Two Empires In Japan

Two Empires In Japan

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Two Empires In Japan

Two Empires In Japan by John M.L. Young and The Christian Confrontation with Shinto Nationalism by Kun Sam Lee were the two books I used for this topic. The former, an intimate 100 year chronicle of the persecution by the Asian government with their demands that all people bow in Kyujo-yohai, ( worshipping the Imperial House from afar); and the struggle of the Japanese Christians in times of compromise and triumph under such totalitarian pressure. The latter a more detailed historical account of old Shinto and the earliest Christian missionaries. The following essay will focus on the conflicting ideologies within Japan between the Shinto militarists and the Protestant mission effort from it¹s germination in 1859 until 1957.

Dr. Young cites the entrance of Christianity into Japan at 1542 when a ferocious storm found two Portuguese sailors shipwrecked on the southern island of Tanegashima. The Japanese accepted the Romish syncretism of the gospel, but were more interested in the goods and technology that came with later Roman Catholic missionaries who arrived in 1549. The priests¹ attempts at proselytization were not very difficult; the spirit in which their efforts were received is aptly demonstrated : ³The images of Buddha, with slight application of the chisel, served as images for Christ. Each Buddhist saint
found his counterpart in Roman Christianity; and the road- side shrines of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, were rededi- cated to Mary. Temples, altars, bells, holy water vessels, censers, and rosaries were all ready and could be easily adapted to the needs of the new religion. ( Young, pp. 12 )

Oda Noyabunga welcomed the Roman missionaries, for he needed their advanced weaponry to successfully defeat the Ashikaga Shogunate.

Shortly after his victory, Noyabunga was assassinated and all priests were driven out of Japan in 1587 vis a vie a decree from Hideyoshi the Great.

Sadly, Japan went more than 400 years without the influence of true religion in the entire land. Until the arrival of two Presbyterian missionaries, Dr. and Mrs.
J.C. Hepburn in 1859.

As the new missionaries became established they began starting mission schools for the children in which could become trained in the way of the gospel. However, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 ( which consisted of the demotion of 270 Daimyo and over 2 million samurai giving up thier sword and status ), the indigenous religion of Japan, Shintoism, took a revitalized grip on the masses.

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Shinto was the underlying worldview for all of Japanese public culture and societal institutions. Including education, which stressed the worship of Amatersu-omi-kami, the mythological sun-goddess from whom the Emperor descended ( hence, making him divine as well ).

In 1886, the Imperial Rescript on Education was issued in which filial piety was prescribed to given to the Emperor in ³ profoundest obeisance². Herein lies the source or focal point of the conflict in the relations of Christianity and Shinto in Japan. Was bowing to the portrait of the Emperor merely a sign of political loyalty and demonstration of the spirit of patriotism, as the Ministry of Education contended ? Or was obeying the mandate of the Rescript idolatry, because the Emperor was perceived as divine, as the faithful Christians maintained ?

The two men who were representative of the varying degrees of Christian commitment in the midst of this struggle were Masahisa Uemura and Kanzo Uchimura.

A very interesting historiographical conflict arose here because Lee regards Uchimura as sub-orthodox because he denied inerrancy, even though he didn¹t give in to the so called ³ Japanese Christianity ³ ( which was a syncretic blend of Shinto nationalism and Christianity similar to the worship in the Old Testament of Jehovah and Baal ); Lee then says Uemura is the orthodox spokesman because he believed in the substitutionary atonement and inerrancy ( even though Young says Uemura compromises with his Mukyokai (no-church) movement and his desires to disregard any and all forms of confessional Christianity ).

Young further says that even though Uchimura denied inerrancy, he was valiant in his refusal to bow to the portrait when he said ³ We are Protestants, we do not even bow to a portrait of Jesus Christ, lest it be said that we worship a man. ² However, Uchimura was swept by compromise, and later in life gave himself over to very extreme nationalism, such that the purity of his witness was desecrated. As Dr. Young said time and time again ³ Such men lacked strong convictions concerning truth and error necessary to enable the Church to stand without compromise against the subtle blandishments of polytheistic Œhostile powers¹ .²

With such men representing the Christian Religion in Japan, it is little wonder that when the Christian churches were pressured to join a united Japanese denomination ( that would simply be another puppet organization of the government ), few churches refused.
The Christians justified the union ( which included liberal theologians as well those who advocated Japanese Christianity ), as ³Christian ecumenicity² and therefore it was to be encouraged. However, it was obvious to those stood firm, that the ³ ecumenicity² of the those who agreed to join the one national church was just a baptized way of avoiding conflict and persecution from the government There were however, some who resisted the totalitarian militarist coercion of the Shinto state. One such group were members in the church affiliated with the Mino mission in the late 1930¹s. The young people, as they attended the government schools, were required to take thier periodical trip the Grand Shrine at Ise where they would pay homage to the Sun Goddess, as well as pray for the prosperity of the Imperial Family. Two boys, one twelve, the other eleven, said they would not participate in the idolatry because ³they were Christians².

