The Protestant Missions — November 22, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Shinto and Buddhist Official Priesthood abolished and Yaso Taiji!


Byōdō-in (平等院?) is a Buddhist temple in the city of Uji in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. It is jointly a temple of the Jodo Shu (Pure Land) and Tendai sects.

In August, 1884, the Government issued a notification to the effect that “the Shinto and Buddhist Official Priesthood has been abolished, and the power of appointing and discharging incumbents of religious temples and monasteries, and the promotion and degradation in rank of preceptors, has been transferred to the religious superintendents of those sects;” under certain regulations that were of such a nature as to relieve the Government from all responsilibility for the conduct of religious affairs. Thus the connection of these religions with the State was almost completely severed. One practical result of the new regulations accompanying this notification was that permission was given the people to bury their dead under such forms as they preferred. This greatly lessened the power of the Buddhist priests to annoy the Christians, though they were still able to prevent burials in cemeteries that belonged to the temples.

Notwithstanding the evident intention of the Government to favour religious liberty, priests and local officials often attempted to put obstacles in the way of Christianity. One of the under officials in a town near Kobe was forbidden by his superior to attend Christian services, to have family worship, or even to read the Bible. He accordingly resigned his office, but was soon after appointed to a higher position. In another place, when a Christian was chosen upon the school board, the mayor united with others in holding back the returns and refusing to let him serve. They also endeavored to get a Christian teacher to feign sickness or plead some other excuse for handing in his resignation. He refused to oblige them, and they could bring no complaint against him except his religion.

In several places chapels were stoned, windows broken and occasionally personal injury inflicted. In one town the stones were so large and numerous that the Qiristians preserved them and used them a few years later as part of the foundation of a church building. In other places such missiles were inscribed: “Persecution Stones,” and kept as mementoes. In Takahashi, Bitchiu, where drums were beaten and other methods taken to disturb Christian meetings, an amusing incident occurred. Some young men had managed to catch a large number of black snakes. These they carried in a basket one evening to the Christian chapel with the intention of throwing them into the midst of the worshippers. There was a crowd of people before the open front of the house, trying in its own way to cause annoyance, and the young men attempted to throw the basket over the heads of these people into the house. As it left their hands, it accidentally caught in such a way as to turn it upside down, dropping its contents on the heads of the outsiders, and it was they instead of the Christians who were startled and put to flight by the uncanny reptiles.

It was commonly believed that the Buddhist priests in Kyoto had instigated attacks that were made upon the Christians. The Governor of the prefecture, therefore, called together the heads of the different sects that he might remonstrate with them. After reminding them that the Japanese Government was endeavoring to get foreign nations to consent to a revision of the treaties, he told them that, if success attended these efforts, foreigners would be permitted to reside in the interior, and must be left free to believe and to preach their religion. He then said: “We have recently heard that Buddhist believers sometimes interrupt the Protestant and Roman Catholic preachers, destroy their houses and property, and injure Christian converts.” If such riotous actions be frequently indulged in, it is a thousand to one if the matter do not become a question with every foreign government . . . Seek to influence the priests of your sects to instruct their followers and not suffer them to make mistakes and injure our country.” It was probably because of this warning that the Chief Abbot of the Shin sect issued a letter calling on the priests to be submissive to notifications issued by the Government and not to use violence in their efforts to prevent people from becoming Christians.

The following letter was received by missionaries in Kyoto:

“To the Four American Barbarians; Davis, Gordon, Learned, and Greene; We speak to you who have cooie with words that are sweet in the mouth but a sword in the heart, bad priests, American barbarians, four robbers. You have come from a far country with the evil religion of Christ and as slaves of the Japanese robber Neesima. With bad teaching you are gradually deceiving the people; but we know your hearts, and hence we shall soon with Japanese swords inflict the punishment of heaven upon you. Japan being truly a flourishing, excellent country, in ancient times when Buddhism first came to Japan, those who brought it were killed; in the same way you must be killed. But we do not want to defile the sacred soil of Japan with your abominable blood; for this reason we wait two weeks and you must leave Kyoto and go to your country; if not, the little robbers of the Doshisha School, and all the believers of this way in the city, will be killed; hence, take your families and go quickly. ” Patriots in the Peaceful City; Believers in Shinto.”

After a while the efforts of the Buddhists against Christianity took the form of what was known as Yaso Taiji, or Movement for the Extermination of the Religion of Jesus. Priests and others visited different parts of the country delivering lectures, forming societies, and stirring up the people to resist the progress of Christianity. One of the leading arguments they advanced against it was that it required its followers to abstain from war, and, therefore, in case Japan should be attacked, they would do nothing for the defence of their country. It is said that these agitators were officially warned that they must give up the use of the word taiji. However this may have been, there continued to be from time to time incidents that showed the Government to be in favour of toleration. Among these the Japan Mail called attention to what took place at the funeral of Mr. Davidow, the Russian Minister, in December, 1885. It says of the ceremony, which was conducted in accordance with the rites of the Greek Church:

“It was essentially official. Japanese princes were present in the chapel; Japanese Ministers of State in full uniform walked behind the bier; Japanese artillery fired minute guns; and the body of the deceased Minister was deposited in a mausoleum erected by the Japanese Government. But at the head of the cortege marched a body of Japanese Christians; Japanese priests took a prominent part in performing the funeral rites; and a choir of Japanese girls and boys sang the requiem for the dead.”

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