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Hidden Christian Sites in Japan Up for World Heritage Status

A UNESCO advisory panel recommended several hidden Christian sites in Japan to be added to the World Heritage list.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) informed the government of Japan that it endorsed a dozen sites in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures for World Heritage status. These sites are related to the persecution of Japanese Christians during the Edo period (1603-1867), according to Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun.

Christianity was believed to have been extinct after the 250-year ban, but missionaries learned about the Christians through confessions.

The official decision to include the hidden Christian sites to the list is expected to be made at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Bahrain from June 24 to July 4, 2018.

To protect and continue with their faith, early Christians in Japan sought refuge to these sites after the Tokugawa Shogunate banned Christianity from the 17th to 19th centuries. Most of the Christians hid in Nagasaki Prefecture. Some of the locations where believers secretly practiced their faith include the small islands of Kuroshima, Kashiragashima, and Nozakijima.

Christianity was believed to have been extinct after the 250-year ban, but missionaries learned about the Christians through confessions. In 1873, after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the government legalized Christianity.

Another Christian site nominated to the World Heritage list is the Oura Church in Nagasaki. Built in the late Edo Period, it is the oldest wooden church in Japan. It is known for the story about the “Discovery of the Flock.” The Oura church was where hidden Christians confessed to a French priest that they shared the same faith.

Hideo Hattori, a professor emeritus of Kyushu University, welcomed the nomination of the hidden Christian sites.

“Hidden religious practices were apparently made possible for a long period of time due to tolerance of religions in Japan, despite the suppression of Christianity,” he said in an interview with The Japan News.

He added that, “Political power can’t fully control the human mind. This is indeed the lesson learned from Christian-related sites.”

Sources:
The Asahi Shimbun
The Japan News
Visit Nagasaki

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