The Protestant Missions — August 8, 2010 at 2:02 pm



Matthew Calbraith Perry (April 10, 1794 – March 4, 1858) was the Commodore of the U.S. Navy who compelled the opening of Japan to the West with the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.

AT last the time had come for Japan to be drawn forth from its long seclusion. The way in which this was accomplished by Commodore Perry has often been described, and here we need concern ourselves with only such particulars as have a direct connection with our subject.

When it became known that the United States was fitting out an expedition to Japan, great interest was aroused among those who hoped that among its results would be the opening of the land to the Gospel. One young man, Jonathan Goble, joined the force of marines for the purpose of gaining such knowledge of Japan as would help in future attempts at its evangelization. During the last part of the outward voyage he had an opportunity to begin missionary work by instructing a Japanese who was one of a crew of shipwrecked sailors picked up by an American ship and sent to China. When Commodore Perry offered to take these sailors to their own country, only one of them accepted the offer. The sailors gave him the nickname “Sam Patch,” by which he was known to foreigners through the remainder of his life.

It was well understood that the prejudices of the with a Baptist church in Hamilton, N. Y. It was hoped that he might take a prominent part in the evangelization of his people; but he proved unfit for such labors. He died in 1874. Over his grave in Tokyo is a stone cross bearing the name by which he was best known, “Sam Patch.” Spalding, “The Japan Expedition,” p. 208.

A Japanese court lady in a hand-pushed carriage, from Arnoldus Montanus' 1669 book. Some modern historians, however, expressed doubts as to whether the members of the Dutch embassy really saw the scene depicted.

Japanese against Christianity would add to the difficulties of negotiating a treaty with them. In the directions sent by President Fillmore to the Secretary of the Navy it was said:

“The deep-seated aversion of this people to hold intercourse with Christian nations is said to be owing chiefly to the indiscreet zeal with which the early missionaries, particularly those of Portugal, endeavored to propagate their religion. The Commodore will therefore say that the Government of this country, unlike those of every other Christian country, does not interfere with the religion of its own people, much less with that of other nations.”

The President’s letter to the “Emperor of Japan” touched upon the same point: “The Constitution and laws of the United States forbid all interference with the religious or political concerns of other nations. I have particularly charged Commodore Perry to abstain from every act which could possibly disturb the tranquility of your Imperial Majesty’s dominions.”

Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800 – March 8, 1874) was the 13th President of the United States, serving from 1850 until 1853, and the last member of the Whig Party to hold that office.

The reality of the Japanese prejudice was manifested when the treaty came to be signed. The English version bears the date, ” This thirty-first day of March, in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ one thousand eight hundred and fifty-four, and of Kayei the seventh year, third month, and third day;” but the Japanese version omits the former of these two ways of designating time.

Spalding says that when some of the Japanese and Americans were exchanging autographs, he requested one of the former to write his name on the title-page of a Book of Common Prayer, which happened to have a steel engraving of the Cross upon it. “He had dipped his camel’s-hair pencil into his portable inkstand, passed the point through his lips, and was about to write, when his eyes rested upon the cross; he instantly shook his head, threw the book upon the table, nor could he be induced to touch it again.”

The first two days after the American fleet reached Uraga, some of the Japanese officials had been allowed to come on board the flag-ship. The next day was Sunday, and when a boat containing several people of high rank came from the shore, they were informed that no visitors could be received on that day, which was one observed by Americans for the worship of God. The hymn appropriately chosen for the morning service was that commencing:

“Before Jehovah’s awful throne.

Ye nations bow with sacred joy;

Know that the Lord is God alone;

He can create, He can destroy.”

With the aid of many of the fine voices of the crew and the assistance of the brass instruments of the band, in sight of heathen temples, and perhaps in the hearing of their worshipers, swelled up ‘ Old Hundred ‘ like a deep diapason of old ocean.” Thus did America call upon Japan, not only to have friendly relations with Western nations, but also to know and serve the Lord.

Townsend Harris (October 3, 1804 – February 25, 1878) was a successful New York City merchant and minor politician, and the first United States Consul General to Japan. He negotiated the "Harris Treaty" between the US and Japan and is credited as the diplomat who first opened the Empire of Japan to foreign trade and culture in the Edo period.

Afterwards when Townsend Harris refused to transact business on the Sabbath, the Japanese urged “that when Commodore Perry was here, he made no difference for Sunday.”

Whatever inconsistency there may have been in Commodore Perry’s behavior, he was not indifferent to the influence that his work would have upon the religious history of Japan. In a paper read in 1856, before the American Geographical Society, he said:

‘ Though a sailor from boyhood, yet I may be permitted to feel some interest in the work of enlightening heathenism and imparting a knowledge of that revealed truth of God, which I fully believe advances man’s progress here and gives him his only safe ground of hope for hereafter. To Christianize a strange people, the first important step should be to gain their confidence and respect by means practically honest and in every way consistent with the precepts of our holy religion.”

