Japan’s Secret Christians

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マリア観音 – Maria Kannon

In 1637 an uprising comprised of mainly Japanese peasant Catholics was brutally crushed by the Tokugawa Shogunate, with almost 37,000 rebels and supporters beheaded and buried in the ruins of their castle stronghold.

The shogunate, accusing Portugeuse settlers, implemented the Sakoku (鎖国 – Locked country) policy, limiting foreign influence and forbidding Japanese citizens from leaving. Catholic missionaries and priest were expelled and converts either killed or tortured.

This started the sect of the Kakure Kirishitan (隠れキリシタン – hidden Christian). Worshiping in secret rooms they adapted prayers learnt from memory to sound like Buddhist chants and idols of the Virgin Mary and crucifixes were built in Buddhist styles. Eucharist was performed with rice and Sake.

17th Century crucifix

Over time the original meanings of the prayers were lost and the Kakure Kirishitans beliefs became more ancestor worship based, with Christian martyrs taking the place of actual blood relations.

When religious sanctions were lifted in the mid 19th century many of the Kakure returned to the Catholic church. Only a handful remained.

In 1991, anthropologist Christal Whelan traveled the Goto Islands, southern Japan to speak with the few surviving Kakure Kirishitans. A preview of her documentary Otaiya; Japan’s Hidden Christians can be seen on Youtube.

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Yōkai; Rokurokubi

轆轤首 – Rokurokubi (potter wheel neck)

Rokurokubi are normal women by day, but at night they gain the ability to stretch their necks to ridiculous proportions.

It is said that rokurokubi live undetected during daylight and may even take mortal husbands trying to keep their demonic forms secret. They are tricksters by nature, however, and their compulsion to frighten and spy on human beings is hard to resist. Some rokurokubi thus resort to revealing themselves only to drunks, the sleeping, or the blind in order to satisfy these urges.

Other stories say that the rokurokubis were humans who had broken Buddhist law. They feast on the blood, favoring that of those who had also broken religious doctrine.

Yōkai; The Shirime

尻目 – Shirime (bum eye)

In the run up to halloween, I want to introduce you to the strange and wonderful world of the yōkai.

The story of the Shirime starts with a lone samurai walking to Kyoto. On hearing someone calling to him he turns to find a naked man, ass up. From where the man’s poop chute should be a HUGE GLITTERING EYE opens.

The famous haiku poet and artist Yosa Buson liked the story so much he included the Shirime in many of his yōkai pictures, like the one above.

Hisashige Tanaka

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Today is the 213th birthday of legendary Japanese inventor Hisashige Tanaka (田中久重).

Born in 1799 in Chikugo prefecture (modern-day Fukuoka), he invented a loom at the age of 14. By his 20’s he had become famous with aristocrats for his karakuri dolls which were capable of complex movements.

In 1834, he started his experiments in pneumatics, hydraulics and various forms of lighting based on rapeseed oil. However, he soon moved on to Kyoto, where he studied rangaku, or western learning, and astronomy. With the development of the Sonnō jōi movement, the atmosphere in Kyoto became increasingly dangerous towards foreign influences and technology, and Tanaka was invited by Sano Tsunetami to the Saga Domain in Kyūshū.

While in Saga, Tanaka designed and built Japan’s first domestically made steam locomotive and steam warship from a Dutch reference book, and a demonstration of a steam engine conducted by a Russian diplomat during his visit to Nagasaki in 1853.

He was also involved in the construction of a reverberatory furnace in Saga for the production of Armstrong guns. In 1864, he returned to Fukuoka, where he assisted in the development of modern weaponry.

In 1873, six years after the Meiji Restoration, Tanaka, by then aged 74 was asked by the Ministry of Industries to come to Tokyo to make telegraphs.

After his death in 1881, his son founded Tanaka Engineering Works The company changed its name after Tanaka’s death to Shibaura Engineering Works in 1904, and after a merger with Tokyo Denki became Tokyo Shibaura Denki, more commonly known today as Toshiba.

Today he is the Google home page.

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生首掛け軸

Namakubikakejiku, An Edo jidai portrait of an executed criminal (possibly a samurai). These pictures were posted as a warning. The red was painted in the executed’s blood.

When this picture was shown on TV, it was noticed that the eyes seemed to be opening and moving during the segment.

10,000 yen

Our third and final PEOPLE OF MONEY post.

The biggest and *my personal favourite* bill, the 10,000 yen bill features Japan’s Voltaire/Benjamin Franklin; Yukichi Fukuzawa.

Born into a poor samurai family in 1835 he started classical training from the age of 5. This was during a time when Japan was still a closed island nation. He was among the members of the first diplomatic visit to the United States in 1859 and upon his return he decided to write the first English-Japanese dictionary.
He was a integral figure during the westernization of Japanese society. He also founded Keio University, the oldest institute of higher education in Japan.

 

Fukuzawa has been on the 10,000 yen note since 1984. He was the only figure to remain after the 2004 change of series.