Author Topic: How Christianity came to Japan  (Read 1158 times)

Taro Hiroshi

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How Christianity came to Japan
« on: June 08, 2016, 03:49:30 PM »
Peace everyone,

Lately, I have been studying the history of Christianity in Japan (particularly the life and work of some European missionaries). In my view, European missionaries in Japan were extraordinarily dedicated to their work. And I think there are some important lessons to learn from their work (especially in regard to spreading the message of Al-Quran). In this post, I'd like to share some historical information about "How Christianity came to Japan." But before I do that, I would like to share some of my thoughts and views about this country.

Japan is a very unique and fascinating country, in my opinion. The Japanese name for Japan is Nippon or Nihon, which literally means "sun origin." And Japan is often called the "Land of the Rising Sun." Japan used to be my favorite country in the past. But it is no longer my favorite country. That being said, I still like Japan a lot. Unlike many countries in the west, Japan hasn't been involved in wars (since 1946). And as far as I know, Japan is the only country in the Asian continent that have had a pacifist constitution since WW2. In my view, Japan has the best constitution in the Asian continent and one of the best constitutions in the world. I think Japan is a very succesful country. Apparently, one of the secrets of Japan's success is due to its great constution. In the Japanese constitution, article 9 forbids war and a standing army. But unfortunately, the Prime minister of Japan has resolved to amend article 9 of the country's constitution. If that happens, then Japan might increase its military spending dramatically and engage in the foreign wars of its allies. If Japan does these things in the future, then this country might decline. Today the constitution of Japan only allows war in self-defence. And from my understanding of Al-Quran, islam only allows war in self-defence (2:119, 9:13 and 22:39). Therefore, the law regarding war in self-defence in the Japanese constitution, is similar to the law regarding war in self-defence in Al-Quran.

Japan has a history which goes back thousands of years. And Japan is an island country, which has been isolated for centuries. Japan is not a perfect country. But Japan's contributions to the world in regard to culture, science, technology, philosophy, fine arts and literature has been tremendous. No one can deny that Japan is one of the most highly developed countries in the world. Japan has a high life expectancy, low crime rate, advanced technology, ultra-reliable cars and the best railway system in the entire world. Unlike many countries in the world, Japan has been able to retain many of its old customs and tradtions. Although Japan isn't a perfect country, no one can deny that Japan has done exceptionally well. But how did Japan manage to become a succesful country under complete isolation from the rest of the world? I think the ancestors of the modern Japanese, laid the foundation of modern Japan. In my view, if it hadn't been for the ancestors of the modern Japanese, Japan wouldn't be a very succesful country in our era. Japan has a very fascinating history, in my opinion. And I think in order to understand how Japan became a succesful country, one has to study the history of Japan, but I digress. Let me share some historical information about "How christianity came to Japan."

In 1543, the Portuguese arrived in Japan. A big ship arrived on the shore and three portuguese merchants walked onto the beach. They were the first westerners to ever to set foot on Japanese shores. These strangers were unlike anyone the Japanese had ever seen. When the portuguese arrived in the year of 1543, Samurai guards quickly went to warn their masters. And the portugese were summoned by a daimyo (a feudal lord). The portuguese had very strange weapons. And the daimyo was fascinated by their weapons. The portuguese merchants showed the Daimyo how their weapons worked. And their weapons worked very well. After the Daimyo saw how well their weapons worked, he was fascinated and impressed by their weapons. Thus, he was interested in buying some weapons from them. He purchased two guns from them. Then he put his swordsmith to work in order to make copies of the guns he had purchased. Afterwards, he asked the portuguese merchants to give him shooting lessons.

