Skip to comments.Once Banned, Christianity Withers in an Old Stronghold
Posted on 12/24/2003 9:09:16 PM PST by Destro
Once Banned, Christianity Withers in an Old Stronghold
By JAMES BROOKE
Published: December 25, 2003
Masafumi Yamamoto for The New York Times A paper scroll once hidden, now on display in Ikitsuki's museum
Masafumi Yamamoto for The New York Times Three "hidden Christians" taking a walk in the Ichibu area. The community survived three centuries of bannings, burnings and beheadings.
IKITSUKI, Japan In 1865 a group of 15 Japanese peasants cautiously approached Bernard Petitjean, the first Christian missionary to work in Nagasaki since 1614.
Speaking in the sanctuary of the new church, the peasant leader confessed, "Our hearts are the same as yours." He asked to see an image of "Maruya-sama," or the Virgin Mary.
It had been a long road for Japan's "hidden Christians," descendants of people converted by Portuguese missionaries in the late 1500's during a brief window of religious freedom in Japan.
They survived some 300 years of bannings, burnings and beheadings. The repression began to ease in 1853, after the arrival of Commodore Perry, and was ended officially with the legalization of Christianity in 1873. In the late 19th century, missionaries returned to the remote islands of southern Japan and coaxed about 50,000 hidden Christians into the open.
"Santa Maria, Santo Filio," four elderly men dressed in indigo blue robes chanted here on a recent Sunday afternoon in this fishing village north of Nagasaki, their voices rising and falling like an ancient Gregorian chant planted half a millennium ago on this rocky island. Their long "orasho," or oration, included a "conchirisan," or contrition, and a vaguely familiar "Abe Maruya," or Ave Maria.
While Ikitsuki has had a Catholic church since 1912, the ceremony was held at the Ikitsuki Island Museum, in a wing devoted to Christian history. Shigeo Nakazono, the museum's curator, said after the ceremony, "By my research, their faith is pretty much well preserved as it was in Europe in the 16th century."
But the hidden Christians now are facing perhaps the greatest challenge to their faith. It comes not from official persecutors but from a force perhaps more powerful and less easily resisted: indifference.
For young people, hours spent learning ancient chants and rituals detract from time spent driving over a new half-mile bridge to Kyushu Island and on to Nagasaki for the weekend. With only 7,500 people, the island has lost a third of its population since the 1960's.
"The ceremonies are on Sundays, but young people just want to enjoy their day off," said Masatsugu Tanimoto, who at age 47 is perhaps the youngest person on the island to learn the chants and rituals of the faith. "People are brought up in an affluent environment. I don't think my children will take it over."
Christianity came to Japan with St. Francis Xavier in 1549, during a time of weak central government. Spreading fast through southern Japan, Christianity counted as many as 750,000 converts, or 10 percent of the population, by the 1630's. Today, by contrast, about 1 percent of Japan's 127 million people are Christians.
Alarmed by Spain's colonization and conversion of the neighboring Philippines, Hideyoshi, the general who united Japan in the late 16th century, banned Christianity and ordered the expulsion of missionaries as early as 1587.
The heaviest repression took place in the early 1600's, when about 6,000 Christians were killed, largely in Japan's southern fringe, an area most influenced by missionaries sailing from the Portuguese colony of Macao.
In contrast to the stereotype of the samurai dying for his beliefs an image popularized by the current Hollywood movie "The Last Samurai" records show that most samurai and noblemen renounced their Christian faith under pressure. It was mostly peasants, artisans and merchants who died for their new faith, often after enduring horrible tortures.
To root out Christians, officials administered an annual loyalty test in which peasants were required to trample a cross or an image of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus. At the museum here, a copper medallion with the image of the Mother and Child appears buttery and smooth, worn down by thousands of bare feet.
Because of this ceremony, hidden Christians placed a high value on the prayer of contrition and elevated the veneration of a compassionate Mary.
