Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Located on the World Heritage site, “Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region - Villages on Kashiragashima”
Open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed every second and fourth Sunday of the month from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
(See bottom of page for access information)
Kashiragashima is an island on the northeastern end of Shinkamigoto that was uninhabited until the Edo period. Because the land was inaccessible and difficult to cultivate, it remained undeveloped apart from its usage as a sanatorium throughout the Edo period. In the spring of 1858, the household of the Buddhist Maeda Gidayu moved to Kashiragashima to develop the area. In October of the following year, he invited Christians from the Tainoura area to settle the area with the permission of the local governor. They cleared the land and developed a village where they could practice their faith in secret. Within ten years, there were 16 households and approximately 130 people living on Kashiragashima. In March 1867, the Catholic Domingo Mori Matsujiro also moved to Kashiragashima from Tainoura and built a place of worship which functioned as a missionary training facility. The house was named Sei Yohane Seido, or “St. Joseph Church.” In April, Domingo Mori invited Fr. Cousin, a priest from Oura Cathedral, to preach at his residence. This lured Christians from all over Kamigoto to the island. Not long after, in 1868, the Goto Kuzure crackdown brought about severe repercussions for the residents of Kashiragashima, who were arrested and jailed in Domigo Mori’s establishment. Over the course of three months, they were starved and tortured with the san-gi-zeme technique, in which victims are forced to sit seiza style on top of triangular wooden logs while balancing heavy rocks on their knees.
By 1869, the village had no inhabitants. In 1873, with the abolition of the edict banning Christianity, people began to return to the island and in 1887, a wooden church was constructed on the site of the old church. Around 1908, parish priest Yae Osaki noticed the good quality of sandstone on the island and set out to build a clergy house. He requested architectural assistance from Yosuke Tetsukawa and began construction in 1910, but it was interrupted twice due to a lack of funding. The followers helped raise money by fishing for squid at night and contributed labor by quarrying and carrying stones from the shore and the nearby Rokuro Island during the day. The stone blocks, roughly 30 cm thick, were carried by four to five people and about two to three stones were laid per day, resulting in a grueling construction project that took over the course of a decade to finish. With the devoted cooperation of the followers, the church was finally completed in 1919.
Thanks to careful preservation by the island’s remaining followers, the church is in good condition for visitors to enjoy today. The church was designated an Important Cultural Asset in 2010 and the landscape of the surrounding four villages, which reflects the history of the hidden Christians throughout the ban, was registered on the World Heritage list in 2018.
Stone churches are rare in Japan, and Kashiragashima Church is the only one of its kind in Nagasaki Prefecture. Upon closer inspection, it is possible to see numerals carved onto the sides of the stone blocks. These are thought to be measurements to aid in construction. The church’s bell tower has a round window with an octagonal roof, while the church interior features corbeling with a ceiling that resembles the bottom of an overturned boat. In addition to the use of locally-quarried sandstone, no pillars were added to this church as a cost-saving measure. Because the top joists and ceiling are decorated with a flower motif, the building is also referred to as hana no mido or, “the hall of flowers.” The soft blue walls and floral designs inside of the church are juxtaposed with the sturdy, grave appearance of its exterior.
Since the area’s World Heritage designation in 2018, visitors are kindly asked to use the free shuttle bus at the Kashiragashima Settlement Information Center for transportation to and from Kashiragashima Church and the surrounding area. This helps conserve the premises and provides a more peaceful environment for local residents. Please submit a prior notice at least two days in advance in order to reserve the bus: http://kyoukaigun.jp/en/visit/kashiragashima.php
The buses operate on a 30-minute schedule, so we recommend checking out the following while waiting for the departure or return bus.
Kashiragashima Settlement Information Center: The departure point for the shuttle bus, this defunct airport houses exhibitions about the history of Kashiragashima Island and Christianity in Japan in general. There are also restrooms and a small kiosk selling local goods. The Pilgrimage Stamp Books are available for purchase here.
Fureai-kan: After visiting the church, check out this old-fashioned Japanese house adjacent to Kashiragashima Church. Observe the traditional preservation method of locally-harvested sweet potatoes or kankoro, which was once a staple food for islanders. You can also see how local sandstone was once quarried.
Shirahama Beach & the Christian Graveyard: At the bus stop for the return bus, gaze across the Shirahama shoreline at Rokuro Island, where sandstone was quarried to build Kashiragashima Church. On the sandy soil before the shoreline, there is a Catholic graveyard for the believers who lived through the persecution. The gravestones are the same shape as those found in Japanese graveyards but have crosses on top. From mid to late May, pink matsubagiku (lampranthus spectabilis) bloom all over the graveyard for a beautiful sight. To the side of the graveyard, a kyochikuto tree (nerium oleander) can be found.