Nagasaki is of great Augustinian interest because of pioneer Augustinian missionary work and martyrdom in the early 1600s, and of the return of the Order to the area in the 1950s.
Nagasaki, a city of over 500,000 people, is built around its natural harbour, and climbs up the surrounding steep hills. (It is the location used by Pucini for his opera, Madam Butterfy. The city boasts spectacular views and the proximity to natural sights such as its rugged coastline, beaches, islands, volcanic mountains, and a national park. Nagasaki enjoys a mild winter climate. It is located in the north-western part of the island of Kyushu in the extreme western part of Japan. It is located near the Korean Peninsula and China, only 860 kilometres away from Shanghai, China and only fifty-three kilometres away from Pusan, South Korea.
Founded before 1500, Nagasaki was originally secluded by harbors. It enjoyed little historical significance until contact with European explorers in 1542, when a Portuguese ship accidentally landed nearby, somewhere in Kagoshima prefecture. Spanish Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier was briefly in another part of the territory in 1549. His followers who remained behind converted a number of daimyo (feudal lords). The most notable among them was Omura Sumitada, who derived great profit from his conversion through an accompanying deal to receive a portion of the trade from Portuguese ships at a port they established in Nagasaki in 1571 with his assistance. The little harbor village quickly grew into a diverse port city, and Portuguese products imported through Nagasaki (such as tobacco, bread, tempura, textiles and a Portuguese sponge-cake called castellas) were assimilated into popular Japanese culture. The Portuguese also brought with them many goods from China.
Due to the instability during the Warring States period, Sumitada and Jesuit leader Alexandro Valignano conceived a plan to pass administrative control over to the Society of Jesus rather than see the Catholic city taken over by a non-Catholic daimyo who was quickly ascending to power in Kyushu. Thus, for a brief period after 1580, the city of Nagasaki was a Jesuit colony, under their administrative and military control. In 1587, however, Toyotomi Hideyoshi's campaign to unify the country arrived in Kyushu. Concerned with the large Christian influence in southern Japan, as well as the active and somewhat arrogant role the Jesuits were playing in the Japanese political arena, Hideyoshi ordered the expulsion of all missionaries, and placed the city under his direct control. However, the expulsion order went largely unenforced, and the fact remained that most of Nagasaki's population remained openly practicing Catholics.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi (the daimyo mentioned above, who unified Japan) immediately decreed a ban on Christianity. This resulted in an incident known as "the execution of the 26 saints". Twenty-six Christians were rounded up in the cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Sakai, brought to Nagasaki via an overland route in large two-wheeled wagons, and executed at Nishizaka. This marked the first significant incident of martyrdom in Japan and triggered the period of pervasive persecution and martyrdom that followed. The Portuguese traders in Nagasaki were not ostracized, however, and so the city continued to thrive.
In 1602, Augustinian missionaries also arrived in Japan and, when Tokugawa Ieyasu took power in 1603, Catholicism was still grudgingly tolerated. Many Catholic daimyo had been critical allies at the Battle of Sekigahara, and the Tokugawa position was not strong enough to move against them. Once Osaka Castle had been taken and Toyotomi Hideyoshi's offspring killed, though, the Tokugawa dominance was assured. In addition, the Dutch and English presence allowed trade without religious strings attached. Thus, the hammer fell in 1614, with Catholicism officially banned and all missionaries ordered to leave.
Most Catholic daimyo apostatized, and forced their subjects to do so, although a few would not renounce the religion and left the country as well. A brutal campaign of persecution followed, with thousands across Kyushu and other parts of Japan killed, tortured, or forced to renounce their religion. Catholicism's last gasp as an open religion, and the last major military action in Japan until the Meiji Restoration, was the Shimabara rebellion of 1637. While there is no evidence that Europeans directly incited the rebellion, Shimabara had been a Christian han for several decades, and the rebels adopted many Portuguese motifs and Christian icons. Consequently, in Tokugawa society the word "Shimabara" solidified the connection between Christianity and disloyalty, constantly used again and again in Tokugawa propaganda.
The Augustinian history of Nagasaki is a glorious one. Among its surviving landmarks from the seventeenth century is the "spectacles bridge", and it has an Augustinian connection. This bridge over the Nakashima River was built in 1634 by the Chinese monk Mozi of Kofukuji Temple, is the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan and has been designated as an Important Cultural Asset. On July 23, 1982, a disastrous deluge washed away six of the ten stone bridges over the Nakashima River. Meganebashi was badly damaged but fortunately almost all the original stones were retrieved and the bridge was restored to its original appearance. Image (below): Meganebashi, (眼鏡橋) the “Spectacles Bridge” of Nagasaki, was built in 1634. It is the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan and has been designated as an Important Cultural Asset. Three decades earlier, the first Augustinian house in Nagasaki was built nearby.
It received the popular name of "Megane-bashi," or "Spectacles Bridge," because its two arches and their reflection in the water create the image of a pair of eyeglasses. On 23rd July 1982 a disastrous flash flood washed away six of the ten historic stone bridges over Nakashima River. Meganebashi was badly damaged, but fortunately almost all the original stones were retrieved and the bridge was restored to its original condition.
