“Kakure Kirishitan: Our Sacred Oribe” by David Ryan

A lyrical noir ballad: “Hundreds dead outside our garden…Fear marks our quiet burden….”

The mists roll heavy
and coldness swarms.
We huddle our lantern
for pending storms.

Our lantern flames our gardened path.
This granite centers our spiritual bath.
We gleam together in dawn prayer;
we rake and brush our open lair.

This darkness brings the spirits flow,
the samurais sever the land.
Disguises we don and our lies grow,
we craft our manners as planned.

Our bonsai treads our floral gardens,
our baptismal pool, koily filled.
Our gardens are thick with blossomed scents
to blind and fool the guild.

We bury our hearts in our fertile beds,
and bless our bodies be;
We praise our brothers all but dead,
and flame our kettled tea.

Hundreds dead outside our garden,
chivalry disfigures the land.
Fear marks our quiet burden,
and pacificism rules our stand.

The imperials arrive on our old estate,
muting their suspicion.
Their retainer paces into our place,
tiring from his mission.

Our guests rest their bloodied minds,
sipping our soothing tea.
They pour their shame into our cups,
demanding loyalty.

We swallow whole our heavy fear,
our nerves become so dull.
We work to sink their soiled smears,
and our manners rise to lull.

The sovereign reveres my old armor
and our ritualistic bows.
He praises my classical etiquette,
to my kids I have endowed.

He sends his novices among the maples,
looking for diurnal clues.
Their splendor in the leaves and lakes,
reflecting on their dues.

He drafts a poem and aloud he reads
about his martial deeds.
He meditates on the severed dead,
eulogizing—among the reeds.

He saunters the soil, carrying their pleas,
upon his heavy heart;
He sees our lantern—and the icon—
yet feeds our coyly carp.

He praises our farm’s geometry,
and our civil intelligence.
He brokers our old propriety,
and parts in benevolence.

Our scriptured ashes rise into the burning,
palling air.
Our flaming gospels burn our hearts,
keeping us dark and fair.

Our secrets keep this lantern locked,
our beliefs buried deep.
Our mannered family chisels our faith,
in our lantern’s quiet keep.


Lanterns are a common fixture of Japanese domestic life. When Japanese Christians were persecuted in antiquity, the Oribe garden lantern, in particular, was used by these Japanese to covertly communicate their faith to one another—often unknown to their imperial persecutors. This scene marks the arrival of a retainer for Toyotomi Hideyoshi shogunate’s army to an old, wealthy homestead. Outside of their grounds, the soldiers have rounded up and slaughtered European, Korean and Japanese Christians. Here’s some background and more.

David Ryan is Academic Director and Faculty Chair of the Master of Arts in Professional Communication at the University of San Francisco. He’s published widely on rhetoric and film studies and is the co-editor of David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation (FDU Press, 2022).

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