The Shimabara Revolt

The Tokugawa Shogunate, also known as the Edo Period, lasted until 1867. Edo (later renamed Tokyo) became the capital city and the seat of power for the Tokugawa Shoguns. Similar to China and Thailand, Japan cut off all trade with the rest of the world. They only traded with the Dutch through the Chinese and only through the city of Nagasaki. Travel outside of Japan was outlawed and punishable by death. Movement within Japan was also strictly controlled. Travel checkpoints were established throughout the country, and people had to have government permission and passports to travel through cities and checkpoints. Christianity was outlawed, and Christians were forced to renounce their religion or face execution, often in the form of crucifixion.

Read this paper on the Shimabara Revolt. Why do you think the Tokugawa government had such strict laws that restricted contact with the outside world?

Abstract: The spread of Christianity in Japan brought negative impact to the government and people of Japan. It was started in 1549 when the Government considered Christianity as negative religion due to aggressive priests who destroyed Shinto and Buddhist shrines. Their acts had made military government (bakufu) to ban Christianity movement in Japan and sentenced Christian people and priests to death.

The political and economic instability in the people and the rejection of bakufu to Christianity movement had trigger ed a rebellion in Shimabara. The revolt of Shimabara was actually not based on religion sentiment, but the action to quell the rebellion had killed most Christians in Japan, while the remaining Christians in Japan formed kakurekirishitan (Silent Christian). Based on series of event, the research was focused on the policy made by bakufu to prohibit the Christianity in Japan.


The victory of Tokugawa Ieyasu in Sekigahara war in 1600 ended domestic war periods in Japan and brought the new era, Edo Era. Ieyasu formed a new administrative named bakufu, or a military base administration where a shogun was appointed as head of state administration, daimyō ruled as regional leader, and samurai worked as bureaucrat, city security force, tax collector, etc. In the early years of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan still had trade with other countries; even Ieyasu supported the international trade. Japan, since Oda Nobunaga era, had established trade relation with Europe (especially Portuguese), South East Asia, Korea and China. Ieyasu maintained the trade by bringing Dutch and England as trade partners.

Another Hideyoshi policy implemented by Ieyasu was to prohibit daimyō not to embrace Christianity. They were afraid that Christians in Japan may form sect and revolt against bakufu. Tokugawa strengthened the policy in 1614 by prohibiting Japanese to embrace Christianity and would be punished if they violated the law. On the next year, the regulation is strengthened by obligation for Christians to convert their faith or exiled from Japan. In 1622, Tokugawa started to take hard action against Christians in Japan, started by executing 55 Christians in Nagasaki. A year later, Tokugawa Iemitsu, in 1623, executed another 50 Christians. He also issued reward for people who reported the presence of Christians to the authorities, and also punishment for village leaders, families, and whole clan who provided sanctuary for Christians. The death sentence punishment for violators had triggered revolt in Shimabara, a Christian populated region.

Some researches on Shimabara revolt in Edo era are focused on the execution of Japanese Christian. Some also specifically discussed about Tokugawa policy and Shimabararevolt. Matthew E. Keith of Ohio State University, in his thesis "The Logistics of Power: Tokugawa Response to the Shimabara Rebellion and Power Projection in Seventeenth - Century Japan" described Tokugawa ability to demonstrate his power in politics and military, through deploying Japanese soldier to destroy enemy whom also Japanese, including his ability to maintain dynasty for 200 years.

Another research was in The Gettysburg Historical Journal Vol. 15 titled "The Desperate Rebels of Shimabara: The Economic and Political Persecutions and the Tradition of Peasant Revolt" written by Jake A. Farias of Gettysburg College. The article also described connection between Christians rejection on Tokugawa policy and revolt tradition conducted by peasants in Tokugawa era. The next research was "State Growth and Popular Protest in Tokugawa Japan" by James W. White and published at The Journal of Japanese Studies from the Society for Japanese Studies. The article described Japan's development in Tokugawa era and some emerged revolts in the era. Based on previous researches, focusing only on Shimabara revolt or Tokugawa reign only, authors are interested to connect these two historical events in Japan an d exploring political and economy policy implemented in the related period. The research method was document research. Authors used data collected from books, journals and history papers at library of University of Indonesia, Google Scholar, ProQuest, and JSTOR.