During nearly 300 years of separation, Ikitsuki's Christians masked their faith with the rituals of Buddhism and Shintoism. In the museum, a "magic mirror" projects an image of Buddha to the outside world. But taken from the wall and held to a light, it projects the shadow of a cross.
"Because of the repression we used Buddhism as a camouflage," Mitsuyoshi Okawa, 72, said over a dinner of dumplings at the pastor's house. While the ceremony was held openly at the museum, the prayer leaders recalled that as teenagers they had learned the chants in secret, under blankets, out of earshot of snooping neighbors.
But now the only young people studying the chants are students and professors.
"No one is taking over," lamented the Rev. Tomeichi Ohoka, the 85-year-old pastor. "I am worried about the future. I am not sure it will last."
By Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | August 8, 2001
EACH AUGUST THE DEBATE RETURNS, this year won masterfully by my Front Page Magazine brother columnist Ronald Radosh: Should the United States on August 6, 1945, have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima? Given that the alternative would have required invasion of Japan and the deaths of perhaps a quarter-million Americans, a million or more Japanese, and prolonged suffering on both sides, most moral people answer Yes, we should have dropped the bomb. We had only three bombs, one to test and two to use and none to spare on a demonstration for the Emperor.
But we should also ponder a very different question whose answer reveals much about American politics 56 years after the event: Why did the United States three days later drop a second atom bomb targeted specifically on Nagasaki? The answer might surprise or even horrify you.
Nagasaki reportedly was not on the original target list for nuclear extermination.
By late July 1945 military and Manhattan Project officials had selected four atom bomb targets. One was Hiroshima, an industrial center and staging area for Japans army and navy. The second was Kokura, home to one of Japans biggest munitions factories. The third was Niigata, a large Sea of Japan port city with a tanker terminal, oil refinery, and iron works. The fourth was the old imperial capital Kyoto, then also a huge industrial city with factories turning out parts for artillery, machinery, and aircraft.
But at the last moment the Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who arguably had knowingly precipitated Japans Pearl Harbor attack by instigating an international embargo on its life-or-death oil supplies, removed Kyoto from the list for annihilation and replaced it with Nagasaki.
On the day Nagasaki was bombed, reporter W.H. Lawrence told New York Times readers that it was more important industrially than Hiroshima, a transshipment port, and a major shipbuilding and repair center for both naval and merchantmen.
Nagasaki, indeed, was a port with one of the worlds finest deep harbors, but the beautiful mid-sized city on the far southern island of Kyushu had lost much of its status as a seaport. Hemmed in by mountains and 600 miles southwest of Tokyo, what reached or left there required transshipment, usually by sea.
Near Nagasaki was a huge Mitsubishi shipbuilding facility, but it survived the atomic bombing. Something else in this city, however, was virtually at Ground Zero and was destroyed. Was it the real target that Leftists in the Roosevelt-Truman New Deal government wanted most to obliterate?
Nagasaki was a sleepy fishing village on the day in 1542 when Portuguese sailors first dropped anchor there. Guided by their maps to Japan, on August 15, 1549, Roman Catholic missionary St. Francis Xavier landed at nearby Kagoshima, learned within a year how to speak Japanese, and began spreading the Christian faith.
By 1579, six of the regional military lords called daimyo had become Christian converts and brought 100,000 of their subjects under the sign of the cross with them.
Japan by tradition had been religiously tolerant. The Nagasaki prefecture was home to the nations ports nearest China and welcomed Buddhists, Taoists, and other traders and settlers from neighboring lands. But these new Christians were intolerant, and by 1587 the last Buddhist and ancestor-worshipping indigenous Shinto shrines had vanished from the district.
To Japans central ruler, the foreign traders and their fast-growing religion began to seem threatening, like a foreign Fifth Column in his midst. In place of the nations polytheistic faith, Christianity insisted on only one God. In a society based on submission to feudal and group authority, the new belief taught the value of the individual. In a society of central power, the faith from Europe created new rival centers of power and allegiance.