Head of the mission, Miss Wiedner, had an interview with the Minister of National Education. Which in turn led the newspapers to conclude that those associated with the mission were anti-nation, anti-people, and anti-land, because they refused to do the worship at the Ise Shrine. All of that due to the fact that the national political structure is meaningless outside a Shinto ideology, and if rejects Shinto, it is perceived that they inevitably reject the political structure. Such comments were published in the newspaper under the headlines ³ The Mino mission refuses to recognize any other god than the God of the Bible ². Although this was intended to be a capitol insult, Miss Wiedner was overjoyed and despite further pressure they Mino Mission Church remained faithful throughout. The Japanese people, rather than hate the Mino people, were astonished and admiring of their unwavering integrity.

Although the defeat of Japan in the Second World War damaged the faith of the people in the ³ Divine Emperor-Holy Land ³ concept, it was not long after that the Japanese were back to thier old ways with Shinto practices. Japan¹s defeat brought a treaty and a constitution by order of General Macarthur. While it guaranteed religious freedom, there was still much ridicule and scorn for those who would not bow to Amateresu-omi-kami; for the public culture of Japan, with its mythological 2,600 year history of racial superiority and the Divine Emperor, would not be shaken by a foreign imposed constitution.

There was however, much more allowance of non-government controlled Christian polity. On the negative side of things, this alleviation of pressure from the government came late for many of the Christians who had already been hardened by that Eden-old spirit of tolerance; and hence would not break with the Unified Japanese Church, nor repent of thier theological syncretism of liberal Christianity with Shinto religious patriotism.
While there were many faithful believers in Japan as a result of the Protestant mission effort, the laxity of the majority of the institutional churches made a lasting impression on the Japanese people. An impression that told the natives that the
Westerners, while they may have brought some nice clothes and perfumes and the like, brought a God that was not enough unlike the gods of the age to give the Japanese people as a whole something of real significance. What is needed in Japan are men and women who; ³ the conflict between the Two Empires of polytheism [we] must not fail to discern what san properly be rendered to the non-Christian state and what to God alone.
As we seek to establish the cause of Christ in Japan knowing that we have the WORD OF GOD to guide us and the KING OF KINGS to rule us Œlet us not grow weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.² (Young, pp.228)


As I read these two books, I found myself slowly becoming involved in the econtroversy. With Lee¹s book, the details of the events were clear and consise, except for the fact that he seldom translated the Japanese that was in th etext. Dr, Young always catered to my ignorance in that area. That fact alone made his book more enjoyable because I didn¹t feel like I was reading a foriegn textbook.

I made the point that I felt more intimate with Young¹s book. That may well have been because he taught here at Covenant, however, I think there is more involved. For one, the historiographical difference that I noted was one of the indications that made me think that Mr. Lee was, shall we say, less valiant in his defense of the Reformed faith. Taht is no tto say I did not think that he was Reformed, because I am pretty sure he was.

As I read through the books I also began to get a better grasp on some of the problems that are involved in forien missions work. The controversy seems to me to be at its essence a culture war. But at its most basic level, a war between culture faiths. That is not to say that I think that Christianity is a culture. Rather, it is to say that the transcendent truth claims of Christianity come to bear on the whole of reality in such a way so as to challenge every aspect of culture. There¹s the rub. The whole culture is bound up and founde upon the religion of those who make up the culture.

The question then becomes, ³ How do we minister to people who are imbibed in a culture that si founded upon an idelogical framework, read religion, that is diametrically opposed to Christianity without presenting Christianity as merely another culture ? ²
The problem is further complicated when the laguage differences are taken into account. To my knowledge, there is not a single word or character that can adequately communicate ³ Any want of, or lack of conformity unto the law of God. ²

Beyond that, there is not an easy way to communicate the idea of a personal God. The Japanese word for God is ³ kami ². However, if I were to look at a beautiful scene, the word ³ kami ² would serve as an accurate term for my feelings. They are not even Pantheists, as the double usage would seem to imply. Even ththough they do not have a word for a transcendent personal being.

These are only a few of the difficulties that foreign missionaries encounter. As I read these books, I got a real feel dor the problems that the American Christians had in presenting the gospel. As well as the faithful Japanese Christians when they condemned thre nationalistic syncretism of the gospel by their own people. The nationalism embede into the whole culture an finding thier origin in the Shinto religion, would have made all of those who resisted subject to enormous pressure. The books therefore gave a feel for the compromise of some; and it gave me a greater appreciation for those who stood firm.
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