Abstract: This essay extracts religious and geographical information from a pre-modern Japanese population register in Nagasaki known as Hirado-chō ninbetsu seisho tadashi, compiled in the year of Kan’ei 19 (1642). This study reveals the patterns of Christian apostasy for individuals, as well as the trading environment and associated migrations in Nagasaki in the seventeenth century. In so doing, it also verifies and supplements what has been studied thus far about Nagasaki Christianity and foreign relations. This essay primarily takes a micro perspective of ordinary people and their lives as revealed through the population registers, and thereby reaches a profounder comprehension of Nagasaki, the frontier to a modern Japan.
Born in Nagasaki, Yokose Magouemon became a Christian from his childhood. He went to Edo in 1627, spent six years there, apostatized and became a Jōdō Buddhist. During the tenure of Soga Matasaemon (1633 ), he went back to Nagasaki and claimed his religious affiliation to Ōonji, a temple of the Jōdō sect. His parents were originally Chinese, who were captured by pirate and brought to Nagasaki, becoming Christians upon their arrivals. Because of his Christian history and his six-year experience in Edo, he was investigated by the ward officials, and was required to provide a guarantor with a certificate recorded by the community.
–Population Register of Nagasaki Hirado-chō
(Nagasaki Hirado-cho ninbetsu chō)
The above story was documented in a population record in Nagasaki’s Hirado-chō (a neighborhood in Nagasaki). Along with it, 225 other cases are collected in the same population register known as Hirado-chō ninbetsu seisho tadashi, compiled in the year of Kan’ei 19 (1642). This document presents a narrative of personal histories for every person registered. Each narrative follows a story-line including information such as (1) age and birthplace, (2) migration to Nagasaki, (3) time and place of baptism and apostate, (4) Buddhist sects and affiliated temple, (5) birthplace and migrations of parents, (6) parents’ religious history, and (7) time, place, and religious state upon the deaths of parents or their current locations if living.
Providing more than a demographic facade, this register reveals critical social and religious information on an individual level. However, only two articles by Japanese scholars feature the Hirado population registers thus far. Few studies in English have ever cited this population register, and even fewer have brought out the rich information it contains. This essay thus attempts to extract religious and geographical information from the Hirado-chō population register in order to examine the patterns of Christian apostasy for individuals, as well as the trading environment and associated migrations in Nagasaki in the seventeenth century.
Historians have a consensus that Japan had a “Christian Century” from 1549 to 1639. However, as the historian George Elison stated, the acceptance of Christianity in Japan was “a peculiar phenomenon of the disjointed polity of Sengoku.” After the establishment of the Tokugawa bakufu, the anti-Christianity policy by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) was extended. From 1633 to 1636, the bakufu issued four edicts prohibiting of the return of all Japanese nationals and ships abroad, as well as restricting on Portuguese traders and Christians. A final edict, which was issued in 1639 after the two-year Shimabara Rebellion, ended the Portuguese trade and all Japanese traffic with Catholic lands. These are known as the Sakoku Edicts, the policy of “closing the country”.
The records collected in 1642 are just a part of the preserved population registers in Nagasaki Hirodo-chō, collectively known as Hirado-chō ninjyu aratame no chō. Motivated by the same concerns as those behind the issuing of the Sakoku Edicts, the Tokugawa bakufu invented the shūmon aratame in 1638 as an anti-Christianity religious investigation system. It required each Japanese person to provide the local magistrate with proof of membership in a Buddhist temple and a seal of the local temple to attest to the absence of Christians in every household. The Hirado population register is one such local investigation documents. The existing files include records in 1634 (Kan’ei 11), 1635 (Kan’ei 12), 1637 (Kan’ei 14), 1641 (Kan’ei 18), 1642 (Kan’ei 19), 1651 (Kei’an 4), and 1659 (Manji 2). From the Shimbara Rebellion in 1637, the registers began to include age information as well, in addition to names (mostly of the head of the household and servants, as names of wives were excluded), relationships (parent-children, conjugal and servant relationships), and Buddhist sects and temples. However, only the records of 1642 contain personal narratives such as the ones as mentioned above.
In this essay, I will utilize extractable information especially from the documents of ninbetsu seisho tadashi of 1642, to verify or supplement what has been studied thus far about Nagasaki Christianity and foreign relations. In so doing, I will take a micro perspective of ordinary people and their lives as revealed through the population registers, and thereby reach a profounder comprehension of Nagasaki, the frontier to a modern Japan.
Due to its detailed migratory and familial information about Christian apostates, Hirado cho record resulted in its distinct structure as well. From the household unit, the immigration information could provide a picture of the contemporary religious atmosphere.
(1) Geography of Religion
Nagasaki Hirado-chō had a population intimately connected to Christianity: of the total 226 registered villagers, 121 used to be Christians, and 105 claimed to always have been Buddhists (the count only applied for those officially registered, and excluded their relatives mentioned in their statements). Among the local Nagasaki and Hirado people, only 30 claimed to be originally Buddhists, while the remaining 63 people were Christian apostates. In the case of Nagasaki immigrants, 40 of them became Christians after they moved to Nagasaki, 18 people had already been baptized before they came, and 19 gave up their Christian beliefs before their arrival in Nagasaki. As for Buddhism, 96 immigrants claimed originally to be Buddhist (Ganrai) and to have always remained in the same sect, while in eight cases of transitions between Buddhist sects and one case of a Korean woman who became a Jōdokyō Buddhist (Pure Land sect) upon her arrival in Hirado at the age of seven (she was the only Korean who was not a Christian). Apparently, Hirado was a ward featuring a relatively large immigrant population with an immigrant percentage of 61.5%, almost half of whom were Christians (apostates). Herein is revealed an intimate relationship between Nagasaki and the spread of Christianity in pre-modern Japan. When it came to the “closing period,” it was also among the core areas severely impacted, as reflected in the population registers.
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