Sotome (外海) is a rural, coastal area on the peninsula north of central Nagasaki. During the ban on Christianity in the Edo Period, Sotome was home to communities of "Hidden Christians", many of whom emigrated there from other parts of Nagasaki as the remote region allowed them to practice their religion in secret. In the late 1800s, Japan lifted the ban on Christianity and part of the local population rejoined the Catholic Church.
French missionary Father Marc Marie de Rotz played a large role in reestablishing the religion in the area. He established Shitsu Church on a hill overlooking the sea. The church was constructed in 1882 with local materials. Shitsu Church continues to serve the local Christian community and welcomes visitors to come and view its serene interior.
The Sotome region was poor and impoverished upon Father de Rotz's arrival, and some of his biggest contributions to the area were the social programs that he established to help the local women become independent and provide for themselves. To this end he built the Shitsu Aid Centre, a vocational center where young women were taught how to manufacture macaroni, somen and textiles. They also learned reading, writing and mathematics, as well as skills in agriculture, architecture, fishing, flour milling and bread making.
The brick and white plaster structures were originally built in 1883 and have been restored to their original condition. They now serve as a museum with information about the women who studied there and the skills that they were taught. The centre also continues to act as a community center for the local area, holding various workshops and offering hand's on activities.
Next to the aid centre stands the de Rotz Memorial Museum, which is housed in a building that was originally used to manufacture fishing nets. The museum displays personal belongings of the father, medical instruments and documents, religious items and farming tools used by the aid centre. The ticket for the memorial museum also grants you entry to the nearby Sotome Museum of History and Folklore, a typical museum about local history and culture.
Father de Rotz also built Ono Church, a satellite of Shitsu Church, in the neighboring district in order to better serve the local community there. Ono Church was built in a distinctive, simple architectural style of piled stones that was common in the area during the Edo Period. The understated, rural sanctuary is located on the hill set back off the main road. Visitors can admire the structure from the outside, however it is not open to the public without prior reservations.
Sotome lies about one hour north of central Nagasaki. There are hourly bus connections from Nagasaki Station up the Sotome coast. Some are direct, while others require a transfer at the Sakura no Sato (桜の里) bus terminal along the way. The one way ride to Shitsu takes around 70 minutes and costs 720 yen. Get off at the Shitsu Bunkamura (出津文化村) bus stop from where the attractions can be reached in a short walk. The Ono Church is an additional five minute bus ride up the coast. Get off at the Ono (大野) bus stop from where it is a 20 minute walk uphill to the church.
Shitsu Aid Center
Admission ends 30 minutes before closing