“Until the unexpected and remarkable discovery made in 1865 by means of a little statue of the Madonna, it was believed that the Catholic religion had entirely disappeared from the interior of Japan. On the 17th of March that year, the missionary Bishop, Mgr. Petitjean, who had lately finished building a church at Yokohama, near the coast, and dedicated it to the Sacred Heart, was kneeling at the foot of the altar. Curiosity, more than devotion, had drawn numbers to the sacred edifice, of whom many were pagans. The Christian part knelt to pray. All at once, some unknown strange women left the crowd and, advancing to the Bishop, whispered in his ear, ‘Father, your heart and our heart are the same.’
“Pointing to a statue of the Blessed Virgin erected over the altar, they added ‘That Lady is Santa Maria Sama, and her Child is Deous Sama, it is Jesous Sama. At home (meaning the district they lived in) everyone is like us (that is, they believe what we believe).’
“Search was immediately made to find if such hopeful news were true; and, to the Bishop’s intense joy, not one, but many island places proved to be still Catholic; the faith having lived on through centuries of persecution. Pius XI raised the day of this happy discovery to an annual feast for the Japanese.”
– The Messenger of the Sacred Heart, Manresa Press, 1885
From the wiki: “Portuguese shipping first arrived in Japan in 1543. Soon after, Roman Catholic missionaries arrived with Francis Xavier and the Jesuits in earnest around 1549. The religion briefly flourished, with over 100,000 converts, including many daimyo in Kyushu. But suddenly, in 1587, Christianity was repressed as a threat to national unity and ceased to exist publicly. Many Catholics went underground, becoming hidden Christians; many others lost their lives.
“Immediately after the loosening of the prohibition of Christian faith in Japan, following the reopening of the nation to world intercourse, a Catholic church was built in 1862 by the Paris Foreign Missions Society in the Yokohama foreign settlement. The church moved to its current location at Yamate-cho, Naka-ku, in 1906, and was originally constructed as a brick building with two bell towers. The 1923 Great Kantō earthquake completely leveled the structure. The present church, known locally as Yamate Catholic Church, was designed by Czech architect Jan Josef Švagr in a Neo-Gothic style and completed in 1933.”