Shumon aratame (the inquisition for suppressing Christianity) (宗門改)

Shumon aratame was religion policy and the control of the public promoted by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). At first, due to a ban on Christianity, it aimed at detecting and converting Christians, but its purpose gradually shifted to the policing of the public as the system of Shumon-Ninbetsu-Aratame-Cho (The Village People Register of Religious Faith and Relationship) developed based on the Terauke seido (the system of organizing whole temples in Japan with registration of follower families).

Since 1549, when Catholicism was firstly introduced to Japan by Francis Xavier, the number of Christians increased, stimulated by trade and other factors. In 1587, however, Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, who was worried about invasion by foreign countries, issued a decree of purging missionaries and embarked on the oppression of Christians. The Edo bakufu followed this policy and issued a ban on Christianity in 1612 that took effect within shogunal demesnes, followed by a nationwide prohibition on Christianity in the following year.

At first, the bakufu persecuted Christians by forcing them to step on a wood sheet containing a likeness of Jesus (this practice is called 'fumie') or by encouraging whistle-blowing to reveal Christians, and Buddhist temples were commissioned by the bakufu to prove that their parishioners were not Christians (this system is called 'terauke seido'). After the Shimabara Rebellion, an uprising in Kyushu that continued from 1637 to 1638, the bakufu introduced shumon aratame-yaku (an officer in charge of the persecution of Christians) in 1640 and issued an order in 1664 that required all the domains to introduce shumon aratame-yaku. As the Fujufuse (Not Receive and Not Give (from and to people other than those belonging to the Nichiren Sect)) School, a fundamentalist faction of the Nichiren Sect, was banned in 1665, people affiliated with the faction became targets of shumon aratame, which aimed at converting heretics to other Buddhist sects. With the 1671 bakufu decree that made it mandatory to create Shumon-Ninbetsu-Aratame-Cho, the system of shumon aratame was completed together with the terauke seido, where Shogunal subjects were required to belong, in principle, to specific temples (family temples excluding the Fujufuse School, and sometimes shrines, depending on the domain). The shumon aratame system existed until 1873, when a ban on Christianity was abolished (by the Meiji Government).

At first, the Meiji Government's spy operations against Christians were led by the Danjodai (Inspection Bureau) based on 'Rules for Espionages' (June, 1870), succeeded in July 1871 by the Inspection Division at the Seiin (the central state council in the early Meiji period), which was set up with the new birth of the Daijokan (Department of State) system. Although heresy inspectors at the Inspection Division were abolished in June 1874, one year after the lifting of the ban on Christianity, it is confirmed that reports by heretic inspectors continued until March 1876.

[Original Japanese]