William Elliot Griffis.

The Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji online

. (page 25 of 31)
Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 25 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

curtain. Morally, the whole tendency of such a dual system of exclusion
and of inclusion was to make a nation of liars, foster confirmed habits
of deceit, and create a code of politeness vitiated by insincerity.

With such repression of the natural powers of humanity, it was but in
accordance with the nature of things that licentiousness should run
riot, that on the fringes of society there should be the outcast and the
pariah, and that the social waste of humanity by prostitution, by
murder, by criminal execution under a code that prescribed the death
penalty for hundreds of offences, should be enormous. It is natural also
that in such a state of society population[7] should be kept down within
necessary limits, not only by famine, by the restraints of feudalism, by
legalized murder in the form of vendetta, by a system of prostitution
that made and still makes Japan infamous, by child murder, by lack of
encouragement given to feeble or malformed children to live, and by
various devices known to those who were ingenious in keeping up so
artificial a state of society.

That there were many who tried to break through this wall, from both the
inside and the outside, and to force the frontiers of exclusion and
inclusion, is not to be wondered at. Externally, there were bold spirits
from Christendom who burned to know the secrets of the mysterious land.
Some even yearned to wear the ruby crown. The wonderful story of past
Christian triumphs deeply stirred the heart of more than one fiery
spirit, and so we find various attempts made by the clerical brethren of
southern Europe to enter the country. Bound by their promises, the Dutch
captains could not introduce these emissaries of a banned religion
within the borders; yet there are several notable instances of Roman
Catholic "religious"[8] getting themselves left by shipmasters on the
shores of Japan. The lion's den of reality was Yedo. Like the lion's den
of fable, the footprints all led one way, and where these led the bones
of the victims soon lay.

Besides these men with religious motives, the ships of the West came
with offers of trade and threats of invasion. These were English,
French, Russian and American, and the story of the frequent episodes has
been told by Hildreth, Aston,[9] Nitobé, and others. There is also a
considerable body of native literature which gives the inside view of
these efforts to force the seclusion of the hermit nation, and coax or
compel the Japanese to be more sociable and more human. All were in vain
until the peaceful armada, under the flag of thirty-one stars, led by
Matthew Calbraith Perry,[10] broke the long seclusion of this Thorn-rose
of the Pacific, and the unarmed diplomacy of Townsend Harris,[11]
brought Japan into the brotherhood of commercial and Christian nations.

Within the isolating walls and the barred gates the story of the seekers
after God is a thrilling one. The intellect of choice spirits, beating
like caged eagles the bars of their prisons, yearned for more light and
life. "Though an eagle be starving," says the Japanese proverb, "it will
not eat grain;" and so, while the mass of the people and even the
erudite, were content with ground food - even the chopped straw and husks
of materialistic Confucianism and decayed Buddhism - there were noble
souls who soared upward to exercise their God-given powers, and to seek
nourishment fitted for that human spirit which goeth upward and not
downward, and which, ever in restless discontent, seeks the Infinite.

Protests of Inquiring Spirits.

There is no stronger proof of the true humanity and the innate
god-likeness of the Japanese, of their worthiness to hold and their
inherent power to win a high place among the nations of the earth, than
this longing of a few elect ones for the best that earth could give and
Heaven bestow. We find men in travail of spirit, groping after God if
haply they might find Him, following the ways of the Spirit along lines
different, and in pathways remote, from those laid down by Confucius and
his materialistic commentators, or by Buddha and his parodists or
caricaturists. The story of the philosophers, who mutinied against the
iron clamps and governmentally nourished system of the Séido College
expounders, is yet to be fully told.[12] It behooves some Japanese
scholar to tell it.

