Man with brown hair and a grey and brown beard sitting at a table with a large map spread over it

For his 2022 National Library of Australia Fellowship, Dr Gwyn McClelland set out to explore the legacy of a number of newly listed Gotō Archipelago UNESCO World Heritage sites. In particular, how is the persecution of ‘Hidden Christians’ experienced between 1856 and 1873 and its aftermath understood today? 

Hear what Gwyn had to tell us when he reflected on his time at the Library and learn about his findings in his fellowship presentation.

Libby Cass: - Torres Strait Islander peoples, thank you for attending this event online and in person coming to you from the Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country.  

This afternoon's presentation, Trauma and World Heritage on the Gotō Islands, 1856 to 1899 is by Dr Gwyn McClelland, a 2022 National Library of Australia Fellow. Our distinguished fellowship program supports researchers to make intensive use of the National Library's rich collections through residencies of 12 weeks. National Library of Australia's fellowships are made possible by generous philanthropic support, and Dr McClelland's fellowship has been supported by the HS Williams Trust. Dr Gwyn McClelland is a lecturer and convener of Japanese at the University of New England. He's also a guest editor for the journal New Voices and Japanese Studies. For his fellowship, Dr McClelland continues to undertake research to identify how religious communities understand a number of newly listed Gotō Archipelago UNESCO World Heritage Sites and nearby locations as spaces through which to negotiate historical trauma. His project will produce and analyse new sources of oral history and examine experiences of historical trauma in the late 19th century, which have significant legacies for the people in the region. Please join me in welcoming Dr McClelland to tell us more.   

Gwyn McClelland: Thank you very much Libby. And thank you all for joining me. And as I've reflected on my current project and also thinking about the relationship to land and country, I guess it's important to this project, but I've also been able to reflect about the Australians First Nations people and their relationship to the lands and the invasive settlement of the people who I'm descended from. And I'll mention in a minute that in the Gotō Islands, the naming of the people who arrived there as settlers became actually pejorative and it was used in a way to subjugate the people who came this, 'cause this was the hidden Christians. So I'll talk about that in a minute. But I guess by way of saying that decolonization and thinking about decolonization requires context. And so I continue to learn about my own context. And so I'll add my acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the country in which I stand, the Ngunnawal and the Ngambri peoples, and also the Anaiwan people of the Tablelands of my university and the Wurundjeri and Woiwurrung peoples of the lands where I live.  

So I'm very grateful to the National Library for their very great support of this wonderful fellowship, and particularly to the fellowship staff, to Sharyn and Simone and all of the librarians and as well to my fellow scholars for their collegiality as well. But I also wanna mention Sakatani Nobuko and Oosaki Satsuki, who are two women who are both Islanders. One of them is in the upper Gotō and one is in the lower Gotō. And they are collaborators who are helping me immensely with the work of writing up the oral histories and thinking about as well what's actually important. And that's important for me to be working collaboratively on that.  

So I'm not gonna talk as much about the oral histories today, of course, because I'll be talking more about the findings in the Library. But I guess I'm working towards what I'm hoping will be a book. And so talking today about some of those components, what will come together there with the support of the NLA and also Japan Foundation in the field.  

So here, I've mainly been reading the stories of the ancestors of the people who I've been interviewing. And today the topic is trauma on the Gotō, and World Heritage is really after the comes, after the dates as the World Heritage Sites were not ratified until 2018. And today I'm gonna concentrate on one particular World Heritage site, which is Nozaki Island in the north of the island group.  

So this image really helped me, I think, in initially thinking about the project, even though it's published 1940 in the Japanese Catholic dictionary and represents some earlier persecutions, probably 16th, 17th century. But I think it also helps me to think about the themes which I'm looking at. The black ships have a meaning. Of course, there's colonial representation of the foreigners who gain their unequal treaties in Japan coming back in the 19th century. But there's also a meaning for the hidden Christians who saw the black ships as a part of a prophecy that when the black ships arrived with the priests, then this will be a change for the better. And then there's all these men, this is really not the Gotō Islands, probably the Nagasaki Bay, but then we can see the mother and child image. And for me, that represents the trauma, because in actual fact, it was the women and the children who experienced some of the worst of the brutality of the persecutions. And still we have wars where again, women and children experience the worst of the violence.  

