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2004-08-27 8:07 p.m.

part 2: people should get beat up for stating their beliefs

One caveat to the shitty customer service in Japan thing: here on the island I get quite good customer service, actually. Everyone knows me by name. They know why I'm here and they know they're going to keep seeing me here. So they've been pretty cool.

Anyway, let's get back to the Japanese history lesson that my life seems to have become recently.

Besides being nuked, Nagasaki's claim to fame is that for a very long time it was Japan's main point of contact with the outside world. It's long been the major center of Chinese culture in Japan, and even today Nagasaki prefecture is served by its own Chinese consulate while the rest of Kyushu shares the Fukuoka consulate.

Also, the first westerners to come to Japan, the Portuguese in the 1500s, came to Nagasaki and had their major base of operations there. Besides merchants, Christian missionaries (Jesuits) came in force and found a fair amount of success. However, in late 1500s the government, observing the growing popularity of Christianity and trying to limit Western influence in Japan, made Christianity illegal. Around ten years later, in 1597, I think, they arrested six Portuguese missionaries and twenty Japanese Christians on charges of openly practicing and preaching Christianity. They were sentenced to death by crucifixion, which was carried out in Nagasaki. They were canonized by the pope in the 1800s, I think.

Nagasaki christians continued practicing in secret, however, passing it down through the generations. When Christianity was legalized again in the late 1860s, they came out again and started building churches and proselyting.

Anyway, Nagasaki is about the only place in Japan where Christianity can be said to be part of the traditional culture. You see Japanese nuns around everywhere. Cathlolicism is probably dominant, but there's Protestant sects around, too. As a matter of fact, I got proselyted by one.

As I was walking by, a Japanese woman (I'd guess in her late 20s) sitting at a bus stop stood up and started talking to me in pretty fair English. She said she had lived in Los Angeles for two years. After asking me my place of origin and my age, she said, "So, are you a Christian?"


She went on to try and get me to agree to coming to her church the next day (Sunday) using classic technique. I was non-committal and tried to make it clear that it was not likely that I would be there. Then I tried to extricate myself from the conversation as quickly as possible.

After I was about 50 yards away from her, I realized that she was running after me. She gave me a little flier with a map to the church. I thanked her and quickly continued on my way, looking over my shoulder at every little sound, thinking it was her chasing me. No way I was going to that church, man...

The funny thing was, I ended up going pretty much straight to Mass right after talking to her.

I didn't take Communion, though.

Anyway, not long after the whole crucifixion deal, they built an artificial island, Dejima, in the Nagasaki Bay and made all the Portuguese live there, where they couldn't mingle freely with the populace like they had before. The Portuguese weren't allowed to leave the island and Japanese had to have a permit from the government to get on. Not too long after that they decided that no foreigners of any kind would be allowed on Japanese soil, and the Portuguese got kicked out.

Then the Japanese government decided they would allow trade with the Netherlands. I believe the Dutch merchants were the only European traders willing to trample a cross as a sign that they would not attempt to spread Christianity in Japan, so they were the only ones okayed for trade. (I think they still traded with China, too.)

Thus, the Dutch took up residence on Dejima in place of the Portuguese and were the only contact Japan had with the West for 250+ years, from the early 1600s to sometime in the late 1860s.

Sometime around 1900, Dejima ceased to be an island as they started filling in the harbor as part of land reclamation projects. Now, as a cultural heritage project, they've decided to dig out the original shape of the island again, making a kind of moat around it separating it from the surrounding city. They've also got plans to reconstruct all the buildings that were on the island, inasmuch as they can figure out what and where they were. They've already got a good start; there's a few reconstructed buildings and a museum there. I think they're planning to have most of it finished in the next year or two.

So, that's Nagasaki. I hope my theoretical reader found all that interesting. Cause I do.

I left Nagasaki on Monday. Tuesday I went to the Sentoro Festival in Emukae, which was most enjoyable. Besides the lantern pyramid, I think I enjoyed the Japanese dance teams the most. Fascinating stuff, which I can't be bothered to describe here. I crashed that night at Mayumi's place. She has a very thoughtful bathroom. You can read more about Sentoro over at her site.

There's a fair chance we'll get hit head on by a typhoon on Sunday and/or Monday. Since I've been here, there was one that looked like it would hit us but ended up veering away and one that kind of grazed us. Hopefully this time we'll get some real fun. Typhoon season lasts through September, apparently.

in the nightgown of the sullen moon,