How earnest truth-seeking Japanese protested and rebelled against the
economic fallacies, against the political despotism, against the
abominable usurpations, against the false strategies and against the
inherent immoralities of the Tokugawa system, has of late years been set
forth with tantalizing suggestiveness, but only in fragments, by the
native historians. Heartrending is the narrative of these men who
studied, who taught, who examined, who sifted the mountains of chaff in
the native literature and writings, who made long journeys on foot all
over the country, who furtively travelled in Korea and China, who
boarded Dutch and Russian vessels, who secretly read forbidden books,
who tried to improve their country and their people. These men saw that
their country was falling behind not only the nations of the West, but,
as it seemed to them, even the nations of the East. They felt that
radical changes were necessary in order to reform the awful poverty,
disease, licentiousness, national weakness, decay of bodily powers, and
the creeping paralysis of the Samurai intellect and spirit. How they
were ostracized, persecuted, put under ban, hounded by the spies, thrown
into prison; how they died of starvation or of disease; how they were
beheaded, crucified, or compelled to commit _hara-kiri_; how their books
were purged by the censors, or put under ban or destroyed,[13] and their
maps, writings and plates burned, has not yet been told. It is a story
that, when fully narrated, will make a volume of extraordinary interest.
It is a story which both Christian and human interests challenge some
native author to tell. During all this time, but especially during the
first half of the nineteenth century, there was one steady goal to which
the aspiring student ever kept his faith, and to which his feet tended.
There was one place of pilgrimage, toward which the sons of the morning
moved, and which, despite the spy and the informer and the vigilance of
governors, fed their spirits, and whence they carried the sacred fire,
or bore the seed whose harvest we now see. That goal of the pilgrim band
was Nagasaki, and the place where the light burned and the sacred flames
were kindled was Déshima. The men who helped to make true patriots,
daring thinkers, inquirers after truth, bringers in of a better time,
yes, and even Christians and preachers of the good news of God, were
these Dutchmen of Déshima.

A Handful of Salt in a Stagnant Mass.

The Nagasaki Hollanders were not immaculate saints, neither were they
sooty devils. They did not profess to be Christian missionaries. On the
other hand, they were men not devoid of conscience nor of sympathy with
aspiring and struggling men in a hermit nation, eager for light and
truth. The Dutchman during the time of hermit Japan, as we see him in
the literature of men who were hostile in faith and covetous rivals in
trade, is a repulsive figure. He seems to be a brutal wretch, seeking
only gain, and willing to sell conscience, humanity and his religion,
for pelf. In reality, he was an ordinary European, probably no better,
certainly no worse, than his age or the average man of his country or of
his continent. Further, among this average dozen of exiles in the
interest of commerce, science or culture, there were frequently
honorable men far above the average European, and shining examples of
Christianity and humanity. Even in his submission to the laws of the
country, the Dutchman did no more, no less, but exactly as the
daimi[=o]s,[14] who like himself were subject to the humiliations
imposed by the rulers in Yedo.

It was the Dutch, who, for two hundred years supplied the culture of
Europe to Japan, introduced Western science, furnished almost the only
intellectual stimulant, and were the sole teachers of medicine and
science.[15] They trained up hundreds of Japanese to be physicians who
practised rational medicine and surgery. They filled with needed courage
the hearts of men, who, secretly practising dissection of the bodies of
criminals, demonstrated the falsity of Chinese ideas of anatomy. It was
Dutch science which exploded and drove out of Japan that Chinese system
of medicine, by means of which so many millions have, during the long
ages, been slowly tortured to death.

The Déshima Dutchman was a kindly adviser, helper, guide and friend, the
one means of communication with the world, a handful of salt in the
stagnant mass. Long before the United States, or Commodore Perry, the
Hollanders advised the Yodo government in favor of international
intercourse. The Dutch language, nearest in structure and vocabulary to
the English, even richer in the descriptive energy of its terms, and
saturated withal with Christian truth, was studied by eager young men.
These speakers of an impersonal language which in psychological
development was scarcely above the grade of childhood, were exercised in
a tongue that stands second to none in Europe for purity, vigor,
personality and philosophical power. The Japanese students of Dutch held
a golden key which opened the treasures of modern thought and of the
world's literature. The minds of thinking Japanese were thus made
plastic for the reception of the ideas of Christianity. Best of all,
though forbidden by their contracts to import Bibles into Japan, the
Dutchmen, by means of works of reference, pointed more than one
inquiring spirit to the information by which the historic Christ became
known. The books which they imported, the information which they gave,
the stimulus which they imparted, were as seeds planted within
masonry-covered earth, that were to upheave and overthrow the fabric of
exclusion and inclusion reared by the Tokugawa Sh[=o]guns.

