Christianity in Japan

To the student of human society, as well as to the friend of propaganda, few things seem more interesting than the struggle of Christianity with a nation whose long history, diversified civilization, and startling changes, the church does not comprehend to its own satisfaction. Japan and Christianity had not come in contact before the sixteenth century, when they met only to be separated within a hundred years. When they again came together in our own time, both Japan and Christianity had so immensely changed in the mean time, that they seemed perfect strangers to each other; and the former has since been so absorbed by its incessant activity, that they have hardly had enough time to know each other as fully as they should. Japan being the host and Christianity the guest, the latter has been obliged to make perhaps more blunders and larger waste of energy than the former before finding itself in a position to reflect and learn. The period of understanding and application now at last appears to have fairly begun. The present article aims merely to suggest how interesting must be a fuller account of this important social evolution.

The history of Christianity in Japan is divided into two distinct periods, separated by a long interval. The first period began with the coming of Francis Xavier and two other Jesuit missionaries in 1549, and ended with the rigorous enforcement from about 1640 of measures for excluding Japan almost completely from foreign trade and absolutely from the alien faith. After two centuries of closure, Japan’s door was again opened, in 1854, to the material and moral influences from abroad, an event, which has heralded an age of tremendous activity along all lines of her national life. These two periods of Japan’s church history present important points of contrast to each other. The first period, during which Catholicism was the only proselyting force, was marked by a comparative unity of the purpose and methods of the church; while, in the second, diversity and mutual independence have, for good or for ill, characterized not only the numerous orders and denominations, Greek, Roman, and Protestant, but also the races and nations that have sent missionaries of the same description. Their perfect unity of control and discipline enabled the Catholic teachers of the first period to command undisputed obedience of their followers, and, whenever possible, even to wield large temporal powers; as, for example, for several years till 1588, when they acted as political masters of the city of Nagasaki, and used fire and fagot to persecute Buddhists. They were animated by the traditional passion to rule, and had not learned the historic lesson of tolerance. Nothing could be more different from their attitude than that of the Christian workers of to-day, who as such are entirely out of political life, and are even accused by some of being too conciliatory to one another and to Buddhists and Shintoists to be sufficiently self-assertive and aggressive. The difference has been recognized in a manner no less distinct by the government in its religious policy: in the first period it began with perfect non-interference, but experience taught it to increase in severity, until the result was a thorough extermination of the Catholics. The second period saw the process reversed, namely, from the prohibition of “the evil cult” to an absolute freedom of religious belief. In our historic discussion, therefore, we should constantly bear in mind its two large factors, that is to say, the changing conditions and attitude of the church, and the progress of the religious policy of the government; and to these should be added an even more important element, the position in society which the church at the different periods has occupied.


