The Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Meiji
William Elliot Griffis author
A CENTURY OF ROMAN CHRISTIANITY
The story of the first introduction and propagation of Roman Christianity in Japan, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, has been told by many writers, both old and new, and in many languages. Recent research upon the soil,1 both natives and foreigners making contributions, has illustrated the subject afresh. Relics and memorials found in various churches, monasteries and palaces, on both sides of the Pacific and the Atlantic, have cast new light upon the fascinating theme. Both Christian and non-Christian Japanese of to-day, in their travels in the Philippines, China, Formosa, Mexico, Spain, Portugal and Italy, being keenly alert for memorials of their countrymen, have met with interesting trovers. The descendants of the Japanese martyrs and confessors now recognize their own ancestors, in the picture galleries of Italian nobles, and in Christian churches see lettered tombs bearing familiar names, or in western museums discern far-eastern works of art brought over as presents or curiosities, centuries ago.
Roughly speaking, Japanese Christianity lasted phenomenally nearly a century, or more exactly from 1542 to 1637, During this time, embassies or missions crossed the seas not only of Chinese and Peninsular Asia, circumnavigating Africa and thus reaching Europe, but also sailed across the Pacific, and visited papal Christendom by way of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
This century of Southern Christianity and of commerce with Europe enabled Japan, which had previously been almost unheard of, except through the vague accounts of Marco Polo and the semi-mythical stories by way of China, to leave a conspicuous mark, first upon the countries of southern Europe, and later upon Holland and England. As in European literature Cathay became China, and Zipango or Xipangu was recognized as Japan, so also the curiosities, the artistic fabrics, the strange things from the ends of the earth, soon became familiar in Europe. Besides the traffic in mercantile commodities, there were exchanges of words. The languages of Europe were enriched by Japanese terms, such as soy, moxa, goban, japan (lacquer or varnish), etc., while the tongue of Nippon received an infusion of new terms,2 and a notable list of inventions was imported from Europe.
We shall merely outline, with critical commentary, the facts of history which have been so often told, but which in our day have received luminous illustration. We shall endeavor to treat the general phenomena, causes and results of Christianity in Japan in the same judicial spirit with which we have considered Buddhism.
Whatever be the theological or political opinions of the observer who looks into the history of Japan at about the year 1540, he will acknowledge that this point of time was a very dark moment in her known history. Columbus, who was familiar with the descriptions of Marco Polo, steered his caravels westward with the idea of finding Xipangu, with its abundance of gold and precious gems; but the Genoese did not and could not know the real state of affairs existing in Dai Nippon at this time. Let us glance at this.
The duarchy of Throne and Camp, with the Mikado in Ki[=o]to and the Sh[=o]gun at Kamakura, with the elaborate feudalism under it, had fallen into decay. The whole country was split up into a thousand warring fragments. To these convulsions of society, in which only the priest and the soldier were in comfort, while the mass of the people were little better than serfs, must be added the frequent violent earthquakes, drought and failure of crops, with famine and pestilence. There was little in religion to uplift and cheer. Shint[=o] had sunk into the shadow of a myth. Buddhism had become outwardly a system of political gambling rather than the ordered expression of faith. Large numbers of the priests were like the mercenaries of Italy, who sold their influence and even their swords or those of their followers, to the highest bidder. Besides being themselves luxurious and dissolute, their monasteries were fortresses, in which only the great political gamblers, and not the oppressed people, found comfort and help. Millions of once fertile acres had been abandoned or left waste. The destruction of libraries, books and records is something awful to contemplate; and "the times of Ashikaga" make a wilderness for the scapegoat of chronology. Ki[=o]to, the sacred capital, had been again and again plundered and burnt. Those who might be tempted to live in the city amid the ruins, ran the risk of fire, murder, or starvation. Kamakura, once the Sh[=o]-gun's seat of authority, was, a level waste of ashes.
Even China, Annam and Korea suffered from the practical dissolution of society in the island empire; for Japanese pirates ravaged their coasts to steal, burn and kill. Even as for centuries in Europe, Christian churches echoed with that prayer in the litanies: "From the fury of the Norsemen, good Lord, deliver us," so, along large parts of the deserted coasts of Chinese Asia, the wretched inhabitants besought their gods to avenge them against the "Wojen." To this day in parts of Honan in China, mothers frighten their children and warn them to sleep by the fearful words "The Japanese are coming."
