A fumie that belonged to a Kyoto antique collector has been passed on to Chapel Kohitsuji in Sakai, Osaka, a church pastored by Hironari Takatori. Satoru Ueda, a lay member of the Chapel, had received the item as a memento, and donated it to the church, saying, “It is a valuable part of Christian heritage, so I hope that it can be used for the Lord.”
Fumie are tablets bearing Christian images that were kept in local magistrate offices of Japan in the Edo period. In order to expose hidden Christians, officers would take them around towns and villages, ordering people to step on them. The ancient fumie serve as a reminder of the conflict and uncertainty faced by hidden Christians in Japan, who held onto their faith even through a time of unprecedented persecution.
This particular fumie was appraised by Father Gen Aoyama, professor emeritus of Nanzan University and Japan’s leading expert in fumie research. He verified that it is an authentic piece used in the Nagasaki area. It consists of a metal plate (about 14 cm tall and 10 cm wide), engraved with an image of the birth of a child, set in a 3 cm thick slab of wood (about 26 cm tall and 20 cm wide). The facial expressions of the Virgin, Christ child, and those kneeling around them are unclear, likely worn away by the many people who stepped on the fumie. According to Father Aoyama, Christian art displayed in homes would have been confiscated and embedded into wooden slabs like this. Since wood deteriorates with time, it is likely that the slab would have been replaced a number of times over the years.
On January 21st the movie Silence, based on a novel by Catholic author Shūsaku Endō and directed by Martin Scorsese, premiered across Japan. The story is set in the era when the Tokugawa shogunate began oppressing Christians. Pastor Takatori contacted the film’s distributer and offered them the use of the fumie for events. Journalist Yoshimasa Moribe, an expert on the history of Christianity in Japan, gave a lecture at Chapel Kohitsuji on January 22nd.
In order to help preserve and make use of the fumie for ministry, a preservation group has been set up within the church. If the fumie was kept in a museum, people would be able to go and look at it, but they would no longer be able to pick it up in their own hands. “I think an item of Christian heritage like this one is most meaningful when it is seen by many people and used as a testimony of faith,” said Pastor Takatori. “We wish to lend it to as many churches, Bible colleges, and Christian schools as possible.”
Please direct enquiries to: Chapel Kohitsuji, Fumie Hozonkai, 2-87 Nakamozu-cho, Kita-ku, Sakai-shi 591-8023. Phone: 072-255-7707
From Christian Shimbun, January 22, 2017
Translated by Grace Koshino