So I think first off, I need to start with some terminology, and who are the Christian, hidden Christians anyway? And when we're talking about this hidden Christian cultural world heritage, then of course it's helpful to understand that. So there World Heritage listing nominates hidden Christians in English, but in Japanese it's sempuku kirishitan. And so I talk about these words, but kirishitan was the term for Christians used in the early period, 1550 to 1640 and onwards as distinct from kirisuto kyouin, which would be the modern word for Christian. And so after that early period when the Spanish and the Portuguese came, there were many kirishitan, and then many kirishitan went underground. And so sempuku kind of is now used to refer to this period of the secret Christians, for the Sempuku Jidai, the underground era from 1640 to 1873.  

And then we can delineate that to the kakure, after many of the hidden Christians became Catholic, especially from the 1860s, but also 1873, after they had more freedom then, then there were, you know, quite a number of people who didn't return to Catholicism. And so what do we call these people? Because they're still kind of hidden Christians, right? So in Japanese they're referred to as kakure. These days the scholars would talk about these groups as kakure. And so there are still some kakure who exist, some who I've interviewed, and some identifying as kakure or as kirishitan, or in other cases perhaps identifying instead as Buddhist or Shinto.  

So even though the terminology in the hidden Christian world heritage sites is sempuku, one of the things I want to talk, I want to include in my book project is to think about how heritage is not only the sempuku, but also the kakure. And certainly that's a part of what some of my interviewees will refer to in their discourse.  

And then just fourthly, as I've alluded to the term itsuki or hiraki-mono, yeah, hirakimono as well, kaitakusha is another way to put it, which means settlers or cultivators. And sometimes this was used in a dehumanising term and it was also used by the government. And so one author wrote that the kirishitan people were known as the itsuki, the settlers, and they were also known as eta or hinin. So this is filthy or literally non people. So there's a dehumanising going on there. And I'll talk about why there was a migration in a moment.  

But these are the four hidden Christian world heritage sites within the Gotō islands. And so you can see the shape of the fairly small archipelago, but there's quite a lot of very small islands as well. And this is from a Paris mission map a little bit later in 1890, which is held here. So there were 12 hidden Christian World Heritage Sites in Nagasaki and Amakusa. So there's just the four which I've used as a starting point. And of those, Kashiraga-shima was a quarantine island, and Hisaka island was included as in its entirety as well. But the one I'll concentrate on is Asakusa, Nozaki-jima up in the north.  

So these islands were very marginal in the early project of national Japan, especially emerging from the 1860s. They were sometimes forgotten or misrepresented and sometimes fell off the map. We can see the islands here in the far west at this point.  

And I've just included one more map because they're quite amazing maps that are here. And in this one you can see that sometimes they're just imagined amorphously. So it's really not the shape that we just saw of the archipelago, but they've just used the one single island, which is Fukue Island to represent the whole group of islands. But I guess for the hidden Christians who arrived here from 1797, this was a largely unmapped place where they could hide away and be forgotten about.  

And so in my reading here, sometimes it's the offhand comments by writers that remind me about the need to read between the lines. It's thinking of course with my collaborators as well to guide the reading, but it also involves reading against the grain in the Japanese literature, in the French mission literature, and the Catholic historiography as well.  

So one thread I was interested in was how difficult was it? How tough was this particular persecution? Was it really that extreme? And this scholar, Anesaki Masaharu who's a very well known religious scholar in Japan, he wrote a book called Kirishitan Shuumon no Hakugai to Sempuku and wrote basically that it wasn't that severe. So he was a religious studies scholar, born to a samurai family in Kyoto based at the Imperial Tokyo University. And he is really a very well known religious historian and Nichiren Buddhist. And there was Buddhist persecutions as well in the early Meiji. But looking at things, he couldn't see that things were that bad. And so you can see he thought there was blood and tears, but the believers were really not that obstinate and the persecution was not that severe. He weighed up the evidence to come to this and looked at the apostates list. So there's a lot of apostates, a lot of people who gave up their faith. The numbers identified as kirishitan were low, and these statistics basically brushed over the tortures that the people endured, but it's still 40, 50 years after the persecutions. And so I guess we can be sceptical about the view from the centre of Imperial Japan.  

And then of course, we can also look at the French mission, and this is not really representing the French mission, but some stereotypes of French people in Japan. But it is important to think about critiquing the French missionary's engagement with the peasant hidden Christians and the French as well. They were actually at the signing of the unequal treaty. In fact, the French priest was a interpreter at that event, and they didn't experience the treatment that the hidden Christians did from this point, although they did make a great protest with around the world about what was going on.  

