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with which we have considered Buddhism.

Whatever be the theological or political opinions of the observer who
looks into the history of Japan at about the year 1540, he will
acknowledge that this point of time was a very dark moment in her known
history. Columbus, who was familiar with the descriptions of Marco Polo,
steered his caravels westward with the idea of finding Xipangu, with its
abundance of gold and precious gems; but the Genoese did not and could
not know the real state of affairs existing in Dai Nippon at this time.
Let us glance at this.

The duarchy of Throne and Camp, with the Mikado in Ki[=o]to and the
Sh[=o]gun at Kamakura, with the elaborate feudalism under it, had fallen
into decay. The whole country was split up into a thousand warring
fragments. To these convulsions of society, in which only the priest and
the soldier were in comfort, while the mass of the people were little
better than serfs, must be added the frequent violent earthquakes,
drought and failure of crops, with famine and pestilence. There was
little in religion to uplift and cheer. Shint[=o] had sunk into the
shadow of a myth. Buddhism had become outwardly a system of political
gambling rather than the ordered expression of faith. Large numbers of
the priests were like the mercenaries of Italy, who sold their influence
and even their swords or those of their followers, to the highest
bidder. Besides being themselves luxurious and dissolute, their
monasteries were fortresses, in which only the great political gamblers,
and not the oppressed people, found comfort and help. Millions of once
fertile acres had been abandoned or left waste. The destruction of
libraries, books and records is something awful to contemplate; and "the
times of Ashikaga" make a wilderness for the scapegoat of chronology.
Ki[=o]to, the sacred capital, had been again and again plundered and
burnt. Those who might be tempted to live in the city amid the ruins,
ran the risk of fire, murder, or starvation. Kamakura, once the
Sh[=o]-gun's seat of authority, was, a level waste of ashes.

Even China, Annam and Korea suffered from the practical dissolution of
society in the island empire; for Japanese pirates ravaged their coasts
to steal, burn and kill. Even as for centuries in Europe, Christian
churches echoed with that prayer in the litanies: "From the fury of the
Norsemen, good Lord, deliver us," so, along large parts of the deserted
coasts of Chinese Asia, the wretched inhabitants besought their gods to
avenge them against the "Wojen." To this day in parts of Honan in China,
mothers frighten their children and warn them to sleep by the fearful
words "The Japanese are coming."

First Coming of Europeans.

This time, then, was that of darkest Japan. Yet the people who lived in
darkness saw great light, and to them that dwelt in the shadow of death,
light sprang up.

When Pope Alexander VI. bisected the known world, assigning the western
half, including America to Spain, and the eastern half, including Asia
and its outlying archipelagos to the Portuguese, the latter sailed and
fought their way around Africa to India, and past the golden Chersonese.
In 1542, exactly fifty years after the discovery of America, Dai Nippon
was reached. Mendez Pinto, on a Chinese pirate junk which had been
driven by a storm away from her companions, set foot upon an island
called Tanégashima. This name among the country folks is still
synonymous with guns and pistols, for Pinto introduced fire-arms, and

During six months spent by the "mendacious" Pinto on the island, the
imitative people made no fewer than six hundred match-locks or
arquebuses. Clearing twelve hundred per cent. on their cargo, the three
Portuguese loaded with presents, returned to China. Their countrymen
quickly flocked to this new market, and soon the beginnings of regular
trade with Portugal were inaugurated. On the other hand, Japanese began
to be found as far west as India. To Malacca, while Francis Xavier was
laboring there, came a refugee Japanese, named Anjiro. The disciple of
Loyola, and this child of the Land of the Rising Sun met. Xavier, ever
restless and ready for a new field, was fired with the idea of
converting Japan. Anjiro, after learning Portuguese and becoming a
Christian, was baptized with the name of Paul. The heroic missionary of
the cross and keys then sailed with his Japanese companion, and in 1549
landed at Kagoshima,[4] the capital of Satsuma. As there was no central
government then existing in Japan, the entrance of the foreigners, both
lay and clerical, was unnoticed.

