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Introduction to Christianity in Goto

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Christianity in Japan

Christianity arrived in Japan in 1549, where it flourished for a brief period before it was banned by the shogunate government from 1614 until 1873. During this time, many Christians went into hiding to practice their faith. These people, referred to as “hidden Christians,” developed their own style of worship that is still practiced by a few remaining communities.

Due to overpopulation, many from the Sotome area of what is now Nagasaki Prefecture were sent away to settle the Goto Islands. Among the 3000 people who immigrated to Goto, many were Christians escaping persecution in Omura. They hoped to reach paradise only to arrive and find that land was inhospitable to farming and they experienced harsh living conditions on the islands. Additionally, the Goto Clan severely oppressed Christianity and many hidden Christians were exposed in 1868 during the local crackdown on Christianity known as the "Goto Kuzure."

Many hidden Christians were identified and captured during the prohibition of Christianity, but in some villages, Buddhists cooperated with the Christians, who often maintained identities as Buddhists and Shinto followers. Meanwhile, the hidden Christians continued to pass down their secret prayer, “Oratio,” which was conveyed orally from father to eldest son in each household.


Churches in Goto

Once the 250-year oppression of Christianity ended, the beleaguered followers rejoiced at the opportunity to finally practice their religion freely. They expressed their euphoria by pulling their meager funds together to construct elaborately-designed churches that are still used and cherished to this day. The churches and landscapes that emerged after Christianity’s revival in Japan are physical evidence of that persistence of faith throughout the long period of hiding. Across the Goto Islands, the villages that retain these histories are registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List as constituent assets of the “Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region.” Four out of the 12 constituent assets are located on the Goto Islands, and one of those assets, “the Villages on Kashiragashima,” is located in Shinkamigoto.

There are over 50 churches scattered throughout the Goto Islands and 29 of them are located in Shinkamigoto. Each church has a unique design and history influenced by the community of faith that has worshiped there for generations. Whether it be a dreamlike atmosphere evoked by sun pouring in through stained glass windows or architecture that transports visitors through time and space, take a step inside each church and feel the mood of its surroundings.

Statue of the Holy Mother of Hope on pedestal in Hamakushi
Statue of the Holy Mother of Hope - Hamakushi

Please respect the atmosphere of the churches and keep the following in mind when visiting:

- Take shoes and hat off before entering.

- Refrain from talking and using electronic devices.

- Do not touch items or belongings in the church other than those on the guest book table.

- Do not eat and drink in the churches.

- Do not enter closed areas.

- Please refrain from taking pictures inside the church with respect to those who use it for worship.

Most churches have a table close to the entrance with a stamp, ink pads and a guestbook. There is a pilgrimage stamp booklet officially recognized by the Archdiocese of Nagasaki that can be used to collect the ink stamps of each church. The churches and their adherents appreciate it if, rather than taking pictures, guests collect these stamps to take home as a souvenir of their visit. The stamp booklets are 1200 yen each and include a map in addition to spaces with the name of each church written in English. The booklets are available for purchase at the Nagasaki Junrei Center, Kashiragashima Settlement Information Center and at the Tourism Products Association in Kamigoto.

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