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11/27/2019 Japan (International Christian Concern) – Pope Francis’ recent visit to Japan helps shed light on the nation’s little known past – a period where the Japanese Catholics were forced to give up their faith or face torture and death. Many had to hide their faith as a result of the religious persecution.

Christianity was first introduced to Nagasaki, an important port city, around 1560 when Jesuit missionaries from Portugal began arriving in Japan. The Jesuit missionaries worked to convert the feudal lords of the area, some of whom saw conversion to this foreign religion could help them gain trade support from the Portuguese.

Many peasants under these feudal lords would also be made or influenced to convert to the religion and by the early 17th century, the town had become the “Rome of Japan”, with up to 500,000 people in Nagasaki identified themselves as Christian.

But over time, Japan’s political authorities saw the rapid growth of the religion as a threat to the central government and had to be cracked down.

“They were looking to get rid of Christianity, but they were also looking to remove the foreigners as a political threat to security of the state… so the two things were related,” Professor Kiri Paramore, professor of Asian studies at the National University of Ireland, told the BBC.

In the latter half of the 16th Century, 26 missionaries in Nagasaki were executed by crucifixion – this kicked start a long period of persecution against Christians.

Soon a strict nationwide ban on Christianity was issued. Foreign missionaries were quickly expelled from the country, those who refused to leave were arrested, killed, or forced to renounce the religion. Japanese Catholics were asked to trample on Christian images to show that they would forsake their faith, or they could face execution, crucifixion or torture – forced into boiling hot springs or suspended upside down in a pit of excrement.

An estimated 2,000 people did eventually die as martyrs, refusing to renounce their faith.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: 
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