Christianity in Early Modern Japan: Kirishitan Belief and Practice

Christianity in Early Modern Japan: Kirishitan Belief and Practice

Christianity in Early Modern Japan: Kirishitan Belief and Practice

Christianity in Early Modern Japan: Kirishitan Belief and Practice

Synopsis

When the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier introduced Catholic Christianity to Japan in 1549, it developed quickly in the country. The Japanese called this new religious movement and its believers Kirishitan. This volume explores the popular religious life and culture of the native adherents, which have been so often ignored in conventional studies of Christianity in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Japan. Subjects included are lay missionaries, followers engagement in symbols and rituals, Japanese catechism, and apostasy, underground practice, and martyrdom under persecution. This book provides fascinating new information about the faith and practice of the Japanese followers, and expands the horizon of historical studies of Japanese Christianity. It will be an important source for students of Japanese studies, religious history, and studies of cross-cultural interaction.

Excerpt

When the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier (1506–1552) introduced Catholic Christianity to Japan in 1549, it developed quickly in the country. By the early seventeenth century it had more than three hundred thousand baptized Japanese adherents who belonged to approximately two hundred churches. the Japanese called this new religious movement and its believers Kirishitan, a transliteration of the Portuguese Christão, and the word is now used to designate the Christian beliefs and practices of early modern Japan. Historians conventionally divide Kirishitan history into two periods: the “Christian century” (1549–1639), the years of the Catholic mission in early modern Japan, and the subsequent “underground period” or senpuku jidai (1640–1873). This study focuses on the Christian century, during which the Japanese first encountered Christianity, developed their faith under the guidance of Catholic missionaries, and finally apostatized or were martyred.

Two historiographical perspectives have dominated both contemporary and traditional studies of the Christian century. the first, which can be regarded as that of conventional historiography, has focused on political and economic aspects of the Christian mission. This perspective has been mainly promoted by Japanese secular historians. Their main interest is the negotiations and conflicts between mission leaders and Japanese political leaders. Missionary documents provide historians today with first-hand information about developments in Japan during the period, and are indispensable sources not only for studies of the Kirishitan tradition per se, but also for studies of political, economic, intellectual, and even linguistic history. in such studies, the Catholic missionaries' non-religious activities tend to figure more prominently than their religious work.

A more influential historiographical perspective in studies of the Christian century is perhaps that which centers on individual or collective biographical histories. Mainly Jesuit church historians have promoted this approach by focusing on the “great figures” of the Jesuit mission to Japan, such as Francis Xavier and Alessandro Valignano. These studies are extremely detailed and comprehensive, carefully following chronological developments of the subjects'

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