Today, about one to two million Japanese are Christians (about 1% of Japan's population). Many of them live in Western Japan where the missionaries' activities were greatest during the 16th century.

A few Christian customs have become quite popular also among the non-Christian population. Such customs are the wearing of white dresses at weddings or the celebration of St.Valentine's Day and, to a certain grade, also Christmas.


In the year 1542, the first Europeans from Portugal landed on Kyushu in Western Japan. The two historically most important things they imported to Japan were gunpowder and Christianity. The Japanese barons on Kyushu welcomed foreign trade especially because of the new weapons, and, therefore, tolerated the Jesuit missionaries. The missionaires were successful in converting quite large numbers of people in Western Japan including members of the ruling class. In 1550, Francis Xavier also undertook a mission to the capital Kyoto.

Towards the end of the 16th century, the Jesuits lost their monopoly position in Japan when Franciscan missionaries arrived in Kyoto despite a first banning edict by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1597, Hideyoshi proclaimed a more serious banning edict and executed 26 Christians in Nagasaki as a warning. Tokugawa Ieyasu and his successors continued the persecution of Christianity in several further edicts.

Monument for the 26 Christians in Nagasaki.

The main reason which led to the complete extinction of Christianity in Japan by 1638 were the government's intentions to excert absolute control over its people. This would not have been possible with the interference of an aggressive and intolerant foreign religion like Christianity of that time.

In 1873 after the Meiji restoration, freedom of religion was promulgated, and especially since World War II the number of Japanese Christians has been slowly increasing again.

Last updated: June 10, 2002
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