Japanese Gallery (Honkan) Room 16
March 19, 2013 (Tue) - May 6, 2013 (Mon)
In 1534, Martin Luther was pushing forward with the Protestant Reformation. In this year, Ignacio de Loyola, a native of the Basque region of Spain, and six associates, including Francisco de Xavier, established the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits) as a reforming group within the Catholic Church. With the support of the King of Portugal, the Jesuits rivaled the Protestant churches by spreading the Catholic faith outside of Europe. Xavier arrived in Japan in 1549. After him, many missionaries came to Japan, and the number of Christians increased. At its peak, this number is said to have reached 400,000. Until Christianity was prohibited in Japan in the early 17th century, Western information and culture was brought to Japan, while information about Japan was circulated in the West. In this way, Japan and the West were connected.
When the ruling Tokugawa shogunate, however, prohibited Christianity in Japan and tried forcing Christians to renounce their faith through exile and oppression, every Christian was supposed to have disappeared. Yet, in a part of Nagasaki, there were people who secretly kept their faith. In Japanese they are called kakure kirishitan ("hidden Christians"). While pretending to be devotees of Buddhist temples, they united as a group. They placed statues of a Buddhist bodhisattva (Maria Kannon) that looked like the Virgin Mary at the back of their Buddhist altars. After treading on fumie (Christian images) to show they were not Christians, they would return home and say prayers of confession. Most of the objects in this exhibition are former possessions of kakure kirishitan.
In the Meiji era (1868-1912), the government continued to oppress Christianity, but after strong pressure from Western nations, religious freedom was proclaimed in 1873.