William Elliot Griffis.

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government was especially aroused against the _bateren_, as the people
called the _padres_, by their open and persistent violation of Japanese
law. In 1611, from Sado, to which island thousands of Christian exiles
had been sent to work the mines, Iyéyas[)u] believed he had obtained
documentary proof in the Japanese language, of what he had long
suspected - the existence of a plot on the part of the native converts
and the foreign emissaries to reduce Japan to the position of a subject
state.[17] Putting forth strenuous measures to root out utterly what he
believed to be a pestilential breeder of sedition and war, the Yedo
Sh[=o]gun advanced step by step to that great proclamation of January
27, 1614,[18] in which the foreign priests were branded as triple
enemies - of the country, of the Kami, and of the Buddhas. This
proclamation wound up with the charge that the Christian band had come
to Japan to change the government of the country, and to usurp
possession of it. Whether or not he really had sufficient written proof
of conspiracy against the nation's sovereignty, it is certain that in
this state paper, Iyéyas[)u] shrewdly touched the springs of Japanese
patriotism. Not desiring, however, to shed blood or provoke war, he
tried transportation. Three hundred persons, namely, twenty-two
Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustines, one hundred and seventeen
foreign Jesuits, and nearly two hundred native priests and catechists,
were arrested, sent to Nagasaki, and thence shipped like bundles of
combustibles to Macao.

Yet, as many of the foreign and native Christian teachers hid themselves
in the country and as others who had been banished returned secretly and
continued the work of propaganda, the crisis had not yet come. Some of
the Jesuit priests, even, were still hoping that Hidéyori would mount to
power; but in 1615, Iyéyas[)u], finding a pretext for war,[19] called
out a powerful army and laid siege to the great castle of Osaka, the
most imposing fortress in the country. In the brief war which ensued, it
is said by the Jesuit fathers, that one hundred thousand men perished.
On June 9, 1615, the castle was captured and the citadel burned. After
thousands of Hidéyori's followers had committed _hara-kiri_, and his own
body had been burned into ashes, the Christian cause was irretrievably

Hidétada, the successor of Iyéyas[)u] in Yedo, who ruled from 1605 to
1622, seeing that his father's peaceful methods had failed in
extirpating the alien politico-religious doctrine, now pronounced
sentence of death on every foreigner, priest, or catechist found in the
country. The story of the persecutions and horrible sufferings that
ensued is told in the voluminous literature which may be gathered from
every country in Europe;[20] though from the Japanese side "The Catholic
martyrology of Japan is still an untouched field for a [native]
historian."[21] All the church edifices which the last storm had left
standing were demolished, and temples and pagodas were erected upon
their ruins. In 1617, foreign commerce was restricted to Hirado and
Nagasaki. In 1621, Japanese were forbidden ever to leave the country. In
1624, all ships having a capacity of over twenty-five hundred bushels
were burned, and no craft, except those of the size of ordinary junks,
were allowed to be built.

The Books of the Inferno Opened.

For years, at intervals and in places, the books of the Inferno were
opened, and the tortures devised by the native pagans and Buddhists
equalled in their horror those which Dante imagines, until finally, in
1636, even Japanese human nature, accustomed for ages to subordination
and submission, could stand it no longer. Then a man named Nirado Shiro
raised the banner of the Virgin and called on all Christians and others
to follow him. Probably as many as thirty thousand men, women and
children, but without a single foreigner, lay or clerical, among them,
gathered from parts of Kiushiu. After burning Shint[=o] and Buddhist
temples, they fortified an old abandoned castle at Shimabara, resolving
to die rather than submit. Against an army of veterans, led by skilled
commanders, the fortress held out during four months. At last, after a
bloody assault, it was taken, and men, women and children were
slaughtered.[22] Thousands suffered death at the point of the spear and
sword; many were thrown into the sea; and others were cast into boiling
hot springs, emblems of the eight Buddhist Hells.

