Christians in the Kansai, 1827-29

Mark Teeuwen (University of Oslo)
Religion and Religious Thought
Torre A, Piso 0, Sala 02
Start time:
1 September, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

In 1829, 6 alleged Christians were crucified in Osaka, 3 men and 3 women. This shocking incident, investigated by Ōshio Heihachirō, added greatly to the anti-Christian panic of late Edo. The official documents and other sources reveal much about the politics of gender and religion in this period.

Long abstract:

In early 1827, Osaka officials detected Christian activity in their city. Their investigation soon spread to Kyoto, and by the summer, the two officials in charge, including Ōshio Heihachirō, had singled out six main suspects, three men and three women, whom they found guilty of engaging in "banned pernicious practices" in both cities. The officials proposed that the men should be beheaded and the women paraded through Osaka and crucified; after heated discussions in the Edo Hyōjōsho, all six were crucified in 1829 - although only two, a woman called Mitsugi and a man called Heizō, were still alive by that time. The men involved were primarily interested in the Christian teachings, while the women practised austerities and performed rites for clients under the cover of Inari mediums. They had no connection to established communities of "hidden Christians," and constructed their own version of Christianity on the basis of books. What rendered their practice "Christian" was their use of a honzon they called Tentei (Lord of Heaven), and of the spell zensu maru haraiso, "Jesus Maria paradise." This shocking incident changed perceptions of Christianity and its dangers. It came two years after Aizawa Seishisai's Shinron, which rang the alarm over Christianity's evil influence. It broke with established ways to deal with discovered Christians, who were routinely let off with a reprimand and a fumie. Ōshio's 1837 revolt inspired a boom of popular writings, with some suggesting that his deviancy was rooted in the black magic he had learnt from Mitsugi. This incident contributed to the panic about Christian conversion much more than commonly acknowledged. This panel builds on a treasure trove of original sources: official documents that include the suspects' testimonies, works of gossip, and amateur investigation. The panelists are engaged in a joint project to collect, transcribe, translate, and investigate these sources from multiple angles. The first paper will set the scene and contextualize this incident within the history of Edo-period Christianity. The second paper will focus on questions of gender and the practice of the women, and the third on the response of the shogunate, the investigation, and the juridical handling of the incident.