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The story of Japan's hidden Christians is the subject of a major motion picture by director Martin Scorsese, based on Shusaku Endo's famous novel, Silence. From the time the first Christian missionary arrived in Japan in 1549 to when a nationwide ban was issued in 1614, over 300,000 Japanese were converted to Christianity. A vicious campaign of persecution forced the faithf The story of Japan's hidden Christians is the subject of a major motion picture by director Martin Scorsese, based on Shusaku Endo's famous novel, Silence. From the time the first Christian missionary arrived in Japan in 1549 to when a nationwide ban was issued in 1614, over 300,000 Japanese were converted to Christianity. A vicious campaign of persecution forced the faithful to go underground. For seven generations, Hidden Christians—or Kirishitan—preserved a faith that was strictly forbidden on pain of death. Illiterate peasants handed down the Catholicism that had been taught to their ancestors despite having no Bible or contact with the outside world. Just as remarkably, descendants of the Hidden Christians continue to this day to practice their own religion, refusing to rejoin the Catholic Church. Why? And what is it about Christianity that is so antagonistic to Japanese culture? In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians is an attempt to answer these questions. A journey in both space and time, In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians recounts a clash of civilizations—of East and West—that resonates to this day and offers insights about the tenacity of belief and unchanging aspects of Japanese culture.


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The story of Japan's hidden Christians is the subject of a major motion picture by director Martin Scorsese, based on Shusaku Endo's famous novel, Silence. From the time the first Christian missionary arrived in Japan in 1549 to when a nationwide ban was issued in 1614, over 300,000 Japanese were converted to Christianity. A vicious campaign of persecution forced the faithf The story of Japan's hidden Christians is the subject of a major motion picture by director Martin Scorsese, based on Shusaku Endo's famous novel, Silence. From the time the first Christian missionary arrived in Japan in 1549 to when a nationwide ban was issued in 1614, over 300,000 Japanese were converted to Christianity. A vicious campaign of persecution forced the faithful to go underground. For seven generations, Hidden Christians—or Kirishitan—preserved a faith that was strictly forbidden on pain of death. Illiterate peasants handed down the Catholicism that had been taught to their ancestors despite having no Bible or contact with the outside world. Just as remarkably, descendants of the Hidden Christians continue to this day to practice their own religion, refusing to rejoin the Catholic Church. Why? And what is it about Christianity that is so antagonistic to Japanese culture? In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians is an attempt to answer these questions. A journey in both space and time, In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians recounts a clash of civilizations—of East and West—that resonates to this day and offers insights about the tenacity of belief and unchanging aspects of Japanese culture.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Derek

    Living in Japan and being a Christian is a rarity in itself. I and other Christians currently make up less than 1% of the population, so I was very interested to learn more about the early stages of Christianity in Japan and how it endured through heavy persecution. Mr. Dougill's book is written as a travelogue interspersed with history, as he travels around mainly the southern part of Japan following the landmarks and talking with locals. I appreciated that he was open with the reader about his Living in Japan and being a Christian is a rarity in itself. I and other Christians currently make up less than 1% of the population, so I was very interested to learn more about the early stages of Christianity in Japan and how it endured through heavy persecution. Mr. Dougill's book is written as a travelogue interspersed with history, as he travels around mainly the southern part of Japan following the landmarks and talking with locals. I appreciated that he was open with the reader about his plan to travel around and research the history as he went, although I felt that a clearer, more systematic route could have been possible. One thing that bothered me though (and it may not bother anyone else), was that Mr. Dougill appears to be somewhat of a pseudo-Shintoist trying to explain Christian doctrines and beliefs, and his theological understanding is average at best. Personally, I would've preferred this book to display a better grasp of the doctrinal beliefs of the early Jesuits, as well as the Hidden Christians, but that might just be me being picky. However, I mostly enjoyed the book and the summary at the end was very helpful. In it, Mr. Dougill points out that those who call themselves Kakure Kirishitan or Hidden Christians today are very different than the Catholic or protestant churches and are more similar to a kind of Japanese folk religion with idols, superstitions, secret prayers and ancestor worship. I think the Christian martyrs of Japan many centuries ago would have a hard time recognizing what religion their descendants practice today.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Zenith

