A short summary of Francis Xavier and Christianity in Japan

Not a bad summary I found of Francis Xavier and Christianity in Japan.

Francis Xavier, a founder of the Society of Jesus, arrived in Japan in 1549, inaugurating a century of Catholic Christian missionary activity in that country. After enjoying enormous success, Christians suffered brutal persecution and were almost eliminated a century later.

Japan was ruled by warring feudal lords in the mid-16th century who sought to wrest power from the failing Ashikaga Shogunate. These lords eagerly welcomed the newly arrived Portuguese to their domains in order to purchase European firearms.

Observing the respect the Portuguese merchants showed toward Catholic priests, many Japanese lords converted to the new faith and ordered their subjects to convert also. Some Japanese even mistakenly thought that Christianity was a variant form of Buddhism. Jesuit missionaries came under the protection of the Portuguese Crown and were soon joined by the Franciscans, who came via Spain’s colony the Philippines and were under the protection of Spain.

The southern island of Kyushu as well as the imperial capital Kyoto became centers of Christian missionary activity. Japan became the most successful area of Christian conversion in Asia. By 1582, an estimated 150,000 had become Christians, with the number rising to 300,000 by the century’s end, and 500,000 at its height in 1615.




Christian missionaries were welcomed as allies by Japan’s first aspiring unifier, Oda Nobunaga (1534–82), in his military confrontation with powerful Buddhist sects. Oda destroyed his formidable Buddhist opponents and their castles, but was assassinated. He was followed by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536–98), who continued the wars of unification.

Hideyoshi was ambivalent toward Westerners, on the one hand welcoming their trade. He also feared their influence, both the authority of the pope and Spain’s colonial ambitions, which had made the Philippines a colony. Thus he banned all missionary activities in 1587, but did not enforce the law until 1597, when he ordered nine missionaries and 17 Japanese Christians executed.

Hideyoshi died in 1598. Another succession struggle ensued until another nobleman, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616), won a definitive battle in 1603, after which he was confirmed shogun by the emperor, thus inaugurating the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1868).

The newly victorious and as yet insecure Tokugawa Ieyasu regarded Christians as potentially subversive and began to move against them in 1606. His son and successor continued his policies, expelling missionaries and ordering noblemen and ordinary people in his domain to renounce Christianity; he went so far as to execute those who remained Christian clandestinely.

The shogunate then forced all lords throughout Japan to conform to anti-Christian laws. Suspected Christians were forced to trample on the cross or other Christian symbols while those who refused were tortured to death.

Persecution climaxed in 1637–38 when oppressed Christian peasants revolted in western Kyushu. They were put down and slaughtered. A law in 1640 compelled all Japanese to register at a local Buddhist temple. Christianity was wiped out in Japan except for a few small underground communities.

The Catholic Church recognized 3,125 Japanese martyrs between 1597 and 1660, several of whom were beatified by Pope John Paul II. The Tokugawa Shogunate enacted other laws that banned trade with Europeans except for two Dutch ships annually and took other measures that almost totally isolated Japan from the Western world until 1854.

Thus between 1549 and 1640, Japan presented the paradoxical picture of success and then total prohibition of the Christian missionary movement.

Source – Kumo


  1. The KUMO source is incomplete in the historic perspective of Japan :
    “There is a historical basic fact which was omitted in this historic perspective on Shoguns’ cleansing of Portuguese Christian missionaries by even crucifying them and by banishing and imprisoning them in an island near Nagasaki.

    They also found out the origin of their arrival. It happened to be Philippines and they broke relationship with that country warning them that the ships that bring Christian missionaries would be burnt and the ship’s crew as well.”

    This happened in 1603 when Shogunate took the reign as you rightly pointed out.

    Do you mean to say that without valid reason they massacred Christian missionaries ?

    No ! Never ! After Francis Xavier’s failed mission in selling Christianity in Nippon he returned to India in 1500 – 01. He succeeded in India attained sainthood later. Portuguese came in the guise of traders colonised India to start with followed by Dutch, French and English entering as traders as their fellow Europeans.

    As you rightly pointed out unsuspecting Japanese permitted Christian missionaries to convert thinking that it is a part of Buddhism.

    When and where the mischief started ? When these Portuguese strongly opposed Shogun from becoming King, to the misfortune of Portuguese Missionaries Shogun became the Monarchy.

    Is not natural on the part of Shogun to direct a question to himself “Who these mischief mongers are?” “What they have been doing in Nippon all these years ?”

    To his shock and surprise he found the origin of interference in the internal affairs and politics of their country, to be the Portuguese Christian Missionaries.

    Please tell me what is wrong ? Had it not happened Japan would have been a colony of Europeans like India and other Asian nation.

    Should you not be proud of Shoguns for their patriotism that saved the
    dignity of Japan ? Yes ! Be Proud as a Japanese !

    As I said earlier, “modus opurandi” of these Europeans to subjugate the Asian Nations, they followed different methods . Conversions – trade – rule -subjugate – swindle the wealth and destroy the culture of the colonised nation. Thanks to far sighted vision of Shoguns Japan was saved.

    Japan and China resisted and Thailand escaped from the onslaught of Colonialisation by Europeans.

    Unlike Japan, Chinese Emperor put strict restrictions on the British traders and allowed them . What they did ? The abin drug used in China and India for medicinal purposes the British trades made the innocent Chinese to become addicted to Abin. When Emperor found out he passed death sentence all the British trades. The infamous “Abin War” was foisted on China by the shameless British in the name of the criminal trades being their citizens.

    They also use 10000 Indian slaves to attack China. The result of the long drawn war we all know.

    Do you know why Nagasaki was selected besides Hiroshima for Atomic bombing ?

    It was in an islet near Nagasaki Shogun King banished the Portuguese Missionaries including women and Children and imprisoned them.

    They remember history ! Why should we not ?


  2. Unfortunately you got one minor detail wrong… Francis Xavier was not the saint who founded the Jesuits, it was St. Ignatius of Loyola….a close friend of Francis, and really the person who most influenced him in the spiritual life.


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