A few days ago, I was invite by my good friend Mr. Satoh from the Kyoto Guide Club, to visit some od the sites related to the Hidden Christians in Japan. It was a fine spring day when we set out to the rural mountain village of Sendaiji in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture.
It’s very quiet and peaceful there, a typical rural landscape in Japan. Terraced rice fields, crisp mountain air, birds chirping, how I wished I could live there.
Municipal Christian Relics Depository at Sendaiji:
This little museum is operated by descendants of the Higashi family whose house is next to this museum. It’s not very big, but inside or many relics that have been found in the attics of several prominent families that live here documenting the lives of the Hidden Christians.
Inside you see a replica of “ Fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Mother Mary”. Painted on Japanese paper, the picture describes the life of the Holy Mother Mary. In the lower foreground are the portraits of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order and on the left, Francis Xavier.
A wooden statue of Jesus Crucified, was found in the copper container on the right. It had been unopened for generations. The arms can be detached so it can fit in the container.
A notice board banning Christianity during the Tokugawa Shogunate’s prohibiting the Christian religion in Japan. A monetary reward was offered for those who exposed Christians in hiding.
Tombstones of Hidden Christians – 隠れキリシタン, one led to the discovery of Christian relics in 1919. You can find this on MT. Cruz in Sendaiji village. It was the tombstone for Ueno Mariya.
They also have a DVD presentation in English and Japanese.
Cafe-snack poppy (喫茶・軽食ポピー) :
Next to the Municipal Christian Relics Depository at Sendaiji, Ibaraki, Osaka, is this small coffee shop. Cafe-snack poppy (喫茶・軽食ポピー) serves many japanese dishes and keishoku (lunch menu) at affordable prices. A keishoku set consists of Rice, miso soup and yaki soba for 850¥.
Traces of “Hidden Christians” in Shimo-otowa:
While we where watching a video presentation at Christian Relics Depository, there was mention of a tombstone in the village of Shimo-otowa, just 4 km away. So we set out and found the Christian tombstones (キリシタン墓碑) at Koon-ji (高雲寺) Temple. They were used by the temple as a stepping stone at the entrance.
Takayama Ukon, Kirishitan Daimyo and Samurai:
We had some time left and drove to Takatsuki, home of Takayama Ukon. First we visited the Catholic church of Takatsuki and Marble statue of Takayama Ukon. He was a Japanese kirishitan daimyo and samurai who followed Christianity during the Sengoku period of Japan.
Takayama Ukon lived under the protection of his friends for several decades, but following the 1614 prohibition of Christianity by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the ruler of the time, he was expelled from Japan. On 8 November 1614, together with 300 Japanese Christians he peacefully left his home country from Nagasaki. He arrived at Manila on 21 December and was greeted warmly by the Spanish Jesuits and the local Filipinos there.
The colonial government of Spanish Philippines offered their assistance in overthrowing the Japanese government by an invasion to protect Japanese Catholics. Justo declined to participate and he opposed the plan, but he died of illness just 40 days afterwards.
When he died in 1615, the Spanish government gave him a Christian burial, replete with full military honours befitting a Daimyo.
Takatsuki Castle Historical Park:
The “Takatsuki Castle Historical Park” is just around the corner of the Catholic church. It stands in a corner of what once was the outer rim of the old castle. On display are documents, models and exhibits relating to Takatsuki in the Edo era. There are artefacts related to Takayama Ukon, a Kirishitan Daimyo and Samurai, and other Christian relics of the “Hidden Christians” era.
Musings about the legacy of the Hidden Christians:
Its bit difficult to imagine what these people went through. One thing is clear they found ways to hide their commitment to Christianity and at the same time survive under these most trying times. I am sure the rumours of Christians being crucified at the Kamogawa River and burned alive. Reports from down south and the fate of the martyrs must have terrified them.
One member of the Higashi family, long after the edict was lifted, still feared for her live when she was asked to show some relics they held precious.
One thing is for sure, the Hidden Christians in Japan, deserve our respect for holding on to what was dear to them.