    I was disappointed that the book didn't describe the Hidden Christians' beliefs and practices until just before the end. Much of the book was devoted to describing the Jesuits' arrivals and departures and the atrocities that the Japanese believers had to endure because of their faith, but without an understanding of what that faith was and why believers were so devoted to it, I find it hard to understand how any of that history happened. I also found the mixture of travelogue and more formal, aca I was disappointed that the book didn't describe the Hidden Christians' beliefs and practices until just before the end. Much of the book was devoted to describing the Jesuits' arrivals and departures and the atrocities that the Japanese believers had to endure because of their faith, but without an understanding of what that faith was and why believers were so devoted to it, I find it hard to understand how any of that history happened. I also found the mixture of travelogue and more formal, academic history styles to be jarring. I'd get into the history of who was where, and then the author's voice would interject and talk about being on a boat from wherever to somewhere else. It wasn't bad, just awkwardly done.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    This seems to be meant as a travelogue/history/religious studies book but it's mediocre at best for all efforts. If the whole book had the in-depth descriptions and conversations with locals present in the final chapter, this would've been a great travelogue. But most of the book is dry, devoid of descriptive details and the author's reflections are cheesy. As far as the religious studies content, some of the author's determinations about Japan's religious practices are boiled down so much they This seems to be meant as a travelogue/history/religious studies book but it's mediocre at best for all efforts. If the whole book had the in-depth descriptions and conversations with locals present in the final chapter, this would've been a great travelogue. But most of the book is dry, devoid of descriptive details and the author's reflections are cheesy. As far as the religious studies content, some of the author's determinations about Japan's religious practices are boiled down so much they are useless at best and offensive at worst. The history is interesting but presented non-chronologically and lacks the academic rigor I was hoping for. There is also the issue that some details are maddeningly left out for no apparent reason while other mundane details are repeated. For all these reasons, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone that hadn't already studied Japanese culture and religion.

  4. 4 out of 5

    DarkStar

    Autor opowiada w sposób interesujący, a lektura pozwoliła mi trochę uzupełnić wiedzę wyniesioną z historii przedstawionych w Milczenie oraz Tysiąc jesieni Jacoba de Zoeta. Wraz z autorem podróżujemy w czasie i przestrzeni, bo porusza się on od początków chrześcijaństwa w Japonii aż do czasów współczesnych i robi to chronologicznie, jednocześnie odwiedzając miejsca, w których rozgrywały się kolejne wydarzenia. Dla mnie to bardzo przystępna forma, która z łatwością pozwala śledzić historię chrześc Autor opowiada w sposób interesujący, a lektura pozwoliła mi trochę uzupełnić wiedzę wyniesioną z historii przedstawionych w Milczenie oraz Tysiąc jesieni Jacoba de Zoeta. Wraz z autorem podróżujemy w czasie i przestrzeni, bo porusza się on od początków chrześcijaństwa w Japonii aż do czasów współczesnych i robi to chronologicznie, jednocześnie odwiedzając miejsca, w których rozgrywały się kolejne wydarzenia. Dla mnie to bardzo przystępna forma, która z łatwością pozwala śledzić historię chrześcijaństwa na tych terenach.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kiggachi

    Really great primer for learning the history of Christianity in Japan. If you can ignore the author's awkwardly offensive commentary, sprinkled like specks of fecal matter throughout each chapter, then it's a very gripping story. I very much want to follow his footsteps in Kyushu to see all the places mentioned in the book. Really great primer for learning the history of Christianity in Japan. If you can ignore the author's awkwardly offensive commentary, sprinkled like specks of fecal matter throughout each chapter, then it's a very gripping story. I very much want to follow his footsteps in Kyushu to see all the places mentioned in the book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Ule

    Tedious read that really needed a map and a better understanding of Christianity.

