Monday, June 24, 2013

The Meaning of People

Today,  I went to Goto to visit the current Kirishitan leader of the only remaining group on the islands. I tried to go to Goto last Friday, but the ferries were canceled because of the typhoon, so this time I made sure to call before I walked down to the Nagasaki terminal.

To go to Goto by sea, there are two options - a ferry and a faster but more expensive option called a "jetfoil". I opted for the ferry, which would take over 5 hours to the Narao port. When you walk onto the ferry, there aren't any seats but designated sitting floor areas (and like a lot of shared spaces in Japan, you take your shoes off). There are also blankets and those block pillows for people who want to sleep. I was actually pretty comfortable the whole ride (granted I only slept four hours before so I fell asleep pretty fast), although I could see why someone could get seasick from the ferry rocking back and forth. The ferry stopped at Fukue first, which is a hotspot for tourists and as I learned, also the site of the Goto International Triathlon, which had just taken place a day before. Thus, I was soon surrounded by super-fit Japanese triathletes, all bringing on board bikes and huge duffel bags with their gear. Inspiring!

Naptime for these triathletes...

Got to Narao an hour later and was blown away by the color of the water - not the turquoise of pristine Okinawan beaches, but a still amazingly clear marble hue. The leader came to pick me up in his car, wearing a Hawaiian-ish pink shirt, white shorts, and croc-like sandals. Well, what can I expect - Kakure Kirishitan are just regular people after all. On the ride to his house, he stressed how important the history of the Kirishitan was, as part of a 700-year-old tradition that moved to Goto 300 years ago.

Only 57 years old, the current 帳方 (the name given the Kirishitan leader in the Goto tradition) has plenty more years to lead his community of 15 households, until his 38-year-old son will undergo training to inherit the leadership position later. The Kirishitan households are all in the same vicinity, and they gather at his house for holidays and meals. He inherited the position by marrying his wife, whose family was part of the 帳方 tradition. He hesitated at first when asked to become 帳方, intimidated by carrying the weight of a centuries-old religion and the fact that he had lung cancer and might pass away soon, but accepted it and was miraculously cured of his cancer immediately afterwards. In the interview, he also mentioned other instances of miraculous healings and how Kirishitan prayers had healing abilities.

He showed me the マリア様 (Mary) rosary and the イエス様 (Jesus) figurine he closely guards in his house, handed down for centuries among the Goto Kirishitan. Apparently, the Sotome Kirishitan do not have such old relics because they were influenced by European priests for a longer time. The sacred objects cannot physically leave the house of the 帳方 lest they cause misfortune on the entire community. There is also another マリア様 figurine that cannot be shown to anyone except the 帳方 for the same reason. 

His orashio book with The Lord's Prayer on the left

Two points I think wanted to take away from the interview - he viewed 神様 (God), マリア様, and イエス様 as one and the same, and that all religions worshipped the same God. Similar to what the Kirishitan lady at the Ikiitsuki museum was saying, which isn't surprising, since Japan has a culture of syncretism.

The 帳方 wearing the special kimono he wears for prayers, and his wife

Next, we went around his neighborhood and saw Yamakami Jinja, the shrine his Kirishitan community is associated with and still takes care of to this day. No one knows what's actually inside the shrine, again a privilege only granted to the 帳方, but even the current leader himself hasn't seen what's inside. He also showed me the ruins of apparently the oldest church in Goto, as well as Kiri Church, which has a breathtaking view of the marble water. (And I saw a Kuroneko takkyubin truck making its rounds - swear this company covers every inch of Japan!)

The color of the water! 

On the way back to the terminal, he emphasized the Kirishitan preserved their tradition because it was their religion. I think he meant religion versus a custom or a culture, as some other groups might view their tradition. Although he's never been abroad, he knows that Kirishitan are quite known in the academic world - a Korean television crew even came to his house once to do a segment - but wants more people to know that people still actively practice the Kirishitan faith, at least in Goto. He sat with me at the terminal waiting area for a bit, asking about America and my parents and giving me his last wise tidbits on God and family.

One last look at that water - yeah, I'm a little obsessed...

This time, I went back by jetfoil, which is only a little over an hour back to Nagasaki and fashioned somewhat after the inside of an airplane. I thought about the day's events (however regrettably short my stay at Goto was) and realized how people like the Nanzan professor could devote so many years of research on the Kirishitan - you definitely feel more invested after meeting the people and hearing their stories and wishes. In that sense, I don't think I'm as much of a library researcher (although I know I always need to read more ugh) as I'm starting to really like fieldwork for the opportunities to talk with people. I've always complained about how pointless it must be for researchers to write books on topics that no one else cares about, but there certainly is meaning when it comes to people, no matter how small the group might be. 

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