Having no skill in the learning of languages, and never able to master
one foreign tongue completely, Xavier began work with the aid of an
interpreter. The jealousy of the daimi[=o], because his rivals had been
supplied with fire-arms by the Portuguese merchants, and the plots and
warnings of those Buddhist priests (who were later crushed by the
Satsuma clansmen as traitors), compelled Xavier to leave this province.
He went first to Hirado,[5] next to Nagat[=o], and then to Bungo, where
he was well received. Preaching and teaching through his Japanese
interpreter, he formed Christian congregations, especially at
Yamaguchi.[6] Thus, within a year, the great apostle to the Indies had
seen the quick sprouting of the seed which he had planted. His ambition
was now to go to the imperial capital, Ki[=o]to, and there advocate the
claims of Christ, of Mary and of the Pope.

Thus far, however, Xavier had seen only a few seaports of comparatively
successful daimi[=o]s. Though he had heard of the unsettled state of the
country because of the long-continued intestine strife, he evidently
expected to find the capital a splendid city. Despite the armed bands of
roving robbers and soldiers, he reached Ki[=o]to safely, only to find
streets covered with ruins, rubbish and unburied corpses, and a general
situation of wretchedness. He was unable to obtain audience of either
the Sh[=o]gun or the Mikado. Even in those parts of the city where he
tried to preach, he could obtain no hearers in this time of war and
confusion. So after two weeks he turned his face again southward to
Bungo, where he labored for a few months; but in less than two years
from his landing in Japan, this noble but restless missionary left the
country, to attempt the spiritual conquest of China. One year later,
December 2, 1551, he died on the island of Shanshan, or Sancian, in the
Canton River, a few miles west of Macao.

Christianity Flourishes.

Nevertheless, Xavier's inspiring example was like a shining star that
attracted scores of missionaries. There being in this time of political
anarchy and religious paralysis none to oppose them, their zeal, within
five years, bore surprising fruits. They wrote home that there were
seven churches in the region around Ki[=o]to, while a score or more of
Christian congregations had been gathered in the southwest. In 1581
there were two hundred churches and one hundred and fifty thousand
native Christians. Two daimi[=o]s had confessed their faith, and in the
Mikado's minister, Nobunaga (1534-1582), the foreign priests found a
powerful supporter.[7] This hater and scourge of the Buddhist priesthood
openly welcomed and patronized the Christians, and gave them eligible
sites on which to build dwellings and churches. In every possible way he
employed the new force, which he found pliantly political, as well as
intellectually and morally a choice weapon for humbling the bonzes, whom
he hated as serpents. The Buddhist church militant had become an army
with banners and fortresses. Nobunaga made it the aim of his life to
destroy the military power of the hierarchy, and to humble the priests
for all time. He hoped at least to extract the fangs of what he believed
to be a politico-religious monster, which menaced the life of the
nation. Unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1582. To this day the
memory of Nobunaga is execrated by the Buddhists. They have deified Kato
Kiyomasa and Iyéyas[)u], the persecutors of the Christians. To Nobunaga
they give the title of Bakadono, or Lord Fool.

In 1583, an embassy of four young noblemen was despatched by the
Christian daimi[=o]s of Kiushiu, the second largest island in the
empire, to the Pope to declare themselves spiritual - though as some of
their countrymen suspected, political - vassals of the Holy See. It was
in the three provinces of Bungo, Omura and Arima, that Christianity was
most firmly rooted. After an absence of eight years, in 1590, the envoys
from the oriental to the occidental ends of the earth, returned to
Nagasaki, accompanied by seventeen more Jesuit fathers - an important
addition to the many Portuguese "religious" of that order already in

Yet, although there was to be still much missionary activity, though
printing presses had been brought from Europe for the proper diffusion
of Christian literature in the Romanized colloquial,[8] though there
were yet to be built more church edifices and monasteries, and Christian
schools to be established, a sad change was nigh. Much seed which was
yet to grow in secret had been planted, - like the exotic flowers which
even yet blossom and shed their perfume in certain districts of Japan,
and which the traveller from Christendom instantly recognizes, though
the Portuguese Christian church or monastery centuries ago disappeared
in fire, or fell to the earth and disappeared. Though there were to be
yet wonderful flashes of Christian success, and the missionaries were to
travel over Japan even up to the end of the main island and accompany
the Japanese army to Korea; yet it may be said that with the death of
Nobunaga at the hands of the traitor Akéchi, we see the high-water mark
of the flood-tide of Japanese Christianity. "Akéchi reigned three days,"
but after him were to arise a ruler and central government jealous and
hostile. After this flood was to come slowly but surely the ebb-tide,
until it should leave, outwardly at least, all things as before.

