Observing Religion in Japan Through History

This timeline will be used as a tool to chronologically organize the phenomena we learn in class, and simultaneously provide historical context to see how the information fits into place and time. Note: Any sources that aren't from class readings or slides are listed, and the link is put in the "Find Out More" button.

The Jingi Cult

The Jingi cult does not have a clear history or origins, as some of the first known larger texts in Japan were the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. But there are some records of the Jingi having shrine practices, and having connections to the court and sometimes a higher social standing. Some interpret the Jingi as the origins of what would later be dubbed Shinto. Sources: Teeuwen and Breen reading

Japanese Christian Weddings

In modern-day Japan, Christian wedding ceremonies have become very popular. About 60-70% of Tokyo couples have a Christian wedding. This popularity has risen over the past few decades, along with a rising sympathy and empathy for Christians in general (although this is much less widespread). Source: LeFebvre article

Aum Shinrikyo

Aum Shinrikyo is a Buddhist sect started by Shoko Asahara. The History Channel describes this religion as, "Buddhism and yoga with apocalyptic Christian philosophy." The most devoted individuals would become "renunciates" and denounce the material world and lifestyle in search of higher meaning. These individuals would essentially devote their lives to Aum Shinrikyo. Sources: Murakami Underground Selections, History.com

Aum Shinrikyo Gas Attck

On March 20, 1995, sarin gas was released in a busy Tokyo subway station. It was the work of two members of the religious organization Aum Shinrikyo. Aum Shinrikyo was already suspected of a previous gas attach and a few murders. Some members were reportedly dumbfounded, and could not believe that such an event was done by Aum Shinrikyo. Others were still surprised, but less so based on their personal experiences with the organization. Sources: Murakami Underground Selections, History.com

3/11 Earthquake

On March 11, 2011 a 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of Japan. It caused a subsequent tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown, in addition to widespread death and destruction. Religious organizations were among the first to react, offering supplies, shelter, and support to those in need. The extent of religious charity after the 3/11 earthquake is often unrecognized by the masses. Source: McClaughlin "Religious Responses to the 2011 Earthquake in Japan"


A fumie is an item that typically depicts the Virgin Mary or Jesus. Citizens in Japan were required to step on it. It was used as a way to ensure that Christians had renounced their faith. Sources: Silence, slides in class

Christovao Ferreira

Christovao Ferreira was a Portuguese priest who went abroad to Japan in an attempt to spread Christianity. After establishing somewhat of a presence, he was captured and tortured by the Japanese government. He ended up apostasizing, and he was not the only one: other priests who had gone and would go to Japan also gave up their faith. Sources: "The Making of an Enterprise:The Society of Jesus in Portugal, Its Empire, and Beyond, 1540-1750" by Dauril Alden, Silence, slides in class

Francis Xavier

Francis Xavier was a European Jesuit priest. He went on a number of missionary trips to different countries, one of which was to Japan. He called them "the best people yet discovered" (Christianity Today) because he deemed them to have an intelligent, advanced culture, and the ability to be converted. He eventually figured that the best way to get Christianity into Japan was through China, but China did not allow foreigners so he died before he could do so. Source: Christianity Today

Persecution of Christians in Japan

Around the 17th century, the Japanese government wanted to unify Japan and reject foreign influence. They decided to attack Christianity, which had been introduced by European missionaries in the years before. Many, many Japanese Christians were punished and executed. In 2008, a ceremony was held to beatify 187 people who died during this time because of their Christianity. Sources: BBC News, slides in class

Kakure Kirishitan

In the 17th century, Japan's government persecuted Christians and outlawed the religion. Some Christians in Japan were able to keep their faith a secret and remain Christians, or "hidden Christians," Kakure Kirishitan. When the bans on Christianity were lifted, some of these Christians were able to come out of hiding and practice their faith again. Source: "Christianity in Contemporary Japanese Society" by Mark Mullins

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