In 1587 the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued a decree proscribing Christianity and ordering the Jesuits to depart Japan within 20 days, an edict that as tempers cooled went unenforced.
But nine years later new sparks flared, and in 1597 Hideyoshi had 26 missionaries six Franciscans, three Jesuits, and 17 Japanese Christians crucified at Nagasaki. A year later 137 Jesuit churches in the region were razed, along with a college and seminary.
Hideyoshi died in 1598, and with his passing eased the first wave of persecutions. But by 1612 the new Tokugawa Shogunate issued restrictions on Christianity, and a nationwide ban was issued two years later.
In 1622 at least 51 Christians were executed in Nagasaki, and two years later 50 were burned alive for their faith in Edo (now Tokyo). More and more foreigners were excluded from Japan. 30 more Christian missionaries were executed in 1633, and two years later even Japanese residents who had lived overseas were prohibited from returning to Japan, lest they bring back an infection of foreign ideas.
Japans rulers had reason to fear. By 1614, up to 300,000 Japanese were Christians, about 10 percent of the nations entire population. Unless this contagious foreign religion with its alien values could be stopped, it would soon take over and transform Japan. To fight it, daimyo were prohibited from becoming Christians, and thousands of Christians were executed.
Around Nagasaki hundreds of pieces of silver were offered to anyone who turned in priests, monks, or even ordinary believers. Those suspected were required to step on a crucifix or later on an image of Jesus molded from the metal of desecrated Christian altars. The alien religion was driven deep underground by persecution.
The Shogun directed those in Nagasaki to reject Jesus Christ and embrace a new city guardian god whose home was the local Suwa Shrine. Each year in early October the people of Nagasaki still hold the Kunchi Festival in this pagan gods honor. It is celebrated nowadays with a dragon dance, Kokkodesho, likely brought by Chinese merchants, and Hurrah dances brought to the trading city centuries ago by Dutch sailors.
Foreign traders were confined to an island near Nagasaki. Then, around 1640, the Japanese Shogun simply slammed and locked the door, cutting his entire nation off from world trade and communication for the next two centuries.
The door was pried open again in the mid-19th Century. Trade resumed with many Western nations, including the United States. Japans exotic qualities fascinated Western artists of all kinds. Giacomo Puccini set his tragic opera about a suicidal young Japanese woman left pregnant and abandoned by an American seaman, Madame Butterfly, in Nagasaki.
By 1859, Christian missionaries were permitted to return. In 1873, Christians were again allowed to evangelize in the island kingdom. In 1895, construction began on a Roman Catholic cathedral in Urakami, a suburb of Nagasaki, that would be the largest ecclesiastical building of its type in the Far East.
And, to the missionaries surprise, over 30,000 Japanese Kakure Kirishitan, hidden Christians, emerged who had risked their lives by secretly holding true to their faith during two centuries of persecution. Now, with tear-filled eyes and rejoicing, they came to worship openly in and around the place Pope Pius IX had blessed in 1867 by canonizing its 26 now-sainted martyrs to the faith, Japans most Christian city, Nagasaki.
The plutonium bomb called Fat Man dropped from the B-29s bomb bay at 11:02 A.M. Below in the August heat nuns and old people knelt praying, and summer sunlight danced on Nagasaki Bay.
Christians able to travel had made pilgrimage here. Some came to escape the nationalist war fever and Shinto Cult of the Emperor, descendant of the Sun God, that directed hate against all alien faiths, including Buddhists and especially those loyal to the enemys faith, Christians. Surely, these pilgrims thought, the last place a Christian United States would drop its terrible new weapon would be Japans home of the Prince of Peace.
The man-made sun, brighter than a million Rising Sun Japanese flags, ignited about 1,600 feet above Ground Zero. Its wind shockwave moving at 1,400 miles per hour pulverized the crowded homes below like a giant fist. Its energy flash burned flesh from bone, then vaporized both before a scream could reach melting human lips.