The Jesuit fathers, with instant sensitiveness, felt the loss of their
champion and protector, Nobunaga. The rebel and assassin, Akéchi,
ambitious to imitate and excel his master, promised the Christians to do
more for them even than Nobunaga had done, provided they would induce
the daimi[=o] Takayama to join forces with his. It is the record of
their own friendly historian, and not of an enemy, that they, led by the
Jesuit father Organtin, attempted this persuasion. To the honor of the
Christian Japanese Takayama, he refused.[9] On the contrary, he marched
his little army of a thousand men to Ki[=o]to, and, though opposed to a
force of eight thousand, held the capital city until Hidéyoshi, the
loyal general of the Mikado, reached the court city and dispersed the
assassin's band. Hidéyoshi soon made himself familiar with the whole
story, and his keen eye took in the situation.

This "man on horseback," master of the situation and moulder of the
destinies of Japan, Hidéyoshi (1536-1598), was afterward known as the
Taik[=o], or Retired Regent. The rarity of the title makes it applicable
in common speech to this one person. Greater than his dead master,
Nobunaga, and ingenious in the arts of war and peace, Hidéyoshi
compelled the warring daimi[=o]s, even the proud lord of Satsuma,[10] to
yield to his power, until the civil minister of the emperor, reverently
bowing, could say: "All under Heaven, Peace." Now, Japan had once more a
central government, intensely jealous and despotic, and with it the new
religion must sooner or later reckon. Religion apart from politics was
unknown in the Land of the Gods.

Yet, in order to employ the vast bodies of armed men hitherto accustomed
to the trade of war, and withal jealous of China and hostile to Korea,
Hidéyoshi planned the invasion of the little peninsular kingdom by these
veterans whose swords were restless in their scabbards. After months of
preparation, he despatched an army in two great divisions, one under the
Christian general Konishi, and one under the Buddhist general Kato.
After a brilliant campaign of eighteen days, the rivals, taking
different routes, met in the Korean capital. In the masterly campaign
which followed, the Japanese armies penetrated almost to the extreme
northern boundary of the kingdom. Then China came to the rescue and the
Japanese were driven southward.

During the six or seven years of war, while the invaders crossed swords
with the natives and their Chinese allies, and devastated Korea to an
extent from which she has never recovered, there were Jesuit
missionaries attending the Japanese armies. It is not possible or even
probable, however, that any seeds of Christianity were at this time left
in the peninsula. Korean Christianity sprang up nearly two centuries
later, wind-wafted from China.[11]

During the war there was always more or less of jealousy, mostly
military and personal, between Konishi and Kato, which however was
aggravated by the priests on either side. Kato, being then and afterward
a fierce champion of the Buddhists, glorified in his orthodoxy, which
was that of the Nichiren sect. He went into battle with a banneret full
of texts, stuck in his back and flying behind him. His example was
copied by hundreds of his officers and soldiers. On their flags and
guidons was inscribed the famous apostrophe of the Nichiren sect, so
often heard in their services and revivals to-day (Namu miy[=o] ho ren
gé ki[=o]), and borrowed from the Saddharma Pundarika: "Glory be to the
salvation-bringing Lotus of the True Law."

The Hostility of Hidéyoshi.

Konishi, on the other hand, was less numerously and perhaps less
influentially backed by, and made the champion of, the European
brethren; and as all the negotiations between the invaders and the
allied Koreans and Chinese had to be conducted in the Chinese script,
the alien fathers were, as secretaries and interpreters, less useful
than the native Japanese bonzes.

