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Sotome's Kakure Kirishitan

n Sotome today, there still remain "Hidden Christians" (known in Japanese as Kakure Kirishitan) whose ancestors chose not to rejoin the Catholic Church once the ban on Christianity had been lifted.

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Shitsu church Shitsu church
Shitsu church

At the end of the Edo era, the Oomura domain became part of the Saga domain. The Saga domain was relatively relaxed about surveillance and crackdowns. When Father Petitjean visited Shitsu during the Bakumatsu period (the term “Bakamatsu” refers to the final years of the Edo period), Hidden Christians publically confessed their faith. However, there were other Hidden Christians there who were concerned because the ban on Christianity was still in force and had yet to be formally lifted. The village headsman, who was worried, consulted with the village officer, and they decided that in order to weaken the resolve of those Hidden Christians who were positively embracing what the foreign missionaries were teaching, they would steal their treasured picture of St. Michael as well as another depicting the 15 mysteries of the Rosary.
Those who they had stolen from became enraged and there was a large uproar. Hidden Christians in Sotome thus split into two factions, with one side rejoining the Catholic Church and the other choosing not to and instead opting to go into hiding a second time (these people are known in Japanese as Kakure Kirishitan. The word “kakure” means hidden).
Today, the president of the Sotome volunteer tour guides is Matsukawa Ryuuji, a Kakure Kirishitan from Kurosaki. "At the time of the disturbance in the Meiji period, [the Hidden Christians living here] were slightly at cross-purposes and split into two groups, Catholic and Kakure Kirishitan. But the hearts of those who believe in God are the same". During his tours, Mr. Matsukawa offers both a Kakure and a Catholic perspective on this history, thereby teaching people about the complexity of Sotome's past.