First Coming of Europeans.
This time, then, was that of darkest Japan. Yet the people who lived in darkness saw great light, and to them that dwelt in the shadow of death, light sprang up.
When Pope Alexander VI. bisected the known world, assigning the western half, including America to Spain, and the eastern half, including Asia and its outlying archipelagos to the Portuguese, the latter sailed and fought their way around Africa to India, and past the golden Chersonese. In 1542, exactly fifty years after the discovery of America, Dai Nippon was reached. Mendez Pinto, on a Chinese pirate junk which had been driven by a storm away from her companions, set foot upon an island called Tanégashima. This name among the country folks is still synonymous with guns and pistols, for Pinto introduced fire-arms, and powder.3
During six months spent by the "mendacious" Pinto on the island, the imitative people made no fewer than six hundred match-locks or arquebuses. Clearing twelve hundred per cent. on their cargo, the three Portuguese loaded with presents, returned to China. Their countrymen quickly flocked to this new market, and soon the beginnings of regular trade with Portugal were inaugurated. On the other hand, Japanese began to be found as far west as India. To Malacca, while Francis Xavier was laboring there, came a refugee Japanese, named Anjiro. The disciple of Loyola, and this child of the Land of the Rising Sun met. Xavier, ever restless and ready for a new field, was fired with the idea of converting Japan. Anjiro, after learning Portuguese and becoming a Christian, was baptized with the name of Paul. The heroic missionary of the cross and keys then sailed with his Japanese companion, and in 1549 landed at Kagoshima,4 the capital of Satsuma. As there was no central government then existing in Japan, the entrance of the foreigners, both lay and clerical, was unnoticed.
Having no skill in the learning of languages, and never able to master one foreign tongue completely, Xavier began work with the aid of an interpreter. The jealousy of the daimi[=o], because his rivals had been supplied with fire-arms by the Portuguese merchants, and the plots and warnings of those Buddhist priests (who were later crushed by the Satsuma clansmen as traitors), compelled Xavier to leave this province. He went first to Hirado,5 next to Nagat[=o], and then to Bungo, where he was well received. Preaching and teaching through his Japanese interpreter, he formed Christian congregations, especially at Yamaguchi.6 Thus, within a year, the great apostle to the Indies had seen the quick sprouting of the seed which he had planted. His ambition was now to go to the imperial capital, Ki[=o]to, and there advocate the claims of Christ, of Mary and of the Pope.
Thus far, however, Xavier had seen only a few seaports of comparatively successful daimi[=o]s. Though he had heard of the unsettled state of the country because of the long-continued intestine strife, he evidently expected to find the capital a splendid city. Despite the armed bands of roving robbers and soldiers, he reached Ki[=o]to safely, only to find streets covered with ruins, rubbish and unburied corpses, and a general situation of wretchedness. He was unable to obtain audience of either the Sh[=o]gun or the Mikado. Even in those parts of the city where he tried to preach, he could obtain no hearers in this time of war and confusion. So after two weeks he turned his face again southward to Bungo, where he labored for a few months; but in less than two years from his landing in Japan, this noble but restless missionary left the country, to attempt the spiritual conquest of China. One year later, December 2, 1551, he died on the island of Shanshan, or Sancian, in the Canton River, a few miles west of Macao.
Nevertheless, Xavier's inspiring example was like a shining star that attracted scores of missionaries. There being in this time of political anarchy and religious paralysis none to oppose them, their zeal, within five years, bore surprising fruits. They wrote home that there were seven churches in the region around Ki[=o]to, while a score or more of Christian congregations had been gathered in the southwest. In 1581 there were two hundred churches and one hundred and fifty thousand native Christians. Two daimi[=o]s had confessed their faith, and in the Mikado's minister, Nobunaga (1534-1582), the foreign priests found a powerful supporter.7 This hater and scourge of the Buddhist priesthood openly welcomed and patronized the Christians, and gave them eligible sites on which to build dwellings and churches. In every possible way he employed the new force, which he found pliantly political, as well as intellectually and morally a choice weapon for humbling the bonzes, whom he hated as serpents. The Buddhist church militant had become an army with banners and fortresses. Nobunaga made it the aim of his life to destroy the military power of the hierarchy, and to humble the priests for all time. He hoped at least to extract the fangs of what he believed to be a politico-religious monster, which menaced the life of the nation. Unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1582. To this day the memory of Nobunaga is execrated by the Buddhists. They have deified Kato Kiyomasa and Iyéyas[)u], the persecutors of the Christians. To Nobunaga they give the title of Bakadono, or Lord Fool.
