Roman Catholic Missions — March 29, 2010 at 9:42 pm

The change in Ieyasu's attitude toward Christianity began to manifest itself in 1612.


A Christian Dirce, by Henryk Siemiradzki. A Christian woman is martyred under Nero in this re-enactment of the myth of Dirce (painting by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1897, National Museum, Warsaw).

The change in Ieyasu’s attitude toward Christianity began to manifest itself in 1612. Mention has already been made of the way his suspicions were aroused that year by the soundings that the Spaniards made along the coast. His displeasure was also excited against a Christian named Okamoto Daihachi, the secretary of an officer who was practically Ieyasu’s prime minister and his chief adviser in matters concerning the distribution of territory among the feudal lords. The Daimyo of Arima, desiring to have certain lands restored to his domains, had bribed Okamoto to aid him. The secretary pretended to do this and indulged in considerable sharp practice that finally became known to Ieyasu. The Diamyo was exiled and aferwards put the death, while his lands were allowed to remain in the hands of his son, who had given information against the father. Okamoto was sentenced to be burned alive. The fact that both of the offenders were adherents of Christianity increased the prejudices of Ieyasu against the religion. He exiled some of the believers and forbade his retainers to become Christians.
Many of the feudal lords imitated the example thus set before them. In that one year the Jesuits lost eighty-six churches and residences. Other orders suffered in a similar way. The Franciscan church in Yedo, though it had been erected by the express permission of the Shogun, was destroyed. Itakura, the Shogun’s representative in Kyoto, was friendly to the Christians and gave the missionaries permission to remain and to receive believers in their houses. At his request, the Franciscans demolished a church that had been erected without his authorization. By means of bribes the Jesuits were able to save several of their buildings.
The young Daimyo of Arima openly abjured his faith and ordered his subjects to do the same. Some yielded; others prepared for exile or death. The Jesuit Fathers were kept busily employed in hearing confessions and strengthening the faith of those that might ere long be called upon to suffer. The next year (1613) persecution in Arima became violent. The churches were demolished, the religious teachers driven out, and many Christians sent into exile. More severe measures followed. A prominent believer, previously banished from two other provinces and now resisting all attempts to make him apostatize, was invited to a feast given by a high official. In the midst of the repast a sword was placed before him. Knowing very well what this signified, he raised it respectfully to his head as is done by Japanese when receiving anything worthy of honor, examined it carefully, praised the workmanship, and handed it over to the officer, who at once cut him down. His brother was slain in a similar manner. After-wards their mother and the two children of the first victim were beheaded.

The Franciscans, though they had been driven out from Kyoto the previous year, were left undisturbed  in Fushimi and Osaka. The Jesuits were in those cities and also in Kyoto. It is said that the Mikado’s aunt, who was the abbess of two Buddhist nunneries, came with her mother and sister to hear them preach, and all three would have asked for baptism had it not been for the restraints put on them by their position. In Osaka, Hideyori and his mother were showing much favor to the Jesuits.
In August, persecution began in Yedo. Father Sotelo, after the destruction of the Franciscan church a year before, had built a small house and oratory on land connected with the hospital for lepers. There he held services for the benefit of any believers that ventured to attend. This reached the ears of the Shogun, who at once ordered a vigorous search for Christians to be made in Yedo and its suburbs. Those that were discovered, including many lepers from the hospital, were thrown into prison. Twenty-two of them were soon put to death. Sotelo himself was arrested, but was released on the intercession of Date Masumune, a Daimyo who possessed large domains in northeaster Japan and who now took the priest to Sendai, his capital.

