Feature from Tokyo American Club Magazine, March 1998, pp. 33, "The Eastern Cross"
From March 16 to March 29, just before the Passover/Easter season, there will be a special two-part presentation on The Eastern Cross. First, there is an "Evening with The Eastern Cross," beginning at 6:30 p.m. on March 16, featuring a once-in-a-life-time experience with descendants of Japan's ancient underground Christians (called Kakure Kirishitan) who will be reciting the "Orashio," their liturgy for Mass. The Orashio was performed in secret for over 400 years and is almost never done outside the remote Kakure mountain villages.
Following the evening program, there will be "The Eastern Cross Museum," a gathering of The Eastern Cross artifacts from museums and private collections from throughout Japan - the first time such a variety of items will be in one place. The program and museum will trace The Eastern Cross as it spread eastward along the Silk Roads through Asia to its final destination, Japan!
When we speak of Japan, we often assume that it is a Buddhist and Shinto country, while, in fact, just like other countries along the Silk Road, Japan is a nation with a history of many other philosophies and beliefs - from Zorasterism to Judaism, Manacheism, Christianity and Confucianism. Those at Kyoto's old temples say that in ancient times Japan was very cosmopolitan, like Singapore, Los Angeles or Paris. When Kyoto was first built it was modeled after the famous multi ethnic city of Sian Fu, China. In ancient times, they say Japan's busy commercial cities were made up of 70% to 80% "Toraijin" and "Kikajin" settlements, people who had come to Japan from many countries in the Middle East and East Asia. They followed the Silk Road to a place that offered them opportunity and freedom from persecution at last: Japan. Still today, Japan has the largest and most exquisite repository of Silk Road artifacts that came from such places as ancient Constantinople, Egypt and Persia.
Last year two Tokyo University professors confirmed that the Japanese people consist of unusual gene types only found in Middle East, Europe, China, Southeast Asia and Mongolia - giving scientific backing to the long-held beliefs that many racial groups once settled in Japan.
One part of the Eastern Cross Exhibition is an attempt to trace this rich and, for the most part, overlooked role of The Eastern Cross in ancient Japan. According to the famed Silk Road researcher at Waseda University, Dr. Yoshiro Saeki, and historian Sakae Ikeda from Kyoto University, the first bearers of the Eastern Cross, the Hata tribes, came to Japan as early as AD 198 from ancient Silk Road cities near Kazakhstan. After them, the next bearers of the Eastern Cross were the "Keikyo" people who began settling in Japan from the 8th century on.
Following the Keikyo peopel were the Japanese Kirishitan. According to Richard Drummond in "A History of Christianity in Japan," in 1600, the Kirishitan Church was the largest single organized religion in Japan. The Kirishitan bore the brunt of the 17th-century Japanese Holocaust, in which one million Japanese lost their lives or were exiled to foreign lands as religious refugees.
Throughout Japan today, the Eastern Cross can be seen in its various forms, from Okinawa to Hokkaido. Many people may not realize that there are hundreds of memorials, museums, monuments and even entire villages throughout Japan that trace their roots to the ancient Eastern Cross. In fact, the most famous center of The Eastern Cross during the 15th and 16th centuries was the Miako, Kyoto, in which were once five large Kirishitan neighborhoods. Once was known as "The City of Angels," where the Japanese Kirishitan built Kyoto's first hospital, leproserium and other charitable institutions, some of which still exist today.
So the next time you travel in Japan, be sure to visit one of the amazing Eastern Cross museums or sites in Sendai, Sapporo, Nagoya, Tokyo, Kyoto or Kyushu, and so many other places. See the ancient church site in Kyoto, the Star of David on hundreds of street lanterns in the city of Ise, visit the amazing Kirishitan Museum north of Sendai, or climb the remote mountain of Kyushu to look for the remnants of the ancient Kirishitan. You will be fascinated by the culture and people of the Eastern Cross who made their unique impressions on Japan through the centuries.
Like the first tim you reflected on the Land of the Rising Sun, you can rediscover a Japan full of mystery and intrigue during the celebration of The Eastern Cross. Be sure and bring your friends for a once-in-a-lifetime performance on March 16 and for the next two weeks.