Christianity entered Japan in the mid 1500s and found considerable numbers of followers around today's Nagasaki Prefecture, the main entry port of Westerners into Japan, including Hirado. When the religion was banned in the early Edo Period, and the Christians were forced to give up their religion, a few believers, known as the "Hidden Christians", continued to practice their religion in secret for over two centuries. Some did so in the remote villages of Hirado Island.
In the late 1800s, the ban on Christianity was lifted, and many of the Hidden Christians rejoined the Catholic Church and built new churches with the assistance of foreign priests. A few also refrained from rejoining because their religious practices evolved quite a bit over the centuries to a degree where they were not compatible with Catholicism anymore.
Some of the sites of interest related to Christianity in Hirado are listed below:
St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church
Hours: 6:00 to 16:30 (Sundays from 10:00) Closed: No closing days Admission: Free
Opened in 1913 as the Hirado Catholic Church, the building was moved to its present location on a hill overlooking the city in 1913 and renamed in honor of St. Francis.
Temple and Church Viewpoint
A unique view juxtaposing the spire of St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church with Buddhist temple buildings can be seen along a walking path that leads from port area up to the church.
On the Kyushu Mainland
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 Closed: Closed during special events Admission: Free
Located outside of central Hirado on the Kyushu mainland, this red-brick, Romanesque-style church was built in 1918 by followers who relocated to the area from Sotome and Kuroshima.
Elsewhere in Hirado
Shima no Yakata Museum
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (admission until 16:30) Closed: January 1 to 2 Admission: 510 yen
One room of this museum has exhibits about local Hidden Christians and recreates part of a traditional residence that allowed its inhabitants to practice their religion in secret. The rest of the museum is devoted to traditional whaling. Relatively good English information is available.
Nakae no Shima
Located two kilometers off the coast of Hirado Island, Nakae no Shima is a small, uninhabited island where religious leaders were executed during the persecution of Christians. The island is considered sacred, and water collected there is used for baptism.
This idyllic, remote village was refuge to a small community of Hidden Christians who practiced here for centuries, far from the prying eyes of the government. After the ban on Christianity was lifted, the local villagers decided to continue practicing their own unique brand of the religion rather than rejoin the Catholic Church. As a result, churches were not erected in the village, and the religion remains outwardly invisible.
Hirado Kirishitan Museum
Hours: 9:00 to 17:30 (admission until 16:30) Closed: Wednesdays and December 29 to January 2 Admission: 200 yen
Located in the remote countryside, this small yet informative museum displays a good collection of religious artifacts, such as rosary beads, medals and everyday items with concealed religious imagery that were used to practice the religion in secret.
Hours: 8:00 to 14:00 Closed: No closing days Admission: Free
Himosashi Church is one of several Catholic churches that were built on Hirado after the end of the ban on Christianity. Standing prominently on a small hill in the center of its town, the Himosashi Church was constructed in 1929.
How to get to St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church
The St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church sits on the hill overlooking Hirado Port. It is about a 15-20 minute walk uphill from the Hirado Bus Terminal.
How to get to Tabira Church
The church can be reached in about a 30 minute walk from Nishi-Tabira Station on the Matsuura Railway (80 minutes, 1120 yen one way from Sasebo, hourly departures). Alternatively, a taxi ride from central Hirado to the church takes about 15 minute and costs around 2000 yen one way.
How to get to the Shimo no Yakata Museum
Hourly buses operate between the Hirado Bus Terminal and Shiomicho (汐見町) bus stop. The one way trip takes 30 minutes and costs 670 yen. The museum is a 5-10 minute walk from the bus stop.
How to get to Himosashi Church
Himosashi Church can be reached from Hirado Bus Terminal by bus (40 minutes, 790 yen one way, one bus every 1-2 hours). Get off at Himosashi (紐差).
How to get to Kasuga Village and Hirado Kirishitan Museum
Due to virtually inexistent public transportation, a rental car is recommended to access the Kasuga Village and Hirado Kirishitan Museum. Rental car outlets can be found around Sasebo Station.