Kakure Kirishitan

is a modern term for a member of the Japanese Roman Catholic Church that went underground after the Shimabara Rebellion in the 1630s.


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 Shinto gods and goddesses. The prayers were adapted to sound like Buddhist and Shinto prayers, yet retained many untranslated words from Latin, Portuguese and Spanish. The Bible was passed down orally, due to fears of printed works being confiscated by authorities. Because of the 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.

Many secret Christians, some of whom had adopted these new ways of practicing Christianity, came out of hiding when religious freedom was re-established in the mid-19th century and rejoined the Roman Catholic Church after renouncing their unorthodox, syncretic practices. However, there were those who decided not to rejoin. They are known as the Hanare Kirishitan (nihongo2|離れキリシタン, separated Christians).

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 that 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.

Shusaku Endo's acclaimed novel "Silence" draws from the oral history of the local Kirishitan communities pertaining to the time of the suppression of the Church.

Noted Japanese composer Yasuhide Ito has written a well-known [cite web|url=http://www.bravomusicinc.com/Artists/ito.html|title=Yasuhide Ito|accessdate=2007-12-02] cite web|url=http://www.wasbe.com/en/news/review200109_jp.html|title=WASBE|accessdate=2007-12-02] [cite web|url=http://www.philharmonicwinds.org/composer_ito.htm|title=Philwinds: Composers' Corner: Yasuhide Ito|accessdate=2007-12-02] work for symphonic band, called "Gloriosa", that was inspired by the music of the Kakure Kirishitans.

ee also

*Nagasaki Prefecture
*Ikitsuki Island
*Sacred language
*Hanare Kirishitan


External links

* [http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0452.html Article originally printed in The Hawaii Catholic Herald.]
* [http://www.stolaf.edu/depts/asian-studies/projects/kakurekirishitan Photo-Documentary of Christian history in Japan with Concentration on Hidden Christians] : photo and film project by students of St Olaf College.
* [http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2007/s1995699.htm "Japan - Hidden Christians"] : segment from "Foreign Correspondent", aired on Australian channel ABC TV.
* [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B02EFDC163EF936A15751C1A9659C8B63&sec=travel&spon=&pagewanted=all Ikitsuki Journal; Once Banned, Christianity Withers in an Old Stronghold] New York Times Article Dec. 25, 2003
* [http://www.samsloan.com/japan-ch.htm Lack of Oppression Hurts Christianity in Japan] New York Times Article Apr. 3, 1997
* [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,925197,00.html Japan's Crypto-Christians] Time Magazine Article
* [http://www.zenit.org/article-21265?l=english 2008 Beatification of Japanese Martyrs.]

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