In 1583, an embassy of four young noblemen was despatched by the Christian daimi[=o]s of Kiushiu, the second largest island in the empire, to the Pope to declare themselves spiritual—though as some of their countrymen suspected, political—vassals of the Holy See. It was in the three provinces of Bungo, Omura and Arima, that Christianity was most firmly rooted. After an absence of eight years, in 1590, the envoys from the oriental to the occidental ends of the earth, returned to Nagasaki, accompanied by seventeen more Jesuit fathers—an important addition to the many Portuguese "religious" of that order already in Japan.
Yet, although there was to be still much missionary activity, though printing presses had been brought from Europe for the proper diffusion of Christian literature in the Romanized colloquial,8 though there were yet to be built more church edifices and monasteries, and Christian schools to be established, a sad change was nigh. Much seed which was yet to grow in secret had been planted,—like the exotic flowers which even yet blossom and shed their perfume in certain districts of Japan, and which the traveller from Christendom instantly recognizes, though the Portuguese Christian church or monastery centuries ago disappeared in fire, or fell to the earth and disappeared. Though there were to be yet wonderful flashes of Christian success, and the missionaries were to travel over Japan even up to the end of the main island and accompany the Japanese army to Korea; yet it may be said that with the death of Nobunaga at the hands of the traitor Akéchi, we see the high-water mark of the flood-tide of Japanese Christianity. "Akéchi reigned three days," but after him were to arise a ruler and central government jealous and hostile. After this flood was to come slowly but surely the ebb-tide, until it should leave, outwardly at least, all things as before.
The Jesuit fathers, with instant sensitiveness, felt the loss of their champion and protector, Nobunaga. The rebel and assassin, Akéchi, ambitious to imitate and excel his master, promised the Christians to do more for them even than Nobunaga had done, provided they would induce the daimi[=o] Takayama to join forces with his. It is the record of their own friendly historian, and not of an enemy, that they, led by the Jesuit father Organtin, attempted this persuasion. To the honor of the Christian Japanese Takayama, he refused.9 On the contrary, he marched his little army of a thousand men to Ki[=o]to, and, though opposed to a force of eight thousand, held the capital city until Hidéyoshi, the loyal general of the Mikado, reached the court city and dispersed the assassin's band. Hidéyoshi soon made himself familiar with the whole story, and his keen eye took in the situation.
This "man on horseback," master of the situation and moulder of the destinies of Japan, Hidéyoshi (1536-1598), was afterward known as the Taik[=o], or Retired Regent. The rarity of the title makes it applicable in common speech to this one person. Greater than his dead master, Nobunaga, and ingenious in the arts of war and peace, Hidéyoshi compelled the warring daimi[=o]s, even the proud lord of Satsuma,10 to yield to his power, until the civil minister of the emperor, reverently bowing, could say: "All under Heaven, Peace." Now, Japan had once more a central government, intensely jealous and despotic, and with it the new religion must sooner or later reckon. Religion apart from politics was unknown in the Land of the Gods.
Yet, in order to employ the vast bodies of armed men hitherto accustomed to the trade of war, and withal jealous of China and hostile to Korea, Hidéyoshi planned the invasion of the little peninsular kingdom by these veterans whose swords were restless in their scabbards. After months of preparation, he despatched an army in two great divisions, one under the Christian general Konishi, and one under the Buddhist general Kato. After a brilliant campaign of eighteen days, the rivals, taking different routes, met in the Korean capital. In the masterly campaign which followed, the Japanese armies penetrated almost to the extreme northern boundary of the kingdom. Then China came to the rescue and the Japanese were driven southward.