The story of the first period has been so well told in English, in Mr. James Murdock’s History of Japan, and, more briefly, in Captain Brinkley’s Oriental Series: Japan and China, that it would be superfluous to summarize it here. It is enough to emphasize a few points of importance. Coming at the time when the Japanese nation had long been subject to violent changes of men and things during centuries of civil strifes, the Portuguese traders and missionaries were received with curiosity and open-handed freedom by the rough-and-ready warriorprinces. The Jesuit discipline, too, with its combination of sentimentalism and implicit obedience, seems to have so strongly appealed to the moral undertone of the feudal society as neither Buddhism nor Shintoism could have done. Political reasons further favoring its progress, the Catholic Church of this period grew much faster than the Protestantism of to-day. It was at this point, however, that the Jesuit expansion was marred by that intolerance and love of power above which men of the sixteenth century knew not how to rise. The advent of other orders from Manila made matters worse. The internal variance of the Catholics, and those social, political, and legal evils of their communities which are so familiar to the student of the Christian history of China, became so apparent in Japan that Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the feudal suzerain, sought in some measure to control the propaganda from about 1587. This, however, only served to intensify the well-known evils. These were also in constant danger of being magnified into political dimensions by the malcontents, eager to seize upon anything to undermine the power of the new lord Tokugawa Ieyasu, —the fear which was realized in 1614 and 1615 in connection with the battles of Osaka. For the sake of his own security and of the nation’s peace, therefore, Ieyasu had begun, from 1612, not only to control, but to prohibit propagation. Under these measures the Catholics now increased at a marvelous rate, numbering at one time not less than 600,000 scattered through the country, or six times as many as all the Christian brethren living in Japan of to-day. In 1608 a papal bull was issued, throwing Japan open to the proselytism of all the Catholic orders, and thus directly opposing Ieyasu’s will and ignoring his authority as suzerain. The Dutch and English visitors also whispered to him how serious a political danger from abroad might result from suffering the Roman Church to expand itself in Japan. Milder policy having thus failed to accomplish the desired end, and prohibition having only served to increase enormously the power of the Catholics, Ieyasu now determined not only to prohibit propagation, but to exterminate all the Catholics of the realm who would not recant. Sharp and cruel persecutions which defy description followed one another; and also the subtle method of taking, through the Buddhist churches, a compulsory religious census of all the subjects of Japan. The measures adopted were so exhaustive that in 1637 a large part of the remaining Christians of Kyushu were goaded into the great rebellion of Shimabara. Here the besieged Christians, perhaps 25,000 in number, maintained themselves for four months against an army nearly five times as large. When Shimabara at length fell, the Tokugawa shogun not only persecuted the Christians with increased rigor, but forbade trade with all Europeans but the Dutch, although it had, only twenty years before, been unmolested along the entire coast line of Japan, and had been tolerated even at the time of the rebellion. The chief reason for excluding European trading ships was the danger that they might bring missionaries and tracts. Investigation leaves little doubt that the political conduct of the Catholics was to a large extent responsible for the extension of the policy of seclusion from religion to trade. Henceforth, for more than two hundred years, the Dutch at the tiny islet of Deshima, the site of which may still be traced at Nagasaki, monopolized the small but highly lucrative trade, and served as the only connecting link between the sealed Japan and the West.

The foreigners who next came a-knocking at Japan’s closed doors, at the time when her conditions were so ripe for a new activity that merely a match was needed to kindle the all-consuming fire of nationalism, — these foreigners were no longer the half-mediæval Catholic Portuguese and Spaniards, but, for the most part, a new set of foreigners with new ideas and methods. A more opportune combination of favorable circumstances for the advent of New Japan could hardly be imagined. Feudalism had decayed in spirit, after having taught the people what to learn from it, and had then vanished as vapor before the light of the new civilization of the West, which shone in to animate the long-trained intellect and the sacred hope of growth of the new nation. It was a new Christianity that now entered, and it was a new Japan that it found here.


Impatient Protestantism had invaded Japan even before the fall of her feudal régime. The first treaties she made with the Powers, in 1858, recognized the right of belief of the foreign residents at the treaty ports. It is true that the propagation of the new faith was not as yet. legally permitted, and that the old sign-boards prohibiting the “wrong cult” (jashumon) of Christianity still stood by the wayside all over the land; but the first Protestant missionaries, namely, two Episcopalian and four Dutch Reformed, arrived from America so early as 1859, the year next after the conclusion of the treaties. The ardent effort, however, of these six apostles — who comprised names memorable in the history of the church of Japan, such as C. M. Williams (Episcopalian), and J. C. Hepburn, S. R. Brown, G. E. Verbeck, and D. B. Simmons (Reformed), — bore little fruit amid the great turmoil which convulsed the nation, until the feudal rule was finally superseded by the new Imperial government, in 1867-68. Before this event, the missionaries succeeded in converting, in 1864, only one Japanese, a teacher of English.

The new administrators found themselves confronted by the herculean task of restoring peace, reorganizing the state on an entirely novel basis, reconciling the foreign powers, and, what was the worst, of performing all these and other duties with an almost empty exchequer. Naturally, they were too busy with these primary questions to investigate the nature of Christianity and define their attitude toward it. Many an idea bequeathed from the feudal forefathers, including the conviction that Christianity was incompatible with the good sense and the loyalty of the citizen, still lingered among the people, and, in like manner, the government seemed at first to follow the antiChristian policy of its predecessors. The thirty-seven hundred Catholics about Nagasaki, who had, during the Tokugawa period, been veiling their faith under Buddhist guise,—a practice performed so subtly and for so many generations that many devotees had actually forgotten the original meaning of their services, — now came forth at the dawn of the new era, and were at once, in 1870, arrested and treated as inveterate felons. The government, however, had not yet framed its policy toward Protestantism, the difference of which from Catholicism it seemed to appreciate in some measure. The American missionaries, now twelve men and three women, labored, therefore, among an unfriendly nation and under no law’s sanction, —or, more correctly, against law. By 1872, after thirteen years’ work, less than twenty Japanese, a number nearly equal to that of the missionaries, had been baptized.

