Bem-vindo Buddha

As I wandered around Hirakata-shi, a lost and hungry as a student fresh-off-the-airplane and dropped into a new realm known as Japan, I saw something in the distance that not only surprised me, but compelled me to move towards it to have a closer look. What were the objects in the distance, jutting out into the overcast skies? Nothing other than two crosses held high on the steeples of a Catholic Church.

Catholicism is not widely practiced in Japan. The main religions are Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples can be found all over Japan, whereas Catholic Churches are sparse.


When I reached the church, I was a bit surprised to find the place empty. I kept thinking that a Catholic Church would spark a bit more interest to tourists, even though Hirakata-shi is small and has little to offer compared to Osaka or Kyoto. I suppose the church was left as it was, used only during services. There were no signs inside or outside that hinted at its history, although inside there were pamphlets in Japanese and Portuguese. But why Portuguese? It wasn’t that Hirakata-shi has a booming population of Portuguese speakers, but rather that Francis Xavier who was Portuguese, as well as a Jesuit missionary, landed in Japan in 1549. Where there is a church, there is Portuguese. That is all I could suppose since I couldn’t go church hunting for more evidence.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the occasional church and even more interesting to see a Japanese person wearing a cross around his/her neck for fashion purposes only. I guess I was a bit biased as I was more inclined to think that the Nihonjin wear religious pieces as a fashion statement as opposed to a gaikokujin wearing one because s/he believes in that religion. I know better now, even though sometimes I am still caught off guard when I see anything of the Christian influence.

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November 16, 2009. Uncategorized.

6 Comments

  1. R.A. Stern replied:

    Great inclusion for this post. The Francis Xavier posit is interesting, though I’m honestly not familiar with that particular portion of Japan’s history. There is, however, a historical and contemporary link between Japan and Brazil (with nearly 200 million Portuguese speakers) through migration and labor. Although the nearest major Brazilian area I know of is in Gunma, I see no long stretch in imagining a collective link through a church for other closer, smaller Brazilian communities.

  2. Jenn replied:

    I’m a student at Kansai Gaidai this semester and went looking for the catholic church you’re describing above. My friend and I had a great adventure looking for it, and as we can’t find any directions online never found it. We found a Mormon church and went their instead. It was really interesting, but we’d like to go to the Catholic one that you found. I hate to trouble you but could you give us directions?
    Thank you
    Jenn

    • dlag1689 replied:

      Hi Jenn, sorry for the late response. I’ve ben super busy as well as in quarantine.

      Go past “The Store” and all the hyaku yen shops in Hirakata-shi. At the end is a small road and turn left. From there it’s up to looking for the steeples because due to hunger and general disorientation, I don’t remember where to go from there. :]

      Good luck!

  3. visual gonthros replied:

    What is the last picture of? Was this at the church as well?

    There are a few Christians in Japan, perhaps one percent of the population. Actually the former prime minister Aso is Catholic.

    One of the largest minorities in Japan are the nikkeijin. They are descendants of Japanese people who left Japan and went primarily to Brazil and Peru. In the 1990s the government gave special visas to the nikkei to encourage them to work. While these people have Japanese blood, they lack Japanese culture and language.

    Have you noticed at the ATMs that one of the four foreign languages to choose from is Portuguese?

    • dlag1689 replied:

      The last picture is the Buddha from Kiyumizudera.

      I did notice that the ATMs offer Portuguese as a choice. I never really made the connection though!

  4. Okitsune replied:

    Actually, Francis Xavier was not Portuguese but from Spain. In fact, he was from a medieval state known as Navarra, which became a Spanish region when he was six. I have visited the castle owned by his family in Javier, Navarra (it still remains Spanish), so I am pretty sure about he was a Spaniard and not a Portuguese.

    I can understand the mistake considering the far more fluent contact of Japanese in XVI and XVII with Portuguese merchants, but the presence of dominicans (a Spanish monastic order) shouldn’t be misrepresented.

    It’s funny when people try to find the etimological origin of パン in the Portuguese word ‘pão’, when in Spanish the word for bread is ‘pan’… Yes! It’s the same sound than in Japanese!

    Anyway, it’s a great blog. Greetings from a Spanish anthropologist soon-to-be in Japan.

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