In the early seventeenth century, the local Augustinian monastery was located near this bridge. Until recently a hardware store in the Motofurukawa section of Nagasaki occupied the site of the seventeenth-century Church of St Augustine, founded there by Augustinian missionaries in 1606 until the forced closure of all Christian missionary activity in Japan twenty-nine years later. During the pastorate there of Blessed Ferdinand of St Joseph it served 10,000 worshippers. There were a score of Augustinian brethren, including eleven who have been beatified by the Church, suffered martyrdom together with thousands of the faithful.
For in Nagasaki the Order of Saint Augustine suffered the spilling of the lifeblood of more of its members and their parishioners than probably any other place recorded in its long history. The Christian faith was first introduced into Japan in the sixteenth century by Jesuit and later by Franciscan missionaries. By the year 1699, there were probably about 300,000 baptised believers in Japan. Unfortunately, this beginning filled with hope soon met reverses. These were brought about by rivalries between different groups of missionaries and by political intrigues by the Spanish and Portuguese governments, along with power politics among factions in the Japanese government itself. The result was a suppression of Christians. The Church was totally driven underground by 1630. This was followed by the period of Japanese martyrs.
A New Dawn
However, when Japan was re-opened to Western contacts 250 years later, it was found that a community of Japanese Christians had survived underground. They were left without clergy, without the Bible, with only very sketchy instructions in the doctrines of the faith, but with a firm commitment to Jesus as Lord. The Oura Catholic Church in Nagasaki was built by French missionary priests originally to tend to Catholic foreign sailors while their ships were in the port.
It featured in the discovery of the "hidden Christians" of Nagasaki, who kept their Christian Faith alive from generation to generation during 250 years of the prohibition of the Christian religion. Historic brick buildings and streets paved with stones recall the greatest days of Nagasaki in the 15th century, when it was considered the "main door" of Japan to the world.
But although Western sciences and technology were introduced to Japan through Nagasaki, an ironic and sad twist of history caused the city to suffer from an atomic bomb on 9th August 1945 during World War II. An added twist of fate that was the atomic bomb exploded over the Catholic cathedral; there was no other place in Japan where the same device would have killed as many Christians. Since that tragedy, Nagasaki has engaged earnestly in a global effort to achieve world peace. For all these reasons and many others, Nagasaki occupies a special place in heart of the Japanese people. Even to this day, it is perceived as a place of cultural variety, hospitality and peace.
In the modern era the first three American Augustinian priests reached Nagasaki on 22nd November 1952. They arranged the purchase of a building and five acres of land from the Marianist Brothers in the Shiroyama area of Nagasaki – which is still the Augustinian site today. They then moved to Tokyo for language studies, and on 28th August 1953 Bishop Yamaguchi blessed their Priory of Our Mother of Consolation.
The Priory was used as a public chapel, while the priests then continued their Japanese language studies locally. On 28th August 1954 construction began on a more suitable monastery building and on a hall to serve as a temporary church. On 1st November 1954 the foundation stone of the temporary church was laid. The buildings were completed by Christmas, and the Parish of Shiroyama was officially proclaimed by Bishop Yamaguchi.
In the parish boundaries containing 50,000 people there were 1,300 Catholics – mostly descendants of the “hidden Christians” during centuries of persecution. On 1st May 1955 a new parish church (see aerial photo on next page) was dedicated, and the temporary church hall became used as a child centre and kindergarten, Later the Augustinians began construction of a Catholic parochial school, which now also has the first half of high school education (middle school).
Nagasaki: the 20th and 21st centuries
Thomas Hunt O.S.A., an Irish priest who became the first Provincial of the Order of Saint Augustine in Australia, was early in 1951 travelling from Australia to Europe by ship. The ship stopped at Nagasaki. When the bishop of Nagasaki asked him if the Augustinians could return to that part of Japan, he recommended the American Augustinians. After due negotiation, the first three Augustinian priests from the United States then arrived in Nagasaki on 22nd November 1952.
Fifty years later in 2002, a spectacular new church replaced the church building of 1955. In accord with the name of St Mary’s Parish, the church was named Mary Mother of Consolation Church – that title being one of the traditional Augustinian names for the Mother of Jesus.
Video (above): Nagasaki: St Mary’s parish school singers. ディズニー♪メドレー (5 minutes)Now using a majority of Japanese-born Augustinians and in the 21st century under the leadership of Japanese-born Augustinians, the Order now conducts a parish with P-10 school in Nagasaki. As well, the school has a well-attended full-daycare nursery.
The Order also has communities that staff a parish in each of the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Fukuoka.Photo GalleryFor the Augnet gallery on the Augustinian history of Japan (especially Nagasaki), click here.
Saint Mary's School, Nagasaki. This school (see the above two images) has kindergarten to Year 10. Its web site is written in Japanese script; click around and discover the photographs. http://seimaria.net PDF file. Special article. 3,530 words of biography about Thomas Jihyoe O.S.A. a Japanese Augustinian martyred near Nagasaki. Thios article was written in February 2006 by the regional superior of the Augustinian Vicariate of the Japanese Martyrs at that time. Click here to see this article (PDF file).AN4246