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Inscribed on the World Heritage List in June 2018, Japan´s cultural property “Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region” bears testimony to the tradition of those who practiced and passed down Christian faith in the absence of priestly leadership, for more than two centuries of state-enforced ban on Christianity. Its twelve components - one archaeological site, ten villages and a cathedral - are spread over Nagasaki and Kumamoto Prefectures and organized in a chronological order. The archaeological site is the site of the rebellion of Japanese Catholics against the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1614, triggering Japan’s nationwide seclusion policy and giving rise to the cultural tradition of the Hidden Christians. The ten villages are the places where the latter maintained their faith during the ban by developing religious traditions mixing Christianity with Buddhist spiritual practices and ancestor worship and by migrating to remote islands at the end of the 18th century. The cathedral marks the revealing of the secret faith by the Hidden Christians to the missionaries from the Paris Foreign Mission Society, who came to Japan in 1854, with the re-opening of the country. These historical stages are creatively associated to tangible elements dating from the period of the ban (graveyards, sites of houses, village layout, devotional objects or martyrdom sites) which have undergone substantial physical change and to churches built in the early Meiji era under the guidance of Catholic missionaries. Based on exploratory ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 2017-2018, the paper discusses the development of the nomination in order to depict the appropriation and contestation of the elements above and addresses: (1) the Association proposing the inscription; (2) the World Heritage, national and regional institutions and the winding road towards the listing; (3) the Catholic church; (4) local residents and guides. By doing so, I attempt to reveal the everyday actions and feelings on the ground triggered by the nomination and how they relate to the projected post-inscription changes, the Hidden Christians (kakure kirishitan) of today, visitor preferences, and the inclusion of the nomination narrative in the touristic representations of Nagasaki city.
Raluca Mateoc is a guest researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Department “Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia”), postdoctoral researcher at the Human Geography Unit, University of Fribourg and at the Japanese Studies Unit, University of Geneva. Upon completing her PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Fribourg, she conducted the JSPS project “The Churches and Christian Sites of Nagasaki: Heritagization, Tourism and the Commodification of Religion from an Ethnographic Perspective” (University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Cultural Anthropology). Her research interests are: Japanese cultural heritage, World Heritage, heritage governance from a cross-national comparative perspective.