During the six or seven years of war, while the invaders crossed swords with the natives and their Chinese allies, and devastated Korea to an extent from which she has never recovered, there were Jesuit missionaries attending the Japanese armies. It is not possible or even probable, however, that any seeds of Christianity were at this time left in the peninsula. Korean Christianity sprang up nearly two centuries later, wind-wafted from China.11
During the war there was always more or less of jealousy, mostly military and personal, between Konishi and Kato, which however was aggravated by the priests on either side. Kato, being then and afterward a fierce champion of the Buddhists, glorified in his orthodoxy, which was that of the Nichiren sect. He went into battle with a banneret full of texts, stuck in his back and flying behind him. His example was copied by hundreds of his officers and soldiers. On their flags and guidons was inscribed the famous apostrophe of the Nichiren sect, so often heard in their services and revivals to-day (Namu miy[=o] ho ren gé ki[=o]), and borrowed from the Saddharma Pundarika: "Glory be to the salvation-bringing Lotus of the True Law."
The Hostility of Hidéyoshi.
Konishi, on the other hand, was less numerously and perhaps less influentially backed by, and made the champion of, the European brethren; and as all the negotiations between the invaders and the allied Koreans and Chinese had to be conducted in the Chinese script, the alien fathers were, as secretaries and interpreters, less useful than the native Japanese bonzes.
Yet this jealousy and hostility in the camps of the invaders proved to be only correlative to the state of things in Japan. Even supposing the statistics in round numbers, reported at that time, to be exaggerated, and that there were not as many as the alleged two hundred thousand Christians, yet there were, besides scores of thousands of confessing believers among the common people, daimi[=o]s, military leaders, court officers and many persons of culture and influence. Nevertheless, the predominating influence at the Ki[=o]to court was that of Buddhism; and as the cult that winks at polygamy was less opposed to Hidéyoshi's sensualism and amazing vanity, the illustrious upstart was easily made hostile to the alien faith. According to the accounts of the Jesuits, he took umbrage because a Portuguese captain would not please him by risking his ship in coming out of deep water and nearer land, and because there were Christian maidens of Arima who scorned to yield to his degrading proposals. Some time after these episodes, an edict appeared, commanding every Jesuit to quit the country within twenty days. There were at this time sixty-five foreign missionaries in the country.
Then began a series of persecutions, which, however, were carried on spasmodically and locally, but not universally or with system. Bitter in some places, they were neutralized or the law became a dead letter, in other parts of the realm. It is estimated that ten thousand new converts were made in the single year, 1589, that is, the second year after the issue of the edict, and again in the next year, 1590. It might even be reasonable to suppose that, had the work been conducted wisely and without the too open defiance of the letter of the law, the awful sequel which history knows, might not have been.
Let us remember that the Duke of Alva, the tool of Philip II., failing to crush the Dutch Republic had conquered Portugal for his master. The two kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula were now united under one crown. Spain longed for trade with Japan, and while her merchants hoped to displace their Portuguese rivals, the Spanish Franciscans not scrupling to wear a political cloak and thus override the Pope's bull of world-partition, determined to get a foothold alongside of the Jesuits. So, in 1593 a Spanish envoy of the governor of the Philippine Islands came to Ki[=o]to, bringing four Spanish Franciscan priests, who were allowed to build houses in Ki[=o]to, but only on the express understanding that this was because of their coming as envoys of a friendly power, and with the explicitly specified condition that they were not to preach, either publicly or privately. Almost immediately violating their pledge and the hospitality granted them, these Spaniards, wearing the vestments of their order, openly preached in the streets. Besides exciting discord among the Christian congregations founded by the Jesuits, they were violent in their language.
Hidéyoshi, to gratify his own mood and test his power as the actual ruler for a shadowy emperor, seized nine preachers while they were building churches at Ki[=o]to and Osaka. They were led to the execution-ground in exactly the same fashion as felons, and executed by crucifixion, at Nagasaki, February 5, 1597. Three Portuguese Jesuits, six Spanish Franciscans and seventeen native Christians were stretched on bamboo crosses, and their bodies from thigh to shoulder were transfixed with spears. They met their doom uncomplainingly.
In the eye of the Japanese law, these men were put to death, not as Christians, but as law-breakers and as dangerous political conspirators. The suspicions of Hidéyoshi were further confirmed by a Spanish sea-captain, who showed him a map of the world on which were marked the vast dominions of the King of Spain; the Spaniard informing the Japanese, in answer to his shrewd question, that these great conquests had been made by the king's soldiers following up the priests, the work being finished by the native and foreign allies.
