The Protestant Missions — August 9, 2010 at 4:15 pm

First Baptism's: Yano Riuzan and Murata Wakasa and Ayabe in Nagasaki! (May 1866)


Yokohama Kaigan Kyokai(Church) was founded on March 10.1872, as the first Protestant church for the Japanese in this country. At the time of its establishment, it inherited the faith and tradition of the Reformed Church and Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The first pastor was Rev. J.H.Ballagh, who arrived in Yokohama with his wife in 1861 as one of the earliest Christian missionaries, after studying at Rutgers College and New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

In November, 1864, occurred the first recorded baptism on Japanese soil of a Protestant Christian. Rev. J. H. Ballagh has given the following account of this person. (* Missionary Herald, 1864, p. 6g.)

Yano Riuzan, a shaven-headed Buddhist, a yabu-isha or quack doctor, who held an inferior position, was selected by the Shogun’s Council of State for a language teacher for Dr. S. R. Brown. On my arrival on November 9nth, 1861, he became my teacher. With him I undertook the translation of St John, more to translate the Gospel into him than for the use of others. In the summer of 1864 he became quite weak. I was impressed with a failure of duty and asked him if he would be willing for me to seek a blessing upon our translation. On his consenting, I made my first impromptu Japanese prayer, which seemed to impress him much and which made a remarkable impression on me.

One day, while explaining a picture of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, he suddenly said to me : ‘ I want to be baptized ; I want to be baptized because Christ commanded it’ I warned him of the law against Christianity and the fact that, even should he escape, his son might not The son, being consulted, said that whatever would please his father should be done On the first Sabbath in November his baptism took place in the presence of his wife, son, and daughter.’

The next baptisms were those of Murata Wakasa and Ayabe in Nagasaki, May, 1866. The story of their conversion sounds like a romance. Wakasa was born in 1815, and on reaching manhood became a minister {karo) of the Daimyo of Saga. He was a man of unusual stature; his grandson asserts that he was seven feet in height and therefore was obliged to have a house made especially for him, since he was so much inconvenienced by the low rooms of ordinary Japanese buildings. When, in 1855, some French and English vessels anchored in the bay of Nagasaki, Wakasa was put in charge of a patrol appointed to watch the movements of the foreign ships. One day he noticed something floating upon the water and sent one of his men to pick it up.

Nabeshima Naomasa (鍋島 直正?, January 16, 1815 – March 8, 1871) was the 10th and final daimyō of Saga Domain in Hizen Province, Kyūshū, Japan. His honorary title was Hizen-no-Kami, and he was occasionally referred to as “Prince Hizen” in western accounts during the Bakumatsu period.

It proved to be a book printed in some unknown language. After Wakasa’s return to Saga, he became so curious to know what was in the book that he sent one of his retainers to Nagasaki, professedly to study medicine, but really to inquire about the contents of the book. He thus discovered that it was a Dutch translation of the New Testament, the book on which the religion of Europeans was founded * A while after, he learned that a Chinese translation of the book had been made, and he therefore sent a man to Shanghai to purchase a copy. With four other persons, one of whom was his younger brother, Ayabe, he then began an earnest study of the book. In the autumn of 1862, Ayabe went to Nagasaki to see if any of the foreigners there could explain some portions that had been difficult to understand. While there he met Dr. Verbeck, who gladly answered his questions. The following spring, Ayabe again appeared and warned Dr. Verbeck that the latter’s life was in danger, as a company of young men had formed a conspiracy for assassinating him. In consequence of this warning Dr. Verbeck found it advisable to withdraw with his family to China for a few months. On his return to Nagasaki he found that Ayabe had received an appointment that removed him to another part of the country; but soon after this, Wakasa sent one of his servants, named Motono, with a new set of questions. Dr. Verbeck now became, though in a round-about way, the teacher of the little Bible-class, for Motono would frequently come from Saga, a journey occupying about two days, bringing a list of questions to which answers were desired, and after receiving Dr. Verbeck’s explanations would return with them to Saga.