These years of adverse conditions and meagre success were, however, the apostolic age of Japanese Christianity, the pristine vigor and faith of which will ever gladden the memory of the church. The historic truth that a new church among a hostile nation attracts strong souls was nobly exemplified here by the few men joining the brotherhood. They were all young students, typical sons of the time, who were full of hope and ambition and were animated by a tremendous sense of responsibility to the future of the nation. They comprised such illustrious names as Oshikawa, Honda, Uemura, Okuno, Kozaki, Yokoi, Ebina, Miyakawa, Nitobe, and Uchimura, most of whom are still among the foremost in ministry, education, and politics, and whose names are inseparably associated with the history of the Japanese church. These men lived not in one place, but in south, central, and north Japan, and became in as many places powerful nuclei of small but strong Christian communities.

In 1872 the government awoke to the injustice of the restrictions and prohibition of religions, so that it rehabilitated Buddhism to the position of which it had so lately been deprived, and regarded it as on a parity with Shinto. The same spirit of justice was in a large measure responsible for the termination in this year of the prohibition of Christianity. Christianity had entered Japan from small openings and achieved but slight success, but its powerful position abroad and its possible progress in Japan were brought home to her administrators through the representations of foreign diplomats and the reports of the first Japanese embassy, under Iwakura, that went round the world. It seemed now as untenable to deny an equitable treatment to Christianity as it was to continue to favor Shinto at the expense of Buddhism. The former step was, however, an important advance upon the latter, inasmuch as it implied the end of any state religion. Shinto had been such since 1871; but from 1872, when Buddhism was accorded the same position, no religion as such has been identified with the state, while, on the other hand, the just policy begun in these years was, as has been suggested, carried to its logical consequence in the Constitution of 1889.

From this consideration we are led to consider who was most responsible for the important act of 1872. It has been said that the foreign representatives in Japan had persistently urged that the continued prohibition of the Western religion was barbaric. These remonstrances would, however, have carried but little weight, nor would they have been made so vigorously, but for the arrest of nearly four thousand Catholics at Nagasaki, and also for the presence in several places of a certain number of Protestant teachers and disciples. The latter fact must be considered an important background of the diplomacy of this period, while the former incident had called forth a unanimous protest of the envoys of the Catholic and Protestant Powers alike, and a loud voice of indignation in the foreign press. Tomomi Iwakura, who had been obdurate under diplomatic pressure at home, succumbed to the public opinion abroad during his embassy through Europe and America, and his telegraphic reports to the home government were perhaps more decisive than anything else in determining the latter’s religious policy. Thus began Japan’s march toward that absolute fairness and freedom which now characterizes her religious policy, and which is hardly excelled in any modern state. It is interesting to observe that the felicitous beginning of toleration made in 1872 had been occasioned by a Catholic persecution. Nor should the handful of Protestants be denied a due share in that unconscious influence which went far toward deciding the issue in that propitious year.

A far greater influence was, it should not be forgotten, the moral and material power of foreign nations, which might be turned against Japan, as it had been in China with frightful effects. The Japanese statesmen did not, as did their feudal forefathers, politically fear the Christians at home, but they had learned to be mindful of the mood of the socalled Christian Powers. Herein is evident the great psychological difference between the Japanese and their neighboring nation. History has again and again shown that circumstances had developed too little catholicity in the Chinese mind, while it is one of the predominant traits of the Japanese and has extricated the latter from difficulties each of which might have committed a Chinese nation to disastrous errors. The same fairness with which Japan adopted Chinese institutions in the seventh century, gave up the Korean dependency in 663, overthrew feudalism in 1868, and accepted the treaty of Portsmouth in 1905, manifested itself in 1872 in her new religious policy. If, in this year, the government did what the nation at large would have hesitated to do, it was because the former had, in this case as in others, a more intimate knowledge of the difficulties, and bore a greater responsibility, than the latter. What the government saw the nation also soon discovered, or else there would have been in Japan a Tientsin massacre and a Boxer uprising, as well as continually recurring religious troubles, disturbing the peace of the East, and endangering her own independence.


