the Degree Confluence Project

Japan : Kyūshū

1.6 km (1.0 miles) W of Shukugen-jima (Island), Gotō-rettō (Archipelago), Nagasaki-ken, Kyūshū, Japan
Approx. altitude: 0 m (0 ft)
([?] maps: Google MapQuest Multimap world confnav)
Antipode: 33°S 51°W

Accuracy: 1.3 km (1399 yd)
Click on any of the images for the full-sized picture.

#2: 1.28 km from the confluence #3: N33 E129 is behind the island #4: Fukue & Nakadori islands #5: Fishing harbor near the confluence #6: Douzaki Church #7: Northern part of Fukue Island #8: Southern part of Nakadori Island #9: Wakamatsu beach #10: Northern part of Nakadori Island

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  33°N 129°E (visit #1) (incomplete) 

#1: View towards Confluence from Nakadori Island

(visited by Fabrice Blocteur)

Japanese Narrative

14-Aug-2003 -- Following my visit to the confluence 33°N 130°E in Nagasaki, my next objective during my O-Bon holidays was now to find N33 E129 located in the Goto Islands. It was Wednesday morning and clouds had replaced the rain but the temperature was more autumnal than summery. I boarded the ferry at the Nagasaki terminal at 8 am and arrived at Fukue port just before noon. After check-in in a minshuku (Japanese style B & B) I went around the island trying to find the last vestiges of early Christianity in Japan.

After the edict issued in 1614 banning Christianity, about 150,000 believers went underground and continued to practice their religion in secret in segregated communities on sparsely populated southern islands such as the Goto Retto. When the ban was finally lifted in 1873, most of the underground Christians returned to the orthodox Roman Catholic Church under the guidance of French missionaries and new churches were built. More than fifty can be found today throughout the Goto Islands. One particularly interesting church is the one found in Douzaki on the northern part of Fukue Island. It contains a small museum with some artifacts that remained hidden for almost three centuries. Some represent the Virgin Mary looking more like a Bodhisattva than a Catholic statue. Shortly after visiting the Church, the rain started to fall again. I cut across the island and went to a “rotenburo” (open-air bath) to warm up before going back to Fukue city to spend the night.

The rain had stopped when I took the ferry the next morning to get to the confluence located west of Nakadori Island. The ferry passed 1.28 km from the N33 E129 position before reaching Wakamatsu shortly before noon. I spent the next two hours trying to find a boat in the surrounding villages. Near one of those villages, I came across some Heike’s tombs. Here, according to a legend, 10 members of the fugitive Heike clan committed suicide when they discovered they couldn’t hide from the pursuit of the Genji warriors after the battle of Dannoura in 1185. Four centuries later, persecuted Christians would follow the same route with roughly the same consequences.

Although the sun had finally appeared, a very strong wind had picked up and the waves were now three meters high. None of the fishermen I asked wanted to go to sea. Most of all because today was August 14th and tomorrow people would spend the day celebrating O-Bon. I gave up and spent the rest of the day visiting the southern part of the island where some communities are still almost 100% Christians. Cemeteries can be seen here and there containing both Buddhist and Christian tombs. Statues of the Virgin Mary, Joseph or Jesus stand in front or near public buildings. And churches are found in almost every village. It felt more like being somewhere in the Philippines than in Japan.

The next morning I got up very early and went back to the same villages hopping to have better luck. The sun had been up for almost an hour but the wind was stronger and the waves higher than yesterday. I was hopping that perhaps some Christians would defy the Buddhist Festival of the dead and go to sea but most of the villages were deserted. The only few people I met all gave me the same answer: “Today is O-Bon and the sea is too rough”. After two hours I again gave up and this time visited the northern part of the island.

Although the majority of Japanese Christians returned to the Catholic Church, there were many who opted to maintain the style of faith cultivated during the centuries of hiding and to refuse orthodox Christianity. These people are known as the “Kakure Kirishitan” (Hidden Christians), and although their numbers keep decreasing, they continue to practice their faith. However, as Miyazaki Kentaro, a Japanese scholar, stresses: “The essence and outward forms of this faith have diverged widely from those introduced to Japan by Francisco Xavier and the other European missionaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It would be more accurate to call it a folk religion altogether Japanese in spirit and content.” Centuries of concealment and isolation had changed their faith into something unique with secrecy an integral part of its doctrine.

Christal Whelan, a Sophia University researcher who studied the Kakure Kirishitan in the Goto Islands, found that their prayers are almost phonetically perfect. She also realized that not one of the faithful, not even the congregational leaders, knew what they meant. “Most of their prayers are in Japanese, but there are Portuguese and Latin words, which no one understands,” she said. For example, they didn't know that the Portuguese word “Belem” meant Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. The believers recite “orasho” – from the Latin “oratio” meaning prayer – but do not understand the Japanese-Latin language combinations. That is not so different from Catholics whose liturgical use of Latin was discontinued only a generation ago. “Most people reciting Buddhist sutras don't understand them either,” said Whelan.

Japanese Narrative

14-Aug-2003 -- 北緯33度、東経130度の交差点を長崎に訪ねた後、私は盆休みの間に五島列島にある北緯33度、東経129度のポイントを訪れることにした。水曜の朝、雨は止んだものの、夏というよりは秋を思わせる天気だった。8時のフェリーで長崎港を発ち、昼前に福江港に着いた。民宿に宿をとり、島に残るキリスト信仰の跡を探しに出かけることにした。








Translated by Yuko Hashimoto

 All pictures
#1: View towards Confluence from Nakadori Island
#2: 1.28 km from the confluence
#3: N33 E129 is behind the island
#4: Fukue & Nakadori islands
#5: Fishing harbor near the confluence
#6: Douzaki Church
#7: Northern part of Fukue Island
#8: Southern part of Nakadori Island
#9: Wakamatsu beach
#10: Northern part of Nakadori Island
ALL: All pictures on one page (broadband access recommended)
In the water, about 500 m from land.