Jesuit in Japan

Scientific researches and books on the related topics agreed that Christianity was first introduced by a Jesuit 1 named Fransisco Xavier (1506 – 1552) from Portuguese and followed by another two Jesuit named Cosme de Torrès (1510 – 1570) and Juan Fernandez on Kagoshima in 1549. Hesselink, in his book, " The Dream of Christian Nagasaki " (2016) stated that their main purpose was actually to use Japan as dropping point and training ground for other Jesuits before they headed to China. Fernandez and Torrès stayed in Japan, while Xavier continued his journey to China in 1551. Based on their report, for ten years they have preached on the street of Kagoshima, Yamaguchi, and Kyoto asking Japanese to embrace Christianity. They did not manage to achieve the target. In 1560s they found suitable work that may became entry point for them to get inside the Japanese daily life: trade middleman or mediator between Portuguese and Japan. Although they have limited ability to speak Japan, they have played key role that could not be replaced by anyone at the time in Japan.

In Historia, a history book written by a Jesuit named Luis Fróis during his mission in Japan; they started to find safe port for their carrack ship after they have retained trust from local society. The ship is used to bring trade merchandises. People of Japan at the time seemed to have familiar with carrack ship, because they called it kurofune, means black ship. People also called Portuguese as namban, means barbarians from south. The word namban actually was rooted from Chinese 'nanman' to describe people in South East Asia. The word then used by Japanese to describe European people, especially Portuguese who landed in Japan after their sails from their colony in South East Asia in 1543. The Jesuit first selected Hirado before they moved places to Kagoshima, Tanegashima and Utsuki. Hirado was led by a daimyō named MatsuraTakanobu.

The presence of Jesuit and Portuguese traders in Hirado were not long, just for few months, before they were ordered to leave Hirado due to aggressive Jesuitstancein teaching Christianity. They damaged and destroyed Buddhist statues and shrines. Fróis stated that, they actually prepared secondary plan for the situation, where Jesuithadmapped some suitable spots for carrack. The next place selected for Jesuitbase was Yokoseura in Ōmura area. They were welcomed in Omura and the first daimyo in Ōmura, Ōmura Sumitada, was even baptized using Dom Bartolommeo as his baptized name in 1563. It happened just a few months after Jesuit arrived at Ōmura, around July 1562 (the actual date of Sumitada baptism was still unknown; Fróis also did not mention the exact date). Some experts had different opinion on why Sumitada decided to embrace Christianity.

James Murdoch, in his book, A History o f Japan: during t he Century of Early Foreign Intercourse quoted history record of Japan written by Pierre François Xavier de Cha revoix, "Sumitada found a book written by Gaspar Vilela (a second most senior Jesuit for mission in Japan after Torrès) describing Christianity in detail and comprehensive, which urged him to meet these religious experts from Europe. He also ordered member s of his counselor to provide advantages for Portuguese ships, so they would harbor in his region, including residences for their religious experts". Murdoch also explained that this behavior explained Sumitada real target was to limit Portuguese activities in Japan so other could not daimyō get access to firearms.

On the other side, Fróis stated that, Jesuitand European called Sumitada as "person enlightened by God" due to his decision to embrace Christianity. Murdoch seemed to use primary resources from Japanese documents while Hesselink focused on Jesuit records. In 1562, Omura clan was attacked by Goto clan due to conflict of heritage. Sumitada was focused on defending his territory when Japanese traders from Bungo seek opportunity to destroy Yokoseura, a city controlled by Portuguese traders. Sumitada was almost defeated by Takaakira, but managed to flee quietly, when he was declared killed in war. In Yokoseura, traders fr om Bungoburned down the city and arrested Torrès and Fróis for three days before traders decided to release them.


The destroyed Yokoseura had forced Jesuit in Japan seek for new ports and residences for Portuguese ships. The n ext site was Nagasaki bay, as stipulated in a letter written by Miguel Vaz at 8 October 1571 for senior Jesuit in Europe: "Ship nao was harbored on schedule, escorted by a junk, ay new harbor in Dom Bartholomew area, known as Nangraisaqui (Nagasaki). This year, a new residence area was established near the harbor to provide settlement for homeless Christians". High priest Cerqueira described Nagasaki in early years of Portuguese arrival as an area without proper land for rice cultivation, no grass for cattle, no well for drinking water, no river to wash clothes, no wood for log, and no stone for building.

