From 1614 to 1873 Christianity was outlawed in Japan. The Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled Japan for most of this period, built rigorous and complicated systems of surveillance in order to monitor their population’s religious habits. This paper seeks to describe the evolution of Edo period (1603–1868) anti-Christian religious surveillance. The first two sections of the paper explore the development of surveillance under the first three Tokugawa leaders. The following sections focus on the evolution of these systems (the recruitment of informants, temple registration, the composition of registries, and tests of faith) in subsequent periods and includes some short passages from previously untranslated contemporaneous documents. Finally, the paper offers some thoughts on the efficacy of anti-Christian surveillance, arguing that the toleration of the existence of hidden communities resulted from changes in Christian behaviour that made them harder to discover and a willingness on the part of the authorities to tolerate illegal activity due to economic disincentive and a reduction in the threat that Christianity posed.
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