In October, 1867, Mgr. Petitjean went to France and Rome in order to plead the cause of his Mission. His attempts to induce Napoleon III. to make a benevolent intervention in favor of the persecuted Christians were of no avail, the Emperor saying that nothing could be done except in concert with the other Powers.
It was in the absence of the Vicar Apostolic, who did not return until June, 1868, that the Shogunate was overthrown and the old edicts against Christianity re-affirmed by the new Government. Even before this last action was announced, there were signs of the storm that was soon to break in its fury. March 16, twenty-two Christians of Urakami, eleven of whom had been among those arrested the previous year, were ordered to appear before the new Governor. One of them was Dominic Zenemon, who became their spokesman. About three hundred of their friends followed them to the open courtyard in front of the Governor’s residence. While waiting for the door to be opened, they knelt upon the coarse pebbles that took the place of a pavement, and with rosaries in their hands, spent the time in prayer.
April 29, one hundred and eighty heads of Christian families in Urakami were called before the Governor.
As before, Dominic was the chief speaker. After all had declared that they could not give up Christianity, they were told:
“Instead of trusting your rulers, who are the father and mother of the people, you allow yourselves to be deceived by the French priests. They seek only the conquest of the land. That is the reason why you religion has for so long a time been prohibited, as it will continue to be, whatever changes there may be in the government. You are traitors, since you do not adore Ama-terasu, who came from heaven to create Japan and who perpetuates herself in the person of the Makado, her direct descendant, and in the officials, who are his representatives. What have the French and other priests done that you should ally yourselves with them? What complaint have you to make against the Son of Heaven and his officials, that you will not submit to them?”
On May 14 the Supreme Council of the Emperor sent the following circular to the provincial governors:
“Among the inhabitants of the village of Urakami near Nagasaki there have always been some persons who have not ceased to follow the Christian religion; but in recent years their number has grown from day to day until the whole village, consisting of about three thousand inhabitants, practice that religion. The tribunal at Nagasaki is greatly troubled over this matter. It has vainly tried by all sorts of expostulations to bring these people to repentance. At the beginning of the new system of government we cannot, without exposing the country to most serious perils, permit this to continue. Measures of repression must be taken at once. The leaders must be called together and an attempt be made to detach them from their belief by kind exhortations. If they yield, they must be made to destroy their books and religious images and then to take a vow before the national gods. In case they do not heed the exhortations, nothing remains but to adopt strong measures. The leaders must be arrested and beheaded, their heads being exposed as a warning. Others must be transported to distant provinces where they shall be employed in various kinds of labor. In this way it will doubt less be possible to root out the beliefs that they cherish. Those that in time show sings of repentance shall be allowed to return to their villages. While the gravity of the crime may render these methods necessary, they are nevertheless extreme measures. Hence, before putting them into execution, each daimyo is requested to state without reserve his opinion upon the subject.”
Okuma Shigenobu (Afterwords Count Okuma, the well-known statesman) had been one of the officials in Nagasaki at the time when Christians were first arrested under the new Government. A few days later he was appointed an Assistant Councilor of State and called to Kyoto. Immediately after his arrival, the Supreme Council held a meeting to consider what action should be taken in connection with protests made by the foreign representatives against the treatment of the Christians. As no others had any definite plan to propose, they finally agreed with Okuma’s contention that yielding to the demands of the foreigners would be such a lowering of national dignity that a refusal ought to be given, even though it should lead to war. Accordingly at a conference held at Osaka with the foreign ministers he was the chief speaker. His own account of the meeting will show the view taken by the Japanese and some of the difficulties with which the Government had to content :
“I said: ‘I am one of those who arrested and examined Christians in Nagasaki…We cannot grant you your request for releasing the prisoners and withdrawing the prohibitions against Christianity. Foreign countries are not justified in interfering when we punish our people according to our laws. Hence we do not think it necessary to discuss the matter with you.”
“Sir Harry Parkes, the English Minister, was very angry. He shook his first and struck the table as he said: ‘This is insolence; this is going too far. Religion and truth are universal. Men are free to follow this religion or acknowledge that truth as they deem right. Among civilized nations, there is none that does not permit liberty of belief. To have laws punishing people who have done nothing wrong, to erect barriers for shutting out the truth, is a shame for even a barbarous country. You do not realize what you are doing. You are rejecting the friendship of other lands. You ought to consider the condition of Japan and think of its future.’
“I answered: ‘You cannot hope to move us by such simple arguments as these. I know a little about religion and religious history. Christianity, indeed, contains some truth; but it must not be forgotten that its history is filled with evil. A historian has said that the history of Europe is the history of strife; and a religious writer says that the history of Europe is the history of Christianity. If these authors are correct, the
“Parkes became more angry and said: ‘You are cowardly. If you wish to accomplish anything you must expect some loss. If you hesitate because of unwillingness to face difficulties, you can never attain success. Is not this an era of re-organization? Why not destroy evil customs and come out into a broader world than you have yet known? Christianity is not accepted by all civilized countries. Though some evils may have appeared in its history, its fruits are seen in the civilization of this nineteenth century. Its excellence and truth are evident. Nothing is worse than to regard as an enemy what the whole world knows to be good; nothing is so foolish as to reject the truth. You ought to open your eyes. It is truly said that Oriental officials are so in the habit of looking only at what is directly before them that they never turn their gaze upwards. If you repeal the edicts and pardon the prisoners, you will find that your fears were needless. If you do not take this action, I am sure that Japan is doomed.’
“I answered with a laugh: ‘The day that we blindly follow the commands of foreigners will surely be the time of our nations destruction. We are better acquainted than you with the state of affairs in our country. You think that what you desire can easily be done; but it is not so. Religious views that are the product of past centuries cannot be overcome in a single day. We cannot endure to add another to the many things that are disturbing our country. In making purchases, one should not pay more than a reasonable price. We do not like to pay too high a price, as we should by purchasing Christianity at the cost of many human lives.'”
Kido, who had been one of the leaders in restoring power to the Emperor, was sent to Nagasaki to inquire concerning the Christians and to arrange for carrying the proclamation into effect. In an interview with the English Consul he said that so much animosity existed between the Christians and other Japanese of the lower classes that civil strife was feared by the Government, whose object was not so much to oppose Christianity as to preserve order. It did not wish to resort to extreme measures; but if the means now being taken did not produce the desired result, it would be necessary to punish the Christians severely. He believed that the missionaries still kept up secret communication with their followers in Urakami. A missionary seemed to him to be a man sent to Japan that he might teach the Japanese to break the laws of the land.
The deportation of the Christians soon began. The first company, consisting of one hundred and twenty persons, was summoned on July 20. Their friends, who followed them to the gates of the Governor’s residence, were driven away with blows. The prisoners were taken on board a Japanese steamer, and at one time it was commonly believed that they had been taken to sea and drowned. It was afterwords learned that they had been divided among three provinces. Sixteen of them had been sentenced to death, but were reprieved in consequence of representations made by the foreign ministers. It was partly perhaps because of these protests and partly because the Government’s attention was occupied in repressing its opponents in the northeast that there was a lull in the persecution.