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Silence by Shūsaku Endō > The Background to the novel, Silence

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message 1: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3901 comments Mod
Let me provide some background here in my first post on the novel. Shūsaku Endō is a Japanese Catholic writer of fiction and literary criticism. Yes there are Catholics in Japan. His mother converted to Catholicism when Endō was a boy and it stuck with him. He went on to study in France and was very fond of the French Catholic writers. The CS Lewis Review has a fine article on Endō’s works and career. I have not read any of his other novels but I have read a short story and plan to read another along with Silence.

While Endō’s family converted to Catholicism, there is actually an indigenous Catholic population that survived the persecutions and attempts to extirpate it from its shores. The city of Nagasaki was built up from a small fishing village by 16th century Portuguese traders, and through that exchange and evangelization a large number of Japanese converted to Roman Catholicism. In time the Japanese rulers did not feel comfortable with allowing Christianity to flow—probably because the Portuguese and Spanish had a history of conquest, and the missionaries were Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian religious figures. Slowly the Japanese rulers discouraged and then persecuted Christians, and finally in 1638 Japan closed its doors entirely to the outside world. It’s doors would remain closed for nearly 250 years. Catholics cut off from Europe and mother church would live and secretly practice their faith, so that when the outside world reentered Japan, it found a community of Christians who still performed the Sacraments nearly as they had hundreds of years before. These “Hidden Christians” were called Kakure Kirishitan. Nagasaki is still the center of Catholicism in Japan.

Silence is an historical novel of that missionary and persecution period, and when I first read it I knew nothing of the history. I remember it taking me a little bit to get oriented. The Translator's Preface provides some history but it took a little bit for it to sink in—maybe a few chapters—which made me have to go back and restart. I had to do a good bit of searching of the history in order to fill in all the gaps. Here’s an orientation.

First digest these historical facts:

1543 Portugese fishing ships arrive in Japan.

1549 Francis Xavier arrives in Japan and starts proselytizing. In short order it is estimated that
100,000 were converted.

1565/1568 Emperor Ōgimachi bans Catholicism in Japan but dies shortly after.

1579 The height of missionary activity in Japan. Perhaps converts have reached 150,000. Jesuit
Alessandro Valignano is the Christian leader of the Evangelists, even establishing
seminaries in the country.

1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi unifies Japan and bans Christianity and banishes Christian

1597 (September 5th) 26 Christians martyred by crucifixion on the orders of Hideyoshi to
intimidate the Christians and prevent future conversions.

1598 Hideyoshi dies and the country’s unity breaks down.

1600 It is estimated there are 300,000 Christians in Japan.

1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu reunifies Japan and though dislikes Christianity tolerates it because of
his need for trade with Portugal and Spain. His dynasty rules Jaoan from 1600 to 1868.

1614 Tokugawa shogunate bans Catholicism and begins persecutions, and by mid century
demands the expulsion of all European missionaries and the execution of all converts.

1632 (September 10th) 55 Christians were martyred in Nagasaki known as the Great Genna

1633 Cristóvão Ferreira, the head Jesuit in Japan, is captured and forced to apostatize.

1637 The Shimabara Rebellion occurred, mostly a peasant led revolt in southern Japan over
poverty and taxation. Christians were suspected as instigators. Subsequently some 37,000
rebels and sympathizers were beheaded. Japan would close its doors to the outside world
for more than two hundred years. Christianity would survive underground completely cut
off from Europe and the papacy.

1643 Giuseppe Chiara, Italian Jesuit, lands on the Japanese island of Oshima in an effort to
Sacramentally minister to the indigenous Catholic population.

The central character of Silence, Sebastião Rodrigues, is based on the historical person of Giuseppe Chiara. It is with this background and this moment in time that the novel’s plot begins.

Second, there are a couple of other matters to know about the period that are relevant to the story.

Fumie: A icon or image of Jesus Christ or the Blessed Mother on which suspected Christians in Japan were forced to trample on to prove they were either not Christian or renounced (apostatize) their Christianity.

Anazuri: The torture of the pit, where the prisoner is hung upside down submerged to about his knees in a foul pit and cut on his head so that he slowly bleeds to death drop by drop or until he recants. It typically took a few days for a person to die from this torture.

Finally there are a few other websites that can supplement your understanding of the history and persons of the era. The History of the Catholic Church in Japan, the martyrs of Japan here and here. You can Google all historical figures I’ve listed and there should be a Wikipedia entry on all of them. I don’t think I need to provide links for those.

message 2: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3901 comments Mod
Sorry the bullet items didn't line up evenly, but it's readable.

Also, I will be posting on my blog my thoughts on the work. I expect it will be the same as what I will post here. The initial blog entry on Silence is here:

message 3: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments What a great introduction! I know that I am going to find this information very helpful in reading the book. This history is new to me. Thank you Manny!

message 4: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments Thank you for that background. I did know the general outline of Catholicism in Japan, but not all the details you provided.

message 5: by Susie (last edited Oct 19, 2016 03:08PM) (new)

Susie | 76 comments Very helpful timeline...thanks!

FYI...another group here, All About Books, will be reading this in November, as a group read. Might be interesting to check out the comments...

message 6: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3901 comments Mod
Susie wrote: "Very helpful timeline...thanks!

FYI...another group here, All About Books, will be reading this in November, as a group read. Might be interesting to check out the comments..."

Yes Susie, I'm in there too.

message 7: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 55 comments Manny, thank you for the time you put in to your detailed historical background. What a tremendous reference you have put here for all the readers.

message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3901 comments Mod
My pleasure, Kristen. When I'm hooked on a great work of literature, I really get into it.

message 9: by Dhanaraj (new)

Dhanaraj Rajan | 37 comments Sorry to miss out the discussion. This is one of my all time favourite novels. Would have loved to join and hear from you all but for the academic responsibilities. Still, I just came across a news regarding the novel that I do not want you to miss. Most probably you might have heard of it. If so ignore this late rant. If not, go through it.

The famous director Martin Scorsese had planned to make a film out of this novel. He had had this desire for more than two decade and finally he had realized it in reality. He had also taken the help of James Martin SJ. The film is to be premiered in Vatican shortly. Otherwise the movie is out for release in December 23, 2016 or January 2017.

Here is an interesting article related to it:

message 10: by Caterina (last edited Nov 27, 2016 11:40AM) (new)

Caterina (blueladycaterina) Dhanaraj wrote: "...The famous director Martin Scorsese had planned to make a film out of this novel. . . .Here is an interesting article related to it:

What a thoughtful, sensitive, superbly written article by Paul Elie. This article itself, and Martin Scorsese's comments in particular, have deepened my understanding of the novel Silence, which I read many years ago and very much appreciated. Both the novel and this article have deepened my understanding of the meaning of faith. I'm thrilled that this film will be made by Martin Scorsese, and thrilled with the engagement of Father James Martin, S.J. (a sort of hero of mine) even in the intense spiritual preparation of the actors. Very much looking forward to this film. Thank you, Dhanaraj!

And thank you, Manny, for the detailed background/timeline for the novel -- I look forward to catching up on the discussion.

message 11: by Celia (new)

Celia (cinbread19) | 75 comments "I remember it taking me a little bit to get oriented."

In the context of the article, this sentence made me smile BIG.

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