Shinto and Buddhism have coexisted in Japan and the country is now tolerant of other religions, still, in the past, “pagans” were persecuted. “Hidden Christian sites in the Nagasaki and Amakusa regions” (Nagasaki and Kumamoto Prefectures), have been recommended to be added to the register of World Cultural Heritage sites. Christianity was introduced to Japan in the middle of the 16th century by Portuguese missionaries. When lords in the Kyushu region converted to Christianity, the number of Christians rapidly increased as did the power of the church. The Edo Shogunate increased its efforts to stamp out Christianity. After a huge uprising took place in Shimabara and Amakusa in Kyushu – where many believers resided – the Shogunate adopted a closed-door policy to get rid of any foreign influence. As the suppression of Christians grew more severe, the Shogunate tried every year to discover hidden Christians through the practice of “stamping on an image.” This involved demanding that people trample on an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary; those who refused were regarded as Christians and executed. Those who survived were afraid of persecution, and so pretended to be Buddhists. They secretly maintained their faith in Christianity for over 200 years until the early 20th century when people ceased to be persecuted for their beliefs. This World Heritage list comprises of 12 sites in the Nagasaki and Amakusa regions, including Oura Church, where 26 Japanese Christians were executed. These will be officially registered at the World Heritage Committee in June. This is Japan’s 22nd World Heritage site, and its 18th Culture Heritage listing.
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