All efforts were now put forth to uproot not only Christianity but also
everything of foreign planting. The Portuguese were banished and the
death penalty declared against all who should return, The ai no ko, or
half-breed children, were collected and shipped by hundreds to Macao.
All persons adopting or harboring Eurasians were to be banished, and
their relatives punished. The Christian cause now became like the doomed
city of Babylon or like the site of Nineveh, which, buried in the sand
and covered with the desolation and silence of centuries, became lost to
the memory of the world, so that even the very record of scripture was
the jest of the infidel, until the spade of Layard brought them again to
resurrection. So, Japanese Christianity, having vanished in blood, was
supposed to have no existence, thus furnishing Mr. Lecky with arguments
to prove the extirpative power of persecution.[23]

Yet in 1859, on the opening of the country by treaty, the Roman Catholic
fathers at Nagasaki found to their surprise that they were re-opening
the old mines, and that their work was in historic continuity with that
of their predecessors. The blood of the martyrs had been the seed of the
church. Amid much ignorance and darkness, there were thousands of people
who, through the Virgin, worshipped God; who talked of Jesus, and of the
Holy Spirit; and who refused to worship at the pagan shrines[24].

Summary of Roman Christianity in Japan.

Let us now strive impartially to appraise the Christianity of this era,
and inquire what it found, what it attempted to do, what it did not
strive to attain, what was the character of its propagators, what was
the mark it made upon the country and upon the mind of the people, and
whether it left any permanent influence.

The gospel net which had gathered all sorts of fish in Europe brought a
varied quality of spoil to Japan. Among the Portuguese missionaries,
beginning with Xavier, there are many noble and beautiful characters,
who exemplified in their motives, acts, lives and sufferings some of the
noblest traits of both natural and redeemed humanity. In their praise,
both the pagan and the Christian, as well as critics biased by their
prepossessions in favor either of the Reformed or the Roman phase of the
faith, can unite.

The character of the native converts is, in many instances, to be
commended, and shows the direct truth of Christianity in fields of life
and endeavor, in ethics and in conceptions, far superior to those which
the Japanese religious systems have produced. In the teaching that there
should be but one standard of morality for man and woman, and that the
male as well as the female should be pure; in the condemnation of
polygamy and licentiousness; in the branding of suicide as both wicked
and cowardly; in the condemnation of slavery; and in the training of men
and women to lofty ideals of character, the Christian teachers far
excelled their Buddhist or Confucian rivals.

The benefits which Japan received through the coming of the Christian
missionaries, as distinct and separate from those brought by commerce
and the merchants, are not to be ignored. While many things of value and
influence for material improvement, and many beneficent details and
elements of civilization were undoubtedly imported by traders, yet it
was the priests and itinerant missionaries who diffused the knowledge of
the importance of these things and taught their use throughout the
country. Although in the reaction of hatred and bitterness, and in the
minute, universal and long-continued suppression by the government, most
of this advantage was destroyed, yet some things remained to influence
thought and speech, and to leave a mark not only on the language, but
also on the procedure of daily life. One can trace notable modifications
of Japanese life from this period, lasting through the centuries and
even until the present time.

Christianity, in the sixteenth century, came to Japan only in its papal
or Roman Catholic form. While in it was infused much of the power and
spirit of Loyola and Xavier, yet the impartial critic must confess that
this form was military, oppressive and political.[25] Nevertheless,
though it was impure and saturated with the false principles, the vices
and the embodied superstitions of corrupt southern Europe, yet, such as
it was, Portuguese Christianity confronted the worst condition of
affairs, morally, intellectually and materially, which Japan has known
in historic times. Defective as the critic must pronounce the system of
religion imported from Europe, it was immeasurably superior to anything
that the Japanese had hitherto known.