Japan’s repeal of her anti-Christian laws in 1872 may be said to mark at once the end of the period when her inchoate church was as small in size as great in spirit, and the beginning of the new period in which it made the most brilliant successes in numbers. To this latter result many circumstances contributed. Who can forget that this was an era of excessive Europeanization of Japan ? The powerful reaction now felt against the long seclusion in the past was intensified to an abnormal extent by the dazzling splendor of Western civilization. The thoughtful minority emulated achievements of the West from worthy motives and with deliberation, but the vast crowd hastened blindly to imitate things occidental, not excluding Christianity. The people were curious to see the owner of the talismanic white skin, and to listen to his sermons delivered in peculiar Japanese, even to the brogue and the coarse grammar to which they would persuade themselves to take a fancy. The Bible was bought in large numbers of copies, and the impure style of its version was widely reproduced in the prose writings of the day. Mission schools, ill-equipped with teachers and careless in the curricula as they were, proved a winning novelty and were thronged with pupils. The church which could show less than twenty converts in 1872, had in 1889 nearly 29,000, the Homan and the Greek Catholic churches having also gained the surprising numbers of 39,000 and 16,000, respectively. It was often hoped and predicted that Japan would be thoroughly Christianized before the end of the century. The tremendous growth was, however, built upon a foundation at once untrue and unsafe.

It is interesting to note that the same argument was preferred in the nineteenth century in favor of Christianity that was urged in the sixth by the advocates of Buddhism on its first entry into Japan. Then as now the gospel came from beyond the Western seas, and was identified by its professors with the civilization of the Occident. The teaching had been accepted, said they, by all the civilized nations of the West, — why should you alone stand aloof from it ? A similar contention was reëchoed in the nineteenth century, with various degrees of sobriety of judgment, from the most frivolous feeling that Christianity should be received as another ware of luxury and refinement emanating from the fascinating West, to the earnest appeal to the conscience of the nation to reform itself, not only externally, but also in spirit. Even the last idea, however, noble as it was, contained one of the most serious intellectual errors of the church. No student can concede, but the idea still obtains among well-meaning missionaries, that Christianity is the spirit of the entire body of Western civilization. The examples are too many to be cited to show that the so-called progress of the West in philosophy and art, in law and constitution, even in science and industry, as well as in commercial veracity, is ascribed to the influence of Christianity. A little reflection will make it clear, it is superfluous to say, that, while much of this progress is owing to religion, some of its important phases have either been independent of Christianity, or have even arisen as a protest of the mind against the enthralling church; while some others have developed from so diverse and still obscure sources, that it would be wide of the mark to attribute them all to Christianity. Perhaps a comparative study of the Christian and the non-Christian community will reveal more excellences of the former than it is conscious of; but they may not be explained, or even be found, along the line of the crude argument that has been set forth. What a multitude of intellectual sins this innocent bias conceals, and yet how few churchmen are free from it! It was therefore with almost astonishing persistency and clamor that the idea was proclaimed during the period under discussion. Coming at the very time of the mania for novelties, the force of the charming generalization seemed irresistible. The old order of society having been upset, it was urged, the new one should be based upon Christian teachings, whatever one may precisely mean by them. The claimants, who were many and increasing, for greater popular rights were also told that they should go to the fountain head of all the freedom and liberties of the West, Christianity. It was absurd, so it was said, to develop t lie natural sciences and mechanic arts and to negleet religion, for the latter had inspired the former into being. So long as the people were dreaming that European civilization was their ideal, nothing would be more welcome than what was asserted to be its motive force, and no one would be stronger and wiser than one who had acquired it. If there were still cases of family and social ostracism of converts, and of the ridicule of the press, and petty annoyances from the Buddhists, these trifles seemed only to arouse the pride of the professed or intended church-member, who esteemed himself a clearer thinker and nobler being than his fellow-men. It is easy to see that under these circumstances there inevitably appeared among the multitudes who thronged the churches, persons not of the same fibre as those who accepted the faith before 1872.


