In early 17th century Japan, Christianity was outlawed under the harsh rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. Those who refused to renounce the faith were abused, tortured, or put to death. One young convert and samurai, prompted by an assault on the girl he loves, and the arrest of his priest and mentor, stands up to resist the persecution. What follows is a rebellion that threatens the political stability of the region and the lives of all who are involved.
Based on the events of The Shimabara Rebellion and the person of Shiro Amakusa, Masaru takes the reader on a journey back in time in a manner reminiscent of Clavell’s Shogun. Packed with adventure and a good dose of philosophy, Masaru is a must-read for anyone interested in Japanese culture and history.
Targeted Age Group:: 12-92
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
For four years, I lived in the countryside of southern Japan. During that time, I was inspired by the small yet devout Christian community, and especially by the history of the region. After visiting the site of the Shimabara Rebellion, and seeing a statue of Shiro Amakusa, I had to write this book.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Many of the characters are based upon actual persons from history. The main character is based upon the person of Shiro Amakusa. However, in the novel, he is given the surname of Nakagawa, the family name of my Japanese grandmother. Other characters in the story are based upon people I encountered during the years I lived in Japan.
The waters of the Kuma River crept lazily in the warmth of the early afternoon. In another season, one might have seen through the crystalline water, right down to the smooth round stones that lined its bottom, and the abundant ayu fish darting about in search of food. But the kōyō season had just surpassed its peak. Now this section of the river was covered with a blanket of fallen maple leaves, moving almost imperceptibly and shimmering in the mid November sun. It appeared from a distance like a silken sash of crimson, separating the dancing brown plumes of miscanthus on either side.
From the dense forest along the river’s western bank emerged a dark figure. By the silhouette of its thick body, six legs, and two long prongs projecting from its head, it appeared like a giant kabuto-mushi, the rhinoceros beetle common in the broad-leaved forests of Kyūshū. Lord Onizuka, in full battle armor and perched atop his satiny black stallion, surveyed the river. He and a battalion of three hundred strong had made the two-day trek on horseback and foot from the castle in Yatsushiro to the north. Onizuka and his men had camped the previous night beside a small Shinto shrine at the river’s edge. The shrine was dedicated to Inari, goddess of rice and fertility, and Onizuka used the occasion to pray that his mission bear fruit.
In the time of Onizuka’s grandfather, the new religion had arrived along with the traders who sailed into Nagasaki from the faraway Iberian peninsula. And for a long time, it was generally tolerated by the military and political authorities. In exchange for allowing the Kirishitan missionaries to build places of worship and make converts, the feudal lords reaped the benefits of trade made possible by the big ships of the gaijin. As an added benefit, the arrival of the new religion, it was hoped, might counteract the growing influence of the Buddhist monks, whose numbers and opposition to samurai rule were threatening to become more than a nuisance.
But what was perceived as a seemingly benign, though misguided, belief system had become an even more potentially serious threat. What no one could have predicted was the spread like wildfire of the Christian fukuin, what they called “the good news,” among all the classes — peasant, warrior, merchant, and noble alike. It began as something of a regional phenomenon in the port areas of the south, but before long made its way to nearby Shikoku and deep into the main island of Honshū. It was widely feared that the infusion of this foreign belief system, along with its allegiance to a foreign figurehead, might upend social and political stability. Some believed this may have been the aim of Spain’s King Philip all along.
One final straw was the growing agitation stemming from recent reports that some of the Portugese traders were taking peasants and selling them as slaves in the Spanish territories of mainland Asia. The shōgun had finally had enough. He ordered the closing of all Christian churches and missions, the expulsion of the priests, and a ban of all Chrisitan practices and images.
Onizuka was certainly the right man for the task at hand, and he’d been appointed by Lord Iemitsu Tokugawa himself — the man who assumed the title of shōgun from his father and predecessor, Hidetada. Though the elder Tokugawa had tried to exercise control over, and thereby discourage, the growing Christian population by means of heavy taxation, it proved to be insufficient in stemming the tide of conversions. Now the younger Tokugawa was determined to use more direct and, if necessary, brutal means.
At twenty-six years of age, Onizuka had ample experience in the tactics of warfare, both on and off the open battlefield. He was full of ambition and fire coursing through his veins. He had little love for the Buddhists, and even less for the followers of Kirisuto, for whom he harbored a particular disdain. He loathed the absurdity of the worship of a simple peasant man turned rebel and insurrectionist. That the image of this man nailed to a beam could be their symbol of hope and salvation defied all dignity and reason. He had never approved of the past permissiveness in allowing the foreigners to spread their pious poison. Now he was all too happy to assist in the administration of the antidote.
Raising his sword toward the opposite shore, Onizuka urged his horse forward through a shallow stretch of the river. The small village of Kōnose lay waiting idly on the other side. The entire battalion, those on horse followed by those on foot, charged after him into and across the water, churning the still blanket of red into a swirling gray mire of sludge.
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