Japan, better known for its Samurais and sushi, now have a total of 18 cultural and 4 natural sites according to 42nd session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. Over 100 people, including government officials and Christians celebrated with fireworks and traditional prayers at a museum on Ikitsuki Island in Nagasaki Prefecture. Japan was among 28 world heritage candidates in Bahrain and after 4 days of deliberation, their wait came to an end.
Christianity was introduced in Japan by Francis Xavier who was a missionary in the 16th century, in 1549. However, due to fear of colonization by the Christians and unification of Japan, the persecution of Christians began by the Japanese military leaders who were increasingly suspicious of Christianity’s growing influence. The crackdown on Christianity began in 1587.
The world heritage sites include: Oura Cathedral in Nagasaki, Sakitsu village and Hara castle. Oura cathedral is the oldest church in all of Japan and is considered a national treasure. At Oura in 1597, 17 Japanese and 9 European priests were killed through mass crucifixion, by the ruler at the time.
Hara castle remains, which are well known for the Shimabara – Amakusa rebellion, was the battlefield during the uprising when farmers who were Catholic rebels were massacred. Their leader was beheaded and the faith banned during the 17th to 19th centuries. There was a national policy of seclusion thereafter also known as Sakoku.
The village of Sakitsu in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture had a number of Christians who practiced their faith in secret. Across Nagasaki and Amakusa believers were persecuted and martyred under the Tokugawa Shogunate between 1603 – 1867.
India, Iran and South Korean sites were also named as the other 3 world heritage sites.
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By Caroline Kariuki