The Shimabara Rebellion

The Shimabara Rebellion (December 17, 1637 – April 15, 1638) was an uprising of Japanese Roman Catholics. The revolt practically ended the Christian movement in the 17th-century in Japan. It also strengthened the Japanese government’s determination to isolate Japan from foreign influences.

The Christian rebellion was a result of frustration with the excessive abuses and taxation of local officials on the Shimabara Peninsula and the Amakusa-rettō Islands, now Nagasaki Prefecture in southwestern Japan.

Amakusa Shirō’s banner in the Shimabara Rebellion, Japan.

This occurred during the Matsukura clan’s construction of a new castle at Shimabara, provoking anger from local peasants. Most of the locals in the area had already been converted to Catholicism by the Spanish and Portuguese missionaries. Compounded with religious persecution of the local Catholics, heavy discontent resulted in an open revolt. This caused the revolution to take on Christian overtones. Many rōnins supported the Shimabara cause and fought alongside the peasants with utmost furor that even an army or 125,000 government troops could not subdue.

The Japanese government had to seek aid from the Dutch, prompting their gunboat to blast the rebel stronghold.

Dutch ships in the seige of Hara Castle, Japan.

Once the uprising was quelled, the Japanese government intensely enforced the ban of all Christian beliefs and practices. In the wake of the rebellion, the catholic rebel leader Amakusa Shirō was beheaded along with an estimated 37,000 rebels and sympathizers. Amakusa Shirō’s head was brought to Nagasaki for public display and Hara Castle, where the rebels were besieged, was burned to the ground. Once the uprising was quelled, the Japanese government intensely enforced the ban of all Christian beliefs and practices which continued until the 1850’s. Matsukura Katsuie, the daimyō of Shimabara was also beheaded for misruling, becoming the only daimyō to be beheaded during the Edo period.

The shogunate largely blamed the European Catholics for the uprising and suspected their involvement in the spreading of the rebellion. Portuguese traders were driven out of the country.

Siege of Hara Castle, Japan.

Japan brought about strict measures on the policy of national seclusion known as the Sakoku years. The ban on the Christian religion was radically enforced and the only way Christianity could survive in Japan was to go underground. Following the rebellion, Buddhism was strongly pushed in the area. Certain customs were introduced that are unique to the area even today. The Shimabara Rebellion is known to be the last large-scale armed clash in Japan until the 1860’s.