Nagasaki is of great Augustinian interest because of pioneer missionary work and martyrdom in the early 1600s, and of the return of the Order to the area in the 1950s.
Nagasaki, a city of over 500,000 people, is built around its natural harbour, and climbs up the surrounding steep hills.
The city boasts spectacular views and the proximity to natural sights such as its rugged coastline, beaches, islands, volcanic mountains, and a national park. Nagasaki enjoys a mild winter climate.
The city of Nagasaki is located in the northwestern part of the island of Kyushu in the extreme western part of Japan. It is located near the Korean Peninsula and China, only 860 kilometres away from Shanghai, China and only fifty-three kilometres away from Pusan, South Korea.
Founded before 1500, Nagasaki was originally secluded by harbors. It enjoyed little historical significance until contact with European explorers in 1542, when a Portuguese ship accidentally landed nearby, somewhere in Kagoshima prefecture. The Spanish Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in another part of the territory in 1549, but left for China in 1551 and died soon afterwards.
His followers who remained behind converted a number of daimyo (feudal lords). The most notable among them was Omura Sumitada, who derived great profit from his conversion through an accompanying deal to receive a portion of the trade from Portuguese ships at a port they established in Nagasaki in 1571 with his assistance.
The little harbor village quickly grew into a diverse port city, and Portuguese products imported through Nagasaki (such as tobacco, bread, tempura, textiles and a Portuguese sponge-cake called castellas) were assimilated into popular Japanese culture. The Portuguese also brought with them many goods from China.
Due to the instability during the Warring States period, Sumitada and Jesuit leader Alexandro Valignano conceived a plan to pass administrative control over to the Society of Jesus rather than see the Catholic city taken over by a non-Catholic daimyo who was quickly ascending to power in Kyushu. Thus, for a brief period after 1580, the city of Nagasaki was a Jesuit colony, under their administrative and military control.
In 1587, however, Toyotomi Hideyoshi's campaign to unify the country arrived in Kyushu. Concerned with the large Christian influence in southern Japan, as well as the active and somewhat arrogant role the Jesuits were playing in the Japanese political arena, Hideyoshi ordered the expulsion of all missionaries, and placed the city under his direct control. However, the expulsion order went largely unenforced, and the fact remained that most of Nagasaki's population remained openly practicing Catholics.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi (the daimyo mentioned above, who unified Japan) immediately decreed a ban on Christianity. This resulted in an incident known as "the execution of the 26 saints". Twenty-six Christians were rounded up in the cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Sakai, brought to Nagasaki via an overland route in large two-wheeled wagons, and executed at Nishizaka.
This marked the first significant incident of martyrdom in Japan and triggered the period of pervasive persecution and martyrdom that followed. The Portuguese traders in Nagasaki were not ostracized, however, and so the city continued to thrive.
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To view the photo gallery of the Augustinians in Nagasaki in this web site, select Japan: Nagasaki after you click here.