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Preserving Kakure Kirishitan history for posterity

A rosary hidden within a “kamidana”, an old man’s mysterious way of praying…

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Candidates for a world heritage

Kasuga Village Kasuga Village
Kasuga Village

Kakure Kirishitan refers to those communities of Hidden Christians (and their descendants) who, once the ban on Christianity had been lifted, chose not to rejoin the Catholic Church. Their numbers are now dwindling, but some still make efforts to preserve the unique traditions of their ancestors as best they can.
Terada Kazuo is one such individual. Within his house, there is a combined total of three kamidana (a Shinto home altar) and butsudan (a Buddhist home altar), each of which he prays at in turn. "After praying towards Mt. Yasumandake I pray to the gods inside my house. In former times, there would be a rosary hidden inside the kamidana, and my grandfather would always be chanting mysterious prayers". Mr. Terada's grandfather, Mr. Sakutaro, was a devout Kakure Kirishitan, and was the highest ranking member (known as an ojiiyaku) of the Kakure community to which he belonged. He was responsible for performing each season's ceremonies. As Mr. Terada recalls, “When someone became ill, he would braid some rope together to make a whip [known as an otenpensha] and then purify the body of the sick person by striking him or her with it".
Nowadays, most of Kasuga’s residents have converted to Buddhism, meaning that there is now hardly anyone left with much direct knowledge of the various rituals and ceremonies which its Kakure Kirishitan once used to perform. Mr. Terada is convinced, however, that the village’s past should not be forgotten: "There is precious history here. I want the beautiful terraced rice field scenery which Christians [and later Hidden Christians] here cultivated to be seen by many people".