practice again.
As a prize for today’s post, my wife has made an origami Kissing Ball. A Kissing Ball is like a Christmas ornament, though it can be used for other occasions. It’s not innately Japanese, but the origami part is. Again, thanks for having me today.
About the author: Walt Mussell is represented by Terry Burns of Hartline Literary. He has several magazine credits and one published novella in a Christmas anthology titled Hot Cocoa for the Heart (http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Cocoa-Heart-ebook/dp/B0064VYNZM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377217861&sr=1-1&keywords=hot+cocoa+for+the+heart). His primary focus is historicals set in medieval Japan and he refers to his work as “Like Shogun, but the heroine survives.” He maintains a blog called Daddy Needs Decaf (www.waltmussell.blogspot.com ) where he talks about parenting challenges. If you have a chance, please check out his book and/or visit his blog.