However, Portuguese and Christian Japanese built new settlement for themselves in form of six blocks houses on three parallel roads. Most residents are Christian traders from Hirado, Yokoseura, Ōmura and Shimabara. These traders became the backbone of Nagasaki development aside of Portuguese traders. Hesselink also stated that there were key roles played by traders from Arima in supporting difficult early years of Nagasaki, although without cleared explanation. Fall 1579 was crucial point for Jesuit activities in Japan, because Sumitada offered right to manage Nagasaki to Jesuit. The offer was certainly too good to be refused, however adjustments had to be made because Jesuits were not allowed to keep personal possession.

Based on Historia written by Fróis, in October 1580, Nagasaki was controlled by Jesuit, with adjustment in city management related to regulation in Jesuitorganization. They are allowed to issue local regulation and received some of the collected tax from harbor activities as part of agreement with Sumitada. The official ruler of Nagasaki was still Sumitada, as ruler of Ōmura who owned Nagasaki harbor. Ōmura, Arima, and Nagasaki in 1585 were controlled by daimyō of Satsuma, Shimazu Yoshihisa, for his success in defeating Ryūzōji Takanobu, daimyō of Saga who failed to conquer Arima region.

ToyotomiHideyoshi Plan

On 1 December 1585, a senior Jesuit Gaspar Coelho who had resided in Nagasaki since 1574, planned to meet Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Yoshihisa had tried to forbid the plan but Coelho still tried to hold a meeting on 6 March 1586, the 16th day of the first moon in Japan's calendar. It was a traditional ceremonial day to visit and celebrate New Year with superior leader. Coelho managed to leave Nagasaki on 4 May 1586 and met Hideyoshi at Ōsaka Castle. Coelho came along with more than thirty people as members of Jesuit, Japanese priests, dōjuku, youth community serving Jesuit, and Fróis as translator. Hideyoshi introduced himself and hoped Jesuitwould help his ambition by providing two armored vessels with full crews, to unite d Japan by conquering Satsuma, conquering Korea and finally China. Hideyoshipromisedthat his people would embrace Christianity and build many churches as return of Portuguese favor after conquering China. Coelho agreed the term and promised to help Hideyoshi conquering Satsuma and sent two armed vessels requested. Coelho started to question Hideyoshi trust when he received two decrees dated 24 and 25 July 1587.

The first decree contained tight regulations for Japanese who wished to embrace Christianity, especially daimyō. The second Decree was an order for Jesuittoleave Japan within twenty days after they received this Decree, or punished like a criminal. Coelho was shocked but had to obey the Decree. Coelho asked for a plea to Hideyoshi, as there was only one Portuguese ship available at the time and it took six months to had another ship arrived. Hideyoshi agreed the term but ordered Jesuit and Christian Japanese to leave with their ships from Hirado. Besides that, there were additional rules on the closure of churches and buildings owned by Jesuit and Christian Japanese must convert their religion or face seclusion or executed. If we looked on all Decrees issued, Hideyoshi still allowed Portuguese to make trade in Japan.

Hideyoshi appreciated international trades, but he wanted to separate religion and trade affair. The intention to separate religion and trade affair grew stronger when he found out that Jesuit was involved in Japanese slave trading committed by Portuguese. By the end of July 1587, Coelho asked 120 Jesuit priests to meet. They agreed tostayin Japan secretly and lived in area controlled by daimyō Arima and Ōmura who offered silence. There were only three priests who left Japan. A year later, in 1588, Hideyoshi sent two men to Nagasaki, Toda Katsutaka and Asano Nagayoshi during summer (trading season). As representative of Hideyoshi in Nagasaki, they also announced that Nagasaki was now part of tenryō (Hideyoshi personal territory). Hideyoshi then appointed Terazawa Hirotaka, a daimyō from Karatsu, as bugyō (governor) in 1592.