Time and space fail us to tell how eager spirits not only groped after
God, but sought the living Christ - though often this meant to them
imprisonment, suicide enforced by the law, or decapitation. Yet over all
Japan, long before the broad pennant of Perry was mirrored on the waters
of Yedo Bay, there were here and there masses of leavened opinion, spots
of kindled light, and fields upon which the tender green sprouts of new
ideas could be detected. To-day, as inquiry among the oldest of the
Christian leaders and scores of volumes of modern biography shows, the
most earnest and faithful among the preachers, teachers and soldiers in
the Christian army, were led into their new world of ideas through Dutch
culture. The fact is revealed in repeated instances, that, through
father, grandfather, uncle, or other relative - some pilgrim to the Dutch
at Nagasaki - came their first knowledge, their initial promptings, the
environment or atmosphere, which made them all sensitive and ready to
receive the Christian truth when it came in its full form from the
living missionary and the vital word of God. Some one has well said that
the languages of modern Europe are nothing more than Christianity
expressed with differing pronunciation and vocabulary. To him who will
receive it, the mastery of any one of the languages of Christendom, is,
in a large sense, a revelation of God in Christ Jesus.

Seekers after God.

Pathetic, even to the compulsion of tears, is the story of these seekers
after God. We, who to-day are surrounded by every motive and inducement
to Christian living and by every means and appliance for the practice of
the Christian life, may well consider for a moment the struggle of
earnest souls to find out God. Think of this one who finds a Latin Bible
cast up on the shore from some broken ship, and bearing it secretly in
his bosom to the Hollander, gains light as to the meaning of its
message. Think of the nobleman, Watanabé Oboru,[16] who, by means of the
Japanese interpreter of Dutch, Takano Choyéi, is thrilled with the story
of Jesus of Nazareth who helped and healed and spake as no other man
spake, teaching with an authority above that of the masters Confucius or
Buddha. Think of the daimi[=o] of Mito,[17] who, proud in lineage,
learned and scholarly, and surrounded by a host of educated men, is yet
unsatisfied with what the wise of his own country could give him, and
gathers around him the relics unearthed from the old persecutions. From
a picture of the Virgin, a fragment of a litany, or it may be a part of
a breviary, he tries to make out what Christianity is.

Think of Yokoi Héishiro,[18] learned in Confucius and his commentators,
who seeks better light, sends to China for a Chinese translation of the
New Testament, and in his lectures on the Confucian ethics, to the
delight and yet to the surprise of his hearers who hear grander truth
than they are able to find in text or commentary, really preaches
Christ, and prophesies that the time will come when the walls of
isolation being levelled, the brightest intellects of Japan will welcome
this same Jesus and His doctrine. Think of him again, when unable to
purify the Augean stables of Yedo's moral corruption, because the time
was at hand for other cleansing agencies, he retires to his home,
content awhile with his books and flowers. Again, see him summoned to
the capital, to sit at Ki[=o]to - like aged Franklin among the young
statesmen of the Constitution in Philadelphia - with the Mikado's
youthful advisers in the new government of 1868. Think of him pleading
for the elevation of the pariah Eta, accursed and outcast through
Buddhism, to humanity and citizenship. Then hear him urge eloquently the
right of personal belief, and argue for toleration under the law, of
opinions, which the Japanese then stigmatized as "evil" and devilish,
but which we, and many of them now, call sound and Christian. Finally,
behold him at night in the public streets, assaulted by assassins, and
given quick death by their bullet and blades. See his gray head lying
severed from his body and in its own gore, the wretched murderers
thinking they have stayed the advancing tide of Christianity; but at
home there dwells a little son destined in God's providence to become an
earnest Christian and one of the brilliant leaders of the native
Christianity of Japan in our day.

The Buddhist Inquisitors.

