The Protestant Missions — July 25, 2010 at 5:08 pm

At the middle of the 19th Century Japan was a hermit nation!


Dutchmen with Courtesans in Nagasaki c.1800.

At the middle of the 19th Century Japan was a hermit nation. Three hundred years had passed since it had first been visited by Europeans Almost immediately after merchants found there way thither, Roman Catholic missionaries began those labors that at one time seemed likely to result in the speedy wining of Japan to their church. Then came an era of bitter opposition that resulted in apparent extirpation of Christianity. All Europeans were driven from the land except as the Dutch merchants were allowed to have a  trading post on the tiny Island of Deshima, which thus became the one point of contact between Japan and the West.

Opposition to the missionaries and there teaching was not the only reason that led Japan to adopt the policy of isolation. That opposition itself did not come chiefly from religious considerations but from a belief that the missionaries had been sent out by there sovereign to win the hearts of a portion of the Japanese people in order to facilitate the future conquest of the country. Spanish and Portuguese merchants had done not a little to make Europeans unpopular. They too were suspected of having a part in the schemes of their king. Some of them had by their immortal conduct shocked a people whose own standards were done to high. Notwithstanding the protests of the missionaries against the slave triad, the merchants had carried away many Japanese into servitude, and reports were current of terrible cruelties that were suffered by these unfortunate men. Though the guilt of the traffic was shared by daimyos and others who delivered into the hands of the trader’s criminals and captives taken in war this did not prevent it from being an additional reason for the dislike that was felt for Europeans. Various incidents had fostered unfriendly feelings between the Japanese and the merchants of Manila and Macao. In one noteworthy case the former, In revenge for what they considered unjust treatment received at Macao attempted to capture a vessel that had come from that port to Nagasaki, and would probably have succeeded had not the Portuguese captain after bravely defending himself for three days, set fire to the powder magazine, thus destroying the ship with its crew ,passengers, and cargo.

Dejima (出島?, literally "protruding island"; Dutch: Desjima or Deshima, sometimes latinised as Decima or Dezima), was a fan-shaped artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki that was a Dutch trading post during Japan's self-imposed isolation (sakoku) of the Edo period, from 1641 until 1853.

Whatever may have been the parts of merchants and missionaries in causing Japan to drive them forth and close the gates behind them, the commercial and religious interests of the West  were earnestly hoping that in some way those gates might unlocked so that their might again be free access in the land .Though the protestants had not the same reasons as Roman Catholic for regarding Japan with special interest ,it was no longer after the attention of English and American Christians had been aroused to the claims of foreign missions that some were led to make that country an object of their prayers, contributions and efforts. The missionaries in China had hopes that they might be able to help Japan either in person or by the books. Doubtless some of their publications were carried to that land ,and they could be read their by the Educated people .In 1818

Missionary Walter Medhurst with Choo Tih Lang and a Malay Boy Born April 29, 1796(1796-04-29) England Died January 24, 1857 (aged 60) London, England

when Captain  Gordon of the brig Brothers went to the Bay  of Yedo hoping  to get permission for trade large numbers of visitors came to his vessel, and he mentions giving them two Testaments besides some religious tracts printed in Chinese.* Dr. Medhurst, the well known missionary, found means  to make some study of the Japanese language and in 1828 he asked the Dutch permission to go on their ship to Nagasaki. This request was refused.

The Missionary Herald, the organ of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in its issue for march,1828,acknowledges the receipt of $27.87 as received from Brooklyn, Mass., ”for mission to Japan”. Similar entries appear from time to time in later numbers. To Day , as one turns over the leaves of the magazine and happens to light upon these words, they seem like an anachronism, since there could at that time  be no missions in Japan; but “faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen “, and those who made these contributions could overlook all obstacles and believed that Japan would not long be closed to the Gospel

William Ropes a Christian merchant  of Boston whose residence was in Brooklyn, had invited a few friends to meet once a month at his house that they might unite for prayer for the conversion of the world .At the first meeting, when a contribution had been taken ,the question arouse to what object it should be devoted. On the table of the room where these friends met was a basket of Japanese workmanship that had probably been obtained through Dutch traders. Mr Rope drew attention to its beauty and his suggestion that there money be given for the evangelization of the land from which it came was accepted. The merchant soon after this left Brooklyn but a “ladies sowing society” that grew up in connection with the other meetings often sent to the American Board sums of money “for the mission in Japan”. In all more then six hundred dollars were given and when in 1869 the Board decided to open work in Japan the new mission was credited with over four thousand dollars as the sum of these contributions and the accrued interest. The first missionary sent to Japan by the American Board was Rev. D .C. Greene , whose father then a young minister, was present at the first meeting in Brooklyn.

The monument to Ranald MacDonald in Nagasaki, Japan.

In 1848 Ranald McDonald, then twenty three years old. one of the crew of the whale ship  Plymouth had himself left adrift in a small boat off the coast  of Japan .going to the shore, he was put under arrest and so remained until he and some other American sailors were released  at the demand of Commander Glynn shows him to have been a man  with significant regard to religion  to lend him to take his Bible among the few  affects that he brought on shore . it may be possible that he was a religious enthusiast who had hopes of doing some missionary work. He says that when examined by the Japanese officials in Nagasaki:

“they finally asked me if I believed that there was a God in Heaven I answered Yes; that I believed in the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost and in our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.” At Nagasaki he was confined in a temple .He said : “the day after being put in this prison I asked for my books ,particularly my Bible. The interpreter told me with a good deal of fervor or interest not to speak of the Bible in Japan ; it was not a good book”

To the protestants as to Roman Catholics it seemed that the Loochoo Islands. Might be made into a stepping stone for reaching Japan since these islands were under there control and the language was supposed to be the same .

In 1884 a number of officers in the British navy formed a society called the “Loochoo Naval Mission “,whose object was the teaching of Christianity to the people of the islands whose name it bore . One of the leaders in this movement was Lieutenant   Clifford, who had been with Captain Basil Hall in the latter’s visit to Loochoo. In 1845 the society sent out as its missionary, B.J. Bettelheim, M.D. He was a converted Jew a Hungarian by birth but a British subject by naturalization. His wife was of English parentage. Dr. Peter Parker, of Canton, with whom he resided for a short time and to whom were addressed two letters that give an account of his experience in Loochoo said of him: “I am able to testify to his superior talents and varied learning, his talents as a  linguist ,and his acquirement’s in various languages (speaking and writing Hebrew with the same Facility as English),and to his devoted missionary spirit”.

Peter Parker (1804 – 1888) was an American physician and a missionary who traveled extensively in Qing Dynasty China.

Gützlaff in Fujian costume

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