Yet this jealousy and hostility in the camps of the invaders proved to
be only correlative to the state of things in Japan. Even supposing the
statistics in round numbers, reported at that time, to be exaggerated,
and that there were not as many as the alleged two hundred thousand
Christians, yet there were, besides scores of thousands of confessing
believers among the common people, daimi[=o]s, military leaders, court
officers and many persons of culture and influence. Nevertheless, the
predominating influence at the Ki[=o]to court was that of Buddhism; and
as the cult that winks at polygamy was less opposed to Hidéyoshi's
sensualism and amazing vanity, the illustrious upstart was easily made
hostile to the alien faith. According to the accounts of the Jesuits, he
took umbrage because a Portuguese captain would not please him by
risking his ship in coming out of deep water and nearer land, and
because there were Christian maidens of Arima who scorned to yield to
his degrading proposals. Some time after these episodes, an edict
appeared, commanding every Jesuit to quit the country within twenty
days. There were at this time sixty-five foreign missionaries in the

Then began a series of persecutions, which, however, were carried on
spasmodically and locally, but not universally or with system. Bitter in
some places, they were neutralized or the law became a dead letter, in
other parts of the realm. It is estimated that ten thousand new converts
were made in the single year, 1589, that is, the second year after the
issue of the edict, and again in the next year, 1590. It might even be
reasonable to suppose that, had the work been conducted wisely and
without the too open defiance of the letter of the law, the awful sequel
which history knows, might not have been.

Let us remember that the Duke of Alva, the tool of Philip II., failing
to crush the Dutch Republic had conquered Portugal for his master. The
two kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula were now united under one crown.
Spain longed for trade with Japan, and while her merchants hoped to
displace their Portuguese rivals, the Spanish Franciscans not scrupling
to wear a political cloak and thus override the Pope's bull of
world-partition, determined to get a foothold alongside of the Jesuits.
So, in 1593 a Spanish envoy of the governor of the Philippine Islands
came to Ki[=o]to, bringing four Spanish Franciscan priests, who were
allowed to build houses in Ki[=o]to, but only on the express
understanding that this was because of their coming as envoys of a
friendly power, and with the explicitly specified condition that they
were not to preach, either publicly or privately. Almost immediately
violating their pledge and the hospitality granted them, these
Spaniards, wearing the vestments of their order, openly preached in the
streets. Besides exciting discord among the Christian congregations
founded by the Jesuits, they were violent in their language.

Hidéyoshi, to gratify his own mood and test his power as the actual
ruler for a shadowy emperor, seized nine preachers while they were
building churches at Ki[=o]to and Osaka. They were led to the
execution-ground in exactly the same fashion as felons, and executed by
crucifixion, at Nagasaki, February 5, 1597. Three Portuguese Jesuits,
six Spanish Franciscans and seventeen native Christians were stretched
on bamboo crosses, and their bodies from thigh to shoulder were
transfixed with spears. They met their doom uncomplainingly.

In the eye of the Japanese law, these men were put to death, not as
Christians, but as law-breakers and as dangerous political conspirators.
The suspicions of Hidéyoshi were further confirmed by a Spanish
sea-captain, who showed him a map of the world on which were marked the
vast dominions of the King of Spain; the Spaniard informing the
Japanese, in answer to his shrewd question, that these great conquests
had been made by the king's soldiers following up the priests, the work
being finished by the native and foreign allies.

The Political Character of Roman Christianity.

The Roman Catholic "Histoire del' Église Chrétienne" shows the political
character of the missionary movement in Japan, a character almost
inextricably associated with the papal and other political Christianity
of the times, when State and Church were united in all the countries of
Europe, both Catholic and Protestant. Even republican Holland, leader of
toleration and forerunner of the modern Christian spirit, permitted,
indeed, the Roman Catholics to worship in private houses or in sacred
edifices not outwardly resembling churches, but prohibited all public
processions and ceremonies, because religion and politics at that time
were as Siamese twins. Only the Anabaptists held the primitive Christian
and the American doctrine of the separation of politics from
ecclesiasticism. Except in the country ruled by William the Silent, all
magistrates meddled with men's consciences.[12]

In 1597, Hidéyoshi died, and the missionaries took heart again. The
Christian soldiers returning by thousands from Korea, declared
themselves in favor of Hidéyori, son of the dead Taik[=o]. Encouraged by
those in power, and by the rising star Iyéyas[)u] (1542-1616), the
fathers renewed their work and the number of converts increased.

