The Protestant Missions — October 29, 2010 at 8:50 pm

All that shall live Godly in Christ Jesus, shall receive persecution!


The July 1858 production of Shibaraku at Edo Ichimura-za theater

The missionary correspondence of 1881 and succeeding years contained accounts of the mass meetings that were frequently held in theaters. The ordinary theatre of Japan is a large, bam-like structure, open to the roof, the wood-work unpainted, and without ornamentation except that of the furnishings of the stage. The floor is divided by low railings into what resemble small cattle-pens. A family or a company of friends can engage one of these for its exclusive use. The spectators often bring their lunches with them or they can procure tea and refreshments from the neighboring restaurants; and thus they combine the pleasures of a picnic with that of witnessing the play. There are usually one or two galleries. It was discovered that these buildings made good places for preaching. One of the first of these meetings of which a description is given was held in Kyoto. Rev. W. W. Curtis thus wrote of it:

The hour for commencing was one p. m. We found the theatre, said to seat four thousand, comfortably filled with an expectant audience. There were probably in the neighborhood of three thousand present. In the audience nearly every variety of fashion was illustrated, from that of the bare-legged coolie with nothing on but a loin-cloth and a loose open robe girded at the waist, to the becoming full dress of the samurai, and the less comely attire of foreign coat and pants. I could see but two or three men in all that assembly who wore the cue. One of the galleries was set apart for the ladies, scarcely any of whom were seen among the men below. In a box opposite the stage several officials were seated, who proved attentive listeners. It is estimated that as many as two hundred priests were in the audience.

On the carpeted platform stood a little stand with a Bible and a glass of water on it. The name and subject of each speaker in large characters were posted up before he came upon the stage. Several minutes were given between the speeches to allow the audience to exchange a few words and take a smoke. To the right of the platform was the chairman with a call-bell on the table before him, with which he notified the speakers when their time was up. Nearby was a cabinet organ, and seated around this some twenty or more students from our Training School. The audience applauded the speeches in the way which is now quite fashionable in Japan, by clapping their hands.”

A Buddhist magazine published in Kyoto thus referred to this meeting:

“The place was crowded with hearers day and night, more than three thousand being present The preachers were both converted Japanese and foreigners. The sermons were well prepared and able. Those on Faith and Cause and Effect” were emotional and calculated to excite the uneducated. The preachers were eloquent. ‘Love God and Your Neighbor’ was very peculiar. As regards love, our Buddhists have something to be ashamed of. Among different kinds of love, that for your own party and friends is one of the greatest, and this leads to mutual help and so progress is rapid. It seems to me, however, that we are destitute of this love, and instead of it have internal dissensions. Is not this blameworthy?

Though the meeting passed off without a display of opposition, Mr. Miyagawa, who was the chairman and one of the speakers, received an anonymous letter that denounced him as a very wicked man, a stirrer-up of strife, and threatened that he would not reach his home that night alive. In Japan at that time threats of assassination were not to be lightly regarded; but Mr. Miyagawa simply said: ” I am ready, if need be, to be a martyr.” No violence, however, was offered.

Similar meetings were held in other cities. In Osaka the Shinto and Buddhist priests were so annoyed that they brought legal action against the Governor for allowing such a meeting. The judges rendered the following decision:

“The plaintiffs in this action complain that the Governor has improperly administered the laws by permitting the Christians to hold a great meeting in Osaka. They allege that the Governor should have issued a notification forbidding foreigners to erect a church or preach a religion not sanctioned by Government, outside the limits of the Foreign Settlement, and also prohibiting all persons unauthorized by Government from preaching on religious subjects. The court is of opinion that the plaintiffs have no ground for their contention although there is nothing to prevent their presenting a petition to the Governor on this subject The case is therefore dismissed.”

The activity of the Christians led, in a few cases, to threats against the propagators of the new faith. Two theological students, who spent the summer vacation in Fukui, received from a Shintoist the following letter:

“You, in seeking the trifling gain that is offered you, preach the baneful doctrines of Christianity, What sin is greater? If you will repent, do it speedily, and we will be quiet; but if you continue preaching, we have weapons to destroy what is harmful to the country. The sacred sword to use for the holy Empire is at our side. Your impure blood, young children, is unworthy to be shed; but we will try the sword for the first time on your young necks.

“Village of Kawakita, God of Mountains: From Nobuakira, the Keeper of the Holy Empire.” To the preachers of Barbarian Doctrines.”

