Off the cost of Nagasaki are a chain of five islands, called the Goto Islands. The Goto Islands are most famous for their population of “hidden Christians” in the early 20th century. Around fifty churches are still standing on all five islands, a few of them nobelized to UNESCO World Heritage status. The churches now serve as landmarks to preserve the memory of those ostracized.
While most of the churches still act as places of worship, Dozaki Church focuses on the education of Christianity in Nagasaki. Dozaki Church is the oldest western style church in Nagasaki, opening in 1908. Now, the church acts as a museum. The church’s displays showcase information on the hidden Christian believers and the Catholic missionaries who initially established western religion in Japan.
The church itself is an architect’s delight, with its grand and gothic design. The bricks were imported from Italy and the interior is decorated in stained glass. Dozaki Church should be the first church visitors visit on their tour around the Goto islands. The information displayed answers all questions about Japan’s complicated history with Christianity. Visitors have to pay at reception to enter.
Originally built in 1924, Kaitsu Church is located on Fukue island near Takahama beach. While the church looks small and nondescript from the outside, the inside is filled with jewel toned sunlight. The stained glass elevates the church from a basic historical spot to a beautifully designed landmark. Visitors range from history buffs to art enthusiasts, both paying their respects for the hidden Christians and appreciating the artwork.
Tachiya Church Remains
The Tachiya Church was first built in 1878 and destroyed by natural causes after its closure. The remains are still intact and exposed to the weather, like a church without walls. Visitors can explore the sacred relics. One undamaged artifact is the holy water font, designed as a seashell. This signifies the church’s reliance on the ocean, and the important role it played in the safety during the Christian ban.
Mizunoura Church is one of the Goto Island’s most picturesque churches. The white exterior is striking against the blue sky and bright sunlight. The church was remodeled in 1938 and remains one of the more popular churches on the island. The interior is just as attractive as the outside. Subtle yet colorful decorations of the Virgin Mary and Christ are dotted throughout the church’s interior and exterior. Mizunoura reflects the seaside landscape with its bright colors. The architectural was inspired by both western and Japanese designs with some hints of Gothic composition.
Old Gorin Church
A stark difference from the light filled Mizunoura Church, the Old Gorin Church is a humble, wooden building. Originally from Hisaka Island, the church was built in 1881 and moved to the seashore in 1931. Old Gorin Church is one of the first wooden churches to be built in Japan and served as architectural inspiration for later built churches. The design is a combination of a traditional Japanese house and Gothic architecture. The church sports the basic necessities, from the Gothic vaulted ceiling to the intricate window design, all made from wood. The Old Gorin Church is accessible by a drive along the coast, however, visitors will have to park farther away and walk to the church.
The Martyrdom Church was built for those who suffered and died during Japan’s Christianity ban. Of the 200 imprisoned, 42 died. After this incident was reported to the government, the freedom of religion act was established in 1873. To this day, the Christianity ban remains a sore subject for the village. Discrimination continued well into the Meiji era even after the act was passed, and was not unheard of even up until the 1970s. These now exposed Christians were forced into lower class jobs and could not work their way up because of their beliefs. Recently the churches on the Goto islands have become more of a tourist attraction, thanks to the UNESCO honors. The Martyrdom Church reminds visitors the rough conditions the hidden Christians were forced to endure and the resilience of the people who survived.
The Hamawaki Church was built in 1881 by the survivors Hisakajima survivors of the Christian persecution. It was the first all wooden church to be built on the islands, and in 1931 the church was reconstructed, becoming the first steel concrete church. It is known for its odd mixture of both Japanese and western designs. The exterior is akin to a Japanese style house while the interior is completely westernized, complete with vaulted ceilings.