The Spread of Christianity to Japan Essay

This essay has a total of 3539 words and 14 pages.

The Spread of Christianity to Japan


Christianity In Japan
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Christianity in Japan
Japan has been a home for Shinto and Buddhist religions for centuries. The Christian
missionaries during the 16th, 19th and 20th centuries worked hard to evangelize the
Japanese nation but could not get desired success. There efforts in past failed partly due
to sanctions imposed by the local rulers. The Jesuits missionaries traveled with Spanish
and Portuguese traders to many areas of America and Asia-Pacific and established their
churches and religious missions. They were funded, sponsored and trained by their
respective governments in order to spread Christianity. At several places they preached
the Christian faith by force but the aboriginal population did not accept it
wholeheartedly. Initially the Jesuits targeted the elite class of the country and a large
number was converted. The rulers also forced their subject to embrace the same faith.
About 300,000 Japanese were converted in the first phase. Later on, Christianity was
prohibited as the rulers started seeing them as a threat to their authority. Following a
change of regime, the ban was lifted and missionaries were again allowed to enter Japan.
Like many Native American tribes, the Japanese also resisted the new religion. As a
result, presently Christians form only 1% of the total population in Japan. This paper is
focused on how the Christian religion was introduced in Japan, the evolution of
evangelism, establishment of churches, the restrictions and hurdles faced by the
missionaries and priest of the new religion and the response of Japanese nation towards an
alien faith. All these queries are answered in detail given as follows.

Christianity in Japan spread in various phases. Like many other parts of world, it was
brought by religious missionaries and the European traders and invaders. It is almost in
middle of the 16th century that the Portuguese traders arrived on the "land of rising
sun". The traders, who landed at Kyushu, brought along gunpowder that was not previously
known to the Japanese. The local barons cordially responded to these traders mainly
because of the weapons they possessed. The traders were also accompanied by Christian
missionaries who were allowed to conduct their religious preaching by the local barons. A
large number of Japanese were converted by these missionaries.

The formal conversion to Christianity began when Francis Xavier, the Spanish born Jesuit
missionary came to Japan in 1549. He was among pioneers of the Society for Jesus or
commonly called Jesuits. As a missionary, Xavier went to Asia and carried out his
missionary activities in India and Malacca. In Malacca he met a Japanese rebel, Anjiro who
urged him to visit Japan. Xavier went to Japan with two other missionaries and started his
mission. He confronted some problems because of the language barrier. The Kodansha's
Encyclopedia of Japan describes Xavier's arrival in Japan as, "In 1547 he met in Malacca a
Japanese fugitive named Anjiro, whose glowing account of his naive country fired Xavier
with enthusiasm to evangelize Japan. Xavier reached Kagoshima with two Jesuit companions
on 15 August 1549, and with Anjiro as his less than adequate interpreter, he preached
Christianity and compiled a simple catechism, with the result that about 100 people
accepted baptism. A year after his arrival Xavier visited Hirado and Yamaguchi, but
wishing to obtain permission to preach throughout Japan, he made his way to Kyoto in an
unsuccessful bid to meet Emperor Gonara. He left Japan for India at the end of 1551".

The activities of missionaries were generally supported by the local landlords and rulers
who wanted to get monetary benefits from the foreigners. The main centers where the
missionaries were settled include Kyushu, Nagasaki and Honshu. The religion of Jesus was
initially taught to ordinary masses however, by 1563 Omura Sumitada, a daimyo (regional
military lord) was converted to the new faith. It was followed by the conversion of six
more daimyo in 1579. The Kodansha's Encyclopedia of Japan however, tells that many of
those converted to the Christ's faith were forced by their Christian masters. "By that
time the number of Christian was estimated at 100,000 but this figure includes those
converts who embraced the faith of the Lord at the behest of their Christian Lords".

After Xavier, the Jesuit missionary Luis Frois came to Japan in 1563, who later on wrote a
book about his experiences in Japan. The treatise named Historia de Japam contains
information about the activities of Jesuit missionaries in Japan.

The Christian missionaries came from Europe, America and Russia and started social and
educational activities and introduced their cultural trends in Japan. They also
established churches in various part of the country. Father Vilela constructed the first
church at Nagasaki in 1569. The site initially meant to build a pagoda, was given to him
by a Christian lord of the area. Father Vilela converted about 1500 of Japanese by 1571.

The year 1579 is marked by the arrival of Jesuit supervisor for Asia, Alessandro Valignano
in Japan. Valignano took with him four local Japanese boys who established an embassy in
Rome to represent the Christian Daimyo of Kyushu. By that time, Christianity was
recognized by the high ranking military and other officials of the country.

