Learn more about the history of Christianity in Nagasaki.
THE STORY BEHIND THE MOVIE
「沈黙－サイレンス－」Silence 2017年全国ロードショー 2017 Japan Roadshow 配給：ＫＡＤＯＫＡＷＡ Photo Credit: Kerry Brown
Silence (2016) is the much anticipated film by director Martin Scorsese, based on a novel Chinmoku (1966) by celebrated Japanese author Endo Shusaku; it is also available in English - Silence (1969).
Against the backdrop of true historical events that happened in Nagasaki, Silence depicts the hardships faced by Nagasaki's largely Christian population during the prohibition period of Christianity that drove them underground. In spite of harsh persecution, Christianity did not die out in Nagasaki. Instead, Nagasaki's Christians started practicing their faith secretly, becoming what is known as Hidden Christians.
This piece of history is one-of-a-kind in the world and has recently attracted international attention. Several sites around the Prefecture have been nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List under the title "Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region" Nagasaki today is a popular pilgrimage site.
Martin Scorsese and Silence
Academy Award Winning Director Martin Scorsese is famously known for his work such as The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010), and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Scorsese, fuelled by his interest in spirituality, had wanted to adapt the thought-invoking novel into film ever since his first encounter with it 28 years ago. In 2009, the director and his crew came to Nagasaki Prefecture to visit some of the original sites in Sotome, Nagasaki City, and Unzen that the novel was set in. They also spoke with local experts on Nagasaki's history and descendants of the Hidden Christians who in defiance of orders, protected their faith and survived persecution.
"As a novelist, to chance upon a place like this is the greatest fortune of my life."
Photo courtesy of the Endo Shusaku Literary Museum
About Endo Shusaku (1923-1996)
Born in 1923 in Tokyo, Endo Shusaku is a celebrated Japanese writer. Since his baptism as a Catholic at the age of 12, he had been interested in Christianity and what it meant to the Japanese people. This led him to Sotome, a small town tucked away behind the mountains of Nagasaki, steeped in Christian history. Throughout his literary career, Endo visited Sotome often to conduct research for his writing projects. He published several Christian works such as The Final Martyrs, Silence, and A Woman's Life. Endo loved Sotome and considered it his second home, going as far as to say that "God chose this place for [him]." After his passing, a museum commemorating Endo's literary achievements was commissioned. Four years later, following the wishes of his family, Sotome became the home of the Endo Shusaku Literary Museum.
Endo Shusaku in Sotome
Visiting a Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christian)
"I came out of the church into the rain and stepped into the village's single grocery store. I had learnt from the priest of Mr. Murakami who is a Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christian), so I bought a bottle of sake and paid him a visit." (Essay: Jakusha no sukui – Kakure Kirishitan no muramura)
Exploring the hiding place of missionaries
Endo met the then priest incumbent of Kurosaki Church, Kawaguchi in one of his visits. Through him, he was introduced to a member of the church, M. According to his son, M showed Endo around the Karematsu Shrine area. They also made their way to the back of the mountain to look at the hiding places missionaries used during the ban on Christianity.
Works based in Nagasaki
The following three works depict the historical events that took place in Nagasaki from the 17th century to the aftermath of the atomic bombing through three gripping narratives of fictional characters living in their respective eras.
Timeline of historical events in Nagasaki(fictionalised events from the novels are in blue)
St. Francis Xavier, S.J. begins missionary work in Hirado.
Lord Omura Sumitada receives baptism and becomes the first Christian Daimyo (Lord).
Sumitada cedes Nagasaki and Mogi to the Society of Jesus.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi issues an order to deport all missionaries from Japan.
Martyrdom of St. Paul Miki and 25 Companions (26 Catholics) on Nishizaka Hill.
Cristóvão Ferreira arrives in Japan.
The Tokugawa Shogunate enforces a nation-wide ban on Christianity.
Unzen Hell becomes a site of Christian persecution.
Enforcement of Fumie.
Communications from Ferreira halts.
Shimabara and Amakusa revolts (Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion). Rodrigues and companions make preparations for Japan.
Rodrigues and Garrpe arrive in Goa.
The Shogunate bars all Portuguese vessels from entering Japan. Sakoku (national seclusion) begins.Rodrigues and Garrpe arrive in Japan.
Martyrdom of the last priest in Japan.
Japan signs the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, commencing trade with five countries.
Canonisation of St. Paul Miki and 25 Companions in Rome.
Fr. Bernard-Thadée Petitjean M.E.P. arrives in Japan.
Consecration of Oura Cathedral. Hidden Christians from Urakami confess at Oura Cathedral. Kiku goes to Nagasaki City.
The fourth Urakami Crackdown begins - a severe persecution event that also affects other Hidden Christian settlements (in Sotome and the Goto Islands)
The Meiji Era begins. Christianity continues to be banned for Japanese people. Deportation of Urakami Catholics. Fr. Marc Marie de Rotz M.E.P. arrives in Japan.
The Meiji government lifts the ban on Christianity. Urakami Catholics return home.
Construction of Urakami Church completes.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, O.F.M. arrives in Japan.
The Manchurian Incident occurs and Japan enters the war.
Sachiko befriends Jim Walker.
St. Kolbe returns to Europe.
The Walker family returns to America.
St. Kolbe dies in Auschwitz.
Shuhei enrolls in Keio University.
