When the gospel of Christ first arrived in Japan in 1549 it received a warm welcome. The ruling powers thought that it might help open up trade with the West and provide a counter-balance to the politically powerful Buddhist movement. Nagasaki became the center of the Christian movement with many converts. It still remains the center of Japanese Christianity today.
In 1596 everything changed. Christian missionaries were seen as a threat to Japanese society and the Japanese feared a western invasion. So they rounded up a group of Christian leaders in Kyoto and made them march 600 miles to Nagasaki. They famously sang a Christian hymn, the Te Deum, all the way. When they arrived, the authorities chose to execute them by crucifixion to make a statement to all the Christians in the area. St. Paul Miko, the most celebrated of the martyrs, preached his final sermon from the cross. St. Paul Miko said he understood why they were executing him, because he was Japanese too. Like Jesus, and many other martyrs before him, he forgave his executioners. On Feb. 5 1596, they executed 26 Christian leaders on crosses. Additional Christians were killed, totaling about 70 martyrs during this time. They are all remembered for their loving witness of love and forgiveness, even in the face of death.
A few summers ago, Geoffrey and his family had the opportunity to visit friends stationed in Japan. One of their most moving memories from the trip was visiting the World Peace Monument in Hiroshima. This monument remembers the complete destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States. At this site in front of the bombed-out atomic dome, an elderly man taught them to fold origami peace-cranes and wished them, and the world, peace. They witnessed an amazing capacity to forgive and bridge old divides. The memorial museum details the gruesome deaths of countless innocents (up to 200,000 for both cities), but instead of blaming the United States, it focuses on overcoming the evil in the hearts of all humanity.
While in Japan, Geoffrey and his family fell in love with the elegance and simplicity of Japanese cuisine. They learned to appreciate the meditative Green Tea ceremony, and the modern delight of sushi from a conveyor belt.
To remember these remarkable martyrs and celebrate a remarkable culture, we recommend preparing sushi. Sushi was designed to be a portable food to support the Japanese laborers. It usually contains seafood, a few vegetables, sticky rice, and is rolled in a sheet of dried seaweed to make it portable. It is not as hard as you would think, but a few special tools are helpful. But don’t worry if your first few attempts are sloppy. Sloppy sushi still tastes good. On February 6th, the feast day of the Martyrs of Japan, let us remember these special saints and celebrate the power of forgiveness.
The Crucifixion of the Martyrs of Nagasaki; a painting in the Franciscan convent of the Lady of the Snows in Prague.
Sushi rice (also known as sticky rice)
5 tablespoons Rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
Nori (also known as dried seaweed sheet)
Fillings of your choice: raw or cooked fish, shrimp, crab sticks, meats, vegetables (avocado, cucumber, carrots, etc…)
Sesame seeds (optional)
- Rinse 2 cups of sushi rice 4-5 times thoroughly. Drain the water.
- Add 2.5 cups of water and cook your rice following package directions. (Bring water to boil, add rice, turn heat to low, cover, let sit for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed.)
- Once your rice is cooked, add 5 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt and mix thoroughly.
- Spread the rice on a large plate, or cutting board, and let it cool down to room temperature. (Do not refrigerate and use within 4 hours for best freshness)
- Place a sheet of nori on a bamboo mat (or piece of plastic wrap on top of a flexible placemat) with the wider part along the rolling edge of the mat.
- Spread 1/2 cup of the rice over the surface of the nori, leaving about 1/2-inch of nori on the furthest edge uncovered so you will be able to seal the roll. Press the rice down firmly but gently.
- Lay choice of fillings on top of the rice.
- Begin rolling, using the mat to press down on the sushi roll firmly but gently as you roll. Shape using the mat.
- Seal the roll by dipping your finger in water and running your finger along the long edge of the nori before completing the roll. The nori should now stick to itself.
- Dip a knife in water and cut the roll into even bite-size slices. Clean the knife after each cut to avoid it sticking.
- Arrange the rolls on a plate and serve with soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi.