In our journey to trace the Chris?tian heritage of Japan we are usually told to go to Kyushu?to Nagasaki. That was where the Kirishitan, those foreign-connected people were. Yet in fact the church in many ways was cen?tered in Kyoto, the Mivako, or capital, of Japan. It was nationwide and in?digenous. not foreign.
It all hinges on one amazing, but little known fact?Kyoto was not origi?nally a Buddhist city. In fact the Impe?rial Family escaped to Kyoto from Nara when the Buddhists took over in the sixth century. Kyoto was originally an anti-Buddhist city started by those who sought religious freedom.
As we celebrate the 400th anniver?sary of the beginning of the Kirishitan Holocaust our hearts turn to Kyoto where it all began.
According to Professor Sakae Ikeda, formerly of Kyoto University, and Professor Yoshiro Saeki, formerly of Waseda University, the first Chris?tians came to Japan across the Silk Road sometime in the 2nd century seeking religious freedom. These Pil?grims eventually settled in the Kyoto area and the long Christian history of Kyoto began. While Nara became a Buddhist City shortly after the arrival of Buddhism in the 6th century. Kyoto remained adamantly anti-Buddhist and presumably Christian.
With the fall of Shotoku Taishi in Nara and his democratic tradition, the city of Kyoto was decimated and the Christians scattered, many going to Ya?maguchi and other areas. (In the 7th century during Taishi's reign, the cen?ter of learning, power and wealth was in Nara. A true democrat. Shotoku Taishi sought to bring balance, includ?ing freedom of religion, to his land. Buddhists destroyed this freedom after his death, assassinating two emperors and driving the imperial family to es-cape to Kyoto.
At that time, the Hata tribes, de?scendants of the Keikyo, were wealthy and successful in Kyoto and stood strongly against Buddhism. The Bud-dhists, however, gained strength, at-tacking and eventually taking Kyoto along with much of the country, causing the Hata people to disperse.)
When Xavier arrived in Yamaguchi he was surprised to find that the Keikyo people still held the idea of Dainichi, or the One Great God. They had forgotten much of the Gospel but they held on to the Dainichi teaching. Xavier's preach?ing brought them back to the faith of their fathers. Slowly they began to trickle back to Kyoto.
By the year 1593 the quiet good works of the Kirishitan in Kyoto had touched so many that Taiko Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the Military Dictator of Japan, donated a vast area of land to the Church. In August 1594 the construc?tion on this land, known as Aivoshanji, was completed. The Kirishitan area of Kyoto contained a Church, a monastery, and two hospitals?the first in Kyoto.
The Kirishitan area of Kyoto, known even today as Deos Alachi, or God's Town, renewed its long Christian past. ("Deos" is written with the Chi?nese characters for "heavenly lord" and spoken with the Latin pronunciation.)
Two years later, in September, 1596, an earthquake hit Kyoto wiping out whole areas of the city. Immediately the Kirishitan reached out to the people in need. Rescue efforts. distribution of food, clothing and other necessities were accomplished by the Church through its huge headquarters.
With the wholesale deaths of so many, the common people lined up at the gates of the Buddhist temples for help in burying their dead. Not only did the Buddhist temples not respond to the mass of human suffering. they demand?ed payment before they would perform the funerals.
"We have no money! Everybody is dead! Help us!" But only those with money were allowed in the temples' gates. In desperation they sought those who had loved them, fed them, clothed them. "Can you bury our dead? We have no money."
"Of course!"' was the reply of the Kirishitan. Overnight the simple but revolutionary stories spread through Kyoto like wildfire. "The Kirishitan fed us, they clothed us, they rescued us and they buried our dead! The God of the Kirishitan is real! "
The concept that God truly cared and was free turned the city of Kyoto upside down! The temples of Kyoto lay deserted as Mvoshanji and the six huge Deos A9achi areas overflowed with the hungry, the poor, the needy and, most of all, the liberated!
In a moment the people had seen the oppression and the falseness and collectively cried "Yarneta"?"we quit." They threw off the oppression that had ruled their lives for centuries.
But the enemy was not so keen to turn over a whole city and the Miyako to the true God. Immediately the Bud?dhist priests began to move. Daily they went to Hideyoshi because they now
were facing imminent collapse. The lie that said you had to pay for God's fa?vor, pay when somebody died, pay when you lost a child and forever live under fear of the temple had been ex-posed for what it was. God was free!
Hidcyoshi, though he loved the Kirishitan deeply, could not stand against the system that supported his regime. One of the governors of Kyoto named Masuda and a wicked Buddhist priest named Yakuin daily pressured Hideyoshi, who was suffering severe financial nun as a result of a number of reverses.
Greed won out and the system tri?umphed as on December 8 guards were sent to the Kirishitan areas. On January 2, 1597 the Kirishitan in Kyoto gath?ered for their last assembly.
While the people were in church. forty soldiers entered to take them to prison. The next day six prisoners from Osaka and eighteen from Kyoto were brought together and, with the Bud?dhist priests cheering, mutilated in front of the people. They were beaten, and a part of the left ear of each one was severed. They were placed on eight oxcarts and paraded through the streets. They traveled from Kyoto to Himeji, then to Ako near the small port where the Keikyo had originally landed, arriv?ing in Nagasaki on February 4.
When the martyrs heard the sen?tence against them?death on the cross?they rejoiced and thanked God. One of them immediately delivered a short sermon: "Dear Brethren in
Christ! The intensely desired hour has arrived. Freed from the shackles of our body it is given us to enjoy...the eternal reward. We have experienced how
faithful God is in fulfilling His promises, and the end of our sufferings will bring permanent consolation. Let us therefore trust in God and humbly ask of Him the grace to persevere."
On February 5, 1597 the first of the martyrs were hung on crosses in Naga-saki. The youngest boy, Louis Ibaragi, just 12 years old, refused to renounce his faith. Crowds swarmed the hill at the site of the Martyrs. On the way up the hill a nobleman tried to persuade young Ibaragi to give up. Instead he turned the other way, looked up the hill and cried out to the astonished crowd, "WHERE IS MY CROSS?"
As the crown silently wept at the wickedness of the system that would sentence a mere child to death for a be-lief, young Ibaragi cried again "WHERE IS MY CROSS?" Directed to the small?est cross on the hill, he ran and em-braced it as a child holds on to its most prized possession. During all their suf?ferings, Louis was an inspiration to all the rest because of his joyous constancy.
Louis and thirteen year old An?thony, of Chinese and Japanese parent-age, started what would become a char?acteristic of the Kirishitan Holocaust. They began to sing, "Praise the Lord ye children, praise the Name of the Lord." Barely had they finished singing when the spears entered their bodies and dark?ness fell upon Japan.
Today, you can visit Kyoto and see the six huge Deos Machi where the Kirishitan lived. You can see the re-mains of the huge Mvoshanji, the first hospital in Kyoto, the spot by the river where Hashimoto Tekula died preg?nant, with her four children at her side, and other Kirishitan sites. There is a "Pilgrims Guide to Kyoto" available, and each major site is remembered with an official plaque by the city of Kyoto.
One symbol of the Kirishitan which remains is a bell with the initials JHL, which tradition says sat in the huge Kirishitan Cathedral in Kyoto. It was taken shortly after the beginning of the Holocaust and sits today captive in a temple a short distance from the Deos Machi.
Over 2000 gathered for the November 23, 1996 memorial service in Kyoto. The next day about seven buses of believers toured the Christian sites in the Kyoto area.