Hideyoshi executed 26 Japanese Christians as a move against Christianity in 1597. The reason behind the execution was not Jesuit, but Pedro Blásquez, a Fransiscan from Philippine who claimed possessions in the shipwrecked at Shikoku in 1596 as his group's treasure. The reason was because the ship sailed from Manila and Hideyoshi decided to take all items left in the shipwrecked. Hideyoshi was furious and stated that he heard that priest was poor people, now he met a priest who claimed such a big wealth. He suspected Christian priests were involved in illegal business. They were imprisoned and executed in the next year. Once executed, they were crucified at the slope of mount Tateyama, west of Nagasaki bay. The incident had made eleven Jesuit (out of 125 people at the time) left Japan and around 120 out of hundreds of churches were burned down in Japan.

Tokugawa Reign

In 1600, a new Japan's ruler was crowned. He was Tokugawa Ieyasu, former daimyō in Hideyoshi era and he was one of five entrusted daimyō to guard Hideyoshi's heir, Toyotomi Hideyori. Ieyasu wanted to rule Japan and consider Hideyori as obstacle, so he decided to leave his role as guardian of heir. The conflict was written as the end of Japan's civil war and marked by Sekigahara war, won by Ieyasu. Ieyasu, in trade affair, show ed great interest and support international trade. His first policy in international trade was to send emissaries with mission to buy as many silk as possible before being bought by other traders. These emissaries also worked as intelligence unit watching Jesuit activity and Nagasaki. The second assignment showed Ieyasu policy in monitoring Christianity in Japan. During his early years, Ieyasu was busy administering his territory. Jesuit took the opportunity of this situation to spread Christianity for the first six years of Ieyasu reign. Ieyasu decided to ban Christianity in Japan through a Decree issued in 1614. Murdoch (1903), Boxer (1967) and Hesselink (2016) stated that, there were three incide nts involving Christian communities as reason for Ieyasu Decree.

The first incident was Okamoto Daihachi incident in 1612, involving daimyō Arima, Harunobu and Okamoto Daihachi (follower of Honda Masazumi, secretary of Ieyasu). Harunobu wanted to regain control of his former area which currently controlled by a daimyō of Hirado during civil war. Harunobu set a wedding between his son, Naozumi, and granddaughter of Ieyasu, named Senhime. Ieaysu did not know that Naozumi actually has been married before. On the other side, Harunobu bribed Okamoto Daihachi to create document on behalf of Ieyasu, but failed. The skim was caught when Naozumi reported to Hasegawa Sahyōe (bugyō Nagasaki) the enemy of Arima clan.

The impact was Harunobu was ordered t o commit seppuku in 1613, Naozumi was exiled to Hyuga in 1614 and Okamoto Daihachi was burned alive. The second incident was Okubo incident, involving Okubo Nagayasu, an actor of Nō who sent proposal to increase the outcome of gold and silver mining, for daimyo position. He was elected as daimyō of Hachioji and as promised, he successfully increased the outcome of the mining. Unfortunately, he misused his position to falsify financial report and corruption. The incident was revealed after his 24 mistresses complained not being inherited with gold as Okubo promised before he died in 1613. There was another issue where Ieyasu believed that Okubo cooperated with Jesuithelping Christians against bakufu. Ieyasu ordered death sentence to children of Okubo and Ieyasu seized all Okubo treasures.

The third incident was Jirōbyōe incident. Based on letter written by Hasegawa Sahyōe to Gabriel de Matos, principal of Miyako school whom also leader of priests in the Capital, Ieyasu was furious when he saw Christians praying in front of cross before being executed on 22 December 1613. Jirōbyōe was known as counterfeit money maker and he was a Christian. He was caught carrying silver bars without official papers on ship to Kyūshū. Ieyasu executed all criminals on public places to warn the Japane se people not to violate the law. Jirōbyōe, as Christian, was crucified and stabbed at his heart. After Jirōbyōe was executed, other Christians were down on their knees in front of Jirōbyōe cross and prayed may God forgive him and keep his soul. Sahyōe wrote in a letter: Ieyasu thought 'Christianity was a religion worshiping criminals, law breakers, thief and other sinners who were crucified, a religion from evil ; very dangerous and horrifying'.