In May, 1866, Dr. Verbeck was informed that some high officials from the province of Hizen (in which Saga is situated) desired to come in two parties to meet him. He writes:

“Accordingly, on the afternoon of the fifteenth of May, my visitor presented himself with a retinue of about thirty men, consisting of a number of attendant officers who quite filled my parlour, and of a greater number of common retainers, all two- s worded, who had to content themselves with an outside view of our premises. . . . My principal visitor proved to be no less a personage than a relative of the Prince of Hizen. . . . After the usual introductory compliments, the absorbing topic of the ‘ Doctrine’ was entered upon with a good deal of interest. I may say that I reasoned with him of ‘ righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come/ but I could hardly brine him and his attendant to dwell on the higher topics of faith, hope, and love; for my august visitor insisted on reasoning concerning the unprofitable subjects of the origin of evil in the world, the mysterious permission of the continuance of evil, the justice of God or the apparent want of it under various aspects, and more of the like. I was prepared for his arguments, as I have found that on heathen ground we are often obliged to rehandle the bones of contention of the church of old, but my principal endeavour was to get him to see the wickedness and danger of all evil; that it is infinitely more important to know how to be now and forever saved from it than to know all about its origin and yet be left helpless; that it is vastly more worthy of our thought to know how we are to escape hell and gain heaven than to find out the exact location of either, if such a thing were possible. Yet my efforts to lead him to higher views at the time were vain. . . . “The interview of the other parties was arranged to take place on the seventeenth of May. My visitors on this occasion were Wakasa, one of the ministers of state or governors of the principality of Hizen, and his younger brother Ayabe. Wakasa was a tall man, about forty-five years of age and looking older: His is one of those faces that make sunshine in a shady place, most pleasing and amiable in expression, with a very dignified bearing, his eyes beamed love and pleasure as I met him He said he had long known me in his mind, had long desired to see and converse with me, and that he was very happy that now in God’s providence he was permitted to do so. . . .

Ranald MacDonald (3 February 1824 – August 24, 1894) was the first man to teach the English language in Japan, including educating Einosuke Moriyama, one of the chief interpreters to handle the negotiations between Commodore Perry and the Tokugawa Shogunate.

“At this time there were admitted to our parlor Wakasa, Ayabe, Wakasa’s two sons, young men of twenty and twenty-two respectively, and the servant, Motono, who had acted the part of messenger between us for four years. How different was this meeting from that of two days before! These men like those of Berea in the Apostles time, had received the Word with all readiness of mind and did not come to puzzle themselves or me with unprofitable controversies, but asked several quite natural  and sensible questions to gain additional light on some points in reference principally to Christian character and customs. They had been taught of the Spirit.

“They showed great familiarity with their Bibles, made several pertinent quotations, and when during the conversation I referred them to sacred passages, they readily identified them and always accepted them as conclusive proofs. They were prepared to believe all that Jesus said and to do all that He required. It must be remembered that these men had been studying the Scriptures and reading a great variety of religious books with great diligence for at least four years, having begun to do so with a favorable disposition of mind. Like perhaps most of the higher classes in this country, they had no faith in Buddhism, the religion of the common people, while at the same time they were graciously with-held from falling into the opposite of a total atheism. Their minds were in a state of expectant transition when, just in time, they were led to search for and find salvation through faith in Christ.

“We spent a delightful afternoon in conversing on the saving power and love of Christ, and just as I thought my friends were about to leave me, Wakasa took me by surprise by inquiring if I would object to baptizing him and his brother Ayabe before they left town. I was surprised because so many Japanese had at different times talked to me of the great peril of becoming Christians in the full sense of the word. I had expected from these men to hear something as follows: “We believe and would like to be baptized; but we cannot think of realizing our wish in this one particular so long as the law of the land hangs the inevitable sword over the heads of all who dare to change their religion; for the present we must remain as we are, but when this cruel edict is repealed, we will come forward for baptism”

“I warned my visitors not to think lightly of the act and not to entertain superstitious notions concerning its efficacy. I urged the solemn importance of the sacrament and the great obligations which devolve on those to whom it is administered; I repeated the questions which, according to our form, they would have to answer with a hearty affirmative; and finally told them to decide, as if in the presence of God who searches the heart. They listened attentively and repeated their desire to be baptized, requesting only that it should be done and kept in secret.

“The following Lord’s Day, the Day of Pentecost [May 20], was chosen, the hour selected being seven o’clock, p. m. Wakasa, whose position did not permit him to move about the streets without a half-dozen followers, and who could not visit me without making himself conspicuous, I did not see again until the appointed hour on Sunday night; but Ayabe came to me twice during the intervening days, and I gave him such instructions for himself and his brother as I thought might be useful to them.

Moriyama Einosuke (森山栄之助?, 1820 - 1872) was a samurai during the Tokugawa Shogunate, and an interpreter of Dutch and English. He studied English under Ranald MacDonald, and as “Chief Dutch Interpreter” was one of the chief men involved in the negotiations with Commodore Perry in regard to the opening of Japan to the outside world.

“At last, when the Sabbath evening came, the two candidates presented themselves, attended into the room by none but Motono. The retinue, consisting of eight followers, was dismissed at our door with orders to return in an hour. I had arranged everything beforehand to avoid unnecessary detention. The shutters were closed; the lamps lit, a white cloth spread on the centre-table, a large cut-glass fruit-dish, for want of anything better, prepared to serve as a font. Besides Motono, my wife was the only witness present, so that there were but five persons in the room. I began by reading Matthew twenty-eight, then dwelt on the concluding verses, spoke of the purpose of missionary societies, and referred to the bearing of the words of Jesus upon our present meeting. I exhorted them not to be discouraged in their peculiarly difficult situation, but rather, by a life of faith, of love, and of holiness, to disarm all the criticism of their neighbors and even persecution itself. We then united in prayer both in English and Japanese, proceeded with our liturgy, translating ex tempore the form for baptism; and after the administration of the sacrament, concluded with prayer and thanksgiving.”

On reaching home, Wakasa and Ayabe reported to their Daimyo what they had done. He left them unmolested. In some way Wakasa’s conversion became known to the Central Government, and the Daimyo was ordered to punish him. Nothing was done, however, except to burn some of Wakasa’s books.

Soon after this Dr. Verbeck removed to Tokyo, and thus had no more direct dealings with Wakasa. The latter soon retired from active life to his country villa, where he spent much of his time in translating the Bible from Chinese into Japanese. He died in 1874, with a firm faith in his Savior.

Though it is in anticipation of our narrative, it may be well here to give some further intelligence of Wakasa’s family. In 1880, Rev. Mr. Booth of Nagasaki noticed in his audience on Sunday morning two strangers, one of whom was evidently a woman of high rank. They gave close attention to his address, and their eyes often filled with tears. At the close of the service they introduced themselves, one being Wakasa’s daughter and the other her former nurse. They had learned from Wakasa the Lord’s Prayer and some other portions of Scripture that he had written out for them in simple characters.

The daughter had married and was living in Nagasaki; but she was acquainted with no Christians there. She was about to remove with her husband to Osaka, and desired to receive baptism before going there. Therefore, she had sent to Saga for her old nurse, and they had attempted to find some Christian teacher. They at first fell in with a Roman Catholic priest, who gave them a prayer-book; but on examination, its teaching did not seem to them like that which they had before received.

They were afraid to make inquiries, fearing that they would be insulted as suspected followers of Christianity. After wandering about the city for some days, they saw a shop where the characters on the covers of the books seemed familiar. On opening one volume, they found the Sermon on the Mount, and recognized its words. They purchased several books and had a long talk with the bookseller, who, as it was Saturday, told them where they could find a Christian service the next day.

As both asked for baptism, Mr. Booth asked their reason for desiring it. ”’Whosever believeth and is baptized shall be saved,’ “they quoted. When he said: “How can I know that you are true believers?” the younger woman replied: *’it has been my custom for years to go into my husband’s storehouse every day for private meditation and prayer to God and the Father of Jesus Christ.” “How do you know that this salvation is for you?” “It is written: ‘ Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.*” After some days had been spent in instructing the women, the rite was administered. The younger woman’s husband was present, paying close attention to the service and afterwards expressing a desire to know more about Christianity.

The nurse soon returned to Saga, where she resumed her work of teaching a small school for girls. She also organized a Bible-class for women, and its members soon became the teachers of a Sunday school. Though she is no longer living, the influence of her work still remains in Saga. Among the believers there was a son of Wakasa. The daughter, who removed to Osaka and later to Tokyo, became prominent in religious and philanthropic work. Her husband also became a Christian.

At the close of a meeting held in Tokyo about 1883, a man stepped forward and said to Dr. Verbeck: “I am Ayabe. Since my baptism I have been in the army and also employed in surveying. During all these years I have always carried the Bible with me, and I have been accustomed to read it daily.” The next day he came with his only daughter, about fifteen years old, asking that she be baptized. At one time he was a local preacher in the Methodist Church.

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