Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Japanese Christianity: The Martyrs of Otome Toge

I'd heard before of how a Catholic church (Oura Tenshudo) was built in Nagasaki in the 19th century for foreign merchants to use, just before the Meiji government came in. I'd heard how the Hidden Christians (Kakure Kirishitan) showed up there one day. I'd also heard that the shogunate government persecuted them since the anti-Christian statutes had not been repealed for Japanese subjects. But I'd never heard the incredible story of how those persecutions continued under the 'enlightened' revolutionary Meiji government. (As they say on Rurouni Kenshin, "the Revolution isn't done yet.")

So I think you'll be as fascinated as me to read "Martyrs of the Meiji Era" and learn the story of the Martyrs of Otome Toge (Virgin Pass).

"...These Christians are poor farmers. If we teach them, I am sure we can persuade them."

So the government decided on this policy, and the "re-education" of those Nagasaki Christians began. They were gathered for a series of lectures aimed at persuading them to give up Christ and adopt Shinto.

The Christians listened respectfully to the talks but adamantly refused to give up their faith. "We have kept this heart despite great hardships for two hundred and fifty years. Do you think that because of your talks we can betray our very hearts?"

So the Christians were divvied up and sent to various towns for reeducation, augmented by whatever measures the local authorities thought good. One batch was sent to Tsuwano. They were imprisoned on the grounds of an abandoned temple in a pass looking toward Mt. Fuji -- Otome Toge, "Virgin Pass". This was the first administrative assignment for the young man in charge, he was far from the capital, he was eager, and he was creative. Things got ugly.

In midwinter of that year Yasutaro, 30 years old, was placed in a 3-foot cage and subjected to brainwashing day and night for three full days. It was a fruitless task; he remained firm.

The other Christians were concerned about him. Always quiet but cheerful and very generous, he used to share his meager rations with the others and take upon himself the most disagreeable chores. One freezing night, Senemon and Jinsaburo managed to cut their way out through the floor of the prison and sneaked out to encourage Yasutaro in his 3-foot cage. In spite of the midwinter mountain cold, he seemed to be as cheerful as ever.

"Aren't you lonely and freezing?" they asked.

"Oh no, no," he replied. "Almost every night a beautiful lady comes and speaks wonderful things to me. At times she stays until dawn. She is dressed in blue and looks just like the statue of Santa Maria in our Nagasaki church . . . But please say nothing of this while I am alive."

"Yasutaro, if we can ever contact your mother, what do you want us to tell her?"

"Please tell her that I am happy to die here. I am on the cross with our Lord Jesus."

Senemon and Jinsaburo slipped back into the temple to report to the other Christians, who were filled with joy and new courage at the strange and wonderful news. They thanked God for sending the Blessed Virgin to console them.

A week later, the two leaders sneaked out again--only to find the cage buried beneath deep snow and Yasutaro dead inside. It was January 22, 1869.

As they say, though, read the whole thing. You'll want to meet all these folks and learn their stories, including little Mori-chan and the cookies.

In Japanese, the Catholic Martyrs Memorial in Otome Toge. Nice pictures -- click on them to see an enlarged version. Here are the gardens and the chapel interior.

The Otome Toge Festival and pilgrimage.

Otome Toge, circa 1880 and circa 1895. Here's info on the pass in 1945.

A little more "History of the Otome-Tohge Pass" and a page of information about Father Flynn, the author of the "Meiji Martyrs" article above. Also a little information about Hagi, another town where folks from Urakami in Nagasaki found martyrdom.

More information Oura Tenshudo in Nagasaki. Apparently it's dedicated now to the 26 Martyrs who were crucified back at the beginning of the shogunate.

Ibaraki Christian Heritage Museum.


  • At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's Joy again. The article was very inspiring. I rely on you to dig up this stuff oh research pro. Thanks so much.


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