This perilous era has been captured in the 2017 Hollywood film Silence (沈黙 chinmoku), directed by Martin Scorsese. Based on Endo Shusaku's 1966 novel of the same name, the film recounts the treacherous journey of two Portuguese missionaries (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel to Nagasaki in search of their former mentor (Liam Neeson). From the misty hells of Unzen, to the quaint village of Sotome, visit the places where the original story took place- right here in Nagasaki.
In 1550, a Portuguese vessel arrived in Hirado, bringing with it Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, the founding father of Christianity in Japan. Proselytization of Christianity was so successful in Nagasaki that it became known as "Little Rome." However with strategic territories controlled by Christians, the Shogunate grew wary of foreign influence. This led to roughly 200 years of national isolation (1633-1858). All Europeans, save the Dutch, were barred from entering Japan, and harsh Christian persecution followed.
Start your Silence adventure with a visit to Unzen on the Shimabara Peninsula. Wander through one the most volcanically active areas in Kyushu, before visiting the memorial for the souls lost in the hells. This tour can easily be finished in 2-3 hours, but the Shimabara area itself has plenty of other attractions to enjoy.
Access to the Peninsula
The picturesque drive to Unzen along the coast and past Obama Onsen Town is a great way to begin your film-lover's adventure.
Nagasaki Kenei Bus runs express routes between Nagasaki Bus Terminal and Unzen daily, and the journey takes just over 1.5 hours. The Nagasaki-Unzen Onsen shuttle bus* connects Nagasaki Airport to major bus stops near resorts in Obama and Unzen. You can also make use of the Shimatetsu One Day Pass that links the airport and other parts of Nagasaki via Isahaya Station to the Shimabara Peninsula.
*this service incurs fees and reservations are required - please check with your hotel if you are planning on using the service.
All information is correct as of February 2017
In the heart of Shimabara Peninsula, Unzen Jigoku (Unzen Hell) is an impressive sight to behold. Now a scenic tourist spot, a walk through the sulfurous fumes and barren volcanic landscape transports visitors to the opening scene of the film. It is here where Father Ferreira witnesses his fellow Christians, who are suspended on crucifixes, tortured with boiling water from the hells. Make the most of the steam by following the trail and recreating a scene from the movie.
Christian Martyrs Monument
The Kirishitan Junkyo Hi (Christian Martyrs Monument) was erected in memory of the Christian Martyrs who were executed at Unzen. Thirty-three names are recorded at this particular site, all of whom are believed to have perished between 1627-1634. Although the exact location of their martyrdom is unknown, this marble crucifix stands on an unassuming knoll overlooking the boiling hot springs. While in the area, pay a visit to Unzen Catholic Church to continue your pilgrimage.
Take a leisurely stroll through the streets of Nagasaki and discover its intimate connection with the history behind Silence. Visit two fascinating museums, then walk through teramachi-dori (Temple street) en route to Dejima. Best enjoyed as a full day trip, allow at least six hours to take in the sights with time for lunch. Start your day just a few steps from Nagasaki Station, and finish in the heart of the city, close to Chinatown and Spectacles Bridge.
Nishizaka Hill: 26 Martyrs Museum and Monument
Start your walking tour by learning about the history portrayed in the film with a visit to the 26 Martyrs Museum and Monument. Located a short walk from Nagasaki Station on Nishizaka Hill, the monument honors the twenty-six Roman Catholics, including six missionaries, executed there in 1597. On display is a collection of precious religious artifacts, including the Yuki no Santa Maria (Our Lady of the Snows) scroll which appears in the film, as well as a copy of the Silence screenplay signed by Scorsese himself.
Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture: Magistrate's Office
A short walk away is the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture, full of fascinating exhibits. Inside, permanent displays recreate the cultural history of Nagasaki on the 2nd floor, with a special exhibition space on the 3rd floor. The Magistrate's Office where Rodrigues is interrogated by Inquisitor Inoue in the film was based upon the historically accurate reconstruction located at the museum. On weekends and public holidays, local actors re-enact life at the office, showing just how strict trade was during the national isolation period.
Established in 1930, Ginrei is one of Nagasaki's oldest western style restaurants. Dark wood fixtures and antique crockery lend to a great classical feel. Endo Shusaku frequented the restaurant during his visits to Nagasaki, and Martin Scorsese also ate here while scouting locations for the film. From western style dishes to traditional Nagasaki fare, the food is delicious! Relocated from its original location and attached to the museum, Ginrei is the perfect stop to refuel before continuing on to the rest of the city.
During the period of Christian persecution, members of Nagasaki's Chinese population constructed temples to show their devotion to Buddha and ease the suspicions of Japanese officials. These temples can be found along teramachi-dori (Temple Street), parallel to the Nakashima River. In particular, Kotaiji Temple has a unique connection to Silence. Kotaiji was chosen by author Endo Shusaku as the place where Father Ferreira ultimately retires to in the novel. Built high above the street, with stately wooden buildings and abundant greenery, it is easy to see why this site's peaceful atmosphere inspired Endo.
The Dutch Trading Post at Dejima was Japan's only gateway to Europe during the period of national isolation. It is here that apostate priests Rodrigues and Ferreira inspect imported goods for hidden Christian artifacts. Today, the story of Dejima is brought to life by painstaking reconstructions of the 16th century buildings, paired with descriptions and video exhibits in multiple languages. Restoration work continues today, with the completion of Dejima's Main Gate Bridge scheduled for November 2017. Check out our previous feature on Dejima for more detailed information.