The year 1889 saw the promulgation of the Japanese Constitution, the twenty-eighth article of which reads: “Japanese subjects shall, within limits not prejudicial to peace and order and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects, enjoy freedom of religious belief.” This important clause reveals Japan’s religious policy in its full maturity, — a policy which, since its first departure in 1872 from earlier traditions, had progressed with unmistakable steps toward that complete freedom now clearly set forth in the fundamental law of the land. Those who would further study the history of the policy are referred to the Private Schools Law of 1899, and the Religions Act of the same year, the latter of which the Imperial Diet did not pass, but which was an extension of the principle of 1889. The principle implied, it is needless to say, is that the state should not identify itself with any one of the religions, and that the latter are, in the eye of the law, on the basis of equality with one another. It only remains now to see the promulgation of a law similar to the unpassed act of 1899, enabling the Christians to incorporate their churches and societies so as to place their properties under special protection of law.

The ground was cleared in 1889, so far as law was concerned, for a free competition of the religions. The arrangement was perhaps entirely pleasing neither to the Shintoist, who would regard Japan as the land of his gods, nor to the Buddhist, who could point to the ages past in which the church of Sakya swayed the nation. Nor were some Christians more satisfied, who would not rest until Japan should cease to be “pagan.” They were often heard to complain that the constitution had made Japan a confirmed pagan country, by its absurd dictum that the state should stand above all religions. Nevertheless, it may not be unfair to say, historically, that the government’s policy was even more largely due in 1889 than it was in 1872 to the unconscious influence of the Christian church in Japan. But for the latter the religious clause of the constitution, and all the subsequent laws and acts embodying the common principle, would have been superfluous. The Christians may well be proud of their triumph, if an achievement largely unconsciously gained by them and unsatisfying to some of them may be called a triumph.

Thus,in 1889, Christianity had not only gained a legal status, but had also secured legal equality with any other religion in the realm. It, moreover, seemed full of youthful vigor, and its growth irresistible. It was, however, suddenly confronted on every side by a tremendous reaction, — a reaction against Europeanization in general and against Christianity in particular. All the important arguments once urged by the church now recoiled on itself. If Christianity was the motive force that had inspired occidental civilization and differentiated it from the oriental, was it also responsible for the materialistic and grasping tendencies manifested by the Western Powers, and their subjects among themselves and in the East ? Had not a voice of reaction been already raised in Europe against the evils of individualism and popular freedom, to which Christianity was said to have given rise ? It was a time when the external and internal conditions of Japan had awakened in her an ardent spirit of patriotism and loyalty. Christianity was considered by the conservative as antagonistic to this spirit, and tending to enervate national life and invite foreign aggression. Seldom have superficial arguments been met by cruder rebuttals. Nor has want of thought and tact been mutually provoked and intensified with greater ease. If the bigotry of the opponents of Christianity went often to the verge of savagery, there were also Christians who refused to hoist colors on national holidays, and bow to the emperor’s portrait, and there were others who applauded such acts as heroic. Neither side had a nobler cause in its favor than the other. The popular opposition to the Christian church in this period could hardly be worthier than the latter’s popularity in the last period. Christianity as such perhaps deserved neither the one nor the other.

All these circumstances also tended to make an alien religion of Christianity. In spite of its oriental origin, it was conceived as occidental; and, universal as its teachings were reputed to be, they were so burdened with accessories that the believer was stigmatized as a slavish imitator of outlandish fashions. The Christian would now fain modify his old position so radically as to say that his religion was born in Asia, and that, in Europe and America, it was fighting valiantly with the evils of their civilization. Such an idea, however, was as yet ahead of the time, the general trend of thought being that Christianity was as much foreign to the time-honored culture of Japan as to the rising spirit of intense patriotism of her subjects. The pride of the old native civilization and the growth of patriotism drove many people to the study of the ancient lore of the nation, particularly Japanese and Chinese classic literature, and that multifarious religion, Buddhism. Christianity could hardly be domesticated in a retrospective nation.

