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map of Tombs of Catholics

Tombs of Catholics

How to get

Get off #1 Bus (Hon-sen) at Ama-machi bus stop. The bus stop is on the slope between Nakayama Tunnel and Aikawa town. From the Ama-machi bus stop, walk on the Prefectural Highway #31 towards Nakayama Tunnel. So it is the upslope. There is a crosswalk with a traffic light on the wide road under the Aikawa junior high school. Go straight, and then you will find a sign of "KIRISHITANZUKA" on the north side of #31 highway as shown in Photo.15.1. 6 meter wide concrete road starts from there. Walking the concrete road approximately 100 meter, then you will find another but the same sign of "KIRISHITANZUKA" posted by 2 meter wide road. It is on the right hand side toward upslope as Photo.15.2. Go that 2 meter wide road which has the concrete pavement first, but the condition of the road gets worse as you get closer to the Tombs of Catholics. Distances are indicated at the 500 meter and 200 meter points. It takes 30 minutes from the bus stop to the place. Long walk on the desolate road is actually scary.


Photo.15.1 Signboard of "KIRISHITANZUKA" standing by Pref. Hwy #31


Photo.15.2 The entrance of old path between Aikawa and Sawata

This place is thought to be where many Catholics were executed and buried in early seventeenth century. Approximately 100 were executed in 1637, and other 46 were executed in 1650. As written below, that was the time that Catholic was suppressed and many believers were executed in Japan. The place of "Kirishitan-Zuka" is located by the old road connecting Aikawa and Sawata. The current route is, of course, Nakayama Tunnel. Not only Catholics but also many other people were executed along the road. The heads were exposed to public eyes as warnings to the people. Some plates in Photo.15.2 along the path tell you that kind of brutal things in the history. Actually the exact place of execution is not known. But in 1923 a Missionary Ooe Takematsu found a square mound near the Nakayama Ridge. He thought it was the execution site because local elderlies called the place "One Hundred men Grave". Then he bought that land of 2,517 square-meters to commemorate the martyrdom. Now the place is the cemetery of all Catholics in Sado1). Missionary Ooe Takematsu was also the person who built the first Catholic Church in Ryotsu in 18792).


Photo.15.3 Board near Nakayama Ridge

Catholics were reached to Japan3) when Fransisco Zabier landed on Kagoshima of southern Kyushu in 1549. In the following years, Catholics prevailed quite fast among Japanese people. Then-strong man Oda Nobunaga protected Catholic as a countermeasure against some Buddhist temples disobeying to him. He also built Namban Temple for Catholics in Kyoto, in 1580, which made the religion more popular. After the death of Oda Nobunaga, another strong man Toyotomi Hideyoshi who was infamous of invading Korean Peninsula twice banned Christianity. He believed that the westerners wanted to control Japan through the propagation of Christianity.

Japan's civil war was ended by the opening of Edo Shogunate (Edo Bakufu) in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. In the beginning, Edo Bakufu loosened the ban on catholic a little because it wanted to promote foreign trade. However, in 1613, Edo Bakufu ordered the complete ban and expelled foreign missionaries. Edo Bakufu worried about the connection of Christianity and Westerner’s aggressive desires of colonization. And the Bakufu also thought that Christians were neglecting the law and order of Japan by slandering Japanese Shintoism and Buddhism. In order to keep the foreign missionaries away, Edo Bakufu started closing the country and established the state of national isolation in 1640. After the revolt of "Shimabara-no-Ran" in1637, the Bakufu took another measure in 1640 to root out Catholics by making all the Japanese people Buddhist. Every person must be certified by the document that validates he/she is a believer of an authorized Buddhism Sect3*). The influence of this system of 17th century still remains in modern society of Japan. According to the statistics by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, the number of Buddhism believers are 85 million. That means that 67% of 127 million Japanese are Buddhist. It may seems that 67% to be not a big percentage, but an amazing thing is that the same statistics say there are 86 million Shinto believers. The total number of believers of Buddhism (85m) and Shinto (86m) is 1.3 times of Japanese population (127m)4).

The system, everyone must be a Buddhist, gave a preferential status to Buddhism through the Edo Shogun Era through 17th to 19 the centuries. But it is also true that this brought easiness and even laziness to Buddhism. When Edo Era was over and Meiji Era started, however, Buddhism got a strong attack from the nationalist who disliked the foreign religion of Buddhiism but loved only Japan’s original belief of Shintoism. This movement is explained in the page of Haguro Shrine.

Although it was not the incident in Sado, the revolt of Shimabara-no-ran in 1637-1638 was the biggest disaster to the history of Japanese Catholics. More than 20 thousand of farmers in Amakusa and Shimabara in Kyushu, many of them were Catholics, fought against Edo Bakufu Forces. After the revolt, Edo Bakufu exposed four heads of main figures in Nagasaki and more than ten thousand heads around Hara Castle where those farmers stationed and battled5).

Again it is not a Sado-thing, another disaster on Japanese Catholics in modern time is the atomic bomb on Nagasaki in August 9, 1945. Actually, the bomb did not hit the city center of Nagasaki. it was 2miles north of Nagasaski where Plutonium 239 bomb exploded. That was on the town of Urakami. Photo.15.4 shows the present site of the hypocenter of the bomb explosion. It is estimated that "8,500 of the 12,000 parishioners of Urakami Cathedral perished instantly"6)., while the total number of deaths was estimated 73,884 7) . In July 1945, four Japanese cities were selected as target of the atomic bombs. They were Hiroshima, Kokura, Nagasaki, and Niigata 8). The fourth city on the list Niigata is the capital of Niigata Prefecture that Sado belongs to.


Photo.15.4 Ground Zeror of Nagasaki Atomic Bomb (Not in Sado)