Kakure Kirishitan

  (Redirected from Hidden Christians of Japan)

Kakure Kirishitan (Japanese: 隠れキリシタン, lit.'"hidden Christian"') is a modern term for a member of the Catholic Church in Japan that went underground at the start of the Edo period in the early 17th century due to Christianity's repression by the Tokugawa shogunate.[1][2]

The Virgin Mary disguised as Kannon, Kirishitan, 17th-century Japan. Salle des Martyrs, Paris Foreign Missions Society.


A Dehua porcelain "Guanyin bringing child" statue, interpreted to be "Maria Kannon" in connection with Christian worship. Nantoyōsō Collection, Japan.
The gion-mamori, crest of the Gion Shrine, was adopted by the kakure kirishitan as their crest under the Tokugawa shogunate[3]

Kakure Kirishitans are called the "hidden" Christians because they continued to practice Christianity in secret. They worshipped in secret rooms in private homes. As time went on, the figures of the saints and the Virgin Mary were transformed into figurines that looked like the traditional statues of the Buddha and bodhisattvas;[citation needed] depictions of Mary modeled on the Buddhist deity Kannon (Avalokiteśvara), goddess of mercy, became common, and were known as "Maria Kannon".[4] The prayers were adapted to sound like Buddhist chant, yet retained many untranslated words from Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish. The Bible and other parts of the liturgy were passed down orally, because printed works could be confiscated by authorities.[1] Because of the official expulsion of the Catholic clergy in the 17th century, the Kakure Christian community relied on lay leaders to lead the services.

In some cases, the communities drifted away from Christian teachings. They lost the meaning of the prayers and their religion became a version of the cult of ancestors, in which the ancestors happened to be their Christian martyrs.

Kakure Kirishitan was recognized by Bernard Petitjean, a Catholic priest, when Ōura Church was built in Nagasaki in 1865. Approximately 30,000 secret Christians, some of whom had adopted these new ways of practicing Christianity, came out of hiding when religious freedom was re-established in 1873 after the Meiji Restoration. The Kakure Kirishitan became known as Mukashi Kirishitan (昔キリシタン), or "ancient" Christians, and emerged not only from traditional Christian areas in Kyushu, but also from other rural areas of Japan.[1]

The majority of Kakure Kirishitan rejoined the Catholic Church after renouncing unorthodox, syncretic practices. Some Kakure Kirishitan did not rejoin the Catholic Church, and became known as the Hanare Kirishitan (離れキリシタン, separated Christians).[1] Hanare Kirishitan are now primarily found in Urakami and on the Gotō Islands.[2]

Modern extinction of Hanare KirishitanEdit

Following the legalization of Christianity in the 1800s, many Hanare Kirishitan lineages ended abruptly. Traditionally, boys learned the rituals and prayers from their fathers; when boys were uninterested or moved away from their homes, no one was left to continue the lineage.

For a while[when?], Hanare Kirishitans were thought to have died out entirely because of the secretive nature of their practices. A group on Ikitsuki Island in Nagasaki Prefecture, which had been overlooked by the Japanese government, made their beliefs public in the 1980s and now perform their rituals for audiences; however, these practices have acquired some attributes of theatre, such as the telling of folktales and the use of statues and other images which most underground Christians never used.

The anthropologist Christal Whelan uncovered[when?] some Hanare Kirishitans on the Gotō Islands where Kakure Kirishitans had once fled. There were only two surviving priests on the islands, both of whom were over 90, and they would not talk to each other. The few surviving laity had also reached old age, and some of them no longer had any priests from their lineage and prayed alone. Although these Hanare Kirishitans had a strong tradition of secrecy, they agreed to be filmed for Whelan's documentary Otaiya.[5]

In popular cultureEdit

  • Shūsaku Endō's 1966 novel Silence draws from the oral history of the local Kirishitan communities pertaining to the time of the hiding of the Christians, as do certain of his short stories, including "Mothers" and "Unzen." The novel was adapted into film in 1971 (dir. Masahiro Shinoda) and 2016 (dir. Martin Scorsese).
  • Mitsuharu Inoue's 1960 short story The House of Hands centers on a community of descendants of Crypto-Christians on a small Nagasaki island.
  • Japanese composer Yasuhide Ito has written a work for symphonic band, called Gloriosa, that was inspired by the music of the Kakure Kirishitans.[6][7][8]
  • Nagisa Oshima's 1962 film Amakusa Shirō Tokisada (The Rebels), about the Shimabara Rebellion, is named after the leader of the rebellion Amakusa Shirō.
  • The anime series Rurouni Kenshin featured a story arc inspired by the Kakure Kirishitan, whose lead antagonist claims to be the second coming of Amakusa.
  • In the anime series Samurai Champloo, one of the totems on main character Fuu's short sword is eventually revealed to be a disguised Christian charm. Fuu's search for her missing father, a participant in the Shimabara Rebellion, drives the plot of the anime.
  • Secret Christians in feudal Japan are also detailed in several issues of the Usagi Yojimbo comic series.[9][10][11]
  • The 2018 Japanese videogame "The Midnight Sanctuary", which touches on Christian persecution in Edo period Japan, utilizes a Maria Kannon statue as one of its narrative symbols.
  • In the light novel series A Certain Magical Index, the Amakusa Crossist Church descend from the Kakure Kirishitan.
  • In the video game Kara no Shōjo: The Second Episode, the Hinna-sama cult is revealed to descend from the Kakure Kirishitan, although it became very distant from the original Christianity due to the isolation of its followers.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "S". Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2012. OCLC 56431036. Archived from the original on 25 August 2007.
  2. ^ a b "隠れキリシタン" [Kakure Kirishitan]. Dijitaru Daijisen (in Japanese). Tokyo: Shogakukan. 2012. OCLC 56431036. Archived from the original on 25 August 2007.
  3. ^ Boxer, C.R. (1951). The Christian Century in Japan: 1549–1650. University of California Press. p. vi.
  4. ^ Schumacher, Mark. "Virgin Mary & Kannon, Two Merciful Mothers". A to Z Photo Dictionary: Japanese Buddhist Statuary. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  5. ^ "Kakure Kirishitan". Catholiceducation.org. 4 February 2000. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  6. ^ "Yasuhide Ito". Bravo music. Retrieved 2 December 2007.
  7. ^ "Review". Wasbe. Sep 2001. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008.
  8. ^ "Yasuhide Ito". Composers' Corner. Philharmonic winds. Archived from the original on 20 September 2007. Retrieved 2 December 2007.
  9. ^ Usagi Yojimbo Vol.3 #76: "Contraband"
  10. ^ Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden miniseries #1-7 (Dark Horse, 2018)
  11. ^ Innovation & Tech Today: "Comic Creator Stan Sakai on the Inspiration for Usagi Yojimbo". June 4, 2018.

External linksEdit