As one interested in the history of Christians in Japan, I was excited to see Michael Hoffman’s “From Bliss to blood” articles on Dec. 23. Unfortunately, I was sad to see that he had very little to say beyond the common assumed stereotype of Christianity in Japan — both past and present.
The Tokugawa shogunate (from 1603) issued edicts and propagated stories to show that Christianity was wrong for Japan, and many people seem to have swallowed this propaganda — most lamentably the late Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo (1923-1996). Today foreign Christians and observers still quote Endo’s “swamp,” but talk only about the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier and fumie (the trampling of holy images), and maybe say a couple of words about Protestants in the 1800s.
Almost no one mentions (the first ordained Protestant Japanese Christian) Jo Niishima (1843-1890) — the former Samurai founder of Doshisha (now a university) — popular novelist Ayako Miura, paralyzed artist Tomihiro Hoshino, the late statesman Inazo Nitobe (the face on the former ¥5,000 bill), or the pacifist de-Westernizer Kanzo Uchimura and his influential followers.
Also missing is Gunpei Yamamuro and the Salvation Army movement that attacked forced prostitution and poverty at the turn of the 20th century. Would Tokugawa Ieyasu have had his victory at Sekigahara (1600) if the Christian Gracia Hosokawa had not swallowed death for her husband and turned many against the Toyotomi Hideyoshi vassal Ishida Mitsunari?
Nagasaki peace poet Takashi Nagai is seldom mentioned, nor are the 8,000 Christians of Urakami who perished in the atomic bombing. And foreign missionaries beyond Xavier are unknown, such as “Sensei” Irene Webster-Smith, who ministered to and converted several condemned war criminals after World War II. (I wonder if Yasukuni Shrine authorities know about them?)
I look through history and find Japanese Christians all over the place. True, there have not been mega-churches and the country has not put “in God we trust” on its money, yet Christians have played a large part in Japan’s history.
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