So after Anesaki, we can turn to the historian and the priest, Urakawa Wasaburo, whose book Gotō Kirishitan Shi is in the National Library, and which I've read quite closely. His family was informed by their treatment in the early Meiji because his mother was caught up in the persecutions, but not on the Gotō islands. She was, you know, a different persecution called the Urakami persecution, which is actually much more well known even in Japan than the Gotō persecutions. So he was ordained as a priest in 1906, and then he was the head of the Nagasaki Seminary by 1928. And in that year he published a two volume book, which included long discussion of Urakami persecutions and the islands. And so these books give the names, the dates of the women and children and men. They include the details of the tortures and their trials. And so without this story, one of my own, one of the interviewees would not have been able to trace what happened to her ancestors. And she said her father mentioned that her grandfather was, her great-grandfather was cited in a story, but didn't wanna say anything more just because of the kind of story it was, how shameful it was. So she read it herself, and then I've been able to read it as well. And so Urakawa's conclusion you can see here, that they were ‘the peak of brutality and barbarity’. So even compared to the Urakami persecutions on the mainland, and perhaps that's a reply as well, I wonder, to Anesaki written in 1951.  

So for the remainder of the talk today, I'll give you a little bit more background, especially thinking about why study this anyway? And then I'll move on to a story out of what I've read Nozaki Six and the Hirado Samurai Yashiki.  

So I'd say there's three main reasons that I've been led to this, and I've been really fascinated by the research. And the first one is the world heritage, that UNESCO sent a committee and they were satisfied that these sites were of universal value, but they indicated there was this urgent need for oral histories to pick up the narratives better to understand what happened. And so I decided that I would attempt to do my best to engage with that work critically and collaboratively, to consider the value and the meaning and how that might be understood differently as well within the communities there. And I'm presently working on a collaborative project with those two women who I mentioned, writing up five extracts of the interviews to be put online. And I might just show you that now. So it's called Japan Past and Present. And so it's gonna be a chance to have a little bit of that already up online, hopefully by mid 2024.  

So the second point, postmemory, is a concept of Marianne Hirsch's, which I'm really interested in. And so I've done a little bit of writing about this already and in terms of my earlier work on Nagasaki, and so I'll just bring up some of my publications from that work. But the second one listed here is actually looking at that concept. And so thinking, I guess not just about trauma, but when you don't have eyewitnesses anymore. So when I was working on thinking about the Nagasaki atomic bombing and the Catholics caught up in that, then I was interviewing eyewitnesses. But now this work is certainly not eyewitness. So how do we understand multi-generational transmission of trauma through familiar objects, stories and also silences?  

And then thirdly, marginality draws me to this in terms of a marginal space geographically, also kind of between Asia and Europe, this hybridic culture that the hidden Christians and the Catholics and the kakure, they're all a little bit hybridic in their practises and understandings. And I guess the people leading a very marginal life as the lowest of the low and suffering injustice, brutality and long discriminations that continues to linger. So that we know, one of the interviewees I spoke to talked about being, having stones thrown at him as a child. And he understood that as because he was Catholic.  

So turning to the story of the hidden Christians, the Gotō, and going back to the beginning, 1797 onwards, the Omura domain requested a permit for a group of people to migrate to the islands. And at the time there was overpopulation as the lord saw it. And so there was also not enough to eat. And so he decreed that anyone who had a second or third son, they would need to commit infanticide to kill those children. And so there was plenty of reasons that the Christians decided to move on, and on the Gotō islands, the lord was hoping that people would settle some of these lands that were unsettled. And this really came to be. And so gradually more and more people, at least 3,000 people, moved over time onto the islands.  

The political situation was very complicated. And you can see here in the islands, this is the islands here, Nagasaki over here. So we have the, especially the orange, which is the Fukue domain, so the Fukue lord who lived around about here on Fukue Island. And then we have the Hirado domain that I'll talk about today, the light blue in this section here. And Hirado Island itself is up here.  

And we also have the French protagonists, the French missionaries, the MEP setting for the Missions, and my French is not very good, etrangeres de Paris, so MEP. And we had Bernard Thadde Petitjean who constructed or assisted with constructing the first Catholic church in Nagasaki and also Cousin, this missionary who travels to the islands at the request of Petitjean and goes to these two places in particular. So Tainoura and Kashiragashima which is that quarantine island, which is also a heritage site today.  

So the missionaries declared the Buddhist and the Shinto practises as superstitious, and they refused baptism or any sacrament if the people wouldn't do without them. And so as time went on, some believers followed suit, some disposed of their what they called butsudana and kamidana and these were the Buddhist and the Shinto items that they had in their homes, and then declared themselves as kirishitan to their headmen in their villages or on the islands. And so on some occasions, some of the priests showed mercy and baptised without this fulfilment of that precondition. But most of the time, it was very, very clear that this is what was required of the people, that they needed to get rid of these icons.  

