Shimabara Rebellion

remain of castle destroyed in shimabara rebellion
remain of castle destroyed in shimabara rebellion

The Shimabara Rebellion of 1635 was the last major uprising against the Tokugawa Shogunate, which Tokugawa Ieyasu had established after his victory at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). He was appointed shogun, or supreme military ruler, by the emperor Go-Yozei in 1603.

The first Jesuit missionaries had arrived in Japan in 1549 and enjoyed enormous success until about 500,000 Japanese had been converted. Success, however, proved its undoing, resulting in the banning of Christian missionary activities in 1587 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. His death in 1598 brought an end to the persecution for a time.

However it was resumed by newly appointed Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1606 and enforced by his son Tokugawa Hidetada in 1614. He ordered the banishment of all missionaries. Persecution of Christians continued also under the third shogun Iemitsu.

Persecution climaxed in 1637, when a popular rising of disaffected peasants and ronin took place in a heavily Christian area near Nagasaki. The force soon numbered some 37,000 rebels, who seized an old castle in its Shimabara Peninsula.

A Tokugawa force of 100,000 men was sent against the rebels but made surprisingly little headway against them. Finally, Shogun Tokugawa had to call on the help of some Dutch warships at Nagasaki to fire on the rebels.

Since at this time, the Protestant Dutch were enemies of Catholic Spain, they were happy to aid the Tokugawa army. Finally, the castle fell after a three-month siege and the holdouts were massacred, ending the revolt and Christian resistance.

The results of the Shimabara Rebellion were far-reaching. The Tokugawa Shogunate moved to seal Japan off from foreign contact. All Portuguese were expelled in 1639. In 1640, all members of a Portuguese embassy sent to negotiate with the shogun were executed.

All Europeans were expelled except the Dutch, who were allowed to send to ships to Nagasaki annually. Every Japanese person who attempted to leave Japan, and then returned, was executed. For nearly 250 years, Japan was sealed off from contact with the outside world.