Christian Martyrdom in Japanese Contexts: The Amakusa-Shimabara Revolt and Christian Martyrs

By Yoshiko Okuyama.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This presentation features my fieldwork on a Catholic Christian uprising by 37,000 villagers and explores what martyrdom means in Japan’s contemporary socio-cultural contexts. My initial purpose for the fieldwork was to understand why presumably peace-loving Japanese Christians chose to take up arms against the government in 1637. Subsequently, my research also examined what martyrdom, or choosing to sacrifice one’s life for a religious cause, signifies to contemporary Japanese people, including residents of Amakusa and Shimabara, where the famous Christian rebellion occurred more than 300 years ago. In December 1637, approximately13,000 villagers of the Amakusa Domain and more than 23,800 villagers of the Shimabara Domain, mostly peasants, rose up against the tyranny of their rulers. The one and only violent Christian rebellion, it was led by Amakusa Shirō, the 16-year-old, charismatic son of a samurai. This rebellion, called the Amakusa-Shimabara Revolt, is a complicated incident to interpret. Through interviews with Japanese people, I attempted to account for the complex motives of this socio-religious uprising not simply in the historical context of Christian persecution but also in contemporary socio-cultural contexts in Japan. In this presentation, I will attempt to answer the following questions: 1) what is martyrdom, 2) were these Christian rebels “martyrs” even though they engaged in killing, and 3) what can we learn now from Christian martyrdom in seventeenth-century Japan?

Keywords: Altruism, Christianity, Catholicism, Japan, Martyrdom, Religious Persecution, Uprisings

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 5, Issue 3, September 2015, pp.33-41. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 312.470KB).

Dr. Yoshiko Okuyama

Associate Professor of Japanese Studies, Department of Languages, Humanities Division, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hilo, HI, USA