The mon of the Kyōgoku clan

Some Japanese books speak of another conspiracy whose discovery had much to do in increasing Ieyasu’s suspicions against the Christians. A petty daimyo by the name of Okubo had been made superintendent of the gold and silver mines in the island of Sado. After his death, it was found that he had been guilty of financial irregularities. This led to a close scrutiny of his books and papers. It is alleged that several documents were found that showed that Okubo had been in communication with foreigners and had entered into an arrangement with them by which they would furnish troops to aid in overthrowing the Shogun’s power. Tadateru was more or less involved in this affair. The discovery of the plot led to the punishment of several persons, among whom was a brother of Takayama Ukon.
It is easy to see how the different events that have been narrated – such as the soundings made by the Spaniards, the trickery of Okamoto and Okubo (especially if there is any foundation for the story that the latter’s follow-believers were involved in his schemes), and the embassy sent by Date – were likely to make Ieyasu think that the missionaries and their followers ought to be closely watched. He had about him those that were ever ready to fan his suspicions by repeating the old charges and inventing new ones. In a letter written to the Pope by Carvalho, the Jesuit Provincial, he says that the chief reasons leading to the persecution were that the enemies of Christianity had persuaded Ieyasu that it taught its believers to hold in high honor those that disobeyed their feudal lords, and even to worship common criminals. These accusations, he said were grounded on the veneration shown by the Christians for those who suffered death rather than obey the Lord of Arima when he commanded them to give up their faith, and on the fact that when a professing Christian had been executed for some crime, others knelt upon the ground in order that they might pray for him. When Ieyasu was told that the Christians worshiper criminals, he angrily exclaimed: “A religion teaching such things is devilish!” and gave orders to the Governor of Nagasaki that he should expel all Christian teachers.
The Annual Letter of the Jesuits for 1614, quotes a letter that his Governor wrote to the Rector of Kyoto in which he said: “When Ieyasu heard that some of the Christians had gone to worship a citizen of Nagasaki named Jieobioe, who was executed for violating the law against the purchase of silver bullion, he said that it must be a diabolic religion that led its followers to worship persons executed for crime and also to venerate those that were burned or cut in pieces by order of their lords. Those that teach such a religion must be the most wicked of all men.”

Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange (Dutch: Maurits van Nassau; 14 November 1567 – 23 April 1625) was sovereign Prince of Orange from 1618, on the death of his eldest half brother, Philip William, Prince of Orange, (1554 - 1618), a Roman Catholic brought to Spain and educated in Spain since the age of 13, and stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands from earliest 1585 until his death in 1625.

It is doubtless true also that the Dutch were only too willing to do their part in inciting Ieyasu to take action against their rivals. There was none too friendly a feeling between the different nations trading with Japan. We have seen how the Portuguese tried to shut out the Spaniards, how the Spaniards urged Ieyasu to drive away the Dutch, and how Will Adams said that the Spaniards were acting the part of enemies when they sounded the harbors of Japan. It is asserted that in 1611, the Dutch, in translating a letter sent to Ieyasu by Maurice of Nassau, took the liberty of changing its meaning so as to make it accuse the Spanish and Portuguese merchants of being engaged in plots with the missionaries and Japanese Christians.
The rivalry of the merchants found its counterpart in that between the different orders. This could not fail to be a source of weakness, and there are indications that in trying to further the interests of the Portuguese or Spanish traders, with whom they were in close relations, the missionaries increased the amount of suspicion that had arisen against themselves and against the merchants.
Apostates from Christianity were ready to foster the feeling against it. Thomas Araki, a Japanese priest who had been ordained at Rome, returned about 1605 to his own country and declared that while in Madrid he had discovered that Spain was using the missionaries to pave the way for the conquest of Japan. It was largely through his influence that the Daimyo of Omura was led to give up Christianity and become one of its persecutors. Japanese books tell of a native priest from Yatsushiro, Higo, who in 1611 told Ieyasu that the King of Spain every year devoted large sums to sending merchandise into lands as yet unconquered in order to help in gaining converts to Christianity. He declared that the missionaries sent back annual reports telling how many persons they had succeeded in winning, and that valuable goods were distributed among them in proportion to their success in gaining converts. When a sufficient number of the people in any land had been made allies through their religious faith, possession was taken of the country and its precious metals were sent to Spain.
January 27, 1614, Ieyasu issued his celebrated decree against Christianity. After an introduction dealing with Chinese philosophy and Buddhism, it said :

“But Christians have com to Japan, not only sending their merchant vessels to exchange commodities, but also longing to disseminate an evil law and to overthrow right doctrine so that they may change the government of the country and obtain possession of the land. This is the germ of great disaster and must be crushed.”

After speaking of the crimes condemned by Buddhism, the decree continues :

“The fraction of the missionaries rebel against this dispensation ; they disbelieve in the way of the gods, blaspheme the true law, violate right doing, ,and injure the good. If they see a condemned fellow, they run to him with joy, bow down to him, and do him reverence. This, they say, is the essence of their belief. If this is not an evil law, what is it? They truly are the enemies of the gods and of Buddha. If this be not speedily prohibited, the safety of the state will assuredly be hereafter imperiled ; and if those who are charge with ordering its affairs do not put a stop to the evil, they will expose themselves to Heaven’s rebuke.
“These must be instantly swept out so that not an inch of soil remains to them in Japan on which to plant their feet and if they refuse to obey this command, they shall pay the penalty.”