Shuhei and Sachiko go hiking. Shuhei is conscripted.
Shuhei is assigned to the Special Attack Unit, a suicide squad. The atomic bomb falls on Nagasaki. Japan surrenders.
Reconstruction of Urakami Church completes.
Urakami Church replaces Oura Cathedral as the Cathedral of the Nagasaki Archdiocese.
17th Century Japan: A tumultuous period for Christianity
Silence (Shincho Bunko) is considered the pinnacle of post-war Japanese Literature. The story is set in 17th century Nagasaki – a domain in Japan that was largely Christian at the time – during a nationwide ban on Christianity. In this novel, Endo explored difficult questions of faith and the choices Christians faced as they toiled under harsh conditions.
Three Portuguese missionaries, Rodrigues, Garrpe, and Marta set out for Nagasaki in search of their mentor Christovao Ferreira who to the disbelief of the Church of Rome had reportedly apostatised. The narrative follows Rodrigues as he arrives in Tomogi, a destitute Hidden Christian village. Confronted by the best and worst of humanity, and repeatedly put through tests of his faith, the priest witnesses and experiences the horrors of persecution.
Kiku's Prayer女の一生一部・キクの場合 Onna no Issho 1 Kiku no baai
The road to revival
Recently translated into English, Kiku's Prayer (2012) follows the story of a young woman, Kiku, living in Urakami at the dawn of the Meiji Era. Two centuries have passed since the harrowing events in Silence and Japan has reopened its doors to the world, welcoming even missionaries to build churches for the foreign settlements. At the newly constructed Oura Church, a brave group of Hidden Christians from Urakami came forward to confess their faith. Tragically, their hopes of returning to the church were dashed when the government launched another wave of ruthless persecution against them. The story of the hardships Kiku faced as a non-Catholic (she later converted) living in Urakami examines how religious persecution affects us all.
A Woman's Life Part 2 (The Case of Sachiko)*女の一生二部・サチ子の場合 Onna no Issho 2 Sachiko no baai
Tragedy and new beginnings
This is the second part of Endo's novel A Woman's Life, following the life of Sachiko and her love interest Shuhei. It is set during World War II through the aftermath of the atomic bomb, delving into the moral dilemma of wartime atrocities that go against religion, weaving together themes of war, love, and ultimately, enduring faith.
*not available in English at the time of writing.
"Humanity is so sad, Lord, and the ocean so blue."
Area 1Tomogi Village (Sotome)
View of Sotome - the place that inspired Endo's Tomogi Village
In 1614, an edict was passed banning Christianity in Japan. Residents of Sotome, who were mostly Christian at that time, went underground and continued practicing their faith in secret. Silence the novel is set in the fictional Tomogi Village which was modelled after Sotome. The author Endo Shusaku frequented Sotome in the writing of the novel.
Embark on a tour of the Sotome Area. View the suggested itinerary here.
Fleeing from pursuers, Rodrigues and Garrpe left Tomogi Village and parted ways. While wandering through the mountains, Rodrigues once again meets Kichijiro who promptly betrays him to the authorities, leading to his capture. As he was escorted through the city centre to the magistrate's office, he was allowed to meet with his mentor Ferreira, now an apostate going by the name of Sawano Chuan.
After the martyrdom of Mokichi and Ichizo, Rodrigues and Garrpe decided it would be safest for the villagers of Tomogi that they leave. Rodrigues heads for Goto while Garrpe for Hirado. In film, Rodrigues later encounters some Christians from Ikitsuki, Hirado while imprisoned.
Area 5Goto Islands
Braving the sea and risking capture, two Christians from the Goto Islands travelled to Tomogi in search of the priests they heard had arrived in Japan. Rodrigues, moved by their sincerity, journeyed to the islands to meet with the eager Hidden Christian population.
"The spirit of those who refused to give up their faith continues to be passed on in Nagasaki today."
In 1644, the last priest in Japan was martyred and Japan's Christian population, scattered mostly across Nagasaki was left completely without leadership - until the arrival of Fr. Bernard Petitjean 219 years later, and a remarkable event happened. Shortly after the consecration of the newly built Oura Cathedral, a group of Japanese people approached Fr. Petitjean, professing to be of the "same heart". The suppression had not defeated the faithful Japanese Christians nor had it silence their prayers for they had passed down from generation to generation prayers learnt long past in secret and in hopes to one day say them out loud again. News of the revelation reached Pope Pius IX who called it a miracle.
The beginning years were fraught with difficulties. This profession of faith had come at a time when Christianity was still banned and it triggered one of the worst crackdowns in the history of suppression. The Christians had come from Urakami which was worst affected. Some 3400 Christians were arrested, tortured, or put to death, until the ban was lifted amidst worldwide protest. Upon their return home, the Urakami Christians immediately set about building their very own Urakami Church which took 30 years to complete. Unfortunately, 30 years later, it was completely destroyed when the atomic bomb detonated just 500 metres away from it. Remains of the church can still be seen at the hypocentre park and Urakami Cathedral.
Today, Japan's Catholic population stands at 436,505 (Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan Consensus, 2015). While the population is more spread out than before, Nagasaki still has the highest percentage of Catholics of all prefectures, with actual figures second only to Tokyo.
Having survived the horrors of religious persecution and the atomic bombing, we in Nagasaki hope to share the message of religious harmony and also peace across all borders.
Join us in exploring the colourful story of Nagasaki.