But of course, these items were essential for the camouflage of the hidden Christians. And so this is a outwardly Buddhist kannon used by the sempuku and the kakure to honour Mary and child. And up to this point, the bakufu shogunal government had carried out the temple registration system, and births and deaths were registered, and the Christian villages kept their own Buddhist butsudana, Shinto kamidana shelves in their houses, and they offered flowers and incense at these and they would tend to hold a Buddhist funeral, and sometimes they would hold a separate hidden Christian funeral after the fact. So there was a dilemma for the kirishitan. They had some more idea perhaps than the French missionaries of what might be the results of this kind of action. Although it's possible the missionaries also had, and they talked about the dangers that were involved. So there was extreme reactions. And so the Nozaki Six is a part of this, this story about the Nozaki Six, which I'll talk about. But they experienced brutality after they carried out this iconoclasm and no less for the Nozaki group as well.  

For Urakawa, who's the priest writer, he writes that the Gotō persecution didn't start from the side of the domain, from up above, but it started from the kirishitan themselves. And so to me that feels like kind of victim blaming the Christian villages. He doesn't put a strong emphasis on the arrival of the French and the building of their temple in Nagasaki. And I wonder, I have to wonder, how did the French missionaries understand the power that they wielded and the impact of these instructions and what that was going to be?  

Of course, the hidden Christians did want baptism, and they could see some of these prophecies, which they believed in happening. And so they sought a time of change, and so they came forward. And so there is the missionary, there is, sorry, the kirishitan response as well to consider. And I think as well there's the response of the domains of the upper class, the samurai, the officials, and their assistants. And I think that the other really important part of this is that it was the timing, 1868 is a transfer of power from the shogun to the emperor. So there is change coming to Japan, and then there are incidents that happen like samurai vigilantes who come upon some Christians and just kill them with their swords. And you know, the samurai are losing power, very aware that this is a time where they might lose their power. So there's kind of scapegoat violence going on.  

And then a part of the conclusion of Urakawa about why it was so brutal in his perception is the isolation. The islands were such a good place to hide away, to be away from the eyes of the officials. There's so many different places when you actually go there, you can see the hills everywhere, the little coves. So they could hide away, but when they were revealed as kirishitan and when they were captured and put into prisons, then the treatment was incredibly brutal in this hidden away corner.  

And so let's move on to the story of the Nozaki Six. And just before I do go to that slide, I think just to point out again that Nozaki is this tiny little island here, right in the north. And so it is very close to the Hirado island over here.  

And so this is obviously a photograph, a modern photograph of Nozaki Island. In the Tokugawa era, ruled by the Hirado domain. It's roughly a kilometre, one kilometre in width, two kilometres in length. It's not that big. And this is where the Nozaki Six were. So this was an almost abandoned island in the 1800s. And so it was a good site for the hidden Christians where they could come to be, and not just because it's supposedly abandoned, but also this is a Shinto holy site. And so up in the north of the island is this place called Oeishi, and it's quite amazing to see, but 24 metre high stones with eight tatami mat spaces on a rock that's perched on top. And so this is where the Daimyo god appeared, and the Hirado gods were said to dance. And this is where they settled in the mid 1800s, probably without an official permit. So these are the two settlements that the kirishitan chose, Nokubi village right here, and Funamori village down here. So even though it was a abandoned island, largely abandoned, because there was still probably a couple of, or a small couple of settlement here of the Shinto priests who would of course travel up to the monument and shrine up here.  

The organisation of the hidden Christians is quite important because it assisted them with communications. And so each group had three roles. They called it the sanyaku. There was the chokata, who's the keeper of the book. There was the Baptizer known as a mizukata, and then a third assistant role. And in 1865, the Nokubi kirishitan heard the story of the kirishitan from nearby Asagara. So it'd been down on this island that they had met the French. And so after some discussion, they decided to go and go to Oura Cathedral themselves.  

And so Oura Cathedral is one of the hidden Christian World Heritage Sites, partly because of this, because of the retransmission of faith. And so this is where Father Petitjean was, and they went and met with Petitjean, they received teaching and saw the Holy Cross. And Urakawa writes that those people who had no relations with kamidana, with the Shinto items, were baptised by Father Cousin in the following year. And the people were told they had to destroy the kamidana in order to be baptised by the priests, but this very much made the Nozaki kirishitan uncomfortable. And so in the community history, then the group discussed this issue long into the night, and they come to this decision as a group: ‘As long as we're in Japan disposing of our God shelves, our kamidana, we can't feel comfortable with keeping this teaching. What if we find an abandoned island and immigrate there?’ So it seems like almost the same thing that they've already done, but ‘we've heard of Takeshima in the Korean Sea. It's so isolated, doesn't belong to any country. There's bamboo growing thickly, and there's as much abalone as bamboo.’ So this could be good.  

