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The alien and the tour guide

The alien and the tour guide

Q: Who built the castle?

Hara Castle was built by Arima Harunobu, a feudal lord who converted to Christianity in order to protect his domain.

Q: How did converting to Christianity help Arima Harunobu to protect his domain?

Harunobu was concerned about a nearby feudal lord called Ryuzoji Takanobu, who was in control of what is now Saga Prefecture. Takanobu was becoming increasingly powerful, and Harunobu worried that his rival might try to take his land. Harunobu thought that if he converted to Christianity he could make important connections with missionaries and could get access to powerful Western firearms from the local Jesuits and from Portugal. At that time, matchlocks were the state-of-the-art weapon. Matchlocks required gunpowder, which was a precious commodity as it had to be imported. The ships that brought the gunpowder also carried news of recent developments in other countries. So Harunobu reasoned that he could better protect his land by converting to Christianity.

Q: So was he a Christian in name only?

It is likely that at first, he only did it to gain a military advantage over Takanobu. But as he witnessed the endless fighting between rival feudal lords throughout Japan, it seems that Harunobu was increasingly attracted to the teachings of Christianity, and ultimately he became a fervent believer. It is said that he provided protection to many tens of thousands of Christians during the difficult period leading up to the official Edict Against Christianity issued by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Q: Was Hara Castle related to the nearby Hinoe Castle?

Hara Castle was like an outpost of Hinoe Castle -- if Hinoe Castle was the headquarters, Hara Castle was a branch office. Although Arima Harunobu lived in Hinoe Castle, records kept by the Jesuit missionaries show that he was keen to move to a better location. It seems that he had a plan to move to Hara Castle and build a castle town there.

Q: Hara Castle is said to have had excellent defenses. What were they?

Firstly, it had sturdy stone walls made using the latest wall-building techniques, and these were very difficult to break through. Harunobu had previously been sent to Korea as a general officer during the invasion of 1597 ordered by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It was there that he learned about new wall building techniques, and he applied this knowledge to the walls of the new castle.
Anther key feature of Hara Castle was the "masugata (square-shaped)" gateway design with winding pathways, that made it difficult for the enemy to reach the main defensive enclosure even if they had somehow managed to breach the outer walls. While the enemy was trying to navigate the pathways, they could easily be attacked with arrows and gunfire from above. The castle also had a very large internal area, which put the enemy at a distinct disadvantage, because they were left badly exposed as they tried to make their way from the outer walls through to the main defensive enclosure.

This video by Professor Senda provides a great overview of Hara Castle.

Q: What is the story behind the Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion?

Most people will know that the Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion was prompted by the ban on Christianity. But there is more to the story than that.
When Matsukura Shigemasa was appointed as the lord of the Hinoe Domain instead of Arima Naozumi, son of former lord Arima Harunobu, he immediately ordered Harunobu's Hara Castle to be destroyed and started work on a new castle at Shimabara in 1618. In order to raise funds for his very expensive new castle, Matsukura Shigemasa raised taxes to even higher levels than before, forcing his people into poverty and hardship.
For many of these people, it was Christian teachings that had sustained them through their already difficult lives. And now even Christianity was banned.
Farming and fishing communities were close to starvation, and finally they reached breaking point. This was what started the Rebellion.

Q: Who took part in the Rebellion?

It was mainly farmers and fishermen, but there were some samurai too. While estimates vary, it is thought there were over 20,000 people involved, mostly from the lower ranks of society. Harunobu had been providing protection to Christians for many years, so there were many Christians living in the general area of modern-day Minami Shimabara.

Q: Who were they rebelling against?

They were fighting the shogunate forces. Toyotomi Hideyoshi had issued the Edict Against Christianity over concerns that the Christian feudal lords were using foreign trade to boost their assets and were becoming too powerful. The Tokugawa shogunate government reasoned that if the Rebellion were to succeed, the Christian forces would be emboldened and might eventually take over the entire country, which in turn would leave Japan vulnerable to foreign invasion. Fearing the worst, the Tokugawa shogunate government sent some 120,000 troops down to Hara Castle to crush the uprising. It is well known that Miyamoto Musashi was among those recruited from nearby regions to help quell the Rebellion. Though said to be a fine swordsman, Musashi was injured by rocks hurled by the Rebellion forces, according to records.

Q: How was the Rebellion able to hold out for three months despite the shogunate forces' strategy of cutting off their food supplies?

Hara Castle was built on cliffs along the coastline. So even though it looks like it could be surrounded easily, there was also direct access to the ocean. It is said that during the second half of the revolt, the food that had been brought in at the beginning ran out, but the revolters, who knew the local seas well, were able to go out to sea by boat and replenish their food supply.The castle also had its own well for water supplies.

Q: After the more than 20,000 rebels (opinion is divided about the number of rebels) were killed, were there many people left in the Minami Shimabara area?

Unfortunately not, because virtually all of the people from those villages had been killed. The Tokugawa shogunate government also encouraged many of the remaining people to relocate, using incentives such as exemption from taxes.

Q: Why are the Hara Castle Ruins a World Heritage Site?

Hara Castle has historical importance as the site of the Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion, which led the Christians to "go into hiding" . It also tells us that there were many committed Christians who were prepared to do anything to hold onto their beliefs in spite of the ban on Christianity.
The Hara Castle Ruins site was added to the World Heritage list as Cultural Assets Related to Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki and Amakusa Region. It is important to consider the entire list of 12 cultural assets as part of one continuous story that begins with Hara Castle. Indeed, the Hara Castle Ruins should be the starting point for any tour of the World Heritage sites in this region.
The alien, who has collected basic information on the Hara Castle Ruins, is now taking his route for a sightseeing tour of Minami Shimabara. The tour guide gazes after him, with his blue jacket sparkling in the sun.

▼Bookings not required Highly recommended -- Hara Castle Ruins tour guide (Fee: 500 yen) 
Guides are available weekends and public holidays only. Our friendly guides are waiting to show you around the Hara Castle Ruins. We look forward to seeing you.
Open: 9:30 am - 4:00 pm (closed over New Year holidays and in bad weather)
Entrance: Hara Castle Ruins Information Center
Fee: Adults ?500, students (up to junior high school) free, families ?1,000
Place: The main compound
Time: Around 40 minutes