A Brief History of the Kakure Kirishitan
The other day I was reading about the Shimabara Rebellion (1637-1638) in Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate. Christians played a major role in the rebellion, possibly even forming a majority of its membership, so when the rebellion was crushed, Christianity was suppressed. However, many of the Japanese Roman Catholics went underground and became known as the kakure kirishitan, the “hidden Christians.” These Christians worshipped in secret rooms in their homes; because of the expulsion of the clergy the kakure kirishitan depended upon lay leadership. To remain hidden, their statues of the saints and the Virgin Mary were transformed to look like the traditional statues of the Buddha and Shinto dieties. Likewise, prayers were adapted to sound like Buddhist and Shinto prayers, though they retained many untranslated words from Latin, Portuguese and Spanish. The Bible was passed down orally, since printing it was considered too dangerous. When religious freedom was reestablished two hundred years later many of the kakure kirishitan came out of hiding, renounced any unorthodox and syncretic practices that had grown up and rejoined the Roman Catholic Church. Isn’t that wild?