And so after this, the story goes that they go to Nagasaki City and they buy themselves a telescope, I think it costs them three yen. They buy three compasses, four iron rods, some rice and sake to make sure that they can eat and drink. And then there's six men, so that's why I called it the Nozaki Six, who head out, three of them come from Nokubi, two from Funamori, so three from here, two from here, and then one comes from the other island over here. And so they head in a boat onto the northeast wind, crying out with the greatest of care.  

And so they were away for around about seven months. And this is not the right period, but I thought it'll give you a bit of an idea of their journey. This is a colonial period map. But two days later on their right, the sailors saw Korea. So you can imagine if they're sailing from here and they see Korea on their right, then, you know, they might be even going between Jeju Island and the mainland of Korea here.  

And then eventually they get to two days later that where the sea becomes shallow and it looks like the colour of mud. And Urakawa believed that they might have arrived at the northwest Korean Sea. And so they were afraid and they cried out, "Let's go back." But clearly their compasses were not doing them much good, and they had no idea how to go back or what direction they were travelling in. And so after sailing in what they thought was an easterly direction, and I'm imagining that perhaps from about here for how long, for another, yeah, day and a night, then they eventually arrived at a point, which was Korea. So they meet two Korean people wearing white clothes. And when they asked the direction of Japan, the two people jumped on horses and disappear, and taken aback, just a moment later, they could see 50 or 60 people approaching quickly. So they get scared and jump in their boat and take off again and make the open sea.  

So eventually they managed to get back to Japan. They run out of food, not surprisingly. And they ironically find that where they've arrived, and they don't know this is, but they're way down south at a place called the Nanatō, so this is seven islands instead of the Gotō, the five islands. And so there's a story about how they try to give some money to the islanders and they say, "What do we use money for?" And so they offer them their compasses. And so that's kind of ironic, I thought.  

And then they sail for a week and finally arrive at Satsuma in the south here. And then they're, again, ironically, they're given correspondence from the domain, from the officials. So they receive lodging and they're supposed to take that correspondence to the Hirado domain who are going to actually be the ones to put them in prison. And so I don't really know what happened to that correspondence because there's no mention at that point.  

When they finally get back to Nagasaki after finding another ship. So I think that they abandoned their boat, they get back to Nagasaki and they meet the priest Father Petitjean at Oura Cathedral again. And he tells them, "No one on the Gotō Islands thought you would return safely. I've heard they thought you had died. So they held a pretend Buddhist funeral service, and then they held a mass at their house for your deaths, you must return quickly and make everyone happy." So this was April, 1867, three months before the major persecution starts on the mainland. And seven months before another major persecution breaks out on the Gotō Islands.  

And so the kirishitan who had come back from the dead returned to Nozaki. And I've got a different map here, so we can see a little bit better now. Nozaki Island, Ojika is the more populated island right here with the temple on it. And then there's the peninsula that's stretching up from Kami from the other main island just underneath it.  

So when they got back, they found that their ashes were displayed in their houses by order of the local temple, and they took them and burnt them in the fire. And soon after, the Buddhist priest spot 23 Hirado domain officials, and they came across from Ojika to the Christian settlements, and they just checked in all their houses to see which houses had the butsudana and the kamidana, the Buddhist and the Shinto shelves, and they burnt them up. So the officials picked up the ashes and used them as evidence. And then shortly after that, they were transported en masse. They took 50 people out of the two settlements and took them across to Ojika. And just to mention as well, that Chuchi was caught up in this because Chuchi is also in the Hirado domain. And so the Chuchi villages, again, similarly, some of them had, one had been baptised and then another got rid of their kamidana and butsudana. And so the official heard about this, and this family, this particular family was arrested and taken to Ojika.  

And then following on that, it's interesting because the response to the villages to this, so one family's been arrested, and so the rest of the villagers picked up their statues and pulverised them and threw them into the sea according to the narrative. And then a lot of these Chuchi villages were able to hide in the mountains or to evacuate to other locations. And I think one of those locations was Hisaka Island, which I'll talk about at the conclusion.  

And once they arrived in Hirado, which was the large island over around about here, things turned for the worse, the captured Christians were taken to Hirado, and they were fed very little. The men over 15 years were put into a prison, and the women and children were housed in a dormitory. And so there was torture involved. And this one was very, very common on the islands, called sangi-seme, which involved being put onto a wooden board, as you can see, with triangular notches, and then having rocks put on top of that, on top of your knees. And the people were hit with bamboo.  