Some years later Portuguese merchants traversed the oceans in search of new ports for trade. They were accompanied by Jesuit missionaries who searched for souls to save. The Jesuits were young and brave. And they were eager to spread the message of the Bible to others. The voyage to Japan took two years. It was a dangerous journey. But the Jesuits were willing to go through a lot of adversity in order to reach Japan. The Jesuit missionaries believed that Japan was ripe for conversion. They sent exciting reports back home. They thought that Japan was very mysterious and different. The missionaries were very impressed by the Japanese. And they thought that the Japanese were a remarkable race. The Japanese had a well-developed culture. And they had a very complex political system. They had gotten these things without any influence from Christianity. And without any influence from Europe. Therefore, the missionaries thought it was worthwhile to write back to Europe about their experiences. For the first time, Europeans dealth with asians on equal terms. In other words, they didn't deal with them as conquerors and conquered people.

In 1525, a man by the name of Francis Xavier (born in Spain), left his homeland in order to pursue his studies at the University of Paris. Francis would never return to his homeland. And he would never see his family again. In Paris, Francis met two other students, Peter Faber (Pierre Favre) and Ignatius of Loyola. These students would have a significant influence on his life. Ignatius had a humble and simple lifestyle. And he had devoted his life wholly to the Christian faith. Ignatius encouraged Francis to completely devote his life to the Christian faith. But Francis was an ambitious man with ambitious plans who wanted to accomplish earthly greatness. Therefore, the humble and simple lifestyle of Ignatius didn't appeal to him. However, Ignatius was determined to convince Francis to abandon his current lifestyle in favor of complete devotion to Christianity.

In his book, The lives of the primitive fathers, martyrs, and principal saints volume 12, the English Roman Catholic Priest and Hagiograper Alban Butler, writes:

...Francis, whose head was full of ambitious thoughts, made a long and vigorous resistance,  and bantered an rallied Ignatius on all occasions, ridiculig the meanness and poverty in which he lived as a degenerate lowness of soul. Ignatius repaid his contempt with meakness and kindness, and continued to repeat sometimes to him: What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul. This made no impression on one who was dazzled with vain-glory, and, under pretences, joined false maxims of worldly decency in his idea of Christian virtue. Ignatius, assaulting him on  the weaker side, often congratulated with him for his talents and learning, applauded his lectures, and made it his business to procure him scholars: also on certain occasion when he was in necessity, he furnished him with money. Francis having a generous soul, was moved with gratitude, and considered that Ignatius was of great birth, and that only the fear of God had inspired him with the choice of the life which he led. He began, therefore, to look on Ignatius with other eyes, and to hearken his discourses... Sometime after this, having one day found Xavier more than ordinarily attentive, he repeated to him these words more forcible than ever: What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? and remonstrated, that so noble a soul ought not to confine itself to the vain honours of this world, that celestial glory was the only object for his ambition, and that it was against reason not to prefer that which is eternally to last before what vanishes like a dream. Xavier then began to see into the emptiness of earthly greatness, and to find himself powerfully touched with the love of heavenly things. Yet it was not without many serious thoughts, and grievious struggles, that this soul was overcome by the power of those eternal truths, and he took a resolution of squaring his life entirely by the most perfect maxims of the gospel. For this purpose he gave himself up to the conduct of Ignatius: and the direction of so enlightened a guide made the paths of perfection easy to him. From his new master he learned that the first step in his conversion was to subdue his predominant passion, and that vain-glory was his most dangerous enemy. His main endeavours therefore were bent from that time to humble himself, and confound his pride. And well knowing that the interior victory over our own heart and its passions is not to be gained without mortifying the flesh, and bringing the senses into subjection, he undertook this conquest by haircloth, fasting, and other austerities.

Ignatius had inspired Francis to devote his life to his faith rather than seeking for fame, power and glory. Francis' life had completely changed. Later, Francis became a Roman catholic Jesuit missionary. He did missionary work in Goa (India), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Malacca (Malaysia and Singapore), Malaku Islands (Indonesia) and Japan. He also travelled to China.