Though peace reigned, the political situation was one of the greatest
uncertainty, and with two hundred thousand soldiers gathered around
Ki[=o]to, under scores of ambitious leaders, it was hard to keep the
sword in the sheath. Soon the line of cleavage found Iyéyas[)u] and his
northern captains on one side, and most of the Christian leaders and
southern daimi[=o]s on the other. In October, 1600, with seventy-five
thousand men, the future unifier of Japan stood on the ever-memorable
field of Sékigahara. The opposing army, led largely by Christian
commanders, left their fortress to meet the one whom they considered a
usurper, in the open field. In the battle which ensued, probably the
most decisive ever fought on the soil of Japan, ten thousand men lost
their lives. The leading Christian generals, beaten, but refusing out of
principle because they were Christians, to take their own lives by
_hara-kiri_, knelt willingly at the common blood-pit and had their heads
stricken off by the executioner.

Then began a new era in the history of the empire, and then were laid by
Iyéyas[)u] the foundation-lines upon which the Japan best known to
Europe has existed for nearly three centuries. The creation of a central
executive government strong enough to rule the whole empire, and hold
down even the southern and southwestern daimi[=o]s, made it still worse
for the converts of the European teachers, because in the Land of the
Gods government is ever intensely pagan.

In adjusting the feudal relations of his vassals in Kiushiu, Iyéyas[)u]
made great changes, and thus the political status of the Christians was
profoundly altered. The new daimi[=o]s, carrying out the policy of their
predecessors who had been taught by the Jesuits, but reversing its
direction, began to persecute their Christian subjects, and to compel
them to renounce their faith. One of the leading opposers of the
Christians and their most cruel persecutor, was Kato, the zealous
Nichirenite. Like Brandt, the famous Iroquois Indian, who, in the Mohawk
Valley is execrated as a bloodthirsty brute, and on the Canadian side is
honored with a marble statue and considered not only as the translator
of the prayer-book but also as a saint; even also as Claverhouse, who,
in Scotland is looked upon as a murderous demon, but in England as a
conscientious and loyal patriot; so Kato, the _vir ter execrandus_ of
the Jesuits, is worshipped in his shrine at the Nichiren temple at
Ikégami, near T[=o]ki[=o],[13] and is praised by native historians as
learned, brave and true.

The Christians of Kiushiu, in a few cases, actually took up arms against
their new rulers and oppressors, though it was a new thing under the
Japanese sun for peasantry to oppose not only civil servants of the law,
but veterans in armor. Iyéyas[)u], now having time to give his attention
wholly to matters of government and to examine the new forces that had
entered Japanese life, followed Hidéyoshi in the suspicion that, under
the cover of the western religion, there lurked political designs. He
thought he saw confirmation of his theories, because the foreigners
still secretly or openly paid court to Hidéyori, and at the same time
freely disbursed gifts and gold as well as comfort to the persecuted.
Resolving to crush the spirit of independence in the converts and to
intimidate the foreign emissaries, Iyéyas[)u] with steel and blood put
down every outbreak, and at last, in 1606, issued his edict[14]
prohibiting Christianity.

The Quarrels of the Christians.

About the same time, Protestant influences began to work against the
papal emissaries. The new forces from the triumphant Dutch republic,
which having successfully defied Spain for a whole generation had
reached Japan even before the Great Truce, were opposed to the Spaniards
and to the influence of both Jesuits and Franciscans. Hollanders at
Lisbon, obtaining from the Spanish archives charts and geographical
information, had boldly sailed out into the Eastern seas, and carried
the orange white and blue flag to the ends of the earth, even to Nippon.
Between Prince Maurice, son of William the Silent, and the envoys of
Iyéyas[)u], there was made a league of commerce as well as of peace and
friendship. Will Adams,[15] the English pilot of the Dutch ships, by his
information given to Iyéyas[)u], also helped much to destroy the Jesuits
influence and to hurt their cause, while both the Dutch and English were
ever busy in disseminating both correct information and polemic
exaggeration, forging letters and delivering up to death by fire the
_padres_ when captured at sea.

In general, however, it may be said that while Christian converts and
the priests were roughly handled in the South, yet there was
considerable missionary activity and success in the North. Converts were
made and Christian congregations were gathered in regions remote from
Ki[=o]to and Yedo, which latter place, like St. Petersburg in the West,
was being made into a large city. Even outlying islands, such as Sado,
had their churches and congregations.

The Anti-Christian Policy of the Tokugawas.

The quarrels between the Franciscans and Jesuits,[16] however, were
probably more harmful to Christianity than were the whispers of the
Protestant Englishmen or Hollanders. In 1610, the wrath of the

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 23 of 31)