In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians: A Story of Suppression, Secrecy and Survival

Review

Matthew Allison
by
published on 03 May 2024
In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians: A Story of Suppression, Secrecy and Survival
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Title: In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians: A Story of Suppression, Secrecy and Survival
Author: John Dougill
Audience: General Public
Difficulty: Medium
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
Published: 2022
Pages: 272

“In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians” documents the arrival, flourishing, stifling, and eventual prohibition of the Christian faith in Japan's Edo period. It was survived only through those known as “Kakure Kirishitans” (Hidden Christians), whose secret ceremonies and home-grown rituals persevere even today.

Dougill writes about the history of Christianity in Japan writ large, before focusing more precisely on the history of Hidden Christians and their existence today. There is much for both the casual reader and the academic to enjoy here, as the author interweaves his own perspectives and experiences (particularly those he had while traveling in Japan to research the topic) into the narrative. Dougill leaves little room for interpretation as he explains his thoughts and emotions throughout the book, which may sometimes conflict with the reader’s own. As such, the book reads as more a journey of the author's understanding of the topic, factually and emotionally, rather than the work of an impartial academic who seeks nothing but the cold truth without a hint of bias.

This book is a fascinating tale of hope amongst harrowing circumstances and the determination of the human spirit.

Chapters One and Two chart the arrival of the first Jesuit missionaries, the difficulties they initially faced, and the eventual conversion of some Japanese people. Chapter Three shows the reader that the Christian faith experienced some significant success in its early days, as the missionaries found favour with then Shogun Oda Nobunaga. However, in Chapter Four, we see a shift as the Christian faith that was spreading throughout the nation was seen as a potential threat by the new shogun, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and expulsion edicts were put in place. Chapters Five and Six are about the intensification of the prohibition of the faith, as well as persecution, including the crucifixion of the 26 Martyrs at Nagasaki.

Then, in Chapters Seven and Eight, the Shimabara Rebellion is explained, as well as some of the circumstances that came about after the incident such as how the Christians would attempt to hide their religious symbols in plain sight. Chapter Nine is dedicated to Endo Shusaku and his widely-known work Silence, which leads into Chapter Ten, where the history of the faith in Japan is harboured and sometimes transformed by Japanese thought in the Goto Islands, off Kyushu. Chapter Eleven explains the Dutch connection in Nagasaki and how some of the first Hidden Christians started to emerge into public view as the country began to open itself up to the world after its period of isolationism. Finally, Chapter Twelve explains the Protestant and Catholic connections to the country a bit more and reveals to the reader that the Hidden Christians of Japan were more akin to a Japanese folk religion rather than the Christianity that first arrived on their shores. Additionally, the book includes a short bibliography, as well as many images of what Dougill writes throughout the book which helps to lend a sense of realism to what can sometimes feel like an otherwordly topic.

While Dougill, who currently teaches British Culture at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, at times shows a limited understanding of Christian doctrine, the discerning reader might be able to find what the author misses through his discourse. Regardless, this book is a fascinating tale of hope amongst harrowing circumstances and the determination of the human spirit, and anyone who seeks to learn more about this little-known part of Japan’s history should see this book as a window into a much larger world.

For those wishing to look further into this topic, Ann M. Harrington's Japan's Hidden Christians (1993) which, written from a Catholic point of view, focuses more on the beliefs of Hidden Christians may be of interest. Some more contemporary analyses are Kirk Sandvig's Hidden Christians in Japan: Breaking the Silence (2019) and Christal Whelan's documentary Otaiya: Japan's Hidden Christians. Finally, The Beginning of Heaven and Earth: The Sacred Book of Japan's Hidden Christians, written by Hidden Christians during their years of persecution and edited and translated by Christal Whelan, would give the reader an insight into the beliefs that these particular Christians held and regale the reader with Bible stories with intrinsically Japanese themes.

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About the Reviewer

Matthew Allison
Matthew is an avid writer and historian. He is particularly interested in the Shimabara Rebellion, Japanese history, and military history in general. He holds a BA in History and Political Science from the University of Waikato, New Zealand

Cite This Work

APA Style

Allison, M. (2024, May 03). In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians: A Story of Suppression, Secrecy and Survival. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/review/404/in-search-of-japans-hidden-christians-a-story-of-s/

Chicago Style

Allison, Matthew. "In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians: A Story of Suppression, Secrecy and Survival." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified May 03, 2024. https://www.worldhistory.org/review/404/in-search-of-japans-hidden-christians-a-story-of-s/.

MLA Style

Allison, Matthew. "In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians: A Story of Suppression, Secrecy and Survival." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 03 May 2024. Web. 20 May 2024.

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