Kirishitan (吉利支丹, 切支丹, キリシタン), from Portuguese cristão, was the Japanese term for Roman Catholic Christians and is used as a historiographic term for Roman Catholics in Japan during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Christian missionaries at that time were known as bateren ("fathers") from the Portuguese word padre, or iruman ("brothers") from the Portuguese word irmão. Catholic missionary activities in Japan began in 1549 with the arrival of Portuguese-sponsored Jesuits Francisco Xavier, Brother Cosme de Torres, and Father John Fernandez in Kagoshima, along with a recent Japanese convert, Anjiro (Christian name, Pablo de Santa Fe). The warlords (daimyo) of Western Japan, who were interested in trade with the Portuguese, received them favorably. By 1582, Portuguese Jesuits and Spanish Franciscans and Dominicans reported 200,000 converts to Christianity, including a number of daimyo and their families.
After Japan was unified at the end of the sixteenth century, a combination of circumstances caused the government to feel threatened by the Catholic missionaries and their converts, and Christianity was prohibited. Foreign clergy were expelled from Japan, and Christians who did not renounce their faith were cruelly tortured and put to death. The remaining Christians went underground and became Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians) for almost 250 years. They disguised their rituals, committed prayers and snatches of Scripture to memory, and developed their own hereditary priesthood and observances of rites and the sacrament of Baptism. In 1865, after the shogunate opened several Japanese ports to foreign trade, several Kakure Kirishitan approached a Catholic priest in Nagasaki. Within a year, 20,000 Kakure Kirishitan dropped their disguise and openly professed their Christian faith. Others chose not to abandon their traditions and became Hanare Kirishitan (Separate Christians).
Modern Japanese Christianity is known as Kirisuto-kyo.
Religion was an integral part of the state and evangelization was seen as having both secular and spiritual benefits for both Portugal and Spain. Wherever either of these powers attempted to expand their territories or influence, missionaries would soon follow. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas divided the newly-discovered lands outside Europe into two exclusive Portuguese and Spanish spheres of influence, trade and colonization. At that time, neither nation had any direct contact with Japan, which fell into the sphere of the Portuguese. Later, Spain challenged Portugal’s claim. Since neither country could colonize Japan, the country with the exclusive right to propagate Christianity in Japan would gain trading rights there. In 1549, the Portuguese-sponsored Jesuits, under the direction of Alessandro Valignano, entered Japan over the protests of the Spaniards. In 1575, Pope Gregory XIII issued a papal bull confirming that Japan belonged to the Portuguese diocese of Macau. In 1588, the diocese of Funai (Nagasaki) was founded under Portuguese protection.
Spanish-sponsored Dominican and Franciscan mendicant orders entered Japan by way of Manila. Criticizing Jesuit activities in Japan, they actively lobbied the Pope, resulting in Pope Clement VIII's decree of 1600, which allowed Spanish friars to enter Japan via the Portuguese Indies, and Pope Paul V's decree of 1608, which abolished the restrictions on the route. The Portuguese accused Spanish Jesuits of working for their homeland instead of for God. The power struggle between Jesuits and the mendicant orders caused a schism within the diocese of Funai. In addition, The Spanish mendicant orders tried in vain to establish an independent diocese in the Tohoku region. The governments of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Ieyasu Tokugawa, observing the discord and rivalry among the Catholics, became increasingly mistrustful of them.
In the early seventeenth century, Japan built trade relations with the Netherlands and England. Although England withdrew after ten years under James I because it found the trade unprofitable, the Netherlands continued to trade with Japan and became the only European country that maintained trade relations with Japan until the nineteenth century. To strengthen their advantage, the Protestant countries engaged in a negative campaign against Catholicism, warning the Tokugawa shogunate that it was a vehicle for Spanish and Portuguese imperialism.
Portugal's and Spain's colonial policies were also challenged by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1622, the Vatican founded the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (“Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples,” “Congregatio pro Gentium Evangelisatione”) to be responsible for missionary work and related activities, and attempted to separate the churches from the political influence of the Iberian kingdoms. By this time the Japanese shogunate had already begun expelling foreign clergy from their domain.
Roman Catholic missionary activities in Japan began in 1549, with the arrival in Kagoshima of the Jesuits Francis Xavier,, Father Cosme de Torres, and Brother John Fernandez, along with a recent Japanese convert, Anjiro (Christian name, Pablo de Santa Fe). When the Jesuits arrived, Japan was in the throes of civil war, and neither the emperor nor the Ashikaga shogun was in control of the nation. Xavier intended to get permission from the emperor to build a mission, but was unable to enter Kyoto and became discouraged when he realized the extent of the devastation of the imperial residence.
