In 1637, exorbitant taxes and the oppressive cruelty of two local daimyō sparked off a large-scale peasant revolt in the Shimabara area, though the underlying motive was anger at the Christian persecutions taking place at the time. Many of the rebels were Christian, including their leader, a 16-year-old boy known as Amakusa Shirō, who was supposedly able to perform miracles. His motley army of 37,000, which included women and children, eventually sought refuge in abandoned Hara castle, roughly 30km south of Shimabara town. For three months they held off far-superior government forces, but even Shirō couldn’t save them when Hara was stormed in April 1638 and, so it’s said, all 37,000 were massacred. Rightly or wrongly, Portuguese missionaries were implicated in the rebellion and soon after all foreigners were banished from Japan as the country closed its doors.

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