  7. 5 out of 5

    W. Derek Atkins

    I read this book because I wanted to learn more about the history of Christianity in Japan, and this book does not disappoint. John Dougill does an excellent job of tracing out the history of Christianity in Japan during the turbulent years surrounding the establishment of Japan's Shogunate Era. In particular, he aims to discover the origins, history, and fate of Japan's Hidden Christians. Along the way, he shows how these Hidden Christians ultimately came to practice a form of religion that is I read this book because I wanted to learn more about the history of Christianity in Japan, and this book does not disappoint. John Dougill does an excellent job of tracing out the history of Christianity in Japan during the turbulent years surrounding the establishment of Japan's Shogunate Era. In particular, he aims to discover the origins, history, and fate of Japan's Hidden Christians. Along the way, he shows how these Hidden Christians ultimately came to practice a form of religion that is completely different from the historic Christianity their forbears originally embraced when Christian missionaries first arrived in Japan, and explains the reasons for this development. I liked this book because I was able to learn a good deal about the history of Christianity in Japan. I especially appreciate Dougill's descriptions of the persecutions that Catholics in Japan endured, and am thankful for Dougill's perceptive insight that Japan's centuries of isolation were the direct result of her leaders' desire to keep Christianity out of Japan, as well as his equally perceptive insight that Japan's decision in the 19th Century to Westernize was catalyzed in large part by the realization of their leaders that their persecution of Catholics was preventing Western nations from fully opening up trade with them. What I do not like about this book is Dougill's conclusion that all religions are essentially different paths to the same ultimate divine reality. This is manifestly not true, and despite the fact that this notion is a very popular one, it is still an instance of lazy thinking about religion. When you examine the core beliefs of the world's different religions, you'll find that they are fundamentally incompatible with each other. Islam claims there is only one God; Hindus worship some 330 million gods; and the original form of Buddhism, as taught by Gautama Buddha, is completely atheistic. Logic tells us that all of these different religions can't be the same, and logic tells us that they can't all be true. This is one of the reasons why Christianity's exculsivity does make good sense. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to know more about the history of Christianity in Japan, or who wants to know more about Japanese society in general. Dougill does a very good job of tracing out Christianity's history in Japan, and offers some very intruiging insights into Japanese culture and society.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Dalo

    In “In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians” author John Dougill travels through Japan, retracing the history of the spread of Christianity there, through sites of persecution and martyrdom, and ultimately where pockets of Hidden Christians survived through Japan’s age of isolation up through to the present day. With that aim, I appreciate the way in which this book was organized: as mentioned, the author actually travels to these locations, so we get, more or less, the history in chronological o In “In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians” author John Dougill travels through Japan, retracing the history of the spread of Christianity there, through sites of persecution and martyrdom, and ultimately where pockets of Hidden Christians survived through Japan’s age of isolation up through to the present day. With that aim, I appreciate the way in which this book was organized: as mentioned, the author actually travels to these locations, so we get, more or less, the history in chronological order. I appreciated though that there is no “fluff” in his approach, i.e. we don’t hear about his travel stresses or troubles, what hotel he stayed at, etc. His travels facilitated history, not him, which I liked. In each location he travels to, he gets a local guide to show him around and explain what happened there in more detail. I also appreciated this as he wasn’t regurgitating information that he found in older books, but he was hearing from real locals who were descendants of those Japanese persons who were directly affected by all of this. In this way, he gained significant access to many locations that were off the beaten path, which gave a more complete picture of a lot of what happened to people there in regards to all of this. The author seems to have a lot of respect for the Japanese. He comes across as level headed, professional, and straight forward. He sometimes gives opinions on situations such as the bombing of Nagasaki, but he says them in such a way to not be inflammatory to any side. I felt like this work is very important to document that which may be soon lost, as many of the people still practicing the religion of the Hidden Christians appear to be dying out. I’ve decided to give this book five stars, not because it was the greatest book I’ve ever read, but because I think it accomplished exactly what I feel the author set out to do - tell an overview of the entire history of Christianity in Japan and reveal the story of the “suppression, secrecy and survival” that the Hidden Christians went through, through his travels in the area. To that end, I’d definitely recommend it if you are interested in these topics.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor

    This book was sent to me in Japan by my father, an Episcopal priest in America, after he had read it and found it disappointing but interesting enough to finish. I think that is how I would characterize it as well. The topic matter is fascinating, and this approach to it maybe a good idea not well executed. One also really has to have read or been fairly familiar with Endo's Silence to grasp the constant references to it. With that, I think my having lived in Japan for 23 years and picking up at This book was sent to me in Japan by my father, an Episcopal priest in America, after he had read it and found it disappointing but interesting enough to finish. I think that is how I would characterize it as well. The topic matter is fascinating, and this approach to it maybe a good idea not well executed. One also really has to have read or been fairly familiar with Endo's Silence to grasp the constant references to it. With that, I think my having lived in Japan for 23 years and picking up at least a passing grasp of the history, shintoism, and Japanese Buddhism helped me in reading this so that I appreciated it a bit more, or at least to follow it better. There were so many times I wish the author had given more depth or more actual history, where instead he gave his commentary. A lot of skimming the surface of places and things. There also--and I cannot put my finger on specific examples to back this up--was a sense of judgement or condescension that came through at times. Finally, the title is misleading. So much of the book is a travelogue mixed with information about the early missionaries and history of Christians in Japan, and so very little is about the Hidden Christians of today, or more recent times, that a better title would have been, "My Search for the Origins of Japan's Hidden Christians". I think, also, the addition of maps, more photos placed, not in a lump in the center, but within chapters where the elements are discussed, and a clearer timeline would have helped.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John Benson

    I didn't really know much about Japan's Hidden Christian communities before reading this book. John Dougill is a British religion professor at a Buddhist university in Kyoto, Japan. He gives us a sense of the the history of Christianity in Japan, a country with a very small percentage of Christians (only about 1%) from the time of the arrival of the Jesuits in the mid-1500s, the expulsion of all Christians from the country in the mid-1600s and their return seven generations later in the late 180 I didn't really know much about Japan's Hidden Christian communities before reading this book. John Dougill is a British religion professor at a Buddhist university in Kyoto, Japan. He gives us a sense of the the history of Christianity in Japan, a country with a very small percentage of Christians (only about 1%) from the time of the arrival of the Jesuits in the mid-1500s, the expulsion of all Christians from the country in the mid-1600s and their return seven generations later in the late 1800s. In between these times, a group known as the Hidden Christians practiced a very reclusive faith that combined elements of Catholicism and Buddhism. It remains a separate faith to this day. The author traveled around Southern Japan visiting key places in the early history of Christianity and locations that had larger Hidden Christian populations. The book is a mix of a travelogue, history, and an exploration of religious traditions in Japan.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Powersamurai

    Reading Endo Shusaku's Silence and watching the latest movie interpretation, I reached for this book that has been sitting on my shelf for a while to learn more about the Hidden Christians. Dougill does a good job of mixing history with his travelogue. He does a good job of also reminding the reader at times that persecutions were also prevalent in Europe at the same time the Christians of Japan were being persecuted in the late 1500s and early 1600s. An excellent book for people wanting to know Reading Endo Shusaku's Silence and watching the latest movie interpretation, I reached for this book that has been sitting on my shelf for a while to learn more about the Hidden Christians. Dougill does a good job of mixing history with his travelogue. He does a good job of also reminding the reader at times that persecutions were also prevalent in Europe at the same time the Christians of Japan were being persecuted in the late 1500s and early 1600s. An excellent book for people wanting to know more, without getting too deep in Japanese history.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Thing Thing

    This is more of a mixture of travelogue then formal, academic research on the history of Karure Kirishitan. An informative but easy read that gives an insight of painful journey of christianity in Japan. I find the comparison between incidents that happened at the same time at Japan and Europe utterly interesting. But some of the comment were rather offensive from Japanese standard. I picked up this book to know more about hidden christians of Japan after reading Endo's novels Deep river and Sil This is more of a mixture of travelogue then formal, academic research on the history of Karure Kirishitan. An informative but easy read that gives an insight of painful journey of christianity in Japan. I find the comparison between incidents that happened at the same time at Japan and Europe utterly interesting. But some of the comment were rather offensive from Japanese standard. I picked up this book to know more about hidden christians of Japan after reading Endo's novels Deep river and Silence but without too much academic stuffs, which this book provide just enough.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Abigail Anderson

    Excellent! Written in a very unique documentary style. Lots of good information, well paced and very immersive.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    The history is interesting and informative. The travelogue prose is enjoyable, but the unasked-for philosophical asides are an uninspired distraction.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    I really enjoyed this book. Professor Dougill's writing style feels like a conversation rather than a lecture. The book was easy to read and a good popular history clearly backed up with academic research and oral testimony from local people. My kind of historian! The author's personal insights were interesting, particularly on comparisons between religions. The tone was non-judgemental, questioning rather than didactic, and I thought that the travelogue style suited the story well, visiting the I really enjoyed this book. Professor Dougill's writing style feels like a conversation rather than a lecture. The book was easy to read and a good popular history clearly backed up with academic research and oral testimony from local people. My kind of historian! The author's personal insights were interesting, particularly on comparisons between religions. The tone was non-judgemental, questioning rather than didactic, and I thought that the travelogue style suited the story well, visiting the locations where the story unfurled, talking to local people, trying to find the remains of sites, seeing modern day memorials to the West's attempts to convert Japan to a different religion. The preface made a good comparison between Pauline missionary activity at the start of the Christian church and missionary activity in Japan in 16th cent. I was taken with the parallels the author drew between the two eras, especially his perspective on the offer of equality through spirituality to the dispossessed and downtrodden, and the threat perceived by the ruling classes in both the Roman empire and Shogunate Japan. The idea that the lack of a figure like Constantine in Japan meant eradication of the faith was easier was an interesting one. Professor Dougill also provides a useful timeline and breakdown of Japanese eras at the beginning, which helped put the story into a historical and political context. I especially liked the context of what was going on in Japan politically - how the arrival of the Portuguese Jesuits was seized on by the shogun and daimyos as an opportunity to increase trade, and how the Jesuits used the offer of trade to make converts. The subsequent persecution under the Hideyoshi and Tokugawa regimes was also set within the context of political power and the shoguns' desire to maintain absolute power over a unified Japan, leading ultimately to the policy of isolationism. There were some interesting thoughts on the feminine qualities of Japanese religion and culture (the sanctification of the mother, the adoption of the Virgin Mary as another version of Kannon), allied with social character of Japan (infantilisation of Japanese men, kawaii culture), with a link made to the nature of the Hidden Christian sub-religion and why the Virgin Mary became the focus of worship, not God or Christ. I read the book to learn more about a curious aspect of Japan's history. I learnt a lot about those early years of trade with the Portuguese and why they were the dominant Western influence on Japan at that time (the loan words for bread and trousers, パン and ズボン, have Portuguese origins, and two cakes I've had in Japan are Portuguese), plus one reason behind why Tokugawa Ieyasu decided to close Japan off to the rest of the world. As someone with a vague interest in spirituality and why some people feel the need to connect with a higher power or powers, but who lacks in depth knowledge, I found the discussion of the different religions in Japan helpful in understanding how Buddhism and Shinto co-exist without apparently dominating Japanese society in the way Judaism, Christianity and Islam do their cultures/societies. The Japanese ability to assimilate different belief systems is very different to Western Christianity! I even learnt a little about the character of some Japanese through Professor Dougill's encounters with people on Kyushu and the surrounding islands where Christianity took its own peculiar hold. Over all, I thought the book was an accessible way to understand Japanese history quickly. To my shame, my copy of Jansen's modern history of Japan is still unread on my bookshelves. The story of Japan's Hidden Christians, I expect, won't be covered in that book anyway. It's sad to think of the traditions dying out, after 400 years of upholding the way of life of those who were persecuted for their faith. As happens often in our global, capitalist, connected times, tradition is losing its relevance and the current generations are losing interest in the beliefs of their parents and grandparents. They are creating their own way of living that carries them through daily life. John Dougill wrote a good book that documents the history of this faith and the families that carried it across centuries just in time before it could disappear completely.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ian Josh

    An intriguing journey, as the author sets about telling a history through his journey around and about the places connected to the story. In some ways the stories are convoluted or repetitive, likely the second to correct the first, but my first reaction is that I would advise reading Shusaku Endo's "Silence " before reading this book. This will give you a base to begin following Mr. Douglas. Despite some difficulties I think this was an interesting journal of a trip with the specific goal of crea An intriguing journey, as the author sets about telling a history through his journey around and about the places connected to the story. In some ways the stories are convoluted or repetitive, likely the second to correct the first, but my first reaction is that I would advise reading Shusaku Endo's "Silence " before reading this book. This will give you a base to begin following Mr. Douglas. Despite some difficulties I think this was an interesting journal of a trip with the specific goal of creating a linear story of this part of Japanese history (basically that of the hidden christians during Japan's isolation and the attack on outside influence). Probably my difficulties are tied mostly to the fact that this is not a lineal story and the author did his best to create a book for the populace out of what up to that point had mostly been a either simplified magazine pieces, or in depth scholarly works. Through my reading I learned a good deal of specifics which furthered my interest in the subject as well as my pull to see Scorsese's newest work. As a travel guide of sorts it also mad me want to visit the sites described. So, I recommend the book, but say that I think it is best for those interested in the subject, or willing to add further reading to assure a full grasp of the history and timeline. Recommended

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Parker

    Easy to comprehend and interesting. It really flows. For those who want to learn about Japan and its Christian past in a more accessible way. No scientific talk, no sophisticated vocabulary, the author isn't opinionated. I like that the author questions the logic of Christianity somehow sympathizing with the Japanese. I wish there were more pictures! The descriptions sound so magical when it comes to places/churches/landscapes. Easy to comprehend and interesting. It really flows. For those who want to learn about Japan and its Christian past in a more accessible way. No scientific talk, no sophisticated vocabulary, the author isn't opinionated. I like that the author questions the logic of Christianity somehow sympathizing with the Japanese. I wish there were more pictures! The descriptions sound so magical when it comes to places/churches/landscapes.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bryan

    Very interesting story about christianity, or lack thereof, in Japan. This is a high level travelog that doesn't really sink it's teeth into the age it's covering or the religions during the period. Not a bad thing, I certianly did not want to read a research paper, but some more detail about the combating religions and tumultuous politics would have added more depth. Either way it's an informative book and easy read that provides insight into the journey of christianity in Japan. A good read. Very interesting story about christianity, or lack thereof, in Japan. This is a high level travelog that doesn't really sink it's teeth into the age it's covering or the religions during the period. Not a bad thing, I certianly did not want to read a research paper, but some more detail about the combating religions and tumultuous politics would have added more depth. Either way it's an informative book and easy read that provides insight into the journey of christianity in Japan. A good read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    An interesting look at the history of Catholicism in Japan. European missionaries struggled to make converts and gain acceptance. Harsh treatment from the Japanese rulers led many surviving Christians to practice their religion in secret. Syncretism led to many beliefs and rituals being changed and corrupted. The traditions are dying out due to a lack of interest from the younger generations.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jose A.

    The way of these Japanese people survived despite of all the adversity as Christians in a country where doors were closed to the outside world is absolutely impressive. It is very well-narrated and clearly explained by John Dougill. It is amazing how his eloquence and narrative convey us to be at the upfront of the hearts of the first believers in Christ in the land of the risen sun.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Hall

    This is a very interesting historical period.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Fabio

    More an historical book than a philosofical book, i reali enjoyed reading this book. A good introduction to the matter.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

  24. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Cranney

  26. 4 out of 5

    ryan

  27. 5 out of 5

    John

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chewlinkay

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gwyn McClelland

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