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How Christians lived in early modern Japan

2015-12-06

Mario Marega was a Salesian priest who was sent to Japan to work as a teacher in the early 20th century. When his superiors discovered he was ill-suited for teaching, he began to study Japanese literature. Then he ended up doing something extraordinary.

While in Japan, Marega collected thousands of texts about Christians in the country from the 16th to the 18th century. The "Marega Project Symposium” has been put on display in the Vatican Library. 

Experts say the documents are truly one of a kind.

SILVIO VITA
Kyoto University of Foreign Studies
"It is a very important collection because a similar one from Japan does not exist. There is a great deal of documents, more than 10,000, and they relate to a specific part of Japan where there were many Christians.”

They also show an aspect of  history in Japan that was common when the religion arrived: the persecution of Christians. One academic said it was like having a photograph of society at the time.

SILVIO VITA
Kyoto University of Foreign Studies
"They give us a photograph of the society in that time, as well as providing important information about how the population was controlled.

KUZUO OHTOMO
National Institute of Japanese Literature 
"They were people who have Christians among their ancestors. The national government, through local authorities, had stopped their descendants from returning to their original religion. They controlled them up to the preceding five generations”

Although Marega wrote a book about many of his findings, thousands of documents remain unexamined and unstudied. For scholars inside and outside of Japan, his collection will give them insights for years to come.


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