More legitimate methods of opposition were not neglected. The Buddhist priests published a series of tracts on “The Unreasonableness of Christianity.” One of these urged that the existence of noxious beasts disproved the doctrine of a wise and loving Creator. Another adduced the Crusades to show that Christianity gives rise to wars. Mass meetings like those inaugurated by the Christians were held. Some of the speakers endeavored to frighten the ignorant people by asserting that at the beginning of the next year the Government would put all Christians to death. Herod and Pilate became friends; the Buddhists seeking the help of those that were opposed to all religions. Three pupils of Mr. Fukuzawa, who like their master, the famous teacher and reformer, avowed that they did not believe in any religion, were employed to address meetings in Osaka and Kyoto. One of them began his speech by saying:

“I am neither a Buddhist nor Shinto priest; neither have I any special leaning to either of these religions, the excellence of which I am not well acquainted with; but I am aware of the iniquities of the Christian sect, and my purpose is, from love of country and sincere heart, to discuss these. Of late the progress made by this sect has been marvelous, and may be compared to a fire sweeping over a plain, which constantly increases in power. Wherever one may go, their preaching places are to be found. The three Christian sects, Catholic, Greek, and Protestant, which entered Japan simultaneously, have already produced much confusion, and bid fair to put an end to the old condition of things in my country. Therefore I propose, by the aid of ancient and modern history, to show whether Christianity is profitable or injurious, to startle these immoral believers of the foreign religion in their infatuated dreams, and call the attention of the Government and people to the subject. Now this Christian sect is very different from other religions and contains two greatly to be dreaded qualities. These are, first, cruelty and rebellion; second, the seizure and robbery of other countries. Therefore they are prone to present their complaints with sword and spear, murder innocent people, and seize their country and property; such instances are by no means rare.”

The lecturer then went on to speak of the Crusades, of contests in Europe between Protestants and Roman Catholics, and of the troubles brought upon Japan by the preaching of Christianity three centuries before. He asserted that modem missionaries were sent by foreign governments for the sake of gaining a foothold in the country, and that their followers, in case of war between Japan and a Western nation, would secretly aid the latter. Lovers of their country should resist the progress of a religion that threatened such great evils.

The lecturers were so much nettled at the remarks of the newspapers accusing them of speaking only for the sake of the money paid them by the Buddhists, that in one of the subsequent meetings they made some violent attacks upon the priests, who were not a little vexed to have their allies thus turn against them.

Mr. Fukuzawa himself delivered a lecture in Tokyo about the same time, in which he spoke of religion as being necessary for controlling the hearts of the people. For himself, he had no special leaning toward either

Buddhism or Shintoism, but he feared the influence of Christianity would be to make people regard foreign nations with too much favour. He went on to say:

“At present there is great emulation and strife among nations to be first, and those that are careless will soon fall behind in the race. The right and the wrong are not much thought of any more. If a nation sees an opportunity to enrich herself by seizing another country, she does so without any misgiving. Christianity is making process, but when Japanese become Christians, they will. . . consider everything Christian and that comes from Christian nations as very good, and will be disposed to take the side of foreign nations. Though Buddhism came from another land, yet it has for more than a thousand years held sway over the Japanese mind and is in fact a Japanese religion. If there were no religions in Japan at this time, then I might choose Christianity rather than Buddhism. But as Buddhism has for so long a time penetrated the life of the Japanese people, I am disposed to give all my assistance towards preventing Christianity from trespassing on the dominions of the former.

In a volume of essays Mr. Fukuzawa went even farther in his opposition to Christianity. He declared that there was danger that men of ability, who embraced the faith, might ultimately form a party that would come into opposition with a party or parties holding Japanese doctrines. Eventually an appeal might be made to arms, and this would lead the Christians to invoke foreign assistance, through which Japan would be in danger of losing its independence. The “liberty of conscience” that had come into fashion was working evil. Buddhism ought to be recognized as the one and only religion of Japan. The followers of Shinto, which is not properly a religion, should unite with the Buddhists to endeavor to oppose the spread of Christianity. The authorities ought also to take steps towards the same end. They might feel some delicacy about interfering in such matters, but they should not be misled by the vague notions of the students of Western doctrines to value liberty of conscience above their public duties and so to refrain from measures which concern them no less than taxation or the conduct of justice.

Such sentiments seem very strange as coming from one who had done more than almost any other man to introduce Western ideas among the people. Caring little for religion itself, Mr. Fukuzawa in questions connected with it seems to have been almost as much a follower as a leader of public opinion; and it was not long, as we shall see, before he spoke in quite a different tone.

In Tokyo the Buddhists began holding a series of “lecture-meetings” in the Meiji Kwaido, a hall that was erected partly for political assemblies, but also with the avowed intention of furnishing a place where efforts might be made to oppose the spread of Christianity.

Some leaders of public thought, while professing indifference to religion itself, contended that all should be treated alike by the Government. The editor of a prominent paper in Tokyo, while declaring that he was opposed to Christianity, called on the government to abandon its non-committal attitude and openly tolerate that religion. His reasons were: 1. Because it is a shame for the Government to retain laws against Christianity that are notoriously violated in all parts of the country. 2. Because religion ought to be free to each man to believe or reject as he pleases. 3. Because, while Christianity is bad, Buddhism is no better, and both ought either to be prohibited or to be tolerated.

The next year (1882) religious discussion waxed hotter and hotter. The Christians pushed into various parts of the country, and nearly everywhere they were able to gather large audiences. To counteract the influence of these meetings, the Buddhists started others in opposition, often hiring a house close to the one engaged by the Christians and thus trying to draw people away from the latter.

The Jiji Shimpo, a daily newspaper, was started in 1882 by Mr. Fukuzawa. At first, nearly every number contained an attack on Christianity. Though professing no attachment to Buddhism as a religion, it declared its preservation necessary for the national welfare. The following extracts from an editorial will show its position:

“It was about this time that Mr. Fukuzawa bought a large image of Buddha and set it up in his garden. A friend, whose attention he was drawing to the image, drily remarked: “Yes, I hear that such images can be bought very cheaply now.”

“The national religion of Japan is Buddhist We must protect it from decay. The higher classes in Japan care nothing about any religion. . . . This total indifference to religious things in the Japanese mind is greatly to be praised. Foreigners cannot equal us in this respect. Nevertheless, at the present juncture this peculiar merit of the Japanese is a grave detriment to the country. That Christianity is baneful to our national power is evident. . . . But educated people care nothing about it and relegate the whole thing to the priests. This is a dangerous tendency of the time. Unless assisted by the influence of the upper classes, nothing can obstruct the intrusion of Christianity. More-over, Buddhist priests are immoral and shameless, and without energy of spirit. It is very unsafe to trust this weighty cause to them alone. We do not believe in Buddhism, nor do we respect the priest. Our concern is for the national power, in the conservation of which that religion must be utilized.”

This was doubtless written by Mr. Fukuzawa, who in another article said:

“We do not care to discuss the truth or falsity of religious systems; but looking at the matter from a statesman’s point of view, we hold that in self-defense the foreign religion should be banished these shores. For this we should not rely so much on government aid or on the influence of scholars. The best method for counteracting the foreign religion is to encourage the native, that is, Buddhism; but the corrupt state of the priesthood is deplorable. . . . The priest preaches one day in the temple, and the next he is found in the meeting of the commercial company. He becomes a bankrupt He squeezes a profit as broker m making loans. He leans here and flatters there. He is not ashamed to offer bribes. His only aim is to make money. He drowns himself in strong drink. He indulges his lust shamefully in the house of the harlot. We see him nowadays in layman’s dress,— perhaps to cover his abominable conduct under the sleeves of his garment.”

Robert Green "Bob" Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was a Civil War veteran, American political leader, and orator during the Golden Age of Free thought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism.

Mr. Fukuzawa’s attitude was that of many men of his class, and he had considerable to do with shaping public opinion. His paper soon attained great influence, while his school sent forth many talented young men who had imbibed the spirit of their master and who delighted to spread abroad what they had heard from him. It was his pupils who, at this time, translated and published the lectures of Colonel Robert Ingersoll, the American lecturer against Christianity.

Occasionally Christian meetings encountered such op-position as is described by Rev. P. K. Fyson of the Church Missionary Society, who, in writing of a chapel in Niigata, says:

“Almost every evening, except when the weather was very bad, I used to go with the catechist to preach there. The number of hearers varied very much; there were frequently fifty or sixty, sometimes eighty and up to one hundred. Sometimes a very noisy set of young men came in and did their best to interrupt the meeting, to the evident annoyance of more sober minded people who wished to hear what we had to say. The front of the house being open to the street, it was practically equivalent to preaching in the open air, and the people stood in their dogs on the earth floor, so that we could not turn the rowdy ones out, and their yells often completely drowned our voices. ‘Makoto no Kami’ (‘True God’) would be shouted in derision, or ‘ Namu Amida Butsu ‘—the usual Buddhist invocation—jocularly, in opposition. Abusive threats were hurled at us in abundance; Sorcerer,’ Thief, Incendiary,’ Murderer,’ and others too foul to repeat; the catechist coming in for his special share, ‘ Traitor to your countrywide. Sometimes dirt and a few stones were thrown, or we found our table or the rain-doors smashed.”

The funerals of believers often proved favorable opportunities, not only for addressing persons that otherwise might never attend Christian services, but also as a means of disproving the assertion often made that

Christians treated the bodies of the dead with disrespect, a son not caring though the dogs might devour the corpse of his father. In some way the idea became widespread that at Christian funerals the chief ceremony was the driving of an iron spike into the skull of the dead body, and a morbid curiosity often drew large numbers to see this gruesome rite performed. In Okayama, the first death among the believers was that of a poor paralytic, who lived m a small and wretched house. Most of the Christians in that city belonged to well-to-do families; and it was a great surprise to the people that watched the procession as it passed through the streets, when they saw that the coffin, instead of being carried by coolies, was borne on the shoulders of the young men of the church, and that the poor paralytic was followed to the grave by so many well- known people. The Japanese think much of having ”a splendid funeral’ and a religion that would do so much for the poorest of its followers evidently did not deserve the charge of treating the bodies of the dead with disrespect”

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