Timetable of Christian History

This brief synopsis details the efforts of "Christianity" in Japan.

(Excerpts from Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan)

Timetable of Christian History

1549  Francis Xavier establishes Japan's first Christian mission at Kagoshima

1587  Toyotomi Hideyoshi issues an edict expelling all Christian missionaries; it is not obeyed or enforced.

1597  Twenty Six Japanese and foreign Christians crucified at Nagasaki by order on Toyotomi Hideyoshi

1612  Shogunate issues directives aimed at restricting Christianity

1614  Ban on Christianity extended nationwide.

1622  51 Christians executed in Nagasaki

1624  Persecution intesifies.50 Christians are burned alive in Edo; Spanish ships prohibited from calling at Japanese ports

1635   All foreign ships restricted to the port of Nagasaki; overseas travel by Japanese restricted; Japanese residents abroad prohibited from returning to Japan

1837  Oldest existing Japanese version of any portion of the Bible is published in Singapore

1854  Fleet of Nine vessels, led by Commodore Matthew Perry anchors in Edo Bay

1860  The first American Baptist missionary, Jonathan Goble, arrives in Japan

1873  Meiji government withdrew religious sanctions, although freedom of religion was not specifically granted.

1888  Protestant translation of Old Testament complete

1917  Revised version of Protestant translation of New Testament complete

1941  Government pressure led to the formation of the Nihon Kirisuto Kyodan, or United Church of Christ in Japan, a union of some 30 Protestant churches.
          Dr. and Mrs. Roy Byram and another missionary arrested in Oct. Charged with propagating a religion opposed to State Shintoism.

1942  42 Pentecostal Pastors arrested and charged for teaching the sovereignty of Christ upon his return.

1990  Christians numbered some 1,075,000 or less than 1 percent of the population. There were 436,000 Catholics with some 800 parishes in 16 dioceses, while Protestants numbered 639,000 with nearly 7,000 churches.

War and Recovery

The immediate post World War II period witnessed a revival of Christian activity. The social upheaval and disillusionment caused by the nation's defeat prompted many Japanese to turn to Christianity to find some meaning in their lives. However, this period coinciding with the Allied occupation of 1945-52, was brief and the disorganization of the churches at the time prevented their taking full advantage of the opportunity.


In popular estimation Christianity is still regarded as a " foreign" creed, preaching admirable ideal but unsuitable for ordinary Japanese. Because of its "foreign" nature, the religion has been persecuted when demands for national unity were strong; it has been widely accepted during period of social instability (the 16th century, Meiji era, Post World war II) but once the social equilibrium was restored interest rapidly waned. Apart from the Nagasaki region Christianity has yet to make any appreciable impact on rural communities; it draws its strength from the urban, professional classes.
Various aspects of Christian teaching differ fundamentally from the more traditional pattern of Japanese thought and outlook--for example, monotheism vs. traditional polytheism; the concept of a transcendent God versus the immanent Japanese deities; an individual ethic versus a group-orientated ethic. It is doubtful whether organized Christianity can accommodate itself to the traditional thought in Japan as much as Buddhism (also an "imported" religion) has done but there still remains much scope for expressing Christian thought in a more Japanese form.

"Christianity in the Context of Japanese History" poster

From Japan Harvest magazine
Summer 2023 (Volume 74 No. 3)