And so Urakawa describes the torture in this particular case of a family, including a man, his wife and children, three children, Yoimatsu, Iwasuke, and Seio, And the girl, seven years old was put in a charcoal sack with a ceramic pot on her lap, and they were interrogated from 8:00 AM until 2:00 AM the next morning. And Urakawa mentions Iwasuke, and perhaps Iwasuke, who was one of the children, was the one who told him the stories about this because he explained that, well, on his wrists, he had the rope marks still from the treatment that they'd had.  

And so they gave up their Christianity, officially apostatizing in order for this torture to cease. And Urakawa writes that they made a statement of apostasy, and then the men were released to join the women and children. But again, here I saw that there was an understated and anonymous postscript, which infers that the violence continues after this as he writes. So they've apostatized, they've given up faith, so they're allowed to go. So the household heads, women, and children were allowed to return, but the young women without sexual experience were retained in the samurai house for three years. So I think that that, you know, reading between the lines here, that the incidence is a, probably a tip of the iceberg, because sexual violence was a part of the kazure as the persecution was called and probably rarely spoken about. But he does mention this particular samurai residence on the following page where young people from Kurojima, another island nearby to the Gotō, were all also sent to the same residence. And so I think to me, that the fact that the Chuchi and the Nozaki villagers don't protest this, the retention in sexual slavery of the young women, reflects a sense of powerlessness in the face of this. And again, that the freedom for the majority comes at a price for the minority, and the vulnerable pay a high price.  

But when they did return, and there was this one photograph of some of the returnees who were, again, quite characteristically, they have commemoration photographs of remembering what happened at certain points after they've been able to come back, they found that the homes had been ransacked, nothing of value remained. They had buried some pots before they left. So those were useful, but they didn't have anything they could boil water in. They had no salt or miso when they returned. And this was very characteristic of right around the islands in terms of when they returned to their homes that they'd been ransacked. And they had a very difficult road ahead.  

So the Nozaki islanders, and one person sort of suggests that this is penance for their apostasy, but whether it was or not, they built three churches on the island. The first was a wooden one in 1881, which is only four years after the French missionaries are able to come to them after the persecutions. And then the Nokubi villages followed the next year, and finally they build a brick church in 1908, which is still there today. So this is a part of that World Heritage Site, and you can go and have a look at it, and it's managed by the township, in actual fact it's not managed by the Catholics today, on Ojika Island next door.  

So just to pull some threads together, I wanna return briefly to the overall picture of the Gotō persecutions, of which I've only just touched upon today. But there's a small connection from Nokubi up here to the worst of the persecutions, which was probably on this island here, Hisaka. And some of the runaways, as I mentioned, came from Chuchi down to Hisaka Island. And right around about here on the far west, they were able to hide away, even though the domain Hirado advertised to Fukue and Omura domains they were looking for them.  

But what I wanted to mention down in Hisaka Island was that there was somebody who collected the narrative of what happened, and they put it together. And in Urakawa's writings, and it's in this book, but it's also in the one that we have here at the Library, and it's called the Hijou Nikki, the extreme diary literally in Japanese. And I really think you could think of it as a trauma diary, which picks up on what happened day by day, not without blemish and not perfect, but it records in detail. 91 female, 95 males were jailed here, sorry, 21 women and girls died, and eight men and boys died. And shortly after, four women or girls, I think so, 14 children, five boys and nine girls who are under 12 years old died, and double the number of women than men in that incident. And so, you know, certainly in the oral histories that I've been working with, I've been looking at some of those stories as well.  

So the story of the Nozaki Six I think is an example of how varied the responses of the islanders were to the initial contact with the French. And the sempuku had these communication lines that meant they were in touch with other communities across geographically diverse locations. And sometimes they responded in solidarity, like that case where the Chuchi islanders, Chuchi villagers burnt their statues in response to the arrests of one family.  

And so this is the church that I mentioned on Nozaki Island that remains today, even though again, it's an abandoned island. And now you can find lots and lots of deer on this island, which is of course, it's a sacred animal in Shinto belief as well. But recent researchers do agree that the infringement on human rights was worse on the Gotō islands than on the mainland. And by working from the oral histories I've collated and looking back, I hope to continue to critically examine the importance of these UNESCO World Heritage Sites, how that applies to the sempuku, but also to the kakure kirishitan, and also to bring out the women's and the children's perspectives that are often missing. So I welcome your questions or comments and thank you very much. 