Depart on a Yuran Bus tour to learn a little more about the struggles of the Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians) in Nagasaki. Tucked into a valley on Nagasaki's north-western coast, the Christian hamlet of Sotome is an area preserved in time. The fictional village of Tomogi, both in the novel and film, takes its inspiration from this quaint village which Endo referred to as his second home. Guided tours run every Saturday, with buses departing from Nagasaki Station at 9:30am and returning by 5:30pm. The hassle free day trip includes a locally sourced and prepared lunch, and entry to all attractions. Some sections of the tour take visitors into forested areas, so be sure to dress appropriately.
*tour content will change slightly from April.
A candidate for World Heritage status, Shitsu Church was designed and built by French-born Father (Fr.) Marc Marie de Rotz and consecrated in 1882. The low-lying structure is constructed with bricks, covered with plaster to ensure longevity. Inside, step past the pews filled with hymn books and down the aisle to the unusual semi-circular space around the altar. Upon exiting, see Japanese-style sliding windows and doors, included to make the space more familiar and welcoming to Japanese worshippers. From the outside, statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary look over the church and the area below.
Father de Rotz Memorial Hall and Former Shitsu Aid Center
The collection of multipurpose buildings that make up the Former Shitsu Aid Centre show just how influential Fr. de Rotz was and still is today. Following over two hundred years of persecution and isolation, Christians from Sotome were left with few skills and very little industry. Thanks to his devotion, the area prospered and residents were able to become self-sufficient.
Enter the Father de Rotz Memorial Hall to view original artifacts, from medical equipment to the horn used instead of bells during church services. While inside, see a hand painted portrait of de Rotz and observe tangible evidence of the impact this man had on the community. Across the road the aid centre continues, including a European pharmacy, a water-powered mill, a pasta and somen (thin wheat noodles) factory, and an educational facility within its walls. Japan's first daycare is believed to have been located here, providing support for mothers working in the factories. Local guides and resident Sisters show visitors through the warehouses and give demonstrations of the 130 year old French organ.
Vaux Sur Aure
Taste history at Vaux Sur Aure. Run by followers of Fr. de Rotz, this quaint restaurant is named after his birthplace and Sotome's sister city in France. A fusion of French and Japanese cuisine, dishes are prepared using the traditional culinary techniques that de Rotz taught and have been passed down for generations. All ingredients are seasonal, so the menu changes regularly. Although included as part of the Yuran Bus tour, bookings are otherwise essential.
Ono (Ohno) Church
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Ono Church stands part-way up the Ono (Ohno) Valley. A Nationally-Designated Important Cultural Property, it was constructed using techniques imparted by Fr. de Rotz. The walls, dubbed "de Rotz walls" are made from local basalt and held together with a special mortar. Walk up the slope and pay your respects at the elegant statue of the Virgin Mary, which faces toward the church. It is believed that Mary faces inward so that she can protect worshippers whilst they attend mass. A service is held in the church once a year, usually in December.
Cradled on a hillside overlooking terraced rice fields, the Odaira Workshop stands as it has for more than a hundred years. With crumbling walls and discarded roof tiles, the area feels like an undiscovered archaeological site. Originally built as an agricultural workshop, the one-story building is primarily made of stone. A metal clasp believed to have been used by Fr. de Rotz to tie up his horse still remains outside and is accessible from the road via the path on the left.
*From April 2017, this site will no longer be part of the tour.
Site of the Bastian Residence
Located a short drive from the Odaira Workshop, the Site of Bastian's Residence sits in a dense forest. Bastian, a baptised Japanese priest, is said to have lived in makeshift huts in the area, moving constantly from place to place during the time of Christian persecution. Eluding the eyes of authority, he performed various religious rites for the villagers. Walk past the moss-covered walls and down to a bubbling brook to see a reconstruction of one of his hideouts. It is believed to have been the model for the hut Rodrigues and Garrpe hide in just after reaching Nagasaki. Watch your step in this area as there are no paved roads!
Endo Shusaku Literary Museum
Overlooking the Goto-Nada Sea, the Endo Shusaku Literary Museum pays tribute to the work of Japanese novelist Endo Shusaku. Just below the Yuhigaoka Sotome Rest Stop, the area served as the inspiration for the film's water martyrdom scene. Opened in May 2000, the museum displays some of Endo's favorite possessions, including his writing desk, Bible, and rosary. While in the area, take a drive up the hill to see the Silence Monument, located outside the Sotome Museum of History and Folklore. The monument quotes Endo, reading, "Humanity is so sad, Lord, and the ocean so blue."
Across the sea from Sotome lies the Goto archipelago. Follow the same path Rodrigues took to see the idyllic islands, now known for their crystal-clear beaches, Goto Udon noodles, camellia oil products and Historic Christian sites.
Access to Goto
Departing from Nagasaki Port Terminal in Nagasaki City, ferries link Fukue, Naru, and Shinkamigoto. Regular vessels take between 2.5 to 3 hours, but faster options are also available. Check out the Nagasaki Port Terminal website for more information. Sasebo City's ferry terminal (Saseboko map) also connects Shinkamigoto and Ojika to the mainland. Alternatively take the overnight ferry from Hakata (Fukuoka City), that docks at each island the following morning.
We recommend starting your pilgrimage to Goto on the ferry bound for Fukue, which leaves from Nagasaki Port Terminal. Relax on the spacious carpeted sleeping areas, or head out onto the deck. As you sail through the open sea, imagine Rodrigues' perilous journey, just as Endo did when writing his original novel.
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