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Beginning of Heaven and Earth

The Sacred Book of Japan's Hidden Christians

Christal Whelan

Publication Year: 1996

In 1865 a French priest was visited by a small group of Japanese at his newly built church in Nagasaki. They were descendants of Japan's first Christians, the survivors of brutal religious persecution under the Tokugawa government. The Kakure Kirishitan, or "hidden Christians," had practiced their religion in secret for several hundred years. Sometime after their visit the priest received a copy of the Kakure bible, the Tenchi Hajimari no Koto, "Beginning of Heaven and Earth," an intriguing amalgam of Bible stories, Japanese fables, and Roman Catholic doctrine. Whelan offers a complete translation of this unique work accompanied by an illuminating commentary that provides the first theory of origin and evolution of the Tenchi. Today, the few Kakure Kirishitan communities still in existence view the Tenchi as strange and flawed, expressing a distorted form of Christianity. It is, however, the only text produced by the Kakure Kirishitan that depicts their highly syncretistic tradition and provides a colorful window through which to examine the dynamics of religious acculturation.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

Anyone seeking primary documents written by Japan’s Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians) about their experience of persecution will be disappointed. Such documents do not exist. The only works available on the subject are national and local histories. These may contain sections on the Kakure Kirishitan ...

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pp. ix

First I owe my thanks to the Kakure Kirishitan people who taught me what they remembered of their ancient and vanishing religion. Without their trust and hospitality no research would have been possible. I am grateful to Kimiya and Masaru Yaguchi, who shared their home with me. I wish to thank their daughter, ...

Manuscript List

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-36

For Westerners of the mid-sixteenth century, Japan, known then as Zipangu, was a remote country revealed to Europeans through the Far Eastern travel accounts of the Venetian explorer Marco Polo (1254–1325). No European had yet reached Japan, although Polo’s hearsay account later earned it fame as a place ...

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1. The Beginning of Heaven and Earth

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pp. 39-42

In the beginning Deusu was worshiped as Lord of Heaven and Earth, and Parent of humankind and all creation.2 Deusu has two hundred ranks and forty-two forms,3 and divided the light that was originally one, and made the Sun Heaven, and twelve other heavens. The names of these heavens are Benbō or Hell, ...

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2. The Evil Fruit Cast to Middle Heaven

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pp. 42-44

Deusu thought that the fruit of the masan was an evil thing for both heaven and earth, so he sent it to the tengu residing in Middle Heaven. Ewa’s children departed and met in the vicinity where they had discovered a lode of gōjaku. Then straight from heaven a naked sword came hurling down. ...

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3. The Division of Deusu’s Body for the Salvation of Humankind

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pp. 44-47

As before, the population grew steadily but everyone who had been born and died up until this point had necessarily fallen into Benbō. Deusu felt pity and said, “Oh, anjo, look here. What can I do? How can I help them?” Deusu’s anjo answered, “Deusu, if you but divide your divine body, that is a sure way to save them.” ...

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4. The King’s Death

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pp. 47-49

When the gentle snows had ceased to fall, the mental state of the King of Roson was close to dementia. He felt as if he were waking from a dream and kept murmuring, “Maruya, where have you gone? Maruya . . . Maruya.” Although the king searched for the girl Maruya, she had already gone up to heaven ...

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5. The Tribulations of Santa Maruya

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pp. 49-54

When Santa Maruya arrived home that day, for the first time her parents detected that their daughter was pregnant. Furious, they spoke harshly, berating her, “You who spurned the king, where and from what kind of person is this child that fills your belly?43 We can’t understand your debauchery. ...

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6. The Five Mysteries of the Morning

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pp. 54-56

The Holy One, who was listening, responded, “If people utter that name, what kind of place will they go to when they die?” Gakujūran answered, “After death, although it will be completely dark, as soon as the deceased boards the Boat of Vows,62 the wicked will fall into Jikoku while the good will certainly go ...

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7. A Nationwide Search

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pp. 56-58

Although King Yorotetsu searched feverishly for the Holy One, soaring high and digging into the deepest crevices, he was unable to find the hiding place in the whole Kingdom of Beren. He felt anxious and feared that the Holy One might be lost among the masses of common people. For this reason ...

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8. Yorotetsu Captures the Holy One

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pp. 58-59

Yorotetsu in Beren was rounding up his forces in order to capture the Holy One. He organized Ponsha and Piroto and an army of people. He hurried them off to Roma. When they arrived at the temple of Santa Ekirenja, they surrounded it in two columns and Ponsha and Piroto shouted out the command, ...

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9. Up Karuwaryu Hill

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pp. 59-60

In a place called Sanchiishima,78 an enormous tree called the Cross Tree grows.79 Its height is sixty-six units of 6 shaku, and the girth of its trunk is thirty-three units of 6 shaku. The trunk portion is reserved for future use. The tree will ultimately be set on fire by Deusu, who will descend from heaven ...

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10. Money Bedazzled

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pp. 61-62

Day after day in monotonous succession, tortures on Karuwaryu Hill continued. Hearing of this turn of events and lamenting, the forty-six disciples performed various austerities: fasting, laughing in death’s face, they held firm to the desire to imitate the Holy One’s way.82 The Holy One too discerned ...

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11. The Kirinto

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pp. 62-63

On Friday the Holy One came down to earth and remained there until Saturday. He stood on top of his coffin and many of his disciples came to worship him. He then returned to heaven and on the third day he sat on the right side of Deusu, his Parent. After that, for the sake of the salvation of both the living ...

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12. The Holy One’s Selection

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pp. 63

The thousands of children who Yorotetsu had massacred years before had been wandering ever since in Koroteru. The Holy One gave them all names and brought them to Paraiso.92 Then he chose the owner of the inn where he was born, followed by the Three Kings of Turkey, Mexico, and France. ...

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13. Establishment of the Officials

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pp. 63-64

San Migiri received the position of keeping the scales.94 In the temple of Jurisharen,95 he inquires about the sins and lets the good people go to Paraiso and the bad people fall to Inheruno. Depending also on the circumstances of the sins, he punishes them in such a way that sinful people feel ashamed of their sins. ...

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14. The Destruction of Our World

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pp. 64-66

When the time draws near for the destruction of this world, a great fireball will descend. Winds will roar, torrential rains fall, and insects plague the earth. All kinds of human negligence will be visible. For seven years things will remain in this chaotic state. That is why food shortages will be rampant ...

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15. Addendum

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pp. 66-68

Once there were two friends. The world had never seen the likes of them for closeness. One of them said to the other, “If you die before I do, please tell me in full detail what the hereafter is like. But if I die first, I’ll report to you within three days.” They made a pact to this effect. ...


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pp. 69-114


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pp. 115-128


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pp. 129-135

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About the Translator

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pp. 136

Christal Whelan is a lecturer in the Foreign Language Department at Sophia University in Tokyo. With a background in Portuguese and Italian literature and history, she came to Japan in 1990 to research the early contact between the Japanese and the Portuguese. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861605
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824818067

Publication Year: 1996