Final Assault on Japan's Rebel Fortress

Dan Graves, MSL

Final Assault on Japan's Rebel Fortress

Would you revolt over eggplant? In November 1637, Japanese peasants of the Shimabara peninsula and the Amakusa islands revolted. Afterwards, a commission looked into the events and concluded that the rebellion occurred because the Prince of Karatsu was more tyrannical than most. In addition to the usual taxes, he added surcharges on the poor farmers which included the best tobacco leaves and numbers of eggplant. To this unbearable tax burden, he added cruelty and torture, especially of Christians and their leaders and evangelists.

Because of the isolated situation of the peninsula and the Amakusa islands, Christianity made greater headway there than in the rest of Japan. The new Christians, with more zeal than understanding, were filled with Messianic hope. Many joined the rebellion. It proved costly to the future of Christian faith in the islands of the rising sun.

The lords of Nagasaki, who had recently departed for Edo (Tokyo) rushed back to defend the city. In December, a force of 3,000 men stormed Amakusa; all but 200 died in the offensive. During the fight, Christians waved banners and shouted the names of Jesus and Mary. Afterwards, they tore down Japanese religious symbols and raised Christian ones in their place. The invocation of Jesus and Mary did not bring victory in the next battle, however.

A thousand Amakusa survivors fled to join 35,000 rebels in Shimabara. The rebels assaulted the principle government fortress and almost captured it. Having failed, they holed up in the Hara fortress where they were led by Masuda Shiro, a brilliant young strategist whose age is variously estimated between fifteen and nineteen, and who went by the Christian name Jerome (sometimes given as Jeronimo). Aided by severe cold, they inflicted major defeats on the government forces. In one night sally alone, they killed 2,000 of the government's 100,000 troops. Despite its cannon, the government could not dislodge the rebels and lost over 8,000 men in January and February while the rebels lost hardly a soul. Japan asked a Dutch ship to shell the Hara Fortress, which it did, but with little effect, except to lose two of their own men to rebel sharpshooters.

But the end was inevitable. Having held out for four months, the rebels ran low on food. Deserters reported this to the government. Encouraged by the news, government forces began an all-out assault on the fortress on this day, April 12, 1638. It took them three days to overcome the desperate peasants and their Christian allies. Afterward, Christianity was strictly banned from Japan as a troublesome religion.

Bibliography:

  1. Breen, John and Williams, Mark. Japan and Christianity; Impacts and Responses. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England: Macmillan, 1996, pp. 54-60.
  2. Brinkley, F. History of the Japanese People from the earliest times to the end of the Meiji Era. Britannica, 1915.
  3. Gunn, Geoffrey C. "The Duarte Correa Manuscript and the Shimabara Rebellion." http://www.uwosh.edu/home_pages/faculty_staff/earns/correa.html.
  4. Kitagawa, Joseph Mitsuo. Religion in Japanese History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.
  5. Mullins, Mark. Christianity Made in Japan : a study of indigenous movements. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, c1998.
  6. Northrop, Henry Davenport. Flowery Kingdom and the Land of the Mikado or China, Japan and Corea. J. R. Jones, 1894.
  7. Paske-Smith. Japanese Traditions of Christianity. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and co., 1979. pp. 49-100.
  8. Turnbull, Stephen R. The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan: a study of their development, beliefs and rituals to the present day. Richmond, Surrey: Japan Library, 1998.
  9. Various internet articles on Shimabara and on Masuda Shiro.

Last updated May, 2007.

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