Libby Cass: Thank you, Dr McClelland. We now have time for some questions, and as this presentation is being recorded, please wait for the microphone to reach you before asking your question. So my colleagues are standing by with the microphone, if you want to ask a question, please raise your hand. 

Audience member 1: I was curious about you, you mentioned that one of the churches is being looked after by the local government rather than the church. Does that mean that there's no longer an active Catholic community on that particular island?   

Gwyn McClelland: Yeah, that does. Yeah. Yeah. So the island which I was mainly focusing on its communities, the Catholic community... So I think it indicates to you as well how tough a place it is to live. It's probably not an easy place to grow food, even, so basically they, I think they, the one settlement closed in about 1968, and then the other one, 1971. So they've been, it's been abandoned for quite a long time. And some of the people ended up going to Ojikawa, which is that neighbouring island, which has got the population that's still there to today. So there is a church over there now. But this particular church was also picked up in the Japanese bunkazai register, so it was noted as a heritage site in Japanese cultural memory sometime before the World Heritage status was applied to the community. So it's not specifically to the church, so there's a little bit of difference, so the town looks after that church now. Yeah.  

Audience member 1: Thanks. 

Libby Cass: Any other questions from the audience? Yes, a couple I can see. 

Audience member 2: I had a somewhat specific question about class dynamics. You mentioned before how the samurai would go around basically killing Christians, presumably the samurai were much more wealthy than say, the people that they were killing. Were there any sort of significant class dynamics within these persecutions? 

Gwyn McClelland: Thanks for the question. That's a good one. And I think that there definitely was class dynamics. The incident that I mentioned, the vigilantes, was a fairly isolated one I think. But it was in the centre of one of the islands. And so still, it left a pretty horrible memory. And, well, it was a horrible event. It happened I think 1870, and it was at a point where I think that the commoners... So at that point in the history of Japan, they'd actually declared all people to be heimin, all people to be commoners and so now there was to be no more eta or hinin, which I mentioned right at the start of the talk, the really, eta just meaning filthy, that's a pretty horrible word. And hinin also meaning non-humans, depending on the occupations of the people. And occupations were now up for grabs. Anyone could be any occupation at that point. And so this is something that was, for the samurai, possibly threatening, and it was three years later that they were not allowed to use their swords anymore.  

So I guess, you know, I don't know whether that, what had reached them on the islands, but that these young samurai went out with their new swords and, you know, just in the middle of the night and start killing some people. They were actually tried. And so they committed seppuku, which is the ritual disembowelment. So, but as for class dynamics, there was definitely class dynamics on every island because as I sort of talking about the domains that were in charge, then they would have a official on the other island. So Fukue, for example, is the island with the castle, and then Hisaka island is right alongside it. So there was somebody sent across by the lord to be on that island, specifically as the magistrate, of the daikan. And that man was the one who decided what to do with the villages when they brought their burnt up things and said, "We're actually Christian." So yeah, so very much a part of it all. Yeah. 

Libby Cass: Thank you. I think you might have time for one more. I think there was a hand up the back there, rose, perhaps, middle row just behind you. Thank you. 

Audience member 3: Thank you for your talk, really interested in your oral history project, talking to descendants of the community and how they felt about it. Have you also looked into what the community more generally feels about this part of their history and how they've reflected on it? 

Gwyn McClelland: So, just to ask you a question about that, so the community more generally, you meaning, so the Buddhist community? Yeah. And yeah, yeah, yeah. So I guess I've, in thinking about the group that I'm trying to select, I'm looking for people who are descendants. And so they, some of them are Catholic, some of them probably more would see themselves as not Catholic or even close to hidden Christian, or yeah, Buddhists. And so yeah. So a bit of a selection of the community to get an understanding of, widely, how it's understood as well and the world heritage as well.  

So I think it is a really interesting case because it's still a minority I guess, but when you go to the islands, you notice that the percentages are different depending on what island you're on. So Hisaka Island, which I was mentioning the worst of the persecutions today, they'd be around about 50% Catholic, when you go to Fukue Island, it's the large one. So it might be only 15 or 20% Catholic. And then if you go to, so Naru Island is really interesting 'cause it's right next to Hisaka Island, there was only a small group who returned to Catholicism, and then the majority stayed hidden Christians. So that island, it's fascinating 'cause there'd be 60 or more percent of people who are descendants of hidden Christians, which is an unusual, I think, compared to other islands. And then on the northern island it's about 33% Catholic. So it's, yeah. 

Libby Cass: Okay, thank you. We've got a question come from online, if I can interpret the hand signal. So somebody's gonna read it out. 

