DER Documentary

Otaiya: Japan's Hidden Christians

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by Christal Whelan
color, 34 min, 1997


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In the sixteenth century Portuguese Catholic missionaries introduced Christianity to Japan. The religion flourished for about fifty years, but by 1614 the Tokugawa government issued an edict that outlawed Christianity and expelled the missionaries from Japan. About 150,000 believers went underground and continued to practice their religion in secret. These people are known as the "Hidden Christians". Otaiya, meaning "Big Evening" is the Hidden Christian version of Christmas Eve. Through the occasion of this ceremony, the film tells the story of Japan's Hidden Christians.

Made with the cooperation of contemporary Hidden Christians on the remote island of Narushima, the film features the only two remaining priests in the Goto Islands. Both men are in their late nineties and without successors. The ceremonial and religious lives of these two men stand in stark contrast to the materialism of the younger generation. Urban migration of the island's youth, an encroaching consumer ethic, and ironically, religious freedom are the forces that conspire to erode the traditions and solidarity of these extraordinary and persevering people.

Related Resources
Read an extensive film review of Otaiya, with excerpts from an interview with Christal Whelan at the Catholic Education Resource Center website.

Related Resources
Book: Beginning of Heaven and Earth: The Sacred Book of Japan's Hidden Christians by Christal Whelan

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