The Shimabara Rebellion

11 May, 2023 950 History of Asia

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Christian uprising in Japan and its profound and long-term consequences. In the 1630s, Japan was ruled by the Tokagawa Shoguns, a military dynasty who, 30 years earlier, had unified the country, ending around two centuries of civil war. In 1637 a rebellion broke out in the province of Shimabara, in the south east of the country. It was a peasants’ revolt, following years of bad harvests in which the local lord had refused to lower taxes. Many of the rebels were Christians, and they fought under a Christian banner. The central government’s response was merciless. They met the rebels with an army of 150 000 men, possibly the largest force assembled anywhere in the world during the Early Modern period. Once the rebellion had been suppressed, the Shogun enforced a ban on Christianity and expelled nearly all foreigners from the country. Japan remained more or less completely sealed off from the rest of the world for the next 250 years.

Listen on BBC Sounds website


  • Satona Suzuki No other episodes
    Lecturer in Japanese and Modern Japanese History at SOAS, University of London
  • Erica Baffelli No other episodes
    Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester
  • Christopher Harding No other episodes
    Senior Lecturer in Asian History at the University of Edinburgh

Reading list

  • The Bloomsbury Handbook of Japanese Religions
    Erica Baffelli, Andrea Castiglioni and Fabio Rambelli (eds.) (Bloomsbury, 2021) Google Books →
  • The Christian Century in Japan, 1549 - 1650
    C.R. Boxer (University of California Press, 1951) Google Books →
  • Christ's Samurai: The True Story of the Shimabara Rebellion
    Jonathan Clements (Robinson, 2016) Google Books →
  • Interactions Between Rivals: The Christian Mission and Buddhist Sects in Japan (c.1549- c.1647)
    Alexandra Curvelo and Angelo Cattaneo (eds.) (Peter Lang, 2021) Google Books →
  • Deus Destroyed: The Image of Christianity in Early Modern Japan
    George Elison (Harvard University Press, 1973) Google Books →
  • The Japanese: A History in Twenty Lives
    Christopher Harding (Allen Lane, 2020) Google Books →
  • Christianity in Early Modern Japan: Kirishitan Belief and Practice
    Ikuo Higashibaba (Brill, 2001) Google Books →
  • Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan: Buddhism, Anti- Christianity, and the Danka System
    Nam-lin Hur (Harvard University East Asia Series, 2007) Google Books →
  • The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan
    Ivan Morris (Penguin, 1980) Google Books →
  • Christianity Made in Japan
    Mark Mullins (University of Hawaii Press, 1998) Google Books →
  • Ideology and Christianity in Japan
    Kiri Paramore (Routledge, 2009) Google Books →
  • Holy Ghosts: The Christian Century in Modern Japanese Fiction
    Rebecca Suter (University of Hawai'i Press, 2015) Google Books →
  • Japan's Hidden Christians, 1549-1999
    Stephen Turnbull (Japan Library, Curzon, 2000) Google Books →
  • The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan
    Stephen Turnbull (Curzon, 1998) Google Books →
  • Otaiya: Japan's Hidden Christians
    Christal Whelan (Documentary Educational Resources, 1997)
  • The Beginning of Heaven and Earth: The Sacred Book of Japan's Hidden Christians
    Christal Whelan (trans. and ed.) (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996) Google Books →
  • Religion Concealed: The Kakure Kirishitan in Narushima
    Christal Whelan Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: m001lrd7

Episode page:

Auto-category: 952 (History of Japan during the Tokugawa period)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In the 1630s, Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa Shoguns, a military dynasty, who 30 years earlier had unified the country, ending around 200 years of civil war.