The perils of reaction from the outside world were unfortunately aggravated by the internal discord among the Christians themselves. The rise of the scientific spirit in historic and theological studies in the West was loudly reëchoed by the more susceptible of Japanese Protestants. The idea of evolution as applied to human society and religion had a charm for the spirit which had triumphed over the traditions of the long past. One would not emancipate himself from the dogmas of the Tokugawa period in order to fall under the yoke of the Episcopalian or Puritan dogmas. The Unitarian and the Universalist, as well as the German Evangelist, found ready listeners in Japan, and were even surprised by the rise of thinkers more liberal than themselves. It was not long before this state of things provoked a spirited opposition of the conservative churchmen. One is appalled to read to-day the missionary letters of those days, and find the opprobrious epithets flung at their liberal friends by some of the conservative missionaries. The former were “agnostic" and “atheistic,” and their ideas were calculated to disturb the peace of the church and increase the number of renegades. A liberal religion, however true, could not, it was contended, be a living force among the heathen, for it chilled the zeal for propagandism; as if to say that a faith must be untrue in order to be proselyting. It was mainly this situation, intensified by the general progress in the West of scientific and industrial pursuits and decline in theology, that drove several important Japanese Christians from the church to other professions.

The troubled church made comparatively small numerical gains during this period, increasing from 28,977 members in 1889 to 42,454 in 1900. These remarks, however, do not entirely apply to the Roman and Greek Catholic churches, which were laboring under considerably different circumstances, and had quietly grown in the mean time from 39,298 to 54,002, and from 16,000 to 25,994, respectively. Let it be remembered that we are mainly concerned with the history of the Protestant church in Japan.

The period of reaction, from its very nature, could not last long. By the year 1900, both the sentimental expansion and the sentimental reaction had nearly spent their energy, and had already been succeeded by a new period of deliberation, silent progress, and increasingly cordial understanding of and by the nation at large. The following figures 1 obtained by the Home Department from the local authorities throughout the empire (excepting Formosa and Sakhalien) indicate the comparative numerical strength of the various churches at the close of 1903 and 1905: —

Dec. 31, 1903. Dec. 31, 1905.
Protestants 48,967 55,275
Roman Catholics 54,235 53,010
Greek Catholics 11,885 13,613
Total 115,087 121,898


It would be interesting to consider the effect upon Christianity in Japan of the great historic events that have occurred in the East since 1894, but let it suffice to point to some of the conditions prevalent at the present moment. One can hardly fail lo recognize the fact that the recent victory won by Japan over a so-called Christian and European nation, and the puerile encomiums showered upon her by Western writers, have not tended to produce in her an illusion that she had little more to learn than she has learned from Christianity and Western civilization. It would seem surprising that the old champions of reaction should not now rise to exclaim that the enervating influence of the Christian religion upon a nation has again been demonstrated in the case of Russia. If they did, however, their declamation would be universally derided, so much more has the nation understood its own strength, as well as the nature of Christianity, its claims, and its limitations. It would be difficult to find an intelligent person who suspects political designs even in the Russian missionary. On the side of the church, also, the great effort it made during the war to cheer the soldiers at the front, and comfort the bereaved families at home, has never appeared as an act of feigned patriotism, but has been recognized as a natural and sincere endeavor, and seems to have brought the church measurably nearer at least to some portion of the people.

How have these people come to be less satisfied than before with their moral condition? Is this feeling shared by the other classes of society ? If so, do they also look to the Church of Christ for the solution of their problems? Will the church be competent to give satisfaction to them ?