Library Staff member: Yes. We've received a question from Wesley Lim through YouTube, firstly thanking you for your talk. And he asks, "How would a hidden Christian be recognised, through dress or appearance?" 

Gwyn McClelland: Oh, I'd like to ask him a question about that as to whether he means at what point in history. But if it was today, I think nowadays we wouldn't know. So yeah, but I guess maybe he means historically, and I guess what stands out about it is that when the persecution has happened, it was only 50 or 60 years after all those migrations. Okay? So the migrations began in the 1800s. And so maybe it's 60, 70 years, maybe it's only 50, 40 years, depending on when people migrated. So the hidden Christians at the time would've been very recognisable for the people who were there before because they were very different culture. They had different way of speaking. They had their own customs they kept themselves. And then as the author was writing that I spoke to you about, they were kind of known as people to keep away from, and you didn't really need to treat them as human. You know, the other people on the islands tended to create special rules. So some of those things some of the interviewees have talked to me about as well. But for example, building a watch house and then keeping an eye on what the hidden Christian community was doing in terms of what they're taking out of the sea. They're only allowed to take certain things in some places and other things in other places. So they were treated very specially. They kept kind of quite separate to the other communities, and so they would've been recognised just for that, for that othering that was going on. Yeah. 

Libby Cass: Thank you. So yeah, as we draw to a close, let's just give a round of applause for our presenter. Thank you Dr McClelland.  

And just some quick plugs before we leave. So I hope you can join us here again tomorrow for the next fellowship lecture, 'The Many Lives of Mavis Robinson' with Dr Alice Garner. And our website is the place- This Thursday. This Thursday, okay. This Thursday, not tomorrow. Okay. And our website is the place where you'll find recordings of a diverse range of recent talks and performances from our fellows. And these are available on the National Library's YouTube channel. And thank you all again for attending today, and please join me once again and congratulating Dr. McClelland for such a fascinating presentation. 

Back to the Library 

This wasn’t Gwyn’s first time using the Library’s collections to further his research. Having heard about the Library’s extensive Japanese language material, in 2017 Gwyn was one of five Japanese Study Grant recipients and used this opportunity to research the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. During this time, he learnt ‘just how rich and interesting the collection is, especially in the area of Japanese Studies’, he explained.  

In between his first and latest projects at the Library, Gwyn has been 'working as an oral historian to collate interviews across the community’ in the Gotō Archipelago. After completing more than 20 interviews, Gwyn came back to the Library as a Fellow to look at the literature to support this research. 

Pages with Japanese text and colourful, highly detailed, illustrations of samurai, men in armour and cultural dress with swords.
Images from Nanakusa buyū kakami, 1870,  

Reading between the lines 

As he dived into the collections, he recalled ‘that reading between the lines, or against the grain, is very important in understanding some of the historical discourse, and it is the subtle statements that sometimes give food for thought’. In many instances, this meant considering the perspective and potential biases of an author when reading their writing.  

‘For example, we can probably agree that for minorities it is a common experience for their narratives of trauma to be denied, and I read a subtle but definitive denial of the experiences of the persecutions in what would have been a highly esteemed historiography of the Catholics/Hidden Christians by a very well-known religious scholar during the 1920s at the Imperial Tokyo University.  

‘Then, when I was reading the community history by a Catholic Japanese historian, I found what appears like his reply to that well known religious scholar, detailing exactly how the Goto persecutions were extreme, and at the worse end of anything he had ever understood historically.’

Print of people waking along a path around a mountain with bundles of sticks balanced on their heads.
The environment of the Gotō. Woodblock print from Bijutsu sekai, v.8,  

Sharing his learning 

Using the findings from his Fellowship and oral history research, Gwyn is now working with local collaborators to publish an open access book. Additionally, he plans to share excerpts of his interviews along with photographs, audio and transcripts in Japanese and English as part of a larger project supported by University of California, Los Angeles and Waseda University, Tokyo.

Man with brown hair and a grey and brown beard standing and leaning against a table with a large map spread over it

This won’t be Gwyn’s last venture into the Library’s collection 

Having returned to the Library to continue his research, it is clear that Gwyn found the experience as a Japanese Study Grant recipient highly beneficial. Reflecting on his time as a NLA Fellow, his sentiments remain the same. As well as the ‘opportunity to read, and to gather such extraordinary materials’ with strong support from the Library staff, Gwyn particularly appreciated the chance to meet other fellows and scholars.  

‘The opportunity to attend the NLA is incredibly enriching, and I will definitely be coming back.’ 

Learn more about the Library’s Fellowship and Scholarship programs.