The Political Character of Roman Christianity.
The Roman Catholic "Histoire del' Église Chrétienne" shows the political character of the missionary movement in Japan, a character almost inextricably associated with the papal and other political Christianity of the times, when State and Church were united in all the countries of Europe, both Catholic and Protestant. Even republican Holland, leader of toleration and forerunner of the modern Christian spirit, permitted, indeed, the Roman Catholics to worship in private houses or in sacred edifices not outwardly resembling churches, but prohibited all public processions and ceremonies, because religion and politics at that time were as Siamese twins. Only the Anabaptists held the primitive Christian and the American doctrine of the separation of politics from ecclesiasticism. Except in the country ruled by William the Silent, all magistrates meddled with men's consciences.12
In 1597, Hidéyoshi died, and the missionaries took heart again. The Christian soldiers returning by thousands from Korea, declared themselves in favor of Hidéyori, son of the dead Taik[=o]. Encouraged by those in power, and by the rising star Iyéyas[)u] (1542-1616), the fathers renewed their work and the number of converts increased.
Though peace reigned, the political situation was one of the greatest uncertainty, and with two hundred thousand soldiers gathered around Ki[=o]to, under scores of ambitious leaders, it was hard to keep the sword in the sheath. Soon the line of cleavage found Iyéyas[)u] and his northern captains on one side, and most of the Christian leaders and southern daimi[=o]s on the other. In October, 1600, with seventy-five thousand men, the future unifier of Japan stood on the ever-memorable field of Sékigahara. The opposing army, led largely by Christian commanders, left their fortress to meet the one whom they considered a usurper, in the open field. In the battle which ensued, probably the most decisive ever fought on the soil of Japan, ten thousand men lost their lives. The leading Christian generals, beaten, but refusing out of principle because they were Christians, to take their own lives by hara-kiri, knelt willingly at the common blood-pit and had their heads stricken off by the executioner.
Then began a new era in the history of the empire, and then were laid by Iyéyas[)u] the foundation-lines upon which the Japan best known to Europe has existed for nearly three centuries. The creation of a central executive government strong enough to rule the whole empire, and hold down even the southern and southwestern daimi[=o]s, made it still worse for the converts of the European teachers, because in the Land of the Gods government is ever intensely pagan.
In adjusting the feudal relations of his vassals in Kiushiu, Iyéyas[)u] made great changes, and thus the political status of the Christians was profoundly altered. The new daimi[=o]s, carrying out the policy of their predecessors who had been taught by the Jesuits, but reversing its direction, began to persecute their Christian subjects, and to compel them to renounce their faith. One of the leading opposers of the Christians and their most cruel persecutor, was Kato, the zealous Nichirenite. Like Brandt, the famous Iroquois Indian, who, in the Mohawk Valley is execrated as a bloodthirsty brute, and on the Canadian side is honored with a marble statue and considered not only as the translator of the prayer-book but also as a saint; even also as Claverhouse, who, in Scotland is looked upon as a murderous demon, but in England as a conscientious and loyal patriot; so Kato, the vir ter execrandus of the Jesuits, is worshipped in his shrine at the Nichiren temple at Ikégami, near T[=o]ki[=o],13 and is praised by native historians as learned, brave and true.
The Christians of Kiushiu, in a few cases, actually took up arms against their new rulers and oppressors, though it was a new thing under the Japanese sun for peasantry to oppose not only civil servants of the law, but veterans in armor. Iyéyas[)u], now having time to give his attention wholly to matters of government and to examine the new forces that had entered Japanese life, followed Hidéyoshi in the suspicion that, under the cover of the western religion, there lurked political designs. He thought he saw confirmation of his theories, because the foreigners still secretly or openly paid court to Hidéyori, and at the same time freely disbursed gifts and gold as well as comfort to the persecuted. Resolving to crush the spirit of independence in the converts and to intimidate the foreign emissaries, Iyéyas[)u] with steel and blood put down every outbreak, and at last, in 1606, issued his edict14 prohibiting Christianity.
The Quarrels of the Christians.
