Christan Martyrs of Japan
The Christian faith was first introduced into Japan in the sixteenth century by Jesuit and later by Franciscan missionaries. By the end of that century, there were probably about 300,000 baptised Christians in Japan.
Unfortunately, this promising beginning met adverse circumstances, brought about by rivalries between different groups of missionaries and political intrigues by the Spanish and Portuguese governments, along with power politics among factions in the Japanese government itself. The result was a suppression of Christians.
The first victims were six Franciscan friars and twenty of their converts, who were executed at Nagasaki on 5 February 1597. They were tied to crosses, the crosses were raised to an upright position, and they were quickly stabbed to death by a soldier with a javelin. After a short interval of relative tolerance, many other Christians were arrested, imprisoned for life, or tortured and killed. The Church was totally driven underground by 1630. However, when Japan was re-opened to Western contacts 250 years later, it was found that a community of Japanese Christians had survived underground, without clergy, without Scriptures, with only very sketchy instructions in the doctrines of the faith, but with a firm commitment to Jesus as Lord. Remember that 250 years is a long time. 250 years ago Americans were loyal subjects of King George II.
The first victims of the persecution, the twenty-six martyrs of February 1597, were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1862. In 1959, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Holy Catholic Church of Japan), the Anglican Church in Japan, adopted this festival in its Calendar as a commemoration of all those who have given their lives for the Christian faith in Japan. The Martyrs of Japan are commemorated on this day in the calendars of the Roman Catholic Church, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and the Book of Alternative Services (Anglican Church of Canada). They are commemorated on February 6 in the calendars of the Church of England and the Church in Wales.