The Jesuits then approached daimyo in southwestern Japan. The warlords of Kyushu were interested in the weapons, technology and supplies that could be obtained from the Portuguese traders, and willing to accept the overtures of the Jesuits. Xavier soon realized that the Jesuits could gain the most ground by adopting the attire and lifestyle of the upper classes. As feudal lords converted to Catholicism, the numbers of believers in their territories increased dramatically.
Oda Nobunaga (織田 信長), one of the great unifiers of Japan, took an interest in Western culture and favored the Jesuit missionary Luis Frois. He encouraged the development of the Christian missions as a means of undermining the political strength of the Buddhist temples. Though he never converted to Christianity, he became a patron of the Jesuits and supported the establishment of the first Christian church in Kyoto in 1576. By 1579, six regional war lords and approximately 100,000 of their subjects had converted to Christianity. When Nobunaga died in 1582, the Catholics reported 200,000 faithful and 250 churches in Japan. Another patron was Date Masamune, one of the most powerful daimyo under the Tokugawa shogunate, who sponsored a mission to the Vatican (1613 – 1620) but later complied with the Tokugawa edicts against Christianity. Some sources suggest that Masamune's eldest daughter, Iroha, was a Christian.
Between 1553 and 1620, 86 Daimyos were officially baptized, and many more were sympathetic to the Christians. While oppressed peasants embraced the gospel of salvation, the motivation of the daimyo who accepted Christianity was complex and may have been more political and economic than religious. Association with the Jesuits and the mendicant orders implied association with the military and economic might of the Portuguese and Spanish, with their ships and powerful guns. Hideyoshi and Tokugawa were establishing hegemony over all the regions of Japan; smaller daimyo may have hoped to build up the power to resist with the help of the new religion. Some daimyo had trade ties with Luzon in the Philippines, or with China, and had already been exposed to Western culture. In addition, they could trade with the Portuguese to obtain saltpeter for gunpowder, and silk and other luxuries from China.
Alessandro Valignano (1539 - 1606), Visitor of Missions in the Indies, visited Japan from 1579 to 1582 and developed a strategy of avoiding conflict by adapting Christian teachings to Japanese customs and cultural traditions. He initiated Japanese language training for foreign missionaries, and by 1595, the Jesuits had printed a Japanese grammar and dictionary, and several books (mostly the lives of saints and martyrs) entirely in Japanese. Valignano also founded a seminary for the training of Japanese priests.
The Jesuit missions in Japan required a great deal of money, and since the King of Portugal could not support them, the Jesuits were allowed to engage in trade. Francis Xavier, the pioneer of Catholic missions in Japan, set a precedent by financing the cost of missionary work through merchant trading. From the 1550s to the 1570s, the Jesuits covered all their mission expenses with profits from trade. Their official commercial activity was a designated portion of the Portuguese silk trade between Macau and Nagasaki. They invested in the trade association in Macau, which purchased raw silk in Canton and sold it in Nagasaki. Their commercial activities were not confined to the silk trade; they also dealt in gold, musk, military supplies and other goods including slaves. They antagonized the Portuguese traders by involving themselves in Spanish trade, a practice prohibited by the kings of Spain and Portugal.
Jesuit procurators in Macau and Nagasaki acted as brokers, accepting purchase orders from the Japanese shogunate, daimyo and wealthy merchants. The office of procurator became an important post amongst the Jesuits in Japan, because they could not only profit from commissions, but establish favorable relationships with the authorities. Although Portuguese traders complained, the Jesuits continued their activities under the auspices of the Catholic Church. Portuguese merchants also required the assistance of Jesuit procurators who were familiar with Japanese customs, since they had no permanent trading post in Japan. A notable Jesuit procurator was João Rodrigues, who approached Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu and even participated in the administration of Nagasaki.