It must be said, also, that Portuguese Christianity in Japan tried to do
something more than the mere obtaining of adherents or the nominal
conversion of the people.[26] It attempted to purify and exalt their
life, to make society better, to improve the relations between rulers
and ruled; but it did not attempt to do what it ought to have done. It
ignored great duties and problems, while it imitated too fully, not only
the example of the kings of this world in Europe but also of the rulers
in Japan. In the presence of soldier-like Buddhist priests, who had made
war their calling, it would have been better if the Christian
missionaries had avoided their bad example, and followed only in the
footsteps of the Prince of Peace; but they did not. On the contrary,
they brought with them the spirit of the Inquisition then in full blast
in Spain and Portugal, and the machinery with which they had been
familiar for the reclamation of native and Dutch "heretics." Xavier,
while at Goa, had even invoked the secular arm to set up the Inquisition
in India, and doubtless he and his followers would have put up this
infernal enginery in Japan if they could have done so. They had stamped
and crushed out "heresy" in their own country, by a system of hellish
tortures which in its horrible details is almost indescribable. The
rusty relics now in the museums of Europe, but once used in church
discipline, can be fully appreciated only by a physician or an
anatomist. In Japan, with the spirit of Alva and Philip II., these
believers in the righteousness of the Inquisition attacked violently the
character of native bonzes, and incited their converts to insult the
gods, destroy the Buddhist images, and burn or desecrate the old
shrines. They persuaded the daimi[=o]s, when these lords had become
Christians, to compel their subjects to embrace their religion on pain
of exile or banishment. Whole districts were ordered to become
Christian. The bonzes were exiled or killed, and fire and sword as well
as preaching, were employed as means of conversion. In ready imitation
of the Buddhists, fictitious miracles were frequently got up to utilize
the credulity of the superstitious in furthering the faith - all of which
is related not by hostile critics, but by admiring historians and by
sympathizing eye-witnesses.[27]

The most prominent feature of the Roman Catholicism of Japan, was its
political animus and complexion. In writings of this era, Japanese
historians treat of the Christian missionary movement less as something
religious, and more as that which influenced government and polities,
rather than society on its moral side. So also, the impartial historian
must consider that, on the whole, despite the individual instances of
holy lives and unselfish purposes, the work of the Portuguese and
Spanish friars and "fathers" was, in the main, an attempt to bring Japan
more or less directly within the power of the Pope or of those rulers
called Most Catholic Majesties, Christian Kings, etc., even as they had
already brought Mexico, South America, and large portions of India under
the same control. The words of Jesus before the Roman procurator had not
been apprehended: - "My kingdom is not of this world."


"The frog in the well knows not the great ocean"
- Sanskrit and Japanese Proverb.

"When the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch."
- Japanese Proverb.

"The little island of Déshima, well and prophetically signifying
Fore-Island, was Japan's window, through which she looked at the
whole Occident ... We are under obligation to Holland for the
arts of engineering, mining, pharmacy, astronomy, and medicine
... 'Rangaku' (i.e., Dutch learning) passed almost as a synonym
for medicine," [1615-1868]. - Inazo Nitobé.

"The great peace, of which we are so proud, was more like the
stillness of stagnant pools than the calm surface of a clear
lake." - Mitsukuri.

"The ancestral policy of self-contentment must be done away
with. If it was adopted by your forefathers, because it was wise
in their time, why not adopt a new policy if it in sure to prove
wise in your time." - Sakuma Shozan, wrote in 1841, assassinated

"And slowly floating onward go
Those Black Ships, wave-tossed to and fro."
- Japanese Ballad of the Black Ship, 1845.

"The next day was Sunday (July 10th), and, as usual, divine
service was held on board the ships, and, in accordance with
proper reverence for the day, no communication was held with the
Japanese authorities."
- Perry's Narrative.

"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
- Sung on U.S.S.S. Mississippi, in Yedo Bay, July 10, 1853.

"I refuse to see anyone on Sunday, I am resolved to set an
example of a proper observance of the Sabbath ... I will try to
make it what I believe it was intended to be - a day of
rest." - Townsend Harris's Diary, Sunday, August 31, 1856.

"I have called thee by thy name. I have surnamed thee, though
thou hast not known me. I am the LORD, and there is none else;
besides me there is no God." - Isaiah.

"I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been
slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they
held." - John.

"That they should seek God, If haply they might feel after him,
though he is not far from each one of us." - Paul.

