March 15, 2021

Japanese Catholicism and Its Saints

This week, Saint Patrick’s Day is being celebrated worldwide, including in Japan, where fifteen parades and Irish festivals occur this time every year. The paraders are all Japanese: step dancers, harp players, and cĂ©ilidh bands. While Japan is typically associated with Shintoism, the Catholic Church has a long history in that country, including their own Catholic saints.

 Indeed, Nagasaki was founded in the mid 16h century by Portuguese Catholics with the hope that it the city would become a significant Christian center for the Far East. The Japanese government first supported the missionaries because the potential for trade with Spain and Portugal, but by the end of the century, that same government became threatened by foreign influence and possible colonialism. Part of the way that the government responded was to ban Christianity and persecute Catholics. As a result, in Catholic history, Nagasaki became known for the 26 Catholics martyrs crucified there in 1597. One of the martyrs was the Jesuit priest Paul Miki, who was sainted; the day of the crucifixion became his feast day: February 6. Since then Catholicism has faced challenges in Japan, and finally experienced acceptance with about half a million practitioners. Nevertheless, in some Japanese circles, Catholicism is still viewed as a foreign religion.

 As for Tomoko, she served as an organist for the nearby Catholic cathedral while in college, and she converted to Catholicism just before she graduated. Tomoko’s experience at the cathedral was deeply artistic and visceral. “Both the Dominicans there and the whole Catholic mindset reflected international values of care and service,” she recalled. Catholics are worldwide and have universal values – as does music.


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