In 1580, Father Vilela converted the daimyo Omura Sumitada, who controlled the port of Nagasaki. As a gift, the port, which was then only a small fishing village, was ceded to the control of the Society, along with the fortress in the harbor. Under Jesuit control, Nagasaki grew from a town with only one street to an international port rivaling the influence of Goa or Macau. Ownership of the port of Nagasaki gave the Jesuits a monopoly on the taxation of all imported goods coming into Japan. The society was most active in the Japanese silver trade; large quantities of Japanese silver were shipped to Canton in exchange for Chinese silk. The Jesuit Superior General in Rome was shocked by news of such a blatant acquisition of property and gave firm instructions that Jesuit control of Nagasaki should only be temporary, as such commercial activities were contrary to the vows of poverty taken by priests. Mendicant orders, themselves engaged in some commercial activities, fiercely accused the Jesuits of corruption and some blamed their commercial activities for Japan's ban of Catholicism.
In 1585, when the Holy See ordered an immediate cessation of all mercantile activities by the Society, Valignano made an impassioned appeal to the Pope, saying that he would forgo all trade as soon as the 12,000 ducats required to meet their annual expenses were forthcoming from another source. Abandoning the silk trade, he said, would be the equivalent to abandoning the mission to Japan.
Missionaries were not reluctant to take military action if they considered it an effective way to Christianize Japan. They also believed that Japanese Christian soldiers might support Spanish or Portuguese military campaigns. Alessandro Valignano told the Philippine Governor that it was impossible to conquer Japan because the Japanese were very brave and always received military training, but that Japan would benefit them when they conquered China. Francisco Cabral, Superior of the Jesuit mission in Japan, also reported to the King of Spain that priests were able to send to China two or three thousand Japanese Christian soldiers who were brave and were expected to serve the king with little pay.
The Jesuits provided various kinds of support, including military support, to Kirishitan daimyo when they were threatened by non-Kirishitan daimyo. In 1584, they supported Omura Sumitada (大村純忠) and Arima Harunobu (有馬晴信) in a successful campaign against the anti-Catholic Ryuzoji (龍造寺) clan. In the 1580s, Valignano, believing in the effectiveness of military action, fortified Nagasaki and Mogi. In 1585, the Jesuit Superior Gaspar Coelho asked the Spanish Philippines to send a fleet but the plan was rejected. Christians Protasio Arima and Paulo Okamoto were named as principals in an assassination plot to murder the magistrate in charge of Nagasaki.
When Toyotomi Hideyoshi issued the first ban on Catholicism in 1587, the Jesuits in Japan, led by Coelho, planned armed resistance. When the Kirishitan daimyo refused to help them, they called for a deployment of reinforcements from their homeland and its colonies. This plan was abolished by Valignano, who realized that a military campaign against Japan's powerful ruler would bring an end to Catholicism in Japan. Valignano survived the crisis by laying all the blame on Coelho, who had recently died. In 1590, the Jesuits decided to stop intervening in the struggles among the daimyo and to disarm themselves, giving only secret shipments of food and financial aid to Kirishitan daimyo.
In June 1592, Christian daimyo, under the leadership of Konishi Yukinaga (小西 行長), took full part in Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea and the massacre and enslavement of its people. Their behavior was indistinguishable from non-Christian Japanese forces.
When Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉) reunified Japan and became its ruler, he began to pay attention to external threats, particularly the expansion of European power in East Asia. By 1587, Hideyoshi had become alarmed by reports that Christian lords reportedly oversaw forced conversions of retainers and commoners, that the Jesuits had garrisoned the city of Nagasaki, that they participated in the slave trade of other Japanese and, apparently offending Hideyoshi's Buddhist sentiments, that they allowed the slaughter of horses and oxen for food. Concerned that divided loyalties might lead to dangerous rebellions like that of the Pure Land Buddhist Ikkō-ikki Sect, he attempted to curb Catholicism while maintaining good trading relations with Portugal and Spain.  From the correspondence between the Portuguese King João III and the Vatican Pope from this period, it is apparent that the Christian daimyo sold women into slavery in exchange for the Jesuits' gun powder, at a rate of 50 baptized Japanese girls for a barrel of saltpeter. The most powerful Christian lord, Sorin Otomo (大友 宗麟, Daimyo of Kyūshū) was documented as trading in medicines, pepper, gunpowder, and slaves with Francis Xavier, Luis de Almeida (1525-1583) and other Jesuits.
In 1587, Hideyoshi Toyotomi called commanded Gaspar Coelho to stop slave trade of Japanese women and bring back all the Japanese, and promulgated the Bateren-tsuiho-rei ("Purge Directive Order to the Jesuits"). It consists of 11 articles, including: "No. 10. Do not sell Japanese people to the Namban (Portuguese)." By 1596, the Jesuit fathers had prohibited slave trade in and outside Japan.
