Japan, Christians, Genocide 1500-1600's: Blood and Soil

The Portuguese Catholic brothers brought Christianity to Japan, and a large group had converted by the 1500's when Japan decided it needed more land and headed west to Korea. There were Christian warriors among the invasion force and their behavior was indistinguishable from non-Christian Japanese forces, as Ben Kiernan recounts it in Blood and Soil.

About 150,000 Japanese troops landed in Korea in May-June 1592, spearheaded by the Christian daimyo Konishi Yukinaga and his division of 18,000 coreligionists. They soon found the walls of Korea's three southern fortresses “so low that defenders on the top were inundated by enemy shot and arrows and had to creep around on their knees to avoid being hit.”
The Japanese tried to wipe out he Korean forces, and massacres proliferated. The Japanese took Pusan in a few hours on May 25. They took 8,000 heads, putting “every one who showed a sign of resistance to the edge of the sword.” Two days later, Konishi attacked Tongnae, defended by 20,000 Korean troops. At a cost of 100 Japanese killed, he “filled the fosse with five thousand dead.” The next day a 20,800-strong division, commanded by Buddhist daimyo Kato Kiyomasa, landed at Pusan. On May 31, Kato took Kong-ju, “putting three thousand Koreans to the sword.” On the same day a third division of 12,000, under the Christian daimyo Kuroda, attacked Kimhae, “inflicting terrific damage on the enmy” and killing thousands more at Seishiu. Pushing north in early June, Konishi's forcees killed another 3,000-8,000 Korean troops in the Choryong pass...Three Japanese divisions had killed 15,000-20,000 Korean soldiers in three weeks. (125-6)
Those buried in Hideyoshi's Mimizuka represented just a fraction of the estimated 100,000-200,000 noses cut from Korean victims and sent to Japan in 1597-98. Many went to establish local “ear-mounds,” which can still be found in northern Kyushu. A Japanses general's war memoirs testified to the burial of 185,738 Korean and 29,014 Chinese “heads.” The Nabeshima clan alone delivered 29,251 Korean noses to Japan. Japanese forces also seized over 100,000 Korean artisans and scholars and perhaps 50,000-60,000 women, and forcibly transported them to Japan or sold them as slaves abroad. (131)
The Christian troops were not rewarded for their acceptance of cultural norms, in fact they, too, were exterminated.

Korea lay in ruins, many of its people exterminated. As if bringing Hideyoshi's legacy home again, Japan now turned inward. In a civil war, his successor Tokugawa Ieyasu, destroyed Konishi's army, with the help of another Christian daimyo and of Kato Kiyomasa. The new Tokugawa shogunate launched descrimination agasint Christians in 1611 and “general persecution” in 1614. Two years later, the shogun orderd daimyo to intensify efforts to eradicate Christianity. Over 50 Christians were executed at Kyoto and Nagasaki in 1619, and 55 in 1622...In Kyushu in 1637, mostly Christian peasants lauched the Shimabara revolt, which the government crushed at a cost of 10,000 troops and 20,000 peasants killed. According to historian, Gavan McCormack, “the last stand” of a group of Christians at Hara castle ended in slaughter by sword and fire in which the army took “around fifteen to sixteen thousand heads.” A “nationwide inquisition” and purge of Japan's remaining Christian began in 1540. Some 600 executions in 1657-58 brought the toll to a total of 3,000 killed. By 1660, “there were practically no Christians left in Japan.” (132)
What lessons are their for the church today? Over and over again, and in a few more posts, we see Christians participating in human rights abuses including participation in genocide. Have they learned to love their enemies and bless them? Have they learned to love their neighbors as themselves and that there is no one who is not a neighbor? I am not advocating pacifism. I believe in the Christian's obligation to protect the weak and innocent with force if needed, but not aggression. I believe in the rules of war, where soldiers fight soldiers and not non-combatants. I think the church needs to expose our sinful hearts and exhort us to love for our neighbors and to combat lies from our spiritual enemy who wants us to destroy each other and our witness. Don't call me a "liberal." I believe in missions and bringing the good news around the world, but I also believe it's extremely important to disciple those who are converted and teach them how to love God and love their neighbor.

see other posts on church, genocide, human rights, history, and book reports.


Tristan Bacon said…
An interesting post!
I'm using this as a reference for an assignment that I am doing at University, entitled "What would Japan be like if Christianity hadn’t been outlawed?"
I know that this was posted over three years ago, but nonetheless, thank you!
John Umland said…
I am honored. What university are you at? Sorry for my typos and misspellings.
God is good
Tristan Bacon said…
I'm at Liverpool John Moores, in the UK, studying International Business and Japanese.

This essay is for one of my modules, called An Introduction to the Development of Contemporary Japan.

Thanks again!
Anonymous said…
I foind this blog researching the slaughter of the Christians in 1600 Japan. I was curious while reading a very good book called "A Song for Nagasaki" by Fr.Paaul Glynn. It is a bio of Takashi Nagai, scientist, Convert and survivor of the atomic bomb. I would like to comment that being in the 21st Century is like another planet when you try to compare your morality to what you THINK is the immorality of the Christians in that time period. You really do not know whT was in their minds and hearts, what they were told about the invasion, you dont know if they were forced to fight or if they were mislead, or whatever. You may not judge them on the terms of being where you are now...in limited retrospect. So good! Your conscince is sound and you seem to be a good upright person...but whose to judge YOU in the centuries to come? just sayin.....

Popular Posts