The Protestant Missions — October 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Zeal of the Kumamoto Band of Brothers!


Tsuneteru Miyagawa

On the last Sunday of January 1876, a number of young men from the city of Kumamoto went to a hill on the outskirts of town, where they entered into a solemn covenant pledging themselves to follow Christ and to “Enlighten the darkness of the empire by preaching the Gospel, Even at the sacrifice of their lives” They were pupils of a school in which Captain Janes a retired officer of the United States Army, had for several years been a teacher of English. During the first part of his connection with the school he had said nothing about Christianity; but he had won a great influence over his pupils. After he had been a year or two in Kumamoto he offered to teach the Bible in his own house to any who would like to study it. There was much difference of opinion among the students about what they should do. Most of them said that they ought not to have anything to do with a book which taught such evil doctrines as those of Christians; a few said that out of courtesy to a teacher who had treated them so kindly ,they ought to accept his invitation ;while some others held that as knowledge of an enemy is the first step to victory over him, they who’s duty it would probably be to prevent Christianity from getting a hold on the hearts of the people must find out what it taught so that they might intelligently oppose it. At first ten of the pupils went to study the Bible, and afterwards they were joined by others. Ere long some of these became convinced of the truth of Christianity. Among these were Messrs. Miyagawa Tsuneteru, Ebina Danjo, Yokoi Tokio, Kanamori Tsurin, Shimomura Kotaro, Morita Kumando, and others who afterwards were prominent in Christian work. Finally there were over forty who as above narrated met to pledge themselves to Gods service.

Kozaki Hiromichi

As soon as this became known, there was great excitement, not only in the school, but throughout the city. (Mr. Kozaki Hiromichi, who held off for some time from joining the class, did not become a Christian until after the persecution became violent.) The young men were persecuted by their fellow-students and by members of their own families. Most of them were called home by their parents. Their Bibles were burned, and they were told not to touch such books again.

The widowed mother of one student told him that, as he had shown lack of reverence for his ancestors by action that brought disgrace upon the family, he ought, if unwilling to give up the evil religion, to slay himself with a sword. As he showed no signs of yielding, she took the sword and made preparations for killing herself; but the servants ran out and summoned help to prevent her from carrying out her purpose. A few years later she herself became an earnest Christian. When one father drew his sword and threatened to kill his son, the latter bent forward his head, thus expressing his willingness to receive the blow. Another student, after being imprisoned for a hundred days, was cast out from his home. Some of the young men yielded to the opposition, but about thirty stood firm. Most of them soon went to the Doshisha School in Kyoto to prepare for Christian work. They were known as the “Kumamoto Band,” and several of them became prominent leaders in the church.

William Smith Clark (July 31, 1826 – March 9, 1886) was a professor of chemistry, botany and zoology, a colonel during the American Civil War, founder and first functioning president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now the University of Massachusetts Amherst) and president of Sapporo Agricultural College in Japan (now Hokkaido University).

This movement among students in the southern island had in the far north what was in some respects its counterpart, though without the bitter persecution. Among the teachers employed by the Government was Colonel W. S. Clark, President of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, who temporarily left his own school in order that he might help to organise a similar institution in Sapporo. From the first, he tried by word and deed to exert a Christian influence. Among other duties he was expected to

(It is still too early for the sadder side of this story to be written in full. Suffice it now to say that in later years Captain Janes was not in sympathy with revealed religion. In 1893 he again came to Japan and became a teacher in a government school in Kyoto. The love that his former pupils had for their teacher combined with other influences to lead a few of them to join him in opposition to the teaching of the missionaries. Though his course was such as soon loosened his hold upon them, all did not recover the faith that was so shaken by the very one who had been the instrument for arousing it.”)

teach ethics, and when some of the Japanese officials objected to his saying anything about religion, he held up a Bible, saying: “If I am to teach morality, I must insist on having this as a text-book.” Being one of those men who quickly win confidence and are able to carry their own way, he soon overcame opposition. Not only was his teaching in the school permeated with Christian thought, but on Sundays he preached the Gospel directly to those who would come to his house and listen. He gained a great influence over the students, and though he remained in Sapporo only about a year, his whole class, fifteen in number, signed a covenant whose opening paragraph was as follows:

“The undersigned, members of Sapporo Agricultural College, desiring to confess Christ according to His command, and to perform with true fidelity every Christian duty in order to show our love and gratitude to that blessed Saviour who has made atonement for our sins by His death on the cross ; and earnestly wishing to advance His Kingdom among men for the promotion of His glory and the salvation of those for whom He died, do solemnly covenant with God and with each other from this time forth to be his faithful disciples and to live in strict compliance with the letter and the spirit of His teachings ; and whenever a suitable opportunity offers, we promise to present ourselves for examination, baptism, and admission to some evangelical church.”

The young men were so earnest that, when another class entered the school, they tried “to convert the Freshies by storm,” as is declared by one of the latter, who also describes his own efforts to resist their unwelcome persuasions to accept the new faith. The writer finally yielded; for, he says, “The public opinion of the college was too strong against me. . , . They forced me to sign the covenant.” He with his classmates swelled the number of covenanters to thirty. They formed the basis of what became the Independent Church of Sapporo.


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