Shimabara, or the city where Christian rebellions usually don’t end well

We woke up around 9, after a long and restful night. Out by 9:30, we were faced with the looming heat that didn’t wait after the typhoon to return. Shortly after the start of our discovery walk, we stopped by a supermarket to get some food, options lacking for anything else.

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We were met with views of the Unzen mountains and a tiny bit of the volcano. The city felt very peaceful, even though we were stared at by incautious drivers for our mere presence here. I almost forgot we were in the middle of nowhere in Japan. On the extreme corner of a tiny, tiny island.

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The architecture was surprising as in the skyline, we could see both a catholic church and a Japanese castle. That’s where I understood that Shimabara was an important place for the first Portuguese Christians to arrive and they converted quite a lot of people. The thing is that it didn’t please the shogunate at the time and it broke the kind of harmony they were trying to convey. Persecutions started and being a Christian at this time was harsh. Some were brought to the Unzen hell we’ve seen the day before, and others were heavily taxed.

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It all broke out in the Shimabara Rebellion in the 17th century where some of the converted Christians and peasants, led by a 16 year-old Amakusa Shiro took the castle and held a siege for months. They even got help of the Dutch. But eventually, help came from the main island and they were defeated, Amakusa Shiro beheaded as an example and the castle was burned with the rest of the corpses. The foreigners were kicked out of Shimabara and the seclusion laws of the country were hardened the following year.

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amakusa shiro

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st francois xavier, first christian in japan

 

We got to see some of the Christian art made at that time and it was a really surprising mix. Stained glass that could belong to a European church is found displaying Japanese believers. We climbed up the castle and I really didn’t expect to be flooded with so much history in a town that I totally underestimated the importance of.

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From up there, we could have an exceptional view on the city, the mountains and also the neighbouring city, Kumamoto, across the sea. You may have heard of it because of the sadly well-known earthquake struck the city this year and destroyed a part of the famous castle. Mitsuki’s brother, who is studying there, was telling me that they are expecting the castle to be fully reconstructed in 30 years, because of lack of funds and research.

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After that, we went and checked out a little street still conservating Samurai’s houses in a traditional style. I have already seen this type of houses so I wasn’t too impressed or struck by it, even though it was really nice to see them so well conserved and still around actually used houses. I’d say the surprising thing is the fact that houses are really big here in Japan. Of course, they belong to families that pass them onto the next generation, but they are big, old and spacious. Quite a treat if you were to live in Tokyo!

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We spent a third meal at the convenience store (…) and continued the visit with the carp streams that roam around the center of the city. You can find these little gutters where the river flows by and these bright carps seem to be coming out of nowhere. On the larger ponds, you seem them all and it was quite a nice experience! It was one more thing I wasn’t expecting too much of but in the end, I was happy to see it.

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We were stopped by a couple, that very bravely explained us in broken English, to go check a place. We were welcomed in a small garden by a very kind lady in kimono who served us tea while we were admiring the view above the water. She asked us where we came from and had a kind word for each of us. She told me she was going to Paris once a year for the kimono show that she was holding and that she liked Lyon a lot. It was soothing exchanging with her. It felt like I could finally use some of my Japanese to have meaningful interaction and not be stuck with usual and daily matters.

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At some point, we turned back to the train station to start the long way home. The train we took was going along the coast, but this time towards the inside bay. The view was beautiful again and the train stations crossed were old and charming. Some of the stations were right by the sea and I swear, it just felt like the movie Chihiro. I tried to get some snaps but I didn’t manage. I only have this feeling deep inside my heart of seeing these station signs hanging in front of a marvelous sea landscape.

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Once we arrived, we parted and I went on with my business, picking up my bike, charging my grocery shopping card and going home as the sun was descending behind the nearby hills.

I think this trip was needed and felt good. I know I have already been here for a week but it was good to escape what I already have started to get used to.

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And finally, the pictures that didn’t make it into my nice conceptual post:

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