Christianity in Japan
Christianity has faced a rough history in Japan. Followers have strived to spread their religion for hundreds of years, but although Christian art and imagery has come to be appreciated ascetically (particularly in weddings), the religion itself has never really flourished. Today, less than 1% of the population in Japan claims to be Christian (interesting to note is the rate at which the traditions came to flourish in the nearby South Korea, where the percentage of adherents following Christianity surpasses that of those following Buddhism).
The religion was brought to Japan by Portuguese (and later, Dutch) missionaries in Kyushu, based primarily in Nagasaki under the auspices of Francis Xavier. In the first century of Christianity’s arrival, local officials viewed the tradition as a foreign virus and placed a ban on the religion. Pictured above is a wooden block stating the punishments for being or even harboring a Christian in your home or village. The punishments include death and ridicule, not only for you, but for your family and your entire village.
Followers had to hide their faith and meet in secrecy. Pictured above is a rare statue of “Mother Kannon,” the virgin Mary disguised in the form of the Buddhist god (Skt.) Avolokiteshvara (Jp. Kannon). Every year, officials would hold ceremonies to sniff out followers of the religion. They would line whole towns up to step/spit on images of Christ/Mary. Anyone who would not comply or who delivered an air of hesitance in performing these acts was executed.
No matter what your religion or feelings towards Christianity may be, the sort of devotion and bravery these followers showed to what they believed to be truth in the face of persecution and death was incredible.
In one dramatic culmination of hate towards the religion, local officials in Nagasaki rounded up 26 prominent Christians in the area and gave them the fate of their savior: crucifixion.
The 26 Martyrs
If you are interested in the early story of Christianity in Japan, I highly recommend the book Silence by Shūsaku Endō. It’s a novel based on these stories that includes actual writings of the missionaries living in Japan and how difficult their struggle was. An incredibly well-written book.