In 1999, Hideko Cardinal Tokugawa of Kyoto presided over a Christmas celebration of nearly one million Japanese Catholics.
Kirishitani by Eric LippsChristianity had been introduced into Japan in the sixteenth century. The shogun Oda Nobunaga (pictured), in particular, had embraced the new faith, both for the technologies its missionaries brought with them, which included firearms, and as a political tool against Buddhism. Although Nobunaga never converted to Christianity, he allowed Christians to proselytize and permitted the construction of the first Catholic church in Kyoto in 1576, on the site of the present Watanabe Cathedral.
After his death, some powerful Japanese came to view Christianity not as beneficial but as a threat to the state, and pressed for its restriction or even outright banning. Among them would be Toyotomi Hideyoshi, responsible for the Feb. 5, 1597 massacre of twenty-seven Christians at Nagasaki and a vocal proponent of laws restricting not only Christianity but all contact with the West. Support for such "seclusion laws" remained limited, however, and although some restrictions were imposed beginning in 1614, the Nobunaga Shogunate would lift them four decades later under Oda's great-grandson Toyo Nobunaga. By the end of the Nobunaga shogunate in the late nineteenth century, there would be twenty million Christians in the island nation. At the close of the twentieth, the number would have risen to forty million.