Based on Jirōbyōe incident, Ieyasu issued a Decree to prohibit Christianity in Japan. The Decree stated that all priests should leave Japan, closed and burned Churches, prohibit Japanese to embrace Christianity, crucified and torture Japanese Christian unless they returned to their original religion. Ieyasu also issued articles on how Buddhist monks should act to guard their teachings On 7 and 8 November 1614 two ships carried priests to Manila and Macau. However, after six miles at the sea and when all soldiers have left the harbor, some priests and dojuku returned to harbor using small boats. In next year, many priests returned to Japan in undercover mode.

Tokugawa Hidetada, the eldest son of Ieyasu was e lected as shogun in 1605, and resume full power after Ieyasu passed away in 1 June 1616. On September 1616 Hidetada issued a Decree to prohibit all Christian priests in Japan without exception. Daimyō and their families are not allowed to employ Christian as staff or provide safe haven for Christians. In 1618 Hidetada issued additional Decree where people are not allowed to keep any materials symbolizing Christianity or they would be prosecuted. Moreover, Gonroku (bugyo of Nagasaki) and SuetsuguHeizō held searching every house in Nagasaki. The house owner must sign a pact that if they found Christian priest hiding in the house, he and his family will be burned alive, all of his treasure will be confiscated and the entire kumi will be beheaded. Mass execution of Christian priests was held in Nagasaki at 19 August 1622 (15 people) and in 10 September 1622 (55 Christians where 25 of them were priests being burned alive and 30 Japanese Christians were beheaded). The execution in summer time was conducted to intimidate people of Nagasaki and also to show the law to foreigner who lived and traded in Nagasaki.

Hidetada resign from his title as shogun in 1623 and replaced by his son Iemitsu. Hidetada ruled until he passed away in 1632. Once Iemitsu resumed power as shogun, he ordered complete check on every harboring ship in Nagasaki bay. All ships were not allowed to harbor in Nagasaki before they were checked. It was conducted because ships on Nagasaki - Philippines route were not treated the same as ships o n Nagasaki - Macau routes, so Christian priests could come to Japan disguising as Spanish traders. On the other side, Iemitsu also issued policy against Christianity in Japan by executing 87 Christians in Dec ember 1623. In 1625, he ordered to register all people who lived in cities and prohibit Portuguese traders to make contact with Japanese Christian. Portuguese ship should have list of crews on board and the list was approved by city administration and colony leader. Another pol icy was to prohibit Japanese people traveling far (maximum a mile from their residence) unless they were registered in the local Buddhist shrine (teraukeseido). The registration process was conducted by asking the person to step on Christianity symbol ( fumi-e ) which was made of wood or copper as symbol of loyalty to Tokugawa, before signing their identity in a certificate.

In 1626, situation in Nagasaki got worse when new bugyo Mizuno Morinobu, replacing Gonroku, tortured local Christians who refused to leave their Christianity. It was continued by the next bugyo, Takenaka Shigeyoshi, until the log book of local Buddhist shrine in Nagasaki recorded all Christians have left their religion. He also implemented fumi - e ritual in Nagasaki to ensure no Christians left. Tokugawa Iemitsu also re - announced Decree issued by Hidetada at 23 June 1634 to prevent Christianity in Japan. Iemitsu stated that Christian priests were not allowed to land in Japan a nd prohibit Japanese to leave abroad on any reason.


Shimabara Revolt

Shimabara revolt was known as a revolt conducted by low and middle class society in Shimabara peninsula. It was still subject to be debated for historians in Japan and Europe on cause of the revolt and relation to Christianity in Japan. Joseph Sebes, a hisotrian, stated that the revolt was caused by anti - Christian policy where there were death punishment and tortures issued by bakufu. The policy made Christian community in Japan under threat, including people who were forced to convert their religion decided to revolt against daimyō in their region. Another opinion was struggling 'tradition' from peasants against daimyō, to fight against high tax and injustice. Two articles written by Ōhashi Yukihiro and Jake Farias stipulated many events caused the revolt including people's discontent on the daimyō which only wait for an event to trigger the revolt. Farias stated that the revolt was " the final way to express the desperate feeling of the people, pushed by the economy condition and united by marked general culture, Japanese Christian".