"Other sheep have I which are not of this fold: them also I must
bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one
flock, one shepherd" - Jesus.


The Japanese Shut In.

Sincerely regretting that we cannot pass more favorable judgments upon
the Christianity of the seventeenth century in Japan, let us look into
the two centuries of silence, and see what was the story between the
paling of the Christian record in 1637, and the glowing of the
palimpsest in 1859, when the new era begins.

The policy of the Japanese rulers, after the supposed utter extirpation
of Christianity, was the double one of exclusion and inclusion. A
deliberate attempt, long persisted in and for centuries apparently
successful, was made to insulate Japan from the shock of change. The
purpose was to draw a whole nation and people away from the currents and
movements of humanity, and to stereotype national thought and custom.
This was carried out in two ways: first, by exclusion, and then by
inclusion. All foreign influences were shut off, or reduced to a
minimum. The whole western world, especially Christendom, was put under

Even the apparent exception made in favor of the Dutch was with the
motive of making isolation more complete, and of securing the perfect
safety which that isolation was expected to bring. For, having built,
not indeed with brick and mortar, but by means of edict and law, both
open and secret, a great wall of exclusion more powerful than that of
China's, it was necessary that there should be a port-hole, for both
sally and exit, and a slit for vigilant scrutiny of any attempt to force
seclusion or violate the frontier. Hence, the Hollanders were allowed to
have a small place of residence in front of a large city and at the head
of a land-locked harbor. There, the foreigners being isolated and under
strict guard, the government could have, as it were, a nerve which
touched the distant nations, and could also, as with a telescope, sweep
the horizon for signs of danger.

So, in 1640, the Hollanders were ordered to evacuate Hirado, and occupy
the little "outer island" called Déshima, in front of the city of
Nagasaki, and connected therewith by a bridge. Any ships entering this
hill-girdled harbor, it was believed, could be easily managed by the
military resources possessed by the government. Vessels were allowed
yearly to bring the news from abroad and exchange the products of Japan
for those of Europe. The English, who had in 1617 opened a trade and
conducted a factory for some years,[1] were unable to compete with the
Dutch, and about 1624, after having lost in the venture forty thousand
pounds sterling, withdrew entirely from the Japanese trade. The Dutch
were thus left without a rival from Christendom.

Japan ceased her former trade and communications with the Philippine
Islands, Annam, Siam, the Spice Islands and India,[2] and begun to
restrict trade and communication with Korea and China. The Koreans, who
were considered as vassals, or semi-vassals, came to Japan to present
their congratulations on the accession of each new Sh[=o]gun; and some
small trade was done at Fusan under the superintendence of the daimi[=o]
of Tsushima. Even this relation with Korea was rather one of
watchfulness. It sprang from the pride of a victor rather than from any
desire to maintain relations with the rest of the world. As for China,
the communication with her was astonishingly little, only a few junks
crossing yearly between Nankin and Nagasaki; so that, with the exception
of one slit in their tower of observation, the Japanese became well
isolated from the human family.

This system of exclusion was accompanied by an equally vigorous policy
of inclusiveness. It was deliberately determined to keep the people from
going abroad, either in their bodies or minds. All seaworthy ships were
destroyed. Under pain of imprisonment and death, all natives were
forbidden to go to a foreign country, except in the rare cases of urgent
government service. By settled precedents it was soon made to be
understood that those who were blown out to sea or carried away in
stress of weather, need not come back; if they did, they must return
only on Chinese and Korean vessels, and even then would be grudgingly
allowed to land. It was given out, both at home and to the world, that
no shipwrecked sailors or waifs would be welcomed when brought on
foreign vessels.

This inclusive policy directed against physical exportation, was still
more stringently carried out when applied to imports affecting the minds
of the Japanese. The "government deliberately attempted to establish a
society impervious to foreign ideas from without, and fostered within by
all sorts of artificial legislation. This isolation affected every
department of private and public life. Methods of education were cast in
a definite mould; even matters of dress and household architecture were
strictly regulated by the State, and industries were restricted or
forced into specified channels, thus retarding economic

Starving of the Mind.

In the science of keeping life within stunted limits and artificial
boundaries, the Japanese genius excels. It has been well said that "the
Japanese mind is great in little things and little in great things." To
cut the tap-root of a pine-shoot, and, by regulating the allowance of
earth and water, to raise a pine-tree which when fifty years old shall
be no higher than a silver dollar, has been the proud ambition of many
an artist in botany. In like manner, the Tokugawa Sh[=o]guns (1604-1868)
determined to so limit the supply of mental food, that the mind of Japan
should be of those correctly dwarfed proportions of puniness, so admired
by lovers of artificiality and unconscious caricature. Philosophy was
selected as a chief tool among the engines of oppression, and as the
main influence in stunting the intellect. All thought must be orthodox
according to the standards of Confucianism, as expounded by Chu Hi.
Anything like originality in poetry, learning or philosophy must be
hooted down. Art must follow Chinese, Buddhist and Japanese traditions.
Any violation of this order would mean ostracism. All learning must be
in the Chinese and Japanese languages - the former mis-pronounced and in
sound bearing as much resemblance to Pekingise speech as "Pennsylvania
Dutch" does to the language of Berlin. Everything like thinking and
study must be with a view of sustaining and maintaining the established
order of things. The tree of education, instead of being a lofty or
wide-spreading cryptomeria, must be the measured nursling of the teacup.
If that trio of emblems, so admired by the natives, the bamboo, pine and
plum, could produce glossy leaves, ever-green needles and fragrant
blooms within a space of four cubic inches, so the law, the literature
and the art of Japan must display their normal limit of fresh fragrance,
of youthful vigor and of venerable age, enduring for aye, within the
vessel of Japanese inclusion so carefully limited by the Yedo

Such a policy, reminds one of the Amherst agricultural experiment in
which bands of iron were strapped around a much-afflicted squash, in
order to test vital potency. It recalls the pretty little story of
Picciola, in which a tender plant must grow between the interstices of
the bricks in a prison yard. Besides the potent bonds of the only
orthodox Confucian philosophy which was allowed and the legally
recognized religions, there was gradually formed a marvellous system of
legislation, that turned the whole nation into a secret society in which
spies and hypocrites flourished like fungus on a dead log. Besides the
unwritten code of private law,[4] that is, the local and general customs
founded on immemorial usage, there was that peculiar legal system framed
by Iyéyas[)u], bequeathed as a legacy and for over two hundred years
practically the supreme law of the land.

What this law was, it was exceedingly difficult, if not utterly
impossible, for the aliens dwelling in the country at Nagasaki ever to
find out. Keenly intellectual, as many of the physicians,
superintendents and elect members of the Dutch trading company were,
they seem never to have been able to get hold of what has been called
"The Testament of Iyéyas[)u]."[5] This consisted of one hundred laws or
regulations, based on a home-spun sort of Confucianism, intended to be
orthodoxy "unbroken for ages eternal."

To a man of western mode of thinking, the most astonishing thing is that
this law was esoteric.[6] The people knew of it only by its irresistible
force, and by the constant pressure or the rare easing of its iron hand.
Those who executed the law were drilled in its routine from childhood,
and this routine became second nature. Only a few copies of the original
instrument were known, and these were kept with a secrecy which to the
people became a sacred mystery guarded by a long avenue of awe.

The Dutchmen at Déshima.

The Dutchmen who lived at Déshima for two centuries and a half, and the
foreigners who first landed at the treaty ports in 1859, on inquiring
about the methods of the Japanese Government, the laws and their
administration, found that everything was veiled behind a vague
embodiment of something which was called "the Law." What that law was,
by whom enacted, and under what sanctions enforced, no one could tell;
though all seemed to stand in awe of it as something of superhuman
efficiency. Its mysteriousness was only equalled by the abject
submission which it received.

Foreign diplomatists, on trying to deal with the seat and source of
authority, instead of seeing the real head of power, played, as it were,
a game of chess against a mysterious hand stretched out from behind a

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 24 of 31)