During the nation's period of Thorn-rose-like seclusion, the three
religions recognized by the law were Buddhism, Shint[=o] and
Confucianism. Christianity was the outlawed sect. All over the country,
on the high-roads, at the bridges, and in the villages, towns and
cities, the fundamental laws of the country were written on wooden
tablets called kosats[)u]. These, framed and roofed for protection from
the weather, but easily before the eyes of every man, woman and child,
and written in a style and language understood of all, denounced the
Christian religion as an accursed "sect," and offered gold to the spy
and informer;[19] while once a year every Samurai was required to swear
on the true faith of a gentleman that he had nothing to do with
Christianity. From the seventeenth century, the country having been
divided into parishes, the inquisition was under the charge of the
Buddhist priests who penetrated into the house and family and guarded
the graveyards, so that neither earth nor fire should embrace the
carcass of a Christian, nor his dust or ashes defile the ancestral
graveyards. Twice - in 1686 and in 1711 - were the rewards increased and
the Buddhist bloodhounds of Japan's Inquisition set on fresh trails. On
one occasion, at Osaka, in 1839,[20] a rebellion broke out which was
believed, though without evidence, to have been instigated in some way
by men with Christian ideas, and was certainly led by Oshio, the bitter
opponent of Buddhism, of Tokugawa, and of the prevalent Confucianism.
Possibly, the uprising was aided by refugees from Korea. Those
implicated were, after speedy trial, crucified or beheaded. In the
southern part of the country the ceremony of Ebumi or trampling on the
cross,[21] was long performed. Thousands of people were made to pass
through a wicket, beneath which and on the ground lay a copper plate
engraved with the image of the Christ and the cross. In this way it was
hoped to utterly eradicate the very memory of Christianity, which, to
the common people, had become the synonym for sorcery.

But besides the seeking after God by earnest souls and the protest of
philosophers, there was, amid the prevailing immorality and the
agnosticism and scepticism bred by decayed Buddhism and the
materialistic philosophy based on Confucius, some earnest struggles for
the purification of morals and the spiritual improvement of the people.

The Shingaku Movement.

One of the most remarkable of the movements to this end was that of the
Shingaku or New Learning. A class of practical moralists, to offset the
prevailing tendency of the age to much speculation and because Buddhism
did so little for the people, tried to make the doctrines of Confucius a
living force among the great mass of people. This movement, though
Confucian in its chief tone and color, was eclectic and intended to
combine all that was best in the Chinese system with what could be
utilized from Shint[=o] and Buddhism. With the preaching was combined a
good deal of active benevolence. Especially in the time of famine, was
care for humanity shown. The effect upon the people was noticeable,
followers multiplied rapidly, and it is said that even the government in
many instances made them, the Shingaku preachers, the distributors of
rice and alms for the needy. Some of the preachers became famous and
counted among their followers many men of influence. The literary side
of the movement[22] has been brought to the attention of English readers
through Mr. Mitford's translation of three sermons from the volume
entitled Shingaku D[=o]wa. Other discourses have been from time to time
rendered into English, those by Shibata, entitled The Sermons of the
Dove-like Venerable Master, being especially famous.

This movement, interesting as it was, came to an end when the country
began to be convulsed by the approaching entrance of foreigners, through
the Perry treaty; but it serves to show, what we believe to be the
truth, that the moral rottenness as well as the physical decay of the
Japanese people reached their acme just previous to the apparition of
the American fleet in 1853.

The story of nineteenth century Reformed Christianity in Japan does not
begin with Perry, or with Harris, or with the arrival of Christian
missionaries in 1859; for it has a subterranean and interior history, as
we have hinted; while that of the Roman form and order is a story of
unbroken continuity, though the life of the tunnel is now that of the
sunny road. The parable of the leaven is first illustrated and then that
of the mustard-seed. Before Christianity was phenomenal, it was potent.
Let us now look from the interior to the outside.

On Perry's flag-ship, the Mississippi, the Bible lay open, a sermon was
preached, and the hymn "Before Jehovah's Awful Throne" was sung, waking
the echoes of the Japan hills. The Christian day of rest was honored on
this American squadron. In the treaty signed in 1854, though it was
made, indeed, with use of the name of God and terms of Christian
chronology, there was nothing upon which to base, either by right or
privilege, the residence of missionaries in the country. Townsend
Harris, the American Consul-General, who hoisted his flag and began his
hermit life at Shimoda, in September, 1855, had as his only companion a
Dutch secretary, Mr. Heusken, who was later, in Yedo, to be assassinated
by ronins.