Some events causing Shimabara revolt were based on condition in Shimabara and Amakusa where most residents there were Christian. Daimyō set high tax to finance soldiers to oppress Christians in their region and building castles after the policy of ikkokuichijō (one castle per province). The tax rose annually, especially in Shimabara, after the new daimyo MatsukuraKatsuie replaced his father MatsukuraShigemasa who passed away in 1630. He kept collecting high tax despite unsteady condition in his area. He punished peasants who could not pay tax by torturing and executed them.

The poor economic condition and anti - Christian policy were baseline for revolt. Peasants finally revolted against daimyo when they heard news of the girl of a family was executed because her parents could not pay tax, at a village located south of Shimabara on 11 December 1637. The angry peasants murdered local court administration and his 30 staffs. A few days later, peasants gathered forces and attacked Shimabara castle, murdered people inside the castle, stole weapons (Katsuie was in Edo when the attack happened) and claimed Shimabara was under peasant's control.

Left: Map of Kyushu Island: The map is showing the whole of Kyushu island, with main prefectural cities ( ★ ) and borders of prefectures (separated with redlines). I added the yellow box, which roughly frames the area affected of the uprising. The orange arrow points to the Shimabara Peninsula, where the final showdown took place. - rebellion/ accessed, 15 July 2018

Right: Map of the besieged Hara Castle From the image one can see that the geography of the fortifications held by the rebels sticks out to the sea, the end of it being a steep cliff as well as a natural defense line. The sturdy fort, when attacked from the open sea though seemed vulnerable and good for cannon fodder – a maneuver the shogunate troops would undertake with the aid of the Dutch. - rebellion/ accessed, 15 July 2 Once information of Shimabara revolt spread, Amakusa people started the revolt on similar reasons, injustice of daimyō TerazawaKatataka.

Once they had finished with their business, peasants, trader, craftsman andrōnin in Amakusa joined the revolt in Shimabara for similar condition. The joint forces of Amakusa and Shimabara people controlled Hara castle (empty castle, resident of Shigemasa before moved to Shimabara castle) located at sea border of southern Arima. They then selected Amakusa Shirō as leader and started using flag with Christianity symbol. Bakufu sent armies from Edo and some daimyō in Hizen province to quell the revolt. They stroke twice against Hara castle on 3 and 14 February. Both attack failed with thousands soldier were killed on bakufu side. MatsudairaNobutsuna led the third strike with help from Dutch soldiers, by holding blockade and attacked supply to Hara castle. Once rebels did not have enough supply at Hara castle, they stopped the revolt on 15 April 1638, with major casualties in the re vel side while only few managed to escape. After the revolt, shogun issued regulations forcing all Europeans to leave Japan, unless the Dutch who were allowed to trade in Dejima island. Christianity was considered as religion teaching violence, chaos and anti - government. There were also pamphlets on reward for those who could find Christians in Japan. In 1640, to ensure the extinction of Christians in Japan, bakufu held an agency to seek and punish Japanese Chr istians. The situation had made Japanese Christian to quietly prayed and worshiped in hidden place to avoid death penalty, and it was known as kakurekirishitan.


Shimabara revolt was an incident not triggered by religion issue, but the impact of the revolt became reason for shogun perspective over Christianity in Japan. The bad image of Christianity had started since Jesuit visited Japan and destroying Shinto and Buddhist shrines as means to teach Christianity. The negative persp ective was started in Toyotomi Hideyoshi era until Tokugawa Ieyasu, who oppressed the spread of Christianity in Japan. The second Tokugawa shogun, Hidetada, started to "hunt" Christians and persecuted them for their faith rejecting Shinto or Buddha. The situation got worse when Iemitsu ruled as shogun, where he executed 55 priests and Christians in 1622. Stability started to appear, politically and economically, after Shimabara revolt.

There was no centralized administration before Tokugawa Iemitsu era, where the system allowed daimyō to administer their region (sankinkōtai). The trade, especially international trade started to be controlled directly by government in Dejima Island. It was different than the era before where European traders may enter a designated city and the y were free to trade in the city. It could be analyzed that the "eradication" of Christian community and European activity in mainland of Japan was about trade monopoly and their ability to overthrow Tokugawa reign. Shimabara rev olt was considered as revolt made by Christian community because the propaganda was designed by Tokugawa reign to maintain his power and supported by majority Japanese who shared similar perspective.

Source: Joshua Glenn Brown; I Ketut Surajaya,
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