In 1547,  Francis Xavier met a Japanese man by the name of Anjiro. Francis met Anjiro while he was in a Portuguese Ship in Malacca. Anjiro lived in exile in Malacca. And he was a speaker of Portuguese. So he was able to converse with Francis. He told Francis much about his former life in his beloved homeland. Anjiro was a man from the Samurai Class. He had commited a crime and fled from his homeland to avoid arrest. From Anjiro, Francis heard about the culture and customs of the ancient Kingdom of Japan. While Francis had a conversation with Anjiro aboard the ship, he asked him: "If I went to Japan, would the people become Christians?" Anjiro gave him this reply:

"My people would not immediately become Christians; but they would first ask you a multitude of questions, weighing carefully your answers and your claims. Above all, they would observe whether your conduct agreed with your words. If you should satisfy them on these points - by suitable replies to their inquiries and by a life above reproach - then, as soon as the matter was known and fully examined, the king [daimyo], the nobles, and the educated people would become Christians. Six months would suffice; for the nation is one that always follows the guidance of reason."

Francis was exceedingly excited and decided to plant the seeds of his faith in this Kingdom. Anjiro was going to be his guide, interpreter and translator in his mission to spread the message of the Bible. Anjiro became the first Japanese Christian. And he adopted the name of Paulo de Santa F? (Paul of the Holy faith).

The journey to Japan was a journey of great hardship. But this didn't discourage Francis to embark on this journey. He had made up his mind to visit Japan. And he had planned to dedicate his life to his mission.

In his book, Tanegashima - The arrival of Europe in Japan, the Danish Scholar of Japanese literature and philosophy, Olof G. Lidin, writes: was a long way from Goa to Japan, and the route via Malacca was infested with pirates and made difficult by storms. But with faith in God he set out. And why should he be scared? God was on his side and, as he wrote, ?God is the master of all storms and stronger than all pirates.?

In 1549, Francis Xavier arrived in the Japanese shores of Kagoshima. He was accompanied by Anjiro and five other men. Kagoshima was the capital of Satsuma (the southernmost province of Japan). Francis became the first Christian missionary in Japan. He was received well by the prince (lord) of Satsuma.

In his book, The Awakening of the East: Siberia - Japan - China, the French Economist, Pierre Leroy-Beaulieu, writes:

... The Prince received the saint favorably, and the Princess insisted upon him composing for her benefit a summary of the Articles of the Christian Faith, together with the translation of the principal prayers. St. Francis immediately edited a Japanese version of the Cathecism and a translation of the Credo.

Francis was very impressed by some aspects of Japanese society. Japan had a highly ordered political and social system, excellent schools and a high literacy rate. Francis was very interested in learning about Japan and was eager to spread his faith in this alien country. The Japanese certainly made a favourable impression on him. Ten weeks after he had arrived in Japan, he wrote a letter to the Jesuits in Goa. In his letter, he wrote:

By the experience which we have of this land of Japan, I can inform you thereof as follows. Firstly, the people whom we have met so far, are the best who have yet been discovered, and it seems to me that  we shall never find among heathens another race to equal the Japanese. It is a people of very good manners, good in general, and not malicious; they are men of honor to a marvel, and prize honor above all else in the world. They are a poor people in general; but their poverty, whether among the gentry or those who are not so, is not considered as shame. They have one quality which I cannot recall in any people of Christendom; this is that their gentry howsoever poor they may be, and the commoners howsoever rich they may be, render as much honor to a poor gentleman as if he were passing rich. On no account would a poverty-stricked gentleman marry with someone outside the gentry, even if he were given great sums to do so; and this they do because they consider that they would lose their honor by marrying into a lower class. Whence it can clearly be seen that they esteem honor more than riches. They are very courteous in their dealings one with another; they highly regard arms and trust much in them; always carrying sword and dagger, both high and low alike, from the age of fourteen onwards. They are a people who will not submit to any insults or contemptous words. Those who are not of gentle birth give much honor to the gentry, who in their turn pride themselves on faithfully serving their feudal lord, to whom they are very obedient. It seems to me that they act thus rather because they think that they would lose their honor if they acted contrarily, than for fear of the punishment they would receive if disobedient... They are men who never gamble, because they consider it a great dishonor, since those who gamble desire what is not theirs and hence tend to become thieves. They swear but little, and when they do it is by the Sun. There are many persons who can read and write, which is a great help to their learning quickly prayers and religious matters. It is a land where there are but few thieves in some kingdoms, and this is by the strict justice which is executed against those that are, for their lives are never spared. They abhor beyond measure this vice of theft. They are a people of very good will, very sociable and very desirous of knowledge; they are fond of hearing about things of God, chiefly when they understand them. Of all the lands which I have seen in my life, whether those of Christians or of heathens, never yet did I see a people so honest in not thieving. Most of them believe in the men of old, who were (so far as I understand) persons who lived like philosophers; many of them adore the Sun and others the Moon. They like to hear things propounded according to reason; and granted that there are sins and vices among them, when one reasons with them pointing out that what they do is evil, they are convinced by this reasoning.

