Historic Christian Churches of Japan

Two major religions are practiced in Japan, Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto, the ethnic religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices that are carried out diligently to establish a connection between the ancient past and modern times, is practiced by almost 80% of the population. While Buddhism was introduced to Japan by five Chinese monks from Gandhara (an ancient kingdom extending to the Swat valley and Potohar plateau regions of Pakistan and the Jalalabad district of northeastern Afghanistan) who travelled to Japan during the Kofun period (250 to 538).

Christianity was introduced by the missionary Francis Xavier during the Sengoku period, “Warring States Period” (15th – 17th century). It was a time of social upheaval among Japanese warlords. The Tokugawa bakufu (徳川幕府) under Hideyoshi, also known as the Tokugawa shogunate or the Edo bakufu, was preceded by the Sengoku period. It was a new era of isolation to Japan that led to widespread persecution of Christians for fear that they might attempt to overthrow the new government. This resulted in the crucifixion of 26 Christians and the outward disappearance of public practice of the Christian faith. Catholic Christianity was repressed and many Japanese Christians were killed.

Here are some historic Churches that withstood the adversities of persecution.

Sakitsu Church – standing on land that faces Youkakuwan Bay is the massive Gothic Christian church also known as the Umi-no-tenshu-do. Christians bravely practiced their faith even with the threat of persecution. The front of the church holds a famous altar with a plate honoring the memory of Christians who refused to renounce their faith even when faced with dire punishments. Sunday masses are held at the church regularly.

Shitsu Church – located on a hill overlooking a view over the Goto-nada Sea in Sotome, considered to be the home of “Hidden Christians”. The remote region provided the perfect place for Christians to hide and practice their religion in secret.

Shitsu Church, Sotome, Japan. | A Shino

The church was constructed in 1882 with local materials. Shitsu Chursh continues to serve the local Christian community and visitors alike.

Oura Church – Ōura Tenshudō or Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan in Nagasaki, was built in 1864, during the Edo Period. The church is dedicated to the memory of the 26 Christians who were executed in the city in 1597.

Oura Church, Nagasaki, Japan. | The Franklin Photography

The church still holds regular masses and is a stunning example of contemporary European architecture. Oura Church was the very first Western-style building in Japan to be designated as a national treasure.