Recently, my husband and I (and some brethren from our church) we had an interesting trip to South Korea and Japan. We visited many beautiful places in these countries. Today I shall tell you some of my observations about the city of Nagasaki, Japan. Since I was a child I heard of Hiroshima and Nagasaki destroyed by atomic bombs at the end of the second world war. I was excited to see Nagasaki. These are some general information about the city itself.
Japan is one of the most developed countries in the world. We were amazed at the technology over there. In the same time, it is one of the least evangelized countries in the world. Christianity in Japan is among the nation’s minority religions. Around 1 % of the population claims Christian belief or affiliation. Most large Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, Protestantism are represented in Japan today. Since the mid-1990s, majority of Japanese people are nonreligious. Majority of the churches have less the 30 adults in attendance during services (Clearly, we need to pray for Japan!).
The word Nagasaki in Japanese means ‘covered by a long cape or a wrapped in a mantle’. Interestingly, the city is surrounded by hills that helped protect the people during the bombing. They absorbed much of the shock. Because of that the destruction in Nagasaki was less than the one in Hiroshima. Nagasaki was and still is ‘the Christian capital of Japan’! Christianity first arrived in Japan in 1549, when the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier landed in the port of Nagasaki. The native Japanese accepted the Christian faith and Nagasaki became one of Asia’s most important Christian centers known as “a little Rome.” In 1614, a strict ban on Christianity was issued. Churches were destroyed, and Christians in Japan faced various possibilities. Some suffered exile, forbidden from ever returning. Others were martyred, refusing to renounce their faith despite, in many cases, being severely tortured.
By the 1640s, not a single priest was left in the whole of Japan. Christians in Nagasaki realized that if they, too, were to die as martyrs, the Japanese church would die with them. As persecution raged and the prospect of the Christian faith’s complete eradication from Japan became imminent, these Christians made a decision that was to have dramatic consequences over two centuries later: to continue their faith in secret. The story of the underground church is one of suffering. Throughout the ban on Christianity in Japan, people in Nagasaki were required at an annual ceremony to trample on an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary, known as a fumie, to prove they were not Christian. These ceremonies haunted the imaginations of the secret Christians, who were without priests to absolve them. Every year they would creep home and utter penitential prayers, begging God to forgive them for what was called “this most necessary of sins” (To deny Christ in public but holding to Him in the heart).
Following the opening of Japan in the mid-19th century, a Catholic church was erected in Nagasaki, the first to be built there since before the ban on Christianity. This ban remained strictly in force, and permission for the church was granted on the understanding that it was solely for use by foreigners residing within Nagasaki’s newly established foreign settlement. It was called the Oura Church. Among the secret Christians, there was silent rejoicing. By that point, they had been underground for over two hundred years. On March 17, 1865, a small group of them gathered courage and approached the church. Here they met a French priest named Father Petitjean. Kneeling before him, one whispered: “All of us have the same heart as you.” They then asked the stunned priest “Where is the statue of Saint Mary?” This moving episode became known as the “Discovery of Christians,” and today the same statue of the Virgin Mary that Father Petitjean showed them can still be seen inside the church. In the wake of this event, thousands more of secret Christians from across the Nagasaki region also came forward and confessed their faith. Later, five more churches were built in the city. Nagasaki’s churches and Christian sites are called UNESCO heritage sites. Many Christians come to see them as a form of pilgrimage. The ground they were built upon is red, from the blood shed by many Christians who refused to backslide under persecution and were martyred publicly. Their testimonies speak to us today of a resurrection that had once seemed impossible. They stand as symbols of hope, inviting us to reflect upon the power of the Blood of Jesus and the Spirit of resurrection! They encourage us to hold on to our faith, the patiently endure to the end, no matter the trials of this world! Oh, the amazing grace of God! To God be all the glory!
“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11)
(In the picture, my husband and I, in front of the oldest Church in Nagasaki, The Oura Church, built in 1853, a national treasure in Japan. It was designed by Father Petijean. It survived even the bombing in 1945. Many secret Japanese Christians hid and came to this church during the persecution. It is also known as ‘The Church of the 26 Japanese Martyrs’. In the second picture, the interior of Oura Church)