In 1596, the Spanish captain of the San Felipe, a shipwrecked trading vessel, in an attempt to recover his cargo, claimed that the missionaries were there to prepare Japan for conquest. His claims made Hideyoshi suspicious of the foreign religion. Hideyoshi put Nagasaki under his direct rule to control Portuguese trade, and in 1597, 26 Christians were crucified there at his order.
After Toyotomi Hideyoshi's death, Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康) assumed hegemony over Japan in 1600. He disliked Christian activities in Japan but gave priority to trade with Portugal and Spain. He secured Portuguese trade in 1600 and negotiated with Manila to establish trade with the Philippines. Trade relations with Portugal and Spain were inconsistent with his oppressive policies toward Catholicism. Dutch and British traders, in an attempt to wrest control of the Japan trade from the Catholic countries, advised the shogunate that Spain had territorial ambitions, and that Catholicism was a means of gaining influence in Japan. The Dutch promised, in contrast, that they would limit their activities to trading and would not carry out any missionary work in Japan.
In 1614, Tokugawa Ieyasu banned Christianity in Japan. The immediate cause of the prohibition was a case of fraud involving Ieyasu's Catholic vavasor, but there were other reasons behind it. Some Jesuits recognized that it was for "reasons of state." Not only was the shogunate concerned about a possible threat from the Spanish or Portuguese, but wanted to enforce measures against supporters of the Toyotomi clan that had opposed Tokugawa’s rule, some of whom were Christian daimyo. In 1614, Tokugawa ordered the Zen monk Konchiin Suden (1563-1633) to draft a statement entitled "Expulsion of all missionaries from Japan."
 It claimed that the Christians were bringing disorder to Japanese society and that they "contravene governmental regulations, traduce Shinto, calumniate the True Law, destroy regulations, and corrupt goodness." The edict was reissued by the second Tokugawa shogun Hidetada (徳川 秀忠, 1579-1632), who was xenophobic, and was fully implemented and canonized as one of the fundamental laws of the Tokugawa shogunate. The government demanded the expulsion of all European missionaries and the execution of all converts 
The Buddhist ecclesiastical establishment was made responsible for verifying that a person was not a Christian through what became known as the "temple guarantee system" (terauke seido). By the 1630s, people were being required to produce a certificate of affiliation with a Buddhist temple as proof of religious orthodoxy, social acceptability and loyalty to the regime.
To identify practicing Catholics and sympathizers, government officials ordered everyone to trample on fumie (踏み絵), pictures of the Virgin Mary and Christ. Those who were reluctant to step on the pictures were identified as Catholics and sent to Nagasaki to be tortured until they renounced their faith. Many who refused were executed on Nagasaki's Mount Unzen, often by being boiled alive in thermal springs.
In 1637 the Shimabara Rebellion (島原の乱) broke out. Initially sparked by economic desperation, over-taxation and government oppression, it soon assumed a religious character. A charismatic 14-year-old, Amakusa Shirō (天草 四郎, c. 1621? - April 12, 1638, also known as Masuda Shirō Tokisada, 益田 時貞) was chosen as the rebellion's leader. About 37,000 people, many of whom were Christians, joined the uprising, but it was eventually crushed, with heavy casualties to government troops, and all the rebels were decapitated. Following the rebellion, Christianity was completely suppressed in Japan, and the Tokugawa shogunate enacted a policy of “sakoku,” complete isolation of Japan from foreign influences.
About 400 Japanese Christians were officially deported to Macau or to the Spanish Philippines, and thousands more were pressured into voluntary exile. Many Macanese and Japanese Mestizos are the mixed-race descendants of these deported Japanese Catholics.
Christians were heavily persecuted, and an estimated 3000 were killed. Many of the 300,000 Christians in Japan renounced their faith. Catholics who did not renounce their faith were crucified, dismembered, lowered headfirst in excrement, or suffered other cruel means of torture and death. The remaining Catholics in Japan were driven underground and became known as the Kakure Kirishitan ("Hidden Christians"). Some priests remained in Japan illegally, including 18 Jesuits, seven Franciscans, seven Dominicans, one Augustinian, five seculars and an unknown number of Jesuit irmao and dojuku. Between 1640 and 1670, several Jesuit and Dominican groups attempted to enter Japan, but all of them were tortured and put to death.
