The single most significant Christian historical event in Shimabara was a rebellion in 1637. There was significant Christians history in the region before the most famous one. In 1576, Lord Arima was baptized a Christian and over 20,000 residents of his land were obligated to follow suit. From that time on, the peninsula had a strong and significant Christian population. The first persecutions to take place in the region during the new Tokugawa regime took place at the Arima River during 1613. The Martyrs endured the tortures and slow deaths with such vigor and courage that it galvanized the 20,000 onlookers. In hopes of being granted the position of daimyo Hasegawa, the governor of Nagasaki, sent 10,000 troops to torture and murder the Christians into submission. This act of terror simply strengthened the people’s resolve.
In 1616, a new ruler was appointed to the region, Shigemasa Matsukura. He moved his capitol to Shimabara in hopes of succeeding his predecessors who had failed in crushing the Christians. The people of Shimabara were forced to build a new castle for the daimyo. It took 7 years of labor, step taxes, tortures and severe punishments to finish the construction. When the peasants could not pay the taxes, their wives and daughters where taken and subjected to many forms of torture. These types of harsh punishments worsened when Iemitsu Tokugawa became Shogun. Martyrdoms and persecution were everywhere.
In 1637, the economic and religious conditions were no longer bearable for the people of Shimabara. Disenfranchised samurai, who had been denied their rank because of their religion, and Christian peasants gathered supporters. These rebels held Hara castle and its surrounding areas for four months against government troops. The Dutch were employed by the Tokugawa government to cut off the rebels’ food and water supplies. The rebellion ended soon thereafter. All the rebels were killed: 17,000 men and 20,000 women and children. Christians all over Japan had to go underground if they hadn’t already done so. The persecutions continued for 250 years. The Tokugawa government was frightened by the rebellion and disliked foreign influence. They closed their borders to outsiders, save for the Dutch who were allowed to live on the man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki. The period leading up to and after the rebellion was the time that the Underground and Hidden Christians lived.
Copyright © 2006 Brendan Eagan