Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki

Date of Submission: 30/01/2007
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan
State, Province or Region:
Nagasaki prefecture
Coordinates: N32 44 41 E129 52 25
Ref.: 5096

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Christianity was introduced in Japan by Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier in 1549 and spread rapidly in the western part of the nation. The Jesuits established their mission base in Nagasaki,where a port of foreign trade with Portugal was developed. The city of Nagasaki played an important role as a key base for the missionary work in Japan. Churches and Christian culture flourished here, and the Young Delegates of Tenshō set off from Nagasaki in 1582 for Europe, where they had an audience with the Pope. Their visit  conveyed a fact that Christianity had taken root in Japan. However, with the Tokugawa shogunate's anti-Christian policy which banned the religion, Christianity was severely suppressed, resulting in the revolt against the regime (Shimabara Uprising) in 1637. Christian historic sites that tell of this period of suppression have been preserved until today.

During the prohibition on Christianity, adherents moved to remote islets and islands where they passed down from generation to generation the traditions of baptism and orasho (derived from the Latin word oratio ["prayer"], orasho are the prayers and hymns originally taught by the Jesuit missionaries and passed down orally) and continued in their faith until the ban was lifted in the Meiji period (1868-1912). Nagasaki Prefecture and the surrounding area are home to many churches built after the long period of suppression. These churches are testimonies of the suppressed adherents' re-acquisition of religious freedom and its long process. These Christian churches are also considered as excellent examples of the quality structural design resulting from the fusion of the Western architectural techniques brought by the foreign priests and Japan's traditional architectural techniques. The churches form particular cultural landscapes, associated with distinctive natural settings surrounding them.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Most of the component features of the site have been designated as national or prefectural cultural properties and have been preserved in excellent condition under legal provisions. They are repaired and renovated as necessary at the advice of specialists. All the component features of the site have maintained their authenticity in every respect, including location, building material, technique, structure and use.

Regarding integrity, the context of the site has been fully substantiated, including the  component features of the site that tell today of the period of the suppression of Christianity in Japan and the various elements that show the rebirth of Christianity after the long hiding period.

Comparison with other similar properties

Similar properties to which the churches of Nagasaki should be compared include the Churches of Chiloé (Chile) and the Historic Centre of Macao (China) on the World Heritage List and the Wooden Churches of the Northern Part of the Carpathian Basin (Hungary) on the Tentative List of  the STATE PARTY concerned. The churches of Nagasaki in no way pale in value in comparison to these sites. In fact, the sites of Nagasaki churches are unique in the sense that  It  tells of the revival of Christianity after its long underground period.