In the Middle Ages of Japan, the kingdom “Arima” was linked to Europe. They gained power and brought wealth to their town through “Nanban Trade” (trading with Spain and Portugal) and support from the Society of Jesus.
"Students of the seminary would sing hymns with an organ accompaniment as they walked down a beautifully embellished street." ...You can take a little peek at Arima's beautiful scenery at that time through The Jesuit Annual Report.
In the middle of the 16th century, Japan was in a maelstrom of war, called the Sengoku Era. Yoshisada Arima was the lord of Shimabara Peninsula and Hizen (Nagasaki). Nanban trading was becoming more popular in Kyushu and in order to start trading in his territory, he was thinking of inviting a missionary. The relationship between the Nanban Trade and Christianity was indivisible at that time. In 1563, Luis de Almeida, a missionary from the Society of Jesus, arrived in Kuchinotsu, and began to spread Christianity.
However, at this time, Takanobu Ryuzoji in Saga gradually began to terrify Arima. Also the movement toward anti-Christianity began to grow within the territory. Even though Yoshisada was distressed by this situation, he kept cultivating his ties to the Society of Jesus, and did his best to realize the trading. It was 1567, 4 years after Almeida came to Arima, when Yoshisada was finally able to invite Portuguese ships to an outer harbor in Kuchinotsu and begin trade with Spain and Portugal.
Harunobu Arima, who succeeded Yoshizumi, tried to strengthen his military and economic power through missionaries and Nanban Trade in order to compete with Takanobu Ryuzoji, who was becoming more and more powerful. In 1579, Father Valignano, a Jesuit missionary from the Society of Jesus, came on a Portuguese ship. He demanded the further spread of Christianity in the territory. Harunobu himself became a Christian. His Christian name was John Protasius. He recommended that his citizens become Christians as well, and therefore, the Christian population rapidly grew in the Shimabara Peninsula.
With the support of the Society of Jesus and the Shimazu Clan of Satsuma, he achieved a victory over Takanobu Ryuzoji in 1584. Harunobu, who was able to protect his territory, cultivated his ties to Christianity. In the town beneath Hinoe Castle, many glorious churches and monasteries were built, and the first Japanese religious school, a Society of Jesus seminary for elementary education, was also built. The town bustled with the comings and goings of many missionaries and European merchants.
Accounts of main Christian festivals were noted in the Japanese Jesuit Annual Report, which was conveyed to Rome. The main street at that time was described as follows: “Not only the churches and seminary, but all the streets in the downtown of Arima were also decorated with banners on both sides…Students of seminary would sing hymns with an organ accompaniment as they walked down the beautifully embellished streets.”
Harunobu Arima played an important role during the conquering of Kyushu, in which Hideyoshi Toyotomi tried to capture Shimazu. Harunobu also took part in the Japanese invasion of Korea, and gradually put himself in a strong position as a daimyo in western Japan. As a result, the town of Arima also flourished. Furthermore, Naozumi, the son of Harunobu, built a relationship with the Tokugawa family, which enabled them to build the most gorgeous churches in Japan despite the fact that Christianity was banned in this era.
The appearance of the town of Arima that was praised in the Jesuit Annual Report 400 years ago cannot be seen anymore. Even if we take a look at the ruin of Hinoe Castle, it is just a small hill. Nevertheless, we were able to catch a glimpse of this glorious age through the excavation of Hinoe Castle in 1998. Surprisingly, gilded roof tiles were found. The excavators must have been very surprised because these gilded roof tiles were supposed to be used only by powerful daimyos at that time. They act as crucial evidence exemplifying the extent of Arima’s ability.
In 1582, the first official Japanese mission called the “Tensho Mission” headed to Europe. It consisted of four boys who studied in the seminary of Arima. They were welcomed to Europe and accomplished great feats, such as meeting the Pope. People who saw the boys came to know about an unknown country, Japan, and therefore tried to leave something about it recorded in history.
As a result, “Rima seu Arima R” (Rima or the Kingdom of Arima) made its mark on the world map. Arima was undoubtedly connected to Europe.
The triumphant return of the four boys and a Jesuit Father Valignano was also noted in The Jesuit Annual Report. “One day, Harunobu finished his meal and then invited Valignano, John Miguel, and other princes to a mansion. Its construction had just been completed and had not been seen by anyone…all rooms, big and small, were decorated with golden objects and resplendent and gorgeous paintings. This mansion is located within a brilliantly completed castle that was built by Harunobu.”
From the ruin of Hinoe Castle keep, you can see the townscape below. When you slowly close your eyes, you can hear the bells from the church. You can hear children of the seminary singing hymns with an organ accompaniment. Arima - Minami Shimabara, still resonating with the history and prosperity of Christianity during the Sengoku Era, is truly a fascinating place.