Nagasaki: Pilgrimage route traces formerly hidden Christian sites in Kyushu

The Yomiuri Shimbun

NAGASAKI — A tour route has been created for visiting the churches, villages and other facilities that make up the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site “Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region,” the Nagasaki prefectural government has announced.

The prefectural government planned the pilgrimage route to help people experience the charms of the World Heritage site in Nagasaki Prefecture.

The length of the pilgrimage is about 465 kilometers, which is about the same as the distance between Tokyo and Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, in a straight line. It is estimated to take 35 days to see all the sites.

“We hope to eventually make it one of Japan’s representative pilgrimage routes,” said a prefectural government official.

The pilgrimage starts at the Hirado Port Exchange Plaza in Hirado. Hirado is where Christian missionary work began in Nagasaki Prefecture in 1550 by Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary famous among Japanese people for introducing Christianity to Japan.

Pilgrims will see the island Nakaenoshima — revered as a holy place for hiding Christians as many were executed in the 17th century — and visit the Kuroshima settlement on Kuroshima island in Sasebo.

The route then crosses to the Goto Islands, where many Christians hid after escaping persecution.

Visitors will traverse the archipelago in a southern direction through several sites, including Kashiragashima village.

After arriving in Nagasaki City, travelers will visit Christian settlements in the Sotome district, and in Minami-Shimabara, visit the ruins of Hara Castle, where a historic rebellion took place in the 17th century led by a Christian named Amakusa Shiro.

The route then crosses to the Amakusa Islands in Kumamoto Prefecture before returning to Nagasaki City. The final stop is at Oura Cathedral in Nagasaki City, where, in 1865, a group of visitors confessed their faith to a French priest, which was hailed as a miracle as it told the world Christianity had survived in Japan despite 250 years of oppression.

Although the start and finish points are fixed, the pilgrimage route is divided into 35 sections ranging from 5 to 23 kilometers, and participants can start from any section.

Pilgrimage routes

Pilgrimage routes are located in various parts of the world, such as “Camino de Santiago” in Spain and Kumano Kodo in the Kii Peninsula, and are visited by many people. “The route passes through lush nature and includes many places important for the history of Christianity in Japan,” said a prefectural government official. “We hope people will use the route not only to understand the World Heritage sites, but also to seek personal healing and self-reflection.”