Kakure Kirishitan

Japan’s “Hidden Christians,” converted through the missionary activity of St Francis Xavier (AD 1549) and separated completely from the mainline Catholic Church, hidden, subject to active persecution, carrying on in clandestine secrecy for generations — over three hundred years.

Their history has warranted an entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

And a Wikipedia entry.


Short summary with image of vintage placard

At initial conversion there were 150,000.

The KK remained hidden, operating in secret rooms, until 1865 when a group of Christians announced their faith in public.

Perversions in doctrine

The KK remained faithful but as they became further removed, through generations, there were changes to their faith. It has been written that in time the meaning of the original prayers (in Latin) became forgotten so that they were just sound-recitations, incantations … and the central rite of the KK became a service involving cupping a a small, cuplike dish of rice. The was a question of clergy — there were priests among the first group. Did they have bishops among them to ordain future priests? What was their role in the hidden community?

Reunion in the Nineteenth Century

Catholic priests were admitted to Japan hundreds of years later, in the 1860s.

Some KK recognized it as the Church (after grilling the visiting priest on his doctrine!) and, thus satisfied, willingly joined their separated brethren, shedding all of the doctrinal errors that these years of isolation brought. On March 17, 1865, Father Bernard Petitjean was approached by the KK, who until then were unknown to the world.

Other KK did not recognize it and remained in secret. Some may exist today.

KK Today

Mr. Taniyama is the head of a KK household who has decided not to pass the faith down to his children; Mr. Fukumoto’s parents and family were KK but joined the public Church [tolaf.edu/depts/asian-studies/projects/kakurekirishitan/ikitsukipics.html">story with photos (scroll down)]

News story, “Young Japanese on a pilgrimage to find the roots of the nation’s Catholicism“ (2006)

Subject of a paper, “Kirishitan and Today” [pdf] by Shusaku Endo. [to-find.html">more]

Fr. Peter Milward (b. 1925), Shakespearean expert, Jesuit scholar, has resided in Japan and written on the Kakure [more]


Some exist at the Ikitsuki museum, Island of Ikitsuki, Japan. [tolaf.edu/depts/asian-studies/projects/kakurekirishitan/ikitsukipics.html">photos and tour]


The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan: A Study of Their Development, Beliefs and Rituals to the Present Day by Stephen Turnbull (RoutledgeCurzon 1998) is the first major illlustrated work to document and describe the KK

Christal Whelan, The Beginning of Heaven and Earth: The Sacred Book of Japan’s Hidden Christians (University of Hawai’i Press, 1996)
[available on sale for cheap on amazon]

Modern documentaries

Several documentaries exist.

Brendan Eagan’s Web Photo-documentary

tolaf.edu/depts/asian-studies/projects/kakurekirishitan/index.html">Photo-Documentary of Christian history in Japan with Concentration on Hidden Christians by Brendan Eagan (2006) contains an eight-minute preview video, hundreds of photograhps, and long transcriptions. Worth viewing


New documentary film on the KK by Christal Whelan: Otaiya: Japan’s Hidden Christians (34 min)


For further reference

First published on January 12th, 2009 at 8:40 pm (EST) and last modified on March 6th, 2009 at 1:32 pm (EST).