About the same time, Protestant influences began to work against the papal emissaries. The new forces from the triumphant Dutch republic, which having successfully defied Spain for a whole generation had reached Japan even before the Great Truce, were opposed to the Spaniards and to the influence of both Jesuits and Franciscans. Hollanders at Lisbon, obtaining from the Spanish archives charts and geographical information, had boldly sailed out into the Eastern seas, and carried the orange white and blue flag to the ends of the earth, even to Nippon. Between Prince Maurice, son of William the Silent, and the envoys of Iyéyas[)u], there was made a league of commerce as well as of peace and friendship. Will Adams,15 the English pilot of the Dutch ships, by his information given to Iyéyas[)u], also helped much to destroy the Jesuits influence and to hurt their cause, while both the Dutch and English were ever busy in disseminating both correct information and polemic exaggeration, forging letters and delivering up to death by fire the padres when captured at sea.
In general, however, it may be said that while Christian converts and the priests were roughly handled in the South, yet there was considerable missionary activity and success in the North. Converts were made and Christian congregations were gathered in regions remote from Ki[=o]to and Yedo, which latter place, like St. Petersburg in the West, was being made into a large city. Even outlying islands, such as Sado, had their churches and congregations.
The Anti-Christian Policy of the Tokugawas.
The quarrels between the Franciscans and Jesuits,16 however, were probably more harmful to Christianity than were the whispers of the Protestant Englishmen or Hollanders. In 1610, the wrath of the government was especially aroused against the bateren, as the people called the padres, by their open and persistent violation of Japanese law. In 1611, from Sado, to which island thousands of Christian exiles had been sent to work the mines, Iyéyas[)u] believed he had obtained documentary proof in the Japanese language, of what he had long suspected—the existence of a plot on the part of the native converts and the foreign emissaries to reduce Japan to the position of a subject state.17 Putting forth strenuous measures to root out utterly what he believed to be a pestilential breeder of sedition and war, the Yedo Sh[=o]gun advanced step by step to that great proclamation of January 27, 1614,18 in which the foreign priests were branded as triple enemies—of the country, of the Kami, and of the Buddhas. This proclamation wound up with the charge that the Christian band had come to Japan to change the government of the country, and to usurp possession of it. Whether or not he really had sufficient written proof of conspiracy against the nation's sovereignty, it is certain that in this state paper, Iyéyas[)u] shrewdly touched the springs of Japanese patriotism. Not desiring, however, to shed blood or provoke war, he tried transportation. Three hundred persons, namely, twenty-two Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustines, one hundred and seventeen foreign Jesuits, and nearly two hundred native priests and catechists, were arrested, sent to Nagasaki, and thence shipped like bundles of combustibles to Macao.
Yet, as many of the foreign and native Christian teachers hid themselves in the country and as others who had been banished returned secretly and continued the work of propaganda, the crisis had not yet come. Some of the Jesuit priests, even, were still hoping that Hidéyori would mount to power; but in 1615, Iyéyas[)u], finding a pretext for war,19 called out a powerful army and laid siege to the great castle of Osaka, the most imposing fortress in the country. In the brief war which ensued, it is said by the Jesuit fathers, that one hundred thousand men perished. On June 9, 1615, the castle was captured and the citadel burned. After thousands of Hidéyori's followers had committed hara-kiri, and his own body had been burned into ashes, the Christian cause was irretrievably ruined.
Hidétada, the successor of Iyéyas[)u] in Yedo, who ruled from 1605 to 1622, seeing that his father's peaceful methods had failed in extirpating the alien politico-religious doctrine, now pronounced sentence of death on every foreigner, priest, or catechist found in the country. The story of the persecutions and horrible sufferings that ensued is told in the voluminous literature which may be gathered from every country in Europe;20 though from the Japanese side "The Catholic martyrology of Japan is still an untouched field for a [native] historian."21 All the church edifices which the last storm had left standing were demolished, and temples and pagodas were erected upon their ruins. In 1617, foreign commerce was restricted to Hirado and Nagasaki. In 1621, Japanese were forbidden ever to leave the country. In 1624, all ships having a capacity of over twenty-five hundred bushels were burned, and no craft, except those of the size of ordinary junks, were allowed to be built.
The Books of the Inferno Opened.
For years, at intervals and in places, the books of the Inferno were opened, and the tortures devised by the native pagans and Buddhists equalled in their horror those which Dante imagines, until finally, in 1636, even Japanese human nature, accustomed for ages to subordination and submission, could stand it no longer. Then a man named Nirado Shiro raised the banner of the Virgin and called on all Christians and others to follow him. Probably as many as thirty thousand men, women and children, but without a single foreigner, lay or clerical, among them, gathered from parts of Kiushiu. After burning Shint[=o] and Buddhist temples, they fortified an old abandoned castle at Shimabara, resolving to die rather than submit. Against an army of veterans, led by skilled commanders, the fortress held out during four months. At last, after a bloody assault, it was taken, and men, women and children were slaughtered.22 Thousands suffered death at the point of the spear and sword; many were thrown into the sea; and others were cast into boiling hot springs, emblems of the eight Buddhist Hells.
All efforts were now put forth to uproot not only Christianity but also everything of foreign planting. The Portuguese were banished and the death penalty declared against all who should return, The ai no ko, or half-breed children, were collected and shipped by hundreds to Macao. All persons adopting or harboring Eurasians were to be banished, and their relatives punished. The Christian cause now became like the doomed city of Babylon or like the site of Nineveh, which, buried in the sand and covered with the desolation and silence of centuries, became lost to the memory of the world, so that even the very record of scripture was the jest of the infidel, until the spade of Layard brought them again to resurrection. So, Japanese Christianity, having vanished in blood, was supposed to have no existence, thus furnishing Mr. Lecky with arguments to prove the extirpative power of persecution.23
Yet in 1859, on the opening of the country by treaty, the Roman Catholic fathers at Nagasaki found to their surprise that they were re-opening the old mines, and that their work was in historic continuity with that of their predecessors. The blood of the martyrs had been the seed of the church. Amid much ignorance and darkness, there were thousands of people who, through the Virgin, worshipped God; who talked of Jesus, and of the Holy Spirit; and who refused to worship at the pagan shrines24.
Summary of Roman Christianity in Japan.
Let us now strive impartially to appraise the Christianity of this era, and inquire what it found, what it attempted to do, what it did not strive to attain, what was the character of its propagators, what was the mark it made upon the country and upon the mind of the people, and whether it left any permanent influence.
The gospel net which had gathered all sorts of fish in Europe brought a varied quality of spoil to Japan. Among the Portuguese missionaries, beginning with Xavier, there are many noble and beautiful characters, who exemplified in their motives, acts, lives and sufferings some of the noblest traits of both natural and redeemed humanity. In their praise, both the pagan and the Christian, as well as critics biased by their prepossessions in favor either of the Reformed or the Roman phase of the faith, can unite.
The character of the native converts is, in many instances, to be commended, and shows the direct truth of Christianity in fields of life and endeavor, in ethics and in conceptions, far superior to those which the Japanese religious systems have produced. In the teaching that there should be but one standard of morality for man and woman, and that the male as well as the female should be pure; in the condemnation of polygamy and licentiousness; in the branding of suicide as both wicked and cowardly; in the condemnation of slavery; and in the training of men and women to lofty ideals of character, the Christian teachers far excelled their Buddhist or Confucian rivals.
The benefits which Japan received through the coming of the Christian missionaries, as distinct and separate from those brought by commerce and the merchants, are not to be ignored. While many things of value and influence for material improvement, and many beneficent details and elements of civilization were undoubtedly imported by traders, yet it was the priests and itinerant missionaries who diffused the knowledge of the importance of these things and taught their use throughout the country. Although in the reaction of hatred and bitterness, and in the minute, universal and long-continued suppression by the government, most of this advantage was destroyed, yet some things remained to influence thought and speech, and to leave a mark not only on the language, but also on the procedure of daily life. One can trace notable modifications of Japanese life from this period, lasting through the centuries and even until the present time.
Christianity, in the sixteenth century, came to Japan only in its papal or Roman Catholic form. While in it was infused much of the power and spirit of Loyola and Xavier, yet the impartial critic must confess that this form was military, oppressive and political.25 Nevertheless, though it was impure and saturated with the false principles, the vices and the embodied superstitions of corrupt southern Europe, yet, such as it was, Portuguese Christianity confronted the worst condition of affairs, morally, intellectually and materially, which Japan has known in historic times. Defective as the critic must pronounce the system of religion imported from Europe, it was immeasurably superior to anything that the Japanese had hitherto known.
It must be said, also, that Portuguese Christianity in Japan tried to do something more than the mere obtaining of adherents or the nominal conversion of the people.26 It attempted to purify and exalt their life, to make society better, to improve the relations between rulers and ruled; but it did not attempt to do what it ought to have done. It ignored great duties and problems, while it imitated too fully, not only the example of the kings of this world in Europe but also of the rulers in Japan. In the presence of soldier-like Buddhist priests, who had made war their calling, it would have been better if the Christian missionaries had avoided their bad example, and followed only in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace; but they did not. On the contrary, they brought with them the spirit of the Inquisition then in full blast in Spain and Portugal, and the machinery with which they had been familiar for the reclamation of native and Dutch "heretics." Xavier, while at Goa, had even invoked the secular arm to set up the Inquisition in India, and doubtless he and his followers would have put up this infernal enginery in Japan if they could have done so. They had stamped and crushed out "heresy" in their own country, by a system of hellish tortures which in its horrible details is almost indescribable. The rusty relics now in the museums of Europe, but once used in church discipline, can be fully appreciated only by a physician or an anatomist. In Japan, with the spirit of Alva and Philip II., these believers in the righteousness of the Inquisition attacked violently the character of native bonzes, and incited their converts to insult the gods, destroy the Buddhist images, and burn or desecrate the old shrines. They persuaded the daimi[=o]s, when these lords had become Christians, to compel their subjects to embrace their religion on pain of exile or banishment. Whole districts were ordered to become Christian. The bonzes were exiled or killed, and fire and sword as well as preaching, were employed as means of conversion. In ready imitation of the Buddhists, fictitious miracles were frequently got up to utilize the credulity of the superstitious in furthering the faith—all of which is related not by hostile critics, but by admiring historians and by sympathizing eye-witnesses.27
The most prominent feature of the Roman Catholicism of Japan, was its political animus and complexion. In writings of this era, Japanese historians treat of the Christian missionary movement less as something religious, and more as that which influenced government and polities, rather than society on its moral side. So also, the impartial historian must consider that, on the whole, despite the individual instances of holy lives and unselfish purposes, the work of the Portuguese and Spanish friars and "fathers" was, in the main, an attempt to bring Japan more or less directly within the power of the Pope or of those rulers called Most Catholic Majesties, Christian Kings, etc., even as they had already brought Mexico, South America, and large portions of India under the same control. The words of Jesus before the Roman procurator had not been apprehended:—"My kingdom is not of this world."
"When the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch."
"The little island of Déshima, well and prophetically signifying Fore-Island, was Japan's window, through which she looked at the whole Occident ... We are under obligation to Holland for the arts of engineering, mining, pharmacy, astronomy, and medicine ... 'Rangaku' (i.e., Dutch learning) passed almost as a synonym for medicine," [1615-1868].—Inazo Nitobé.
"The great peace, of which we are so proud, was more like the stillness of stagnant pools than the calm surface of a clear lake."—Mitsukuri.
"The ancestral policy of self-contentment must be done away with. If it was adopted by your forefathers, because it was wise in their time, why not adopt a new policy if it in sure to prove wise in your time."—Sakuma Shozan, wrote in 1841, assassinated 1864.
"And slowly floating onward go
Those Black Ships, wave-tossed to and fro."
—Japanese Ballad of the Black Ship, 1845.
"The next day was Sunday (July 10th), and, as usual, divine service was held on board the ships, and, in accordance with proper reverence for the day, no communication was held with the Japanese authorities." —Perry's Narrative.
"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
—Sung on U.S.S.S. Mississippi, in Yedo Bay, July 10, 1853.
"I refuse to see anyone on Sunday, I am resolved to set an example of a proper observance of the Sabbath ... I will try to make it what I believe it was intended to be—a day of rest."—Townsend Harris's Diary, Sunday, August 31, 1856.
"I have called thee by thy name. I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the LORD, and there is none else; besides me there is no God."—Isaiah.
"I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held."—John.
"That they should seek God, If haply they might feel after him, though he is not far from each one of us."—Paul.
"Other sheep have I which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one flock, one shepherd"—Jesus.