Francis spent the first year learning the Japanese language and translating several Christian writings (with the help of others). In Japan, Francis made use of the method of philosophical and theological discussion. Initially, he spoke to people in the streets. But later, he decided to change his approach. His approach became more personal and he had conversations and discussions with people in their houses. Francis was surprised by the depth of the Japanese soul. He wrote:

"The Japanese have the highest moral sense of any infidels that I have ever seen and they are so desirous of knowledge that they never leave off from asking questions and discussing all that we tell them."

Francis and his companions were successful in regard to spreading the Christian faith in Japan. The translation of the teachings of Christianity enabled them to spread their faith to many people in this country. Francis's efforts were considered as extraordinary and his work inspired other missionaries to come to Japan in order to spread their faith in this country.

In his book, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance, the British Historian John Hale, writes:

And to move further east still, from St Francis Xavier's first mission to Japan in 1549, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian Jesuits learned the language and tried to grasp the nature of the nine religious sects they identified there in order to argue the Christian case against them. Constantly in their letters and reports, they compared Europeans with Japanese customs... ?I am sending you? , wrote St Francis to his superiors at home, ?a copy of the Japanese alphabet; their way of writing is very different from ours because they write their lines from the top of the page down to the bottom. I asked Paul [a convert] why they did not write in our way? He explained that as the head of a man is at the top and his feet are at the bottom, so too a man should write from top to bottom.?

By 1570, there were thousands of Christians in Japan. But from 1587 onwards, the persecution of Christians began. The persecution of Christians would last for more than 250 years. In 1603, the Tokugawa Shogunate was established in Japan. In 1614, Tokugawa Ieyasu banned the practiced of Christianity in this country. All foreign missionaries were expelled from Japan. And many christians were martyred. Later, it was believed that there were no Christians left in this country. But many Christians in Japan went underground and secretly survived. They survived by pretending to be Buddhists or Shintoists. During the Tokugawa era, Japan was isolated from the outside world in order to prevent Christian influence from spreading in this country. During this era, Holland was the only country which was allowed to have contact with Japan. In 1873, the Japanese government lifted the prohibition of Christiany. And Christians were allowed to practice their religion once more.


- The Lives of the Primitive Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints volume 12 by Alban Butler.
- Rediscovering Japan, Reintroducing Christendom: Two Thousand Years of Christian History in Japan by Samuel Lee.
- Tanegashima - The Arrival of Europe in Japan by Olof G. Lidin.
- The Awakening of the East: Siberia - Japan - China by Pierre Leroy-Beaulieu.
- The Christian Century in Japan: 1549-1650 by Charles Ralph Boxer.
- The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance by John Hale.
- The world of St. Francis Xavier by VV.AA.. 
- Japan's Hidden Christians: 1549-1999 volume 2 by Stephen R. Turnbull.