Chaplain Jones’s views concerning the possibilities of missionary work were expressed as follows:

“Apart from governmental influence, I think there would be no great difficulty in introducing Christianity, but the Government would interfere most decidedly. I performed funeral services on shore four times; once at Yokohama, twice at Hakodate, and once at Shimoda; in every instance in the presence of the Japanese, and in most when large numbers were collected. They always behaved well. Japanese officers were present, with their insignia, on all occasions. I thus became known among the people every- where as a Christian clergyman; or, to follow their signs for designating me, as ‘ a praying man.’ Instead of this producing a shrinking from me, as I had supposed it would, I found that I had decidedly gained by it in their respect and this among officials as well as commoners. At our last visit to Shimoda we found a new governor. … At the bazaar, amid the buying, etc., I was led up to him by one of the officials and introduced as a clergyman. The Governor’s countenance brightened up as my office was announced, and his salutation and treatment of me became additionally courteous. I mention this, however, for what it may be worth. There was no seeming aversion to me because I was a minister of Christianity. The Government, however, beyond all doubt, is exceedingly jealous about our religion; but the Japanese officials as well as the people are so inquisitive and so observant of all that comes within their reach that, doubtless, after a time, they may be brought to see the difference between ourselves and the Romanists. Against the latter they have a deep-seated dislike. Until they do understand that difference, no form of Christianity can probably get foothold in Japan.”

The treaty made by Commodore Perry did not give Foreigners the right to reside in Japan, and the country was still closed to missionary efforts; yet it was evident that what had been accomplished must lead, sooner or later, to a complete opening of the doors, and the missionary societies eagerly awaited further developments. In 1855, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States asked one of its missionaries in China to visit Japan and make such investigations as should prepare the way for future operations. Failure to obtain passage from Shanghai prevented the person appointed from making the visit.

The treaty provided for the appointment by the United States of a consul, who should reside in Shimoda. The first person to hold this position was Townsend Harris. He arrived at his post in 1856. To him was entrusted the task of negotiating a new treaty that should carry one step further what had been done by Commodore Perry. The results showed that he was eminently fitted for this duty. Professor Nitobe says:

“If ‘an ambassador,’ according to Wotton’s definition, is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the commonwealth, Harris was no diplomat. If, on the contrary, an American minister to an oriental court is a representative of the moral principles of the great Christian republic, Harris deserves the name in its best sense.”

Dr. S. Wells Williams speaks of Mr. Harris as “Truly a Christian man,” and says, ” His success is better explained if the fact be known that it was in answer to prayer.

Chaplain Wood states that Mr. Harris showed him his letter of instructions from Mr. Marcy, the American Secretary of State, in which Mr. Harris was directed ”to do his best, by all judicious measures and kind influence, to obtain the full toleration of the Kiristian religion in Japan, and protection for all missionaries and others who should go there to promulgate it.” Apparently there was some misunderstanding here, for, whatever may have been written in personal letters, the only passage in the official instructions that bore upon the subject was the remark: “The intolerance of the Japanese in regard to the Christian religion forbids us to hope that they would consent to any stipulation by which missionaries would be allowed to enter that empire, or Christian worship, according to the form of any sect, would be permitted.”

Whatever may have been the doubts of his superior concerning the possibility of obtaining any concession, Mr. Harris, as we have already seen, resolved to make the attempt; and his efforts were crowned with success, the eighth article of the treaty that he concluded providing that :

“Americans in Japan shall be allowed the free exercise of their religion and for this purpose shall have the right to erect suitable places of worship. No injury shall be done to such buildings, nor any insult be offered to the religious worship of the Americans.

“American citizens shall not injure any Japanese temple or miya, or offer any insult or injury to Japanese religious ceremonies, or to the objects of their worship.

“The Americans and Japanese shall not do anything that may be calculated to excite religious animosity. The Government of Japan has already abolished the practice of trampling on religious emblems.”

This treaty, which was signed in July, 1858

They did not give permission for preaching Christianity to the Japanese, and it is said that the endeavor of some of the foreign ambassadors to have an article to this end inserted, was obstinately resisted. Yet there was reason to believe that, if missionaries availed themselves of the liberty to reside in Japan, they would find opportunities for teaching their religion to the people. An officer of the United States Navy had already, in 1857, written from Hakodate, expressing the opinion that the time had come for sending missionaries? Prudent men, of tried experience, who “must remember that it is death to a Japanese to become a Christian,” and must not “rush headlong into the work without considering secondary means;” but who, if judicious, would probably “meet with as much encouragement as they generally do when first commencing operations in heathen lands.”

Among these, in 1858, was Dr. S. Wells Williams. He says:

Janus Henricus Donker Curtius (21 April 1813, Arnhem - 27 November 1879, Arnhem). He was the last Dutch commissioner for the island of Dejima in Japan. He studied law at Leiden University. He arrived in Dejima in 1852, and was contemporary with the forcible opening of Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853. He was able to assist others, including Westernern diplomats, in the process of adjusting and working through unfamiliar Japanese customs and practices.

“I was much impressed with what Mr. Donker Curtius, the Dutch envoy, who had just signed a treaty, then said; that the Japanese officials had told him they were ready to allow foreigners all trading privileges if a way could be found to keep opium and Christianity out of the country.

There were also then at Nagasaki Rev. Mr. Syle and Chaplain Henry Wood, and we three agreed to write to the directors of the Episcopal, Reformed, and Presbyterian Mission Boards, urging them to appoint missionaries for Japan who could teach the people what true Christianity was. Within the coming year we all had the pleasure of meeting the agents of these three societies in Shanghai.”

Chaplain Wood found opportunities to speak to his pupils about the truths of Christianity. In a letter to the New York Journal of Commerce he speaks of the way in which he utilized the appearance of Donati’s comet:

Comet Donati, or Donati's Comet, formally designated C/1858 L1 and 1858 VI, was a comet named after the Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Donati who first observed it on June 2, 1858. The comet is considered a non-periodic comet. After the Great Comet of 1811, it was the most brilliant comet that appeared in the 19th century.

“When the comet appeared in such length and splendor above the western mountains, they contemplated the strange sight with admiration, but not with terror, though they had no science or theory to account for it. . . . Very naturally, and indeed almost inevitably, the comet became an associate teacher in my seminary, furnishing the opportunity I was seeking to discourse on the great theme of God and His character, which I was wishing to introduce, but not violently or in a way to create offence and distrust, remembering the place where I stood and its history. When questions were proposed about the comet, it was easy and natural to proceed from the effect to the cause and to discourse on the existence and character of God, and the origin, the extent, and the laws of the material creation. The absurdity and folly of idols and idol worship were then argued. . . . Not only did they take no offence, but they listened with attention and respect, and seemed to give their assent. At this stage I did not venture to refer to Christianity. … I waited till I had secured the confidence of the Governor and the confidence and, I may add, the affection of the young men, nor even then did I make an onslaught, but, as I before remarked, waited for incidents or inquiries which should make the religious turn of the instruction natural and inevitable, and throw the responsibility, if anywhere, upon the Japanese themselves. Soon an opportunity was presented by the questions asked by one of the students when the words churchy pulpit, organ, and choir occurred in one of the reading lessons This led to the explanation of the form of church edifices, the Sabbath, public worship, the singing in the church, the construction of an organ and the manner of playing it, the preacher and what he preached, and the happy effects of preaching upon those who heard and obeyed it. Thus Christianity in all its doctrines was expounded at their own request.

“On another occasion the conversation turned upon the soul, which was explained as spiritual, imperishable, and immortal. What then, they inquired, becomes of it when the body dies? God takes the good,’ it was replied, ‘ to heaven.’ What is heaven? ‘they asked again. I explained, when they caught the idea and exclaimed, ‘ Paradise I Paradise! ‘The word had probably travelled down from the time of the Catholic missions. They next asked: ‘ What becomes of the bad men? ‘They go to a bad place where they are punished for their wicked deeds.’ ‘Is fire there? ‘they anxiously inquired, showing that either such an idea was entertained in their own religion or else had been handed down by the tradition of centuries. They were perplexed about the meaning of the word God which I used. I explained, going from effects to a cause, from the world to Him who made it, when one exclaimed in high excitement: ‘The Creator! The Creator! ‘Yes, this God made us, and cares for us, and pities us.’ They themselves saw and knew that men are ignorant and wicked, and therefore God had sent Christ, His own Son, into the world to teach mankind and to save them. Interrupting me, one asked excitedly: ‘Jesus Christ?’ In some way he had heard and understood the double name, but hesitated when he heard the single term only. Yes, Jesus Christ,’ I replied. * He loved us; He pitied us; He came into the world to teach men to be good and show them how they could be happy when they die. But men were so wicked whom He came to make happy that they seized Him and put Him to death on the cross. He was buried, but He rose again.’ All this amazed them, evidently awakening their sympathy, and at the same time their admiration.”

Other works prepared in China gained considerable circulation in Japan. Dr. Mc-Gowan wrote :

“There are probably few if any books published by missionaries in China on secular affairs that have not been re-published by the knowledge-loving Japanese. The largest work of the kind is from the pen of the senior missionary in China, Dr. Bridgman,  a geographical and statistical account of America issued some twenty years ago. To that book the Japanese are indebted for their knowledge of our country , a knowledge so precise as to excite surprise.”

He suggests that this work may have prepared the way for the success of Commodore Perry. As will be seen in a later chapter, Joseph Neesima was among those reading Dr. Bridgman’s book about the time of which Dr. Mc Gowan writes. He who would understand the causes that have produced the New Japan ought not to overlook the important preparatory work that was done by the missionaries in China in giving to the young men of the island empire so many new and inspiring ideas.

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