No one who has lived among the people, and felt the pulsation of their spiritual life, will fail to be struck with the gravity of these questions. Japan, it would seem, has just entered a critical stage of her moral evolution, the early effects of which are beginning to be reflected in the conduct of certain classes of the nation. Here the question is much broader than that of the Christian church; and it is not enough to say that, after the costly experience of nearly fifty years, Japan and Christianity have begun to understand each other, and that the understanding has bred sympathy among the middle classes. During these years Japan has completely transformed herself from a feudal into a constitutional state, from a secluded nation hidden among the Eastern seas into a leader of the Orient, and a first, power in the world’s council. The transformation has, however, been partly scientific and industrial, but, above all, political; for the nation has been too busily occupied with more urgent affairs to find leisure for a new social, spiritual, and artistic development. Thus the social changes on their moral side have hardly kept pace with the political. The old order, based on custom and on class distinctions, having been destroyed, the society has been thrown into a state of disordered and selfish license in which the conceit and the love of comfort of the individual reign supreme. Spiritual transformation, as may easily be inferred, has been even more delayed than the social. It is true that the old feudal ethics, bushido, has been tempered into modern patriotism and loyalty, so brilliantly exemplified during the late war by the entire nation. This invaluable moral treasure of Japan, however, is not designed to satisfy all the spiritual needs of man, and nowhere is the truth better seen than in the results of the moral instruction in the public schools under the rigid, uniform system of national education. While the systematic teaching in the lessons of patriotism and loyalty may indeed have largely contributed to the victory of the nation in the war, it has had little power to curb the growing tendency toward that unbridled sentimentalism and frank selfishness both of which are enthralling the youth, nor does it seem to have done anything to build up a new social order and sanction worthy of the name. The national education and the actual conditions of society have not, in a word, been of a nature to furnish the individual with a spiritual motive in time of peace. The external crisis having passed and peace being restored, the nation appears at last to have been compelled to feel, as yet blindly, but none the less deeply, that it is a miserable nation without a spiritual inspiration for its individual citizens, without a commanding moral sanction of its society, and without persons embodying its common ideals, and giving tone and standard to its conduct. It seems to exist in the midst of a moral chaos, in which each creature gropes alone on a cheerless, aimless journey.

It is this feeling of unspeakable loneliness that is in the air, and has touched the more susceptible persons. Observe how differently the different classes are affected by it. The poor, unlettered people in the city and in the country are, for the most part, still too deeply immersed in the old superstitions and mode of thought to realize what is passing above them. The highest, on the other hand, in aristocracy, in official rank, and in education, do not seem to have yet been smitten by that sense of desolation. The nobles still stand away from the newest moral activity, the wealthy are perhaps either too comfortable or too preoccupied with material cares, and the officials are too keenly interested in the ways of bureaucracy, while the educated are, on the whole, too selfish and conceited, to acknowledge that they are not less destitute spiritually than the lower classes, and are utterly unable to give moral tone and sanction to society as they should. Both the lowest and the highest layers of society still seem impervious to that spiritual longing that is already beginning to seize upon the middle classes and the students.

Turning to the middle classes, we again perceive among them phenomena as varied as their conditions of life. Some women, especially married ones, realize that they are bound to the traditional customs of the family, which appear as tyrannical in form as dead in spirit. Some merchants and farmers of moderate circumstances are listening to the teachings of the Christian Church with the modesty of one who would be respectable himself and rear his children rightly. School authorities welcome the Christian minister, for they are apprehensive lest the pupils under their charge might be spoiled by the immoral society and the trashy literature of the day, and are confident that the minister would not be so impolitic as to preach his theology before the immature youth instead of giving a wholesome moral exhortation.

It is not until we leave the middle classes and turn to the students that we discover persons most dangerously stricken by the moral famine. It is true, they have not yet advanced beyond the first stages of their starvation. Nor do they all realize what ails them, some of them being impelled hither and thither by momentary impulses. Those of the coarser grain give themselves up in bravado and sentimentalism to that false heroism which sees little reason to be ashamed of itself in this society of chaotic individualism. A cleverer set of young men takes to the doctrine of success-at-all-cost— of success justifying means and sacrificing principles. Students of finer sentiments seek satisfaction in a form of art and literature and a sort of love so sentimental and trite as to be almost pathetic to behold. There are, however, those of nobler instincts who consciously and violently call for truth through whatever channel it offers itself. No more eager listeners and sharper critics has the Christian minister of Japan met than these students, who hail the appearance of every notable book or sermon, and then cast it aside as soon as its contents are exhausted. It is owing to the presence of these radical spirits that the last two years have seen, for the first time since the revolution of 1868, the rise, followed by the quick oblivion, of half a dozen self-styled prophets. These have proclaimed no new doctrine, but they were acclaimed, while their inspiration lasted, for the warmth of their utterances. If they have shone and vanished like meteors, they have only reflected the sharp but unsteady light of those who have called them forth.

