The Protestant Missions — June 9, 2011 at 2:12 am

The first election of Christian members of parliament occurred in 1890

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Kataoka_Kenkichismall The first election of members of parliament occurred in 1890. Among the candidates were several Christians, and it is not strange that their religion cost them many votes. In some places the Buddhists put forth the most strenuous efforts to prevent their election. Mr. Kataoka Kenkichi, an elder of the Kochi Presbyterian Church, was a prominent candidate. Some of his political friends came to him, saying:

“You would certainly be elected were it not for your religion, but that makes the result doubtful. We will not urge you to give up Christianity, but it will help matters if we can announce that you have resigned your office in the Church. Withdraw from the eldership, at least for the time being. After election, if you wish to resume the office, you can do so.”

To this appeal Mr. Kataoka simply replied: “I will do no such thing. I would rather be an elder in the Church than a member of parliament.”

His steadfastness did not turn to his disadvantage. At this and many subsequent elections he was chosen a member of the House of Representatives, and for several sessions was its Speaker.

Similar consistency was shown by Rev. Honda Yoitsu, who, before removing to Sendai in order to become the pastor of the Methodist Church in that city, had for several years been a member of the legislature of his native prefecture. In 1890 he was urged to become a candidate for parliament and could doubtless have gained the election were it not those religious teachers were by law debarred from serving as representatives. Many of his friends urged him to withdraw from the ministry. He himself says that it was a great temptation over which he long thought and prayed, the result being that he continued in the ministry.

As a result of the elections, thirteen out of the three hundred members of the House of Representatives were Christians — nearly nine times the proportion that Christians had in the total population — a result the more noteworthy since their religion could have gained them but few votes, while it had caused them to lose many. This one fact is a sufficient refusal of the assertion that Christianity had made no progress except among the lowest and most ignorant classes. To the Buddhists of Kyoto it was a cause of great chagrin that a Christian was elected from that part of the city most under their control, where the powerful Shin sect had put forth great exertions to prevent such a humiliation. It may be further mentioned that when the first House of Representatives chose its officers, the Speaker (Nakashima Nobuyuki) and the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole (Shimada Saburo) were professing Christians.

One reason for the political preferment of the Christians was doubtless that their fellow-citizens had learned that they were upright and trustworthy men, to whom the public interests could be safely committed. Some of them had also been prominent in advocating reforms that met the approval of the people. It has been suggested that another reason may have been that in considering various subjects that came before the churches for discussion these men had gained an experience that afterwards helped them to perform successfully their duties in the local assemblies, where most of them served an apprenticeship before being chosen for the higher position.

abolition of licensed prostitution:

A movement, partly political, in which Christians had been the acknowledged leaders, was that for the abolition of licensed prostitution. In the large cities of Japan were certain quarters occupied by houses of ill-fame. These were licensed by the Government. The inmates were practically slaves; most of them having been delivered over to the masters for a term of years by their own fathers, or, in case the father was not living, by whatever person might be at the head of the family.

The law required that the girl’s consent should be gained; but such are the ideas of filial obedience prevailing in Japan that few girls would venture to oppose the father’s will, and common opinion would condemn any who should be so daring. Those who once entered the life of shame found it almost impossible to escape, their wily masters managing to involve them in debts that bound them to continual service. It is not necessary here to enter into the arguments of those who favored the method by which the Government attempted to regulate prostitution. Suffice it to say that the Christians started an agitation against the licensing system, endeavoring at first to get prefectural assemblies to abolish it. This agitation first attracted attention in Gumma Prefecture, where the President and several members of the assembly were Christians, and where Christianity had gained such a foothold that it exercised considerable influence over public opinion. A vote for the abolition of legalized prostitution was soon gained. The movement spread to other parts of the country. Everywhere the Christians were regarded as its natural leaders, though they were earnestly supported by others who desired the moral elevation of their country. Lectures were delivered, pamphlets were issued, and newspapers were utilized so far as these dared to disregard the threats of the powerful class whose business was in danger. In Kyoto a Christian who led in the agitation was assaulted at the instigation of the brothel-keepers. Though rescued before receiving serious injury, the danger of other attacks was considered so serious that the police insisted on having one of their number, accompany him wherever he went In a few provinces the desired vote for abolition was obtained. The Christians felt so much encouraged over these successes that they decided to go one step further. They began to circulate petitions asking that the new parliament prohibit prefectures from giving licenses. Success did not follow this appeal. Moreover, the weakening of zeal, caused in part by the chill that came over the churches because of the reactionary movements and theological discussions of ensuing years, led to a discontinuance of the agitation. The brothel-keepers of some prefectures rallied their forces so as to secure a repeal of the vote for prohibition. In Gumma Prefecture, however, their efforts and wily schemes failed to secure the restoration of the old system.

The desire of the Buddhists to oppose Christianity led them to become in some places the allies of those engaged in pandering to lust. This was especially the case in Nagoya, a stronghold of Buddhism and also of immorality. The chapels and the houses of the missionaries were stoned. The missionaries were obliged to live with blankets and rugs hung over the windows to keep out the stones, such as had already broken the glass and shutters. When Rev. George L. Perin, of the Universalist Mission, attempted to hold a meeting in a theatre, he narrowly escaped serious injury from the turbulent mob.

In the province of Ise, mobs broke up meetings and injured chapels, though here the disturbance was not directly connected with the movement for the abolition of licensed vice. The most serious trouble was in the town of Yamada, the seat of the great Shinto shrines. The chief business of the town is connected with the entertainment of pilgrims. Incongruous as it may appear, this place, like the vicinity of most other noted temples, whether Buddhist or Shinto, was a hot-bed of immorality; those that came nominally for worship indulging at the same time in debauchery. Societies were organized for driving Christianity out of the place, meetings were broken up, and soon none dared to confess any interest in the hated religion.

The work of the Church Missionary Society in Tokushima (Shikoku) was hindered for a while by a “Buddhist Young Men’s Club “that was the center of an organized effort to oppose Christianity. The missionary’s house was injured and believers were molested. The trials strengthened the faith of the Christians, and among the persons baptized the next year was a Buddhist priest.

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