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The Last Generation of Japan’s Hidden Christians

Japan’s “Hidden Christians” fear their religion may go extinct due to believers’ aging population and their children who are not interested in Christianity.

Masaichi Kawasaki, 69 years old, is a descendant of Japan’s “Kakure Kirishitan,” or “Hidden Christians.” His ancestors endured hardships in keeping their faith a secret during centuries of persecution, reports Japan Today.

I worry that what my ancestors worked hard to preserve will disappear, but that is the trend of the times. —Masaichi Kawasaki, Hidden Christian

Christians in the Asian nation were persecuted in the late 1500s; a well-known documented case was the execution of the 26 Martyrs of Japan in 1597. Since 1614 until 1873, Christianity was banned in the country and Christians had no choice but to practice their faith in hiding, far from the mainland.

Kawasaki said, “I worry that what my ancestors worked hard to preserve will disappear, but that is the trend of the times.” He added that, “I have a son but I don’t expect him to carry on. To think this will disappear is sad, without a doubt.”

Young Japanese living in the islands where the faith has persisted are not interested in Christianity and many chose to leave the rural areas. Hidden Christians have no one to pass on the religion to.

Shigenori Murakami, 69, the seventh-generation head of a group of Hidden Christians in Nagasaki City’s Sotome district, took over as chokata or leader after his father passed away in 2005. He disclosed that during his father’s time, there were 100 Christians in his group, but there are only about half of that today.

“In my grandfather’s day, there were several hundred,” Murakami said. “But young people are not interested. They are turning away from religion generally.”

A curator at a museum on Ikitsuki Island, Shigeo Nakazono, believed that aside from the youth leaving their homes, the Hidden Christians’ unshakable will to keep ancient traditions is another factor of the religion’s dwindling population.

“The old ways are preserved and there is no mechanism to change them in line with social change,” Nakazono said.

Murakami maintained that he will carry on with his elders’ traditions. “I will continue to do as I have done, cherishing the ways handed down from my forefathers.”

Meantime, a new documentary, Nagasaki: The Hidden Faces of Faith, shows viewers the places where Christians practiced their faith in hiding for 250 years, reports Aleteia.

Part of the documentary was about a practice called fumi-e, where people were ordered to step on a picture of Jesus Christ to prove that one was not Christian.

Simon Hull, a British researcher at the Twenty-six Martyrs Museum, said some Christians did the ritual, but felt so guilty afterwards. As a form of penance, they burned their sandals at home and the ashes were mixed with water which they ritually drank.

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