Japan Christian sites to gain World Heritage recognition

Christian sites in Japan might soon gain World Heritage recognition status from the United Nations' cultural committee at the UNESCO.

Japan Christian sites could soon become World Heritage sites.REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

The sites, located in the regions of Nagasaki and Amakusa, include the Oura Cathedral, the Hara Castle, and several Japanese Christian villages, where locals practiced their faith in secret hundreds of years ago.

Some 17 Japanese Christians were memorialized at the Oura Cathedral, Japan's oldest surviving church, along with nine European priests, while many Catholic rebels battled for their faith near the Hara Castle during the Edo period.

If granted the status, these places will be added to the current list of 800 UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world and the number of Japanese World Heritage sites will increase to 22 from its existing 14 cultural and natural sites.

Japan reportedly submitted its recommendations to the UNESCO panel in 2013 and finally got the endorsement in May this year. UNESCO will discuss Japan's latest recommendations at another panel meeting from June 24 to July 4 in Bahrain with the agency's Intergovernmental Committee.

"[The recommendation] recognizes the centrality of hidden Christian history in Japanese soil, affirming the instinct of [Endo] whose book Silence has been a significant contributor of Japanese understanding of her own history," author and cultural expert Makoto Fujimura told Christianity Today. "It accentuates the cultural value of the resilience of Christianity even under many years of persecution."

Christians in Japan currently make up 1.5 percent of the country's population but the country used to have a larger number of Christians.

In the 1600s, however, Christian persecution rose because the religion was deemed to be a tool of the Europeans in their conquests. The shogunate then enforced a ban on Christianity and those who practiced the faith were tortured and killed.

Director Martin Scorcese told the harrowing story of Christianity in Japan in his 2016 movie "Silence," which was based on a book written by Shusaku Endo.