Scarcely a fifth of a mile from Ground Zero, the Urakami Cathedral, its lovingly-crafted stained glass, and the worshippers inside were smashed into dust and goo and flash-broiled. Heavy carved statues of Jesus and Mary were scorched black in an instant.
The bomb, bigger than Hiroshimas, with the explosive force of 21,000 tons of TNT, destroyed essentially everything and everyone within 1.2 miles of Ground Zero. Thousands of close-clustered wooden homes and their residents vanished in the glow of a rising mushroom cloud.
In that moment, an estimated 73,884 people died at least one in 10 of them Christians. Another 75,000 were blinded, had skin burned off, or were injured by the blast or engulfing firestorms or collapsing buildings for miles around. Thousands more would die from radiation or injury over days or months.
As one writer about the Cathedral put it, through this atom bomb blast the Truman Administration was ironically killing more Christians than had ever been killed in Japan during centuries of persecution.
So why did Marxocratic policymakers inside Roosevelts and Trumans New Deal alter military targeting decisions, commanding instead that Nagasaki relatively insignificant as a military target be moved into the bombardiers crosshairs and that its Christian people be cremated alive into clicking-hot radioactive ashes by atomic bomb annihilation?
And why today do Marxocrats use every tactic and technicality to politically exterminate each Christian word and symbol in Americas public square? Is their aim to remove all religions, morals, and values that people might prefer to their dogmatic religion, Marxism?
Urakami Cathedral near Nagasaki was rebuilt by 1959, but among the citys surviving families, scarcely three percent are now Christians. Modern Japanese, shaped by Americas secular occupation, have eclectically incorporated symbols from various religions. Many, it is said, now grow up Shinto, marry like Christians, and die as Buddhists. Brides wear white wedding gowns and even wed in churches. Many families celebrate Valentines Day, and some even exchange gifts on Christmas. Several of the founders of Japans post-war democracy were raised as Christians.
But the faith that once showed signs of sweeping Japan and thereby changing Asian history is now mostly a matter of style, not religious passion or mass conversion. Scarcely one percent of Japanese now think of themselves as Christians.
French director Alain Resnais in 1959 created the film masterpiece Hiroshima, Mon Amour. It plunges viewers into the fantasies and nightmares of two lovers, a French woman and a Japanese man, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
The world needs a sequel to this film to help people understand the hidden wellsprings of history, love, faith, and the limitless evil of the political Left. Call it Nagasaki, Mon Amour.
The August 9th anniversary of Trumans deliberate bombing of the Christian city of Japan is a moment for prayer and contemplation. It is also a night to look heavenward, as from then through August 12th each year our planet splashes through a river of stardust left in space by an ancient earth crossing comet. These nights bring the Perseid meteor showers as tiny fragments from that comet burn up in Earths atmosphere. Especially after midnight, when the sky overhead wheels to become the front windshield of our world as it speeds around the Sun, you should be able to see at least one shooting star per minute.
The calendar, you see, is not a timepiece but a map. And these dates in August are places the planet we share comes to again and again places, like Hiroshima
It's speculation from the people that hate FDR so they blame him for everything. They're kind of like the leftist that hate GWB so much they blame everything bad that happens now.
By the way, Nagasaki was the backup target for the second bomb. It was chosen because it was close to the primary target, Kokura, a major industrial center in northern Kyushu. Kokura was not bombed due to bad weather. Nagasaki, which was a major shipbuilding center and naval weapons center was a legitimate military target. The bomb missed its intended aiming point and did kill many of Nagasaki's Christian population. That's probably where the rumor it was an intentional hit by FDR started.
On another side, many of the islands off Nagasaki Prefecture had a history of secret Christian populations. I lived in Sasebo for ten years and got out to some of the islands. Ikitsuki in the article is a very pretty place.
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