Initially the military lords were helpful towards the missionaries mainly driven by their
own interests, but with passage of time they noticed the increasing influence of
missionaries. The situation was alarming for them and ultimately made them rethink about
their relation with the Jesuits. It was therefore in 1564 that the Christian missionaries
were ousted from Kyoto by Emperor Ogimachi but were allowed to come back in 1569 by Oda
Nobunaga. Nosco writes that Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587 again ordered the missionaries to
leave Japan but the orders were not materialized until the Expulsion Edict of 1614 by
Tokugawa Ieyasu was implemented. Ieyasu and his successors did not want the aliens to
control the political and economic order of their country and also wanted to avoid any
internal political and religious rivalry. In 1638, another edict was issued by the Shogun
(title for Japanese rulers) that absolutely restricted the entry of foreign traders in the
country except for a limited relaxation provided to Chinese and Dutch traders. This edict
also banned the practice of Christianity and everyone was directed to register in the
Buddhist temples. David Reid writes that "danka seido" was established by the government
in 1638 and "every Japanese household to register with and financially support a local
temple". Another temple namely "terauke seido" was formed in 1662 , from which all adult
Japanese were compelled to get every year "a certificate attesting that he or she was
innocent of association with subversive religion, namely, Christianity".

Not only was a certificate considered enough for the suspected Christians, they were
called to step on a photo or "fumie" of their Lord Jesus in order to proof denouncement.
Finally, in the mid-16th century, an attempt was made to execute all the converts and the
missionaries were forced to leave the country and the process of Christianization was
halted.

At that time there were about 300,000 Christians of which around 3000 were put to death
and a large number abandoned its religion whereas, the remaining practiced Christianity
secretly. "In 1622, 51 Christians were executed at Nagasaki, and two years later 50 were
burned alive in Edo (now Tokyo). A total of 3000 believers are estimated to have been
martyred; this figure does not include the many who died as the result of sufferings in
prison or in exile. In 1633 some 30 missionaries were executed, and by 1637, only five
were left at liberty". This phenomenon continued for almost two centuries. These hidden
Christians could not practice all the rituals of their religion because of the ban imposed
by the Buddhist rulers.

Christianity was reintroduced in Japan after it gave up its policy of isolation and
established relations with Europe and America. This change resulted after the conclusion
of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and Japan at Edo on July 28,
1858. Following that, foreign religious missions were allowed to operate in the country.
This time the protestant and orthodox missionaries also came to Japan along with the
Catholics. In 1868, the Meiji regime was restored in Japan. This phase accordingly ended
with the end of Meiji era in 1912. During that time even, the Christian were not able to
evangelize publicly till 1873. "During this period over 30,000 "hidden" Christians came
forward; they belonged to groups that had worshipped clandestinely during the more than
200 years of persecution".

The Kondansha's Encyclopaedia of Japan however, informs that it was in 1865 when a group
of ‘hidden Christian' known as Kakure Kirishitan at Nagasaki publicly declared
themselves as follower of Christ. "Located in more remote areas where the government
surveillance was at its weakest, these communities had preserved their religion in secret
for more than two centuries. Of approximately 60,000 Kakure Kirishitan discovered at that
time only half chose to return to the reintroduced church. The anti Christian laws were
still in effect, and many of the discovered Christians were jailed or exiled to other
parts of the country. It was only in 1873 that the Meiji government withdrew religious
sanctions, although freedom of religion was not specifically granted. Even the 1889
constitution of Japan guaranteed only qualified religious freedom "within limits not
prejudicial to peace and not antagonistic to duties as citizens".

Ivan Kasatkin alias Nikolai, a Russian missionary, was the founder of Orthodox Church in
Japan. Nikolai arrived in Japan in June, 1861 after the country came out of two hundred
years of isolation. He worked with the Russian embassy and operated secretly until 1873
when Christianity was legalized by the government. "Hundreds of Japanese were converted
each year. Lay ministry was successful. The church was independent. If few recruits could
be obtained among the elite, humble commoners listened and came to Christ. By the time of
Nikolai's death, the Japanese Orthodox church numbered 33,000 converts".

The Protestant missionaries first entered Japan after July 1858. It is said that a large
number of Protestant missionaries came in the year 1873 and within a decade, the number of
Japanese converted to Protestant faith reached 4987.

The Christian missionaries not only preached their religion through sermons but also used
education as the main tool for their fulfillment of their task. The missionaries
established educational institutions where the main target was the youth. During the first
phase, the missionaries set up educational institutions that acted as evangelizing
agencies. Their cause was not to train the local population in sciences or languages
instead the places were used to communicate their faith to the people. Initially the
academic classes were conducted at homes of missionaries where they found enough time to
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    foreign affairs Future Involvement in Foreign Affairs Since the United States is one of the last remaining super powers of the world, we have the obligation to maintain and support good relations with the smaller and weaker nations throughout the world. We should take full advantage of this authority in several different ways. First the U.S. must focus on investing and trading with those nations who have yet to become economic powers; second, we must implement a consistent foreign policy towards
  • The Clash of Civilizations
    The Clash of Civilizations Samuel P. Huntington\'s The Clash of Civilizations suggests that world politics is entering a new phase. It is his hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in the New World will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. Huntington believes that the great divisions amongst humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be in the cultural form. Nation states will still remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts