The chapel of Seitai Hoshikai, called Our Lady of Akita, was constructed in traditional Japanese style to convey to local people that the Catholic Church is universal and that Jesus Christ is the savior of all people — including the Japanese. (Photo: seitaihoshikai.com)

By Cristian Martini Grimaldi

Jul 24 2023

As a minority religious group in Japan, Catholicism holds a smaller presence compared to other religions. As of 2021, there were approximately 431,100 Catholics in Japan (0.34 percent of the total population), 6,200 of whom were clerics, religious and seminarians.

Every year thousands of Catholic pilgrims arrive from abroad and embark on long journeys to sacred sites and pilgrimage destinations of religious significance.

Catholic pilgrims in Japan often visit places of historical importance, where significant events related to their faith have taken place. Some of the notable pilgrimage destinations include shrines, churches and holy sites associated with saints, martyrs and miracles.

Nagasaki for example holds a deeply historical and poignant significance, while in the Kyushu region, there are tens of locations closely tied to a period of intense persecution endured by Catholics during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868).

This era, known as the “Christian Persecution,” resulted in the suppression and eradication of Christianity by the ruling authorities. During this dark period, many Catholics went into hiding to preserve their faith and avoid persecution.

Nagasaki, with its strategic location and historical ties to early Christian missionaries, became a significant center for these underground Catholic communities.

But worshippers are by no means only heading to the southwest of Japan. They have also begun making pilgrimages to less easy-to-reach places like a renowned Catholic convent in northern Japan as inbound tourism bounces back from the coronavirus pandemic.

On a hill outside the city of Akita is the Catholic Convent Seitai Hoshikai. The chapel was built in Japanese-style architecture by the “Miyadaiku” (carpenters specializing in temples and shrines) from Takasaki City in Gunma Prefecture with the hope that the Catholic Church would take root in the spiritual climate of the people in Japan.

The multistory structure gives the impression of a Buddhist temple if you were to look at it from a distance.

The Seitai Hoshikai is a small Catholic religious organization established in 1970 by Bishop John Shojiro Ito in Niigata, Japan. The members of this institution are devout Catholic women who lead lives centered on prayer, following the examples of Jesus Christ and Mary. They take vows of Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty, dedicating their lives to serving God and their fellow humans.

The institute comprises two groups of sisters: one residing at the Motherhouse in Akita, leading a communal life centered on prayer, and the other actively involved in evangelizing laypeople in society.

Bishop Paul Daisuke Narui of Niigata characterizes it as a place of prayer, where individuals can escape their busy routines and open their hearts to the peaceful and sacred environment.

Prayer is emphasized as the cornerstone of Christian daily life, and the sisters of Seitai Hoshikai are fully devoted to continuous prayer.

The chapel is dedicated to the statue of the Virgin Mary, a statue which was carved in 1963 by a wood sculptor from Akita City. It is said that the statue has shed tears a total of 101 times from 1975 to 1981.

It is one of the few approved Marian apparitions in the world. The cotton swabs used to wipe the tears away were tested and the tears have been proved to be of human origin.

Pilgrims come here not only from Japan but also abroad, from countries like Poland, France, and Spain, seeking inspiration from the exemplary life of the Holy Mary. And maybe the fact that they come to the far east in this remote and little-known location allows them to further strengthen their faith, so they can depart with a renewed sense of dedication to their daily endeavors. – UCA News

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.