Regarding Dipak Basu’s June 7 letter, “What need for missionaries?”: I would like to add a few comments. Catholicism was brought into Japan, in exchange for the trade of guns, by the Portuguese after 1543. In many cases, daimyos who converted to Christianity in exchange for trade deals with the Portuguese forced the people of their domains to follow suit.
Christianity thrived in Kyushu, particularly during the latter part of the 16th century, because the Portuguese were needed. There was no such thing as freedom of religion at the time. The Portuguese and the Jesuits, when they arrived, preached that Buddhism was evil and often went as far as to facilitate the destruction of temples and shrines.
So, when the persecution of Christians began — with the crucifixion of 23 people in Nagasaki in 1597 — it was Catholic churches that were destroyed. It is conceivable that Catholicism could have survived in Japan if the priests had preached tolerance of other religions. (There were no Protestant missionaries at the time.) That they didn’t came back to bite them in the 17th century.
When the Dutch and English arrived, offering “missionary-free” trading, the importance of the Portuguese diminished. The Christian cause was not helped after Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu was informed that missionaries had preceded the conquest of other countries by the Spanish.
When martyrdom actually increased the popularity of Christianity, prolonged torture was used to force recantation instead — as well as fumie, trampling on images of Christ and Mary. That so many Japanese chose to die rather than recant shows that the religion, with its message of social equality at a time of inequality, did mean something in Japan.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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