During the Edo period, the Kakure Kirishitan kept their faith hidden. They worshipped in secret rooms in private homes, and designated sacred places to baptize their children (mizukata). They eliminated most external symbols and books, disguised their rituals, and committed prayers and snatches of Scripture to memory. Since the Catholic clergy had all been expelled, they developed their own hereditary priesthood, observed holy days and administered the sacrament of Baptism. Over time, the figures of the saints and the Virgin Mary were transformed into figurines that looked like the traditional statues of the Buddha and Shinto gods and goddesses. Prayers were adapted to sound like Buddhist and Shinto prayers, retaining many untranslated words from Latin, Portuguese and Spanish. The Bible was passed down orally, and rituals and sacraments were handed down from father to son. 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. Drawn from the oral histories of Japanese Catholic communities, Shusaku Endo's (遠藤 周作) acclaimed novel "Silence" (1966) provides detailed accounts of the persecution of Christian communities and the suppression of the Church.
In 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo harbor with U.S. Navy ships and forced Japan to open its ports to foreign trade. Under a treaty signed between France and Japan, in October, 1858, Catholic missionaries were allowed to reside in open ports and conduct church services for foreigners. In 1865, some Japanese who lived in Urakami village near Nagasaki visited the new Ōura Church which had been built there by the Paris Foreign Missions Society (Missions étrangères de Paris) barely a month before. A female member of the group spoke to a French priest, Bernard Thadee Petitjean, and confessed that their families had kept the Kirishitan faith. These Kirishitan wanted to see the statue of Saint Mary with their own eyes, and to confirm that the priest was single and truly came from the pope in Rome. After this interview, many Kirishitan thronged to Petitjean. He investigated their underground organizations and discovered that they had kept the rite of baptism and the liturgical years without European priests for nearly 250 years. Petitjean’s report surprised the Christian world; Pope Pius IX called it a miracle.
The Edo shogunate's edicts banning Christianity were still in effect, and persecution continued until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Robert Bruce Van Valkenburgh, the American minister-resident in Japan, privately complained of this persecution to the Nagasaki magistrates, but very little action was taken to stop it. The succeeding Meiji government initially continued persecuting Christians and several thousand people were exiled. In 1873 the ban was lifted in response to vocal criticism by Europe and the U.S., and the exiles returned and started to construct the Urakami Cathedral which was completed in 1895.
It was later revealed that tens of thousands of Kirishitan still survived in some regions near Nagasaki. Some officially returned to the Roman Catholic Church. Others remained apart from the Catholic Church and became known as Hanare Kirishitan, retaining their own traditional beliefs and keeping their ancestors’ religion. When John Paul II visited Nagasaki in 1981, he baptized some young people from Hanare Kirishitan families.
There is some debate on whether or not Kakure Kirishitans still exist, even now practicing the ancestral rituals in secret. The fear of detection is integrated into the culture of this sect. Even some of those who have come out of hiding still maintain shrines that do not have any markings of Christianity, such as crosses or images of the Virgin Mary or Jesus. Anthropologist Christal Whelan, from the University of Hawaii, spent a year during the 1990s on Narushima Island, studying the lives of two Kakure Kirishitan priests. Both were nearly 100 years old and had no successors. In 1995 she filmed a Christmas Eve (Otaiya, literally "big evening,") ceremony, in which three priests traditionally bless and consume three cups of sake (rice wine) and three bowls of rice. The sake is consumed and the rice is placed in the palm of the cupped left hand very similar to the way the Communion host is received in the hand in Catholic churches today. The Crucifixion is celebrated but Easter has lost its significance and is merely a "time when mourning ceases." Whelan was able to trace their prayers to printed sixteenth century Portuguese, Latin and Japanese texts, but the priests had no knowledge of texts and did not know the meaning of the words. Whelan also documented a unique Kakure Kirishitan funeral practice in which a small piece was cut from a centuries-old kimono which had belonged to a particularly holy Hidden Christian martyr, wrapped in paper and placed in the hands of the dead.
Asayama Nichijô (Nichijô Shonin) Nichiren priest d. 1577
Konchiin Sūden (1569–1633), an influential Buddhist adviser who served the first three Tokugawa shoguns.
"The Kirishitan band happened to reach Japan. Not only have they sent merchant vessels to exchange commodities, but they also spread a pernicious doctrine to confuse the right ones, so that they would change the government of the country and own the country. This will become a great catastrophe. We cannot but stop it."
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