Without ship or soldier, overcoming craft and guile, and winning his way
by simple honesty and perseverance, Mr. Harris obtained audience[23] of
"the Tycoon" in Yedo, and later from the Sh[=o]gun's daring minister Ii,
the signature to a treaty which guaranteed to Americans the rights of
residence, trade and commerce. Thus Americans were enabled to land as
citizens, and pursue their avocation as religious teachers. As the
government of the United States of America knows nothing of the religion
of American citizens abroad, it protects all missionaries who are
law-abiding citizens, without regard to creed.[24]

Japan Once More Missionary Soil.

The first missionaries were on the ground as soon as the ports were
open. Though surrounded by spies and always in danger of assassination
and incendiarism, they began their work of mastering the language. To do
this without trained teachers or apparatus of dictionary and grammar,
was then an appalling task. The medical missionary began healing the
swarms of human sufferers, syphilitic, consumptive, and those scourged
by small-pox, cholera and hereditary and acute diseases of all sorts.
The patience, kindness and persistency of these Christian men literally
turned the edge of the sword, disarmed the assassin, made the spies'
occupation useless, shamed away the suspicious, and conquered the nearly
invincible prejudices of the government. Despite the awful under-tow in
the immorality of the sailor, the adventurer and the gain-greedy
foreigner, the tide of Christianity began steadily to rise.
Notwithstanding the outbursts of the flames of persecution, the torture
and imprisonment of Christian captives and exiles, and the slow worrying
to death of the missionary's native teachers, inquirers came and
converts were made. In 1868, after revolution and restoration, the old
order changed, and duarchy and feudalism passed away. Quick to seize the
opportunity, Dr. J.C. Hepburn, healer of bodies and souls of men,
presented a Bible to the Emperor, and the gift was accepted.

No sooner had the new government been established in safety, and the
name of Yedo, the city of the Baydoor, been changed into that of
T[=o]ki[=o], the Eastern Capital, than an embassy[25] of seventy persons
started on its course round the world. At its head were three cabinet
ministers of the new government and the court noble, Iwakura, of
immemorial lineage, in whose veins ran the blood of the men called gods.
Across the Pacific to the United States they went, having their initial
audience of the President of the Republic that knows no state church,
and whose Christianity had compelled both the return of the shipwrecked
Japanese and the freedom of the slave.

This embassy had been suggested and its course planned by a Christian
missionary, who found that of the seventy persons, one-half had been his

The Imperial Embassy Round the World.

The purpose of these envoys was, first of all, to ask of the nations of
Christendom equal rights, to get removed the odious extra-territoriality
clause in the treaties, to have the right to govern aliens on their
soil, and to regulate their own tariff. Secondarily, its members
went to study the secrets of power and the resources of civilization in
the West, to initiate the liberal education of their women by leaving in
American schools a little company of maidens, to enlarge the system of
education for their own country, and to send abroad with approval others
of their young men who, for a decade past had, in spite of every ban and
obstacle, been furtively leaving the country for study beyond the seas.

In the lands of Christendom, the eyes of ambassadors, ministers,
secretaries and students were opened. They saw themselves as others saw
them. They compared their own land and nation, mediaeval in spirit and
backward in resources, and their people untrained as children, with the
modern power, the restless ambition, the stern purpose, the intense life
of the western nations, with their mighty fleets and armaments, their
inventions and machinery, their economic and social theories and forces,
their provision for the poor, the sick, and the aged, the peerless
family life in the Christian home. They found, further yet, free
churches divorced from politics and independent of the state; that the
leading force of the world was Christianity, that persecution was
barbarous, and that toleration was the law of the future, and largely
the condition of the present. It took but a few whispers over the
telegraphic wire, and the anti-Christian edicts disappeared from public
view like snowflakes melting on the river. The right arm of persecution
was broken.

The story of the Book of Acts of the modern apostles in Japan is told,
first in the teaching of inquirers, preaching to handfuls, the gathering

Online LibraryWilliam Elliot GriffisThe Religions of Japan From the Dawn of History to the Era of Méiji → online text (page 25 of 31)