To this decree were appended rules for the guidance of Buddhist priests, who were directed to examine into the orthodoxy of their parishioners. Among these rules are the following :

“Because the Christian law teaches that those who despise death can pass through fire without being burned, or be plunged into water without being drowned, and that those who die by shedding their own blood are saved, the law of the Empire is most strict. Therefore you must examine such as make light of death.
” To those who follow Christianity a daily allowance of seven cash is made from Dattan (?) Land in order to convert the empire to Christianity. It is an evil law which injures the Country of the Gods. As the persons who follow these doctrines do not observe the law of Buddha, they object to paying contributions to their parish temples and dislike the establishment of the Buddhist law. Such you must examine.]
“…By the help of their God, if they look in a mirror, they see the face of a saint; but if they have changed their religion, they appear as dogs.
” Although the parents for generations past may have belonged without the slightest doubt to one of the eight or nine Buddhist sects, it is impossible to be sure that the children may not in their hearts have been persuaded to join the evil law. The temple of the sect to which they belong must examine them.
” To every person in the Empire who clearly follows the true law a sect-certificate, authenticated by a seal, shall be given. Samurai shall put their seal in the certificate registry of the temple to which they belong. Those who cannot make a seal with blood shall send a certificate attested by a guarantee.”

The daimyos received notice that they must send to Nagasaki all the missionaries living in their territories, that the churches must be destroyed, and that the Christians must be forced to give up their religion. Itakura, the Shogun’s representative in Kyoto, was ordered to make out a list of the Christians living in that city. Father De Mattos at once sent his assistants from house to house that they might encourage the believers to stand firm. On the other hand, relatives and neighbors were beseeching them to renounce their faith or at least conceal it. Though the whole number of believers in Kyoto is asserted to have been more than seven thousand, only four thousand of these were put upon the lists, and then, in order that Ieyasu might not be too much irritated, Itakura, who was friendly to the Christians, sent him the names of only sixteen hundred.
In February, the Jesuits in Kyoto were told that they must be taken to Nagasaki in order to be transported to their own countries. There were then fifteen members of the Society in the city, three of whom managed to conceal themselves. The others with some of their followers were put on boats and floated down the canal to Fushimi, where some Franciscans were added to their number. At Osaka they were joined by still others, so that there were seven boatloads, besides the two boatloads of soldiers sent to escort them as they were taken by sea to Nagasaki. There thy found other missionaries and Japanese Christians brought from different parts of the country. Among the latter was Takayama Ukon. Since there were no ships ready said, their embarkation was delayed until October.
The tribulation through which they were passing ought to have united the hearts of those belonging to different orders; but, strange to say, it was at this time that the dissensions broke out with more virulence than ever.

Tokugawa Hidetada

After the missionaries had been sent away from Kyoto, efforts were renewed to secure the apostasy of the Christians who remained. Itakura would gladly have left them in peace, but Okubo Tadachika, Daimyo of Odawara, who was under suspicion of being connected with the alleged plot of the Christians to overthrow Ieyasu and Hidetada, was sent to his assistance. Okubo, who supposed this to be Ieyasu’s way of testing his sentiments, made the most of the opportunity to clear himself. He posted a notice in which he said that, as all obstinate Christians were to be burned alive, those unwilling to give up their faith would do well to prepare the stakes to which they must be bound. Many of the Christians followed this order to the letter.
Some women who had taken vows of celibacy were living in a community under the care of Julia Naito, a sister of John Naito, the former Daimyo of Kameoka. Okubo had a number of them tired up in straw sacks, which were suspended on poles and carried through the city in order that the women might be subjected to the derision of the populace.
According to a Japanese account, Okubo destroyed the churches in Kyoto and put some sixty Christians to death. European histories do not mention the executions, but say, what is in accord with the Japanese account, that the persecution, after being carried on for eight or nine days with great vigor, was brought to a sudden end by the recall of Okubo, who was sent into exile. Apparently he had been sent to Kyoto in order that Ieyasu might in his absence gain easy possession of his castle in Odawara.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *