The Protestant Missions — August 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Missionary Conference held at Osaka in 1883!


Griffis with a group of his students.

In a historical sketch prepared for the Missionary Conference held at Osaka in 1883, Dr. Verbeck quoted as follows from various reports that described the conditions under which the early missionaries labored:

“The missionaries soon found that they were regarded with great suspicion and closely watched, and all intercourse with them was conducted under strict surveillance.”

“No teacher could be obtained at Kanagawa until March, 1860, and then only a spy in the employment of the Government. A proposal to translate the Scriptures caused his frightened withdrawal.”

” The efforts of the missionaries for several years, owing to the surveillance exercised by the Government, were mostly confined to the acquisition of the language.”

“We found the natives not at all accessible touching religious matters. When such a subject was mooted in the presence of a Japanese, his hand would almost involuntarily be applied to his throat, to indicate the extreme perilousness of such a topic. If on such an occasion more than one happened to be present, the natural shyness of these people became, if possible, still more apparent; for you will remember that there was then little confidence between man and man, chiefly owing to the abominable system of secret espionage, which we found in full swing when we first arrived and, indeed, for several years after.”

“The missionaries shared with the other foreign residents in the alarms incident to a disturbed state of the country, and were sometimes exposed to insult and even to assault.”

“The swaggering samurai armed with two swords, cast many a scowling look at the hated foreigners, whom they would gladly have expelled from their sacred soil.”

At first it was the common impression that the Japanese language could be easily learned. It was afterwards found to be one of the most difficult in the world. The colloquial language differs much from that used in books. The civilization of old Japan came largely from China and with it came the Chinese ideographs and a large number of words. Speaking roughly, it may be said that it was necessary to learn two ancient Chinese dialects in addition to the original Japanese language. The use of the ideographs was, indeed, a help to those who had learned them in China, while to others they added greatly to the difficulties of study. Dr. Hepburn has said that at first the only help possessed by the missionaries in the way of books was the vocabulary translated from the Dutch by Dr. Medhurst. After a while Hoffman’s Grammar of the Japanese language was sent to them, a few leaves at a time. No teachers could be obtained, and so new words were picked up from servants, carpenters, visitors, and others. After a year, a man offered to teach Japanese in exchange for instruction in English. When, however, the translation of Matthew was begun, the man, after completing the first chapter, refused to do any more, saying that it would cost him his life.

Townsend Harris had the US Legation relocate at the Zenpuku-ji Temple from 1859, following the Treaty of Amity and Commerce.

Townsend Harris had the US Legation relocate at the Zenpuku-ji Temple from 1859, following the Treaty of Amity and Commerce.

Townsend Harris, who was now the United States Minister, continued to show a deep interest in Christian work. Dr. W. A. P. Martin, the well-known missionary in China, who visited Japan in 1859, wrote: ” Mr. Harris received of me more than one hundred geographies (for which he paid) for distribution among officials, and asked me to send him Bibles for the same purpose. Still he thinks it best for missionaries to confine themselves to the sale of books, as the only safe ground.”

Dr. Martin himself has had no small part in the evangelization of Japan. A book (“Tendosogen’) on the evidences of Christianity, which he wrote for the Chinese, was among those early brought to Japan, where many thousand copies have been sold.

” A letter written by Mr. Liggins in 1861, and published in The Spirit of Missions, gives a good summary of the situation in Japan at that time:

“As some persons, because Japan is not open to missionary labors to the extent they wish it was, speak as if it were not opened at all, it seems necessary to state what missionaries can do at the present time in that country.

“1. They can procure native books and native teachers by which to acquire the language, and of course, the acquisition of the language is, during the first few years, a principal part of their duty.

“2. They can, as they are able, prepare philological works to enable subsequent missionaries and others to ac9uire the language with much less labor and in much less time than they themselves have to give to it; and each, in the course of a few years, may make his contribution towards a complete version of the Holy Scriptures in the Japanese language.

“3. They can furnish the Japanese, who are anxious to learn English, with suitable books in that language, and thus greatly facilitate social and friendly intercourse between the two races.

“4. They can dispose by sale of a large number of the historical, geographical, and scientific works prepared by the Protestant missionaries in China. Faithful histories of Christian countries tend to disarm prejudice and to recommend the religion of the Bible; while works on true science are very useful in a country where astrology, geometry, and many false teachings on scientific subjects generally, are so interwoven with their religious beliefs.

“5. They can sell the Scriptures, and religious books and tracts in the Chinese language, and thus engage in direct missionary work. As books in this language are understood by every educated Japanese, and as the sale of them is provided for by an article in the treaty, we have here a very available means of at once conveying religious truth to the minds of the Japanese.

“6. They can by their Christian walk and conversation, by acts of benevolence to the poor and afflicted, and by kindness and courtesy to all, weaken and dispel the prejudices against them, and convince the observant Japanese that true Christianity is something very different from what intriguing Jesuits of former days, and unprincipled traders and profane sailors of the present day, would lead them to think it is.

** Living epistles of Christianity are as much needed in Japan as written ones; and it would be very sad if either were withheld through a mistaken idea that Japan ‘is not open to missionary labor.’

Just after the signing of the Treaties, the statement of some was: “Japan is fully opened to the spread of Christianity.’ This the writer opposed at the time as contrary to the facts of the case; and he has now endeavored to show that it is equally erroneous to assert, as some do, that it is not opened at all. What the writer has said on the subject is not the result of hearsay or of a flying visit to Japan; but of an experience in the work during the ten months that he resided in the country. This experience convinces him, that if missionaries faithfully embrace the openings which there are already, others will speedily be made; and the time will soon come when it may be said with truth, ‘Japan is fully opened to the spread of Christianity.’

“But perhaps it may be asked: ‘Is it not still a law that a native who professes Christianity shall be put to death?’ To this an affirmative answer must be given; but it should be remembered that another law was passed at the same time which declared that any Japanese who returned to his native country after having been for any cause whatever in any foreign country should be put to death. As this latter law, though unrepealed, is not executed, so it is believed that the law against professing Christianity will in like manner not be enforced.

“In conversing with Mr. Harris, the United States Minister at Yedo, on this subject, he stated that he had used every endeavour to have this obnoxious law repealed, but without success ; a principal reason being that the Government feared that it would form a pretext for the old conservative party to over-throw the Government and again get into power.

“I do not believe said Mr. Harris, “after all that the other foreign ministers and myself have said on the subject, that this law will ever be enforced ; but if it should be, even in a single instance, there will come such an earnest protest from myself and the representatives of the other Western Powers that there will not likely be a repetition of it”

“The non-repeal of this law, therefore, while it is a matter of regret, is nevertheless not to be adduced as a proof that Japan is still closed to missionary effort, but only as a reason for a prudent course of procedure on the part of the missionaries.”

Whatever the laws may have been, the Government seemed to have little fear of the missionaries, for in 1861 it sent a number of young men from Yedo to Kanagawa that they might be taught English by them.

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