In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Japan and Europe: the Christian Century, 1549-1650

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Essay Collections
  • Guides for Archival Research
  • Historical Surveys
  • Historical Context
  • Mendicant Orders
  • Accommodation
  • Kirishitan Leaders
  • The Arts

Renaissance and Reformation Japan and Europe: the Christian Century, 1549-1650
Haruko Nawata Ward
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0286


Between 1549 and 1650, Reformed Catholicism, which the Jesuits under Portuguese patronage introduced to Japan, produced a unique religious and cultural movement termed Kirishitan. The category of Equating this era in Japan to the Renaissance and Reformation in Europe does not simply meet the historiography of late medieval and early modern Japan. Yet the idea of the “Christian Century,” defined by Boxer 1951 and still debated, captures a sense of the period when the “Christian West” first encountered Japan and impacted the outcome of world history. Beginning with Francis Xavier’s arrival in 1549, the period is marked by Jesuit activities and Iberian-Japanese interactions among other significant changes. Christianity spread steadily, although in 1587, the great unifier Toyotomi Hideyoshi, suspicious of Iberian colonialism, issued the Edict of Expulsion of Priests and, in 1597, executed Christians in Nagasaki. In the early decades of the 17th century, rivalry between the Jesuits and newly-arrived mendicant orders, competition among Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Dutch traders, and the establishment of the Tokugawa hegemony led to the persecution and extermination of Christians and to sakoku, the strict ban on all foreign interference. Sakoku is a contentious term discussed in Yamamoto 1995 (cited under Sakoku and the Underground Church). This bibliography first gives an overview to the period in the order of Reference Works and Bibliographies; Essay Collections; Guides for Archival Research; Historical Surveys and Historical Context. The thematic treatments follow under the headings of Jesuit Authors in the Japan Mission; Mendicant Orders; Accommodation; Kirishitan Leaders and The Arts. The last section End of the Christian Century introduces English and Dutch Trading Posts to 1650 and only the beginning years of Sakoku and the Underground Church. Thus this bibliography does not extend its scope into the modern Enlightenment era nor into the long Edo period.

Reference Works and Bibliographies

Standard bibiographies on the Catholic mission are Polgár 1986 and Streit 1928–1929. The missiological dictionary Anderson 1998 includes entries on some Jesuits in Japan. Reference works such as Mullins 2003 and Nihon Kirisutokyō rekishi daijiten cover this period to varying degrees. Anesaki 1930 and Ebisawa 1960 are older bibliographies, but still useful. Cooper 2004 and Üçerler 2008 deliver current research of leading contemporary scholars.

  • Anderson, Gerald H., ed. Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1998.

    One-volume missiological dictionary that includes succinct entries on several missionaries of the period, e.g., “Fróis, Luis” (p. 230) and “Valignano, Alessandro” (p. 694), etc. Useful for introductory level researchers.

  • Anesaki, Masaharu. A Concordance to the History of Kirishitan Missions (Catholic Missions in Japan in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries). Tokyo: Office of the Academy, 1930.

    A chronological table of events, persons, publications, and issues.

  • Cooper, Michael. “A Mission Interrupted: Japan.” In A Companion to the Reformation World. Edited by Ronnie Po-chia Hsia, 393–407. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

    Cooper focuses on the failure of the Christianization of Japan in Part V, “Christian Europe and the World,” with other essays on India, China, and Latin America, in Hsia’s collection of essays on local perspectives on the Reformation. Essays on “Martyrs and Saints” and “The Society of Jesus” do not mention Japan.

  • Ebisawa, Arimichi. Christianity in Japan: A Bibliography of Japanese and Chinese Sources. Part 1 (1543–1858) of two parts. Tokyo: Committee on Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University, 1960.

    Chronological list of publications and manuscripts written in Japanese and Chinese languages in Japan and China between 1543 and 1858. Each entry gives the author’s name in rōmaji and kanji/kana for easy access by phonetics, with Ebisawa’s English translation of the document title.

  • Mullins, Mark R., ed. Handbook of Christianity in Japan. Leiden, The Netherlands; Boston, MA: Brill, 2003.

    Miyasaki Kentarō’s chapter 1, “Roman Catholic Mission in Pre-Modern Japan,” of which the historiography on the Reformations is dated, and chapter 2, “The Kakure Kirishitan Tradition,” are useful for introductory level researchers.

  • Nihon Kirisutokyō rekishi daijiten. Tokyo: Kyōbunkan, 1988.

    In English, the Encyclopedia of history of Christianity in Japan. Entries on persons and topics written by reliable specialists in Japanese.

  • Polgár, László. Bibliographie sur l’Histoire de la Compagnie de Jésus 1901–80. 3 vols. Rome: Institutum Historicum, 1986.

    See “Japan” in Volume 2, Les pays (nations). Supplemental bibliography is found in the journal Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, Volumes 51–70 (1982–2001). Polgár supersedes Sommervogel, Carlos, ed. Bibliotèque de la Compagnie de Jésus. 12 vols. Louvain: Editions de la Bibliothèque S. J., Collège philosophique et théologique, 1960; originally published in 1890.

  • Streit, Robert. Bibliotheca Missionum. Vols. 4–5. Aachen: Aachener Missionsdruckerei, A.-G., 1928–1929.

    Classic series on Catholic global missions for chronological and geographical references. Streit authored volumes 1 through 5. His successors continued the series in 30 volumes until 1975 published in different locations. Volume 4; Asiatiche Missionliterature 1245–1599 (olim Xavierius Verlagsbuchhandlung, A.-G., 1928) and Volume 5; Asiatiche Missionliterature 1600–1699 (Aachen: Franziskus Xavierius Missionsverein, 1929) are most relevant.

  • Üçerler, M. Antoni J. “Jesuit Enterprise in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Japan.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Jesuits. Edited by Thomas Worcester, 153–168. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    Most up-to-date introduction to the period, with useful notes containing bibliographic information.

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