Japanese Prayer Wall

Japanese Prayer Wall

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hidden Christians

Imagine a government official or soldier standing before you, demanding that you stand on an engraved, wooden picture of Jesus and Mary.  If you stand on the picture, you will go against your secret, Christian faith.  But, if you refuse and demonstrate your faith, you face the punishment of prison and possibly death.  Many Christians faced this difficult decision between 1614 and 1873, when Christianity was banned in Japan.
a fumi-e, a plaque used to test one's faith
Shusaku Endo wrote a powerful play called The Golden Country, and it’s about the persecution and martyrdom of Christians during this time.  In the introduction, Endo explained what Christians faced if they were captured: "Since the ordinary death penalties by decapitation or crucifixion served but to win admiration for the martyrs, who went to their deaths joyfully, singing hymns and exhorting the crowds, crueler and crueler tortures were devised.  To prolong the agony of victims at the stake, as well as to give additional time for reconsideration, wood was placed at some distance so that the sufferers roasted by the slow fire.  Boiling water from the Japanese hot springs was slowly poured over the victims, a dipperful at a time.  Christians were tied to stakes at the water’s edge at ebb tide and slowly went to their deaths as the tide came in." (Kindle file)**  Endo went on to describe even more graphic and violent techniques used to persuade Christians to deny their faith. I do highly recommend reading this play to learn more about the persecution of Japanese Christians, though it’s not appropriate for children.
During the prohibition of Christianity, many hidden Christians lived double lives.  Outwardly, they observed Buddhism and Shintoism, following the edicts of the law.  Secretly, they worshipped God in their homes and continued practicing their Christian faith.  Some people even had secret rooms for worshipping and Buddhist statues with crosses or other Christian icons hidden on the back.

Last week, I joined 2 Japanese pastors, 2 Japanese students, and 3 American missionaries in learning more.  We visited Amakusa, a city where many hidden Christians lived.  First we visited the Amakusa Christian Museum.  I learned that the root of the persecution came from fear.  Many Japanese leaders worried that Western influences were growing too strong and that the Japanese values, culture, and way of life were suffering.  They thought that stamping out Christianity would prevent the spread of Western influences. 
Amakusa Christian Museum

Group picture (plus one random tourist who joined our picture)

Christian Cemetery in front of the Amakusa Christian Museum

Next, we went to the Amakusa Municipal Rosary Museum.  Once again, we couldn’t take pictures inside though.

Amakusa Municipal Rosary Museum

Oe Catholic Church, behind the AMRM
Last, we went to Sakitsu Catholic Church.  It’s an old church beautifully situated in a small, fishing village.

Sakitsu Catholic Church

2nd Group Picture

In front of Sakitsu Catholic Church

Japanese Fish Pond with Christian Statues in front of the church
Views toward Western culture have dramatically changed during the last century, but only about 1% of Japan is Christian, even now.  I have experienced amazing hospitality during my time as a missionary in Japan, and spending the day with 4 Japanese Christians was just one reminder of that.  Thankfully, Christians are no longer tortured and executed in Japan, but sometimes they do still experience persecution.  Some families think Christianity conflicts with obligations to ancestral shrines or honoring one’s deceased relatives.  Fear of familial conflict or threats of being ostracized from family and friends cause some Japanese Christians to keep their faith a secret from those closest to them.  So, please remember to pray for the hidden Christians that still exist in Japan today, and may God give each of them courage to stay strong in their Christian faith.

**Formatting problems made it impossible to use a correct block quoting format.  Sorry.


  1. Amen. I agree.. I have been told that this is just a phase.. going to church and seeking God a phase? To me.. it's not about being labeled a religion, its about a relationship. Praying.. listening.. waiting.. Knowing Who and what you believe in is important.Read more

    1. I am so thankful that Christianity is more than a phase. I pray that the Holy Spirit would stir in people's hearts throughout Japan and that those people would know just how amazing it is to walk through life with Jesus.