The Protestant Missions — March 5, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Educating girls of the higher classes.


Professor Toyama of the Imperial University:

Official logo of the University of Tokyo.

Several essays published in 1886 by Japanese writers are noteworthy for the favourable, though patronising, tone in which they speak of Christianity. Professor Toyama of the Imperial University, in an article on the education of girls, said that it would be a great advantage if they could be instructed by European or American ladies. The most feasible way of bringing this about would be by the aid of Christian missionaries, whom he advised to establish five or six large schools in Tokyo. To those missionaries who might object that they came to Japan for purposes of propagandism, not of education, he replied that the most effective way of extending their religion would be by educating girls of the higher classes; for conversion to a new faith, as history teaches, begins with women. Let them believe, and the faith of the children would certainly follow. There was no reason to fear that the people of the higher classes would be so averse to Christianity as not to send their daughters to these schools. The Japanese were not hostile to any particular religion, though contemptuous of all. If convinced that benefits came from any creed, they would not show antipathy to it. The present schools were not of sufficiently high grade, nor were they centrally located. There ought also to be classes for adult women where they could learn Western customs.

The desire to adopt Western ways!

The great desire among the upper classes to adopt Western ways was, indeed, at its height. Officials were required to wear the European style of dress while on duty, and women were urged to exchange their robes for the dresses worn by their Western sisters. This movement was largely political, for those that promoted it said: “So long as we are attired in Oriental garb, we are treated as Orientals; if we wish to be regarded by Europeans as on an equality with themselves, we must put on their outward appearance.” With the same end in view, balls and other Occidental forms of entertainment were introduced. It was under such circumstances that Professor Toyama issued a pamphlet on “The Relations between Social Reforms and Christianity.” In it he advocated the adoption of Christianity for the following reasons: —

1. Christianity assists in the improvement of music;

2. Its adoption will help to develop ability for combination and union, in which Japanese are very deficient;

3. Its influence will elevate the position of women, and bring the sexes together in a way that will benefit both.

He closed by saying:

“The reformers of society must not be contented with such paltry measures as the inauguration of balls and garden parties. Those who, while enthusiastically admiring the customs and manners of the West, do not exert themselves to further the introduction of that religion which has the most intimate connection with those manners and customs, must lay themselves open to the charge of being either ignorant or cowardly.”

Somewhat later Professor Toyama published “A New Plea for the Advancement of Christianity.” This manifested the same desire to make that religion a tool for advancing the causes in which he was interested. While still advocating the education of girls in Christian schools, he also urged the missionaries to establish preparatory schools to fit students for entrance to the Imperial University, since public opinion would become favourable to Christianity when the highest institution of learning was permeated with that religion.

A Japanese gentleman contributed to the Japan Mail, in May, 1886, an essay upon ”Christianity in Japan.”

He referred to a scene witnessed seven years before at the graduation exercises of the University. The students had been acting very rudely, wearing their hats, coughing, and making various noises to interrupt the addresses. At last, as one of the speakers came upon the platform, he rebuked this conduct. The only effect was to increase the disturbance; but when the speaker announced that his subject was “Christianity,” the hall was suddenly hushed into silence, while the students, one by one, removed their hats and all listened respectfully to hear what would be said by one who was known to be a strenuous opponent of the religion concerning which he was to speak. Great was their satisfaction when he fervently denounced it as the most hateful enemy of reason, of science, and of everything good. The essayist said of the students of that time: “We hated Christianity and Christians, because these words were in our minds anonymous with whatever was opposed to the honour and independence of the nation.” A marvellous change, however, had been wrought in seven years. The persevering efforts of missionaries and native believers had doubtless been the principal agents in leading the nation to its present attitude towards Christianity; but they had been aided by various factors, political and social. Among the former was the problem of treaty revision, Mr. Fukuzawa and others having shown the people that in order to be treated as equals, their laws, system of government, education, and above all, religion, must be recast upon Western models. The attitude of the missionaries, who had said and written much in favour of a revision of the treaties, had won the good will of the people. Moreover, the religion of Christ was believed to be favourable to those principles of human equality and liberty that a majority of progressive young men were advocating, and thus they had been led to regard that religion in an entirely different light from that shed upon it by their traditional prejudices. Under social influences the writer referred to the impressions that had been made upon students who had studied abroad, and to the closer relations that had been established between Japanese and the foreign residents. Among the principal reasons for what the essayist regarded as slow progress in gaining converts, he mentioned sectarian strife, want of funds, and the failure of missionaries to present Christianity in the form best suited to the national genius of the Japanese. Enlarging on the last point, he urged the teaching of Christianity “in its rationalistic aspect” without superstition, he being convinced that in its rigid, orthodox form it would never obtain any general or firm hold on the minds of educated Japanese. He would have the native churches become as soon as possible entirely independent, and as a help to this they should be united. They should cut themselves “entirely free from the history of Christianity in the West and begin a new experience on an entirely new and enlightened basis — “a basis laid in the Bible and preserved from decay by the healthy light of modem science.”

A writer in the Tokyo Independent recommended Unitarianism as a state religion and would reconcile a belief in one God with Shinto rites by considering the shrines erected in honour of emperors and heroes to be like mausoleums of such great men as Napoleon and Washington.

Information about the Imperial University can be found here.

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