The very fact that the students are more affected by the moral unrest than any other class of society, suggests the important explanation that the spiritual crisis of the nation is at its dawn, and that the students have first been overtaken by it because they are tire most susceptible and least responsible class of persons. If this be true, one may reasonably expect that their unrest will become clearer and steadier, and will soon spread over their brethren in the remoter parts of the country; and, what is more, that it will irresistibly invade other classes of society. In what form and order this will take place is unknown, but who can say that he may not yet live to see a greater and more universal moral chaos in Japan than is to-day evident to those who have eyes to see ?


All these circumstances, it. is needless to say, must have a tremendous reaction upon Christianity, for the latter must demonstrate whether it is able to cope with the critical situation now opening before it, and its character will be largely influenced by its relation to the spiritual life of the nation. Here again the future is unknown to us. As to the church of the present day, its most loyal ministers will be the first to acknowledge that it is sadly ill-equipped for the momentous task. Just at the moment when it is beginning to understand the character of the nation, and its sincere purposes are at last finding response among its former enemies, — on the eve of its supreme mission, — the church finds that it has long been running behind the outside world both in men and in knowledge. Several of the older leaders have left the ministry, and those who enter it are none too many or too great. When young hungry souls come clamoring at its door, the church is obliged to give them a stone instead of bread, lifeless words instead of thrilling energy. If even the younger students are disappointed, one may well imagine the attitude of the more educated, to whom the church has little to show. They regard it with a mingled feeling of indifference and ridicule, and none are more given to this feeling than those scholars who have pursued advanced studies in Europe, or have otherwise an intimate knowdedge of the West. The church has hardly if ever touched them, simply because it cannot. They appreciate the historic importance of Christianity in the West, and the valuable services it has rendered Japan; but, were they urged to speak frankly, would perhaps class most of its teachings among human superstitions, and decline to coöperate with its ministers in spiritual matters. Nor is the church unaware of this state of things, and the consciousness saps its strength.

No more vital position does the missionary of the present day occupy, nor does he enjoy a higher esteem within the Christian Church, than the latter does in general society. It is true that in those denominations which are still financially dependent upon foreign mission boards, the latter’s emissaries exercise a rather extensive influence over the native Christians, compared with those of Congregationalism, which, as we shall see, now forms an independent Japanese church. Even the influence of the former, however, hardly bears comparison with that robust faith with which the earliest teachers and pupils bound themselves together into an inspiring brotherhood. It is well not to say too much on this point, and be widely misunderstood by those who have not seen the situation. The reasons for the waning of the missionaries’ influence must be many, one being that they do not count among themselves so many winning personalities and great intellectual minds as one might perhaps expect from their number. Their wholesome influence in practical moral life can never be overestimated,but the high average of their intellectual attainment — their training and insight in spiritual affairs— might advantageously be higher. Too high it can never be. Sermons of the ordinary missionary are not admired as they once were, and sometimes church members frankly ask their minister to bring them any visiting preacher but a missionary. Young men, whose expectations are probably inordinately high, often express their wonder that the missionary dares preach with so little fire and so coarse an intellect. These may refer to extreme cases, but it remains a fact that, while the church has been graced with the coming of several missionaries of extraordinary moral power, there have appeared few during the last forty years whose minds seemed subtle enough and trained enough to make them authorities on Japanese history and civilization. It is feared that neither the student of sociology, nor of literature, nor of philosophy, can find the works of the missionaries on Japan sufficiently accurate and impartial to be of scientific value. If we remember that the present is a time calling as much for men of spiritual insight as of moral force, we cannot but regret the want of great intellect among the missionaries. There is an abundant and increasing work reserved for them among the lower classes of society; but they must always stand outside the central activity of the moral life of the nation so long as the present conditions prevail.

One may perhaps aver that at no other time in history has Protestantism in Japan been more harmonious among its divisions. He may, as proofs of his remarks, point to the meetings of the Evangelical Union which took place on May 2-4, 1906, followed on May 7 and 8 by the second session of the religious association, composed not only of Christians, but also of Buddhists and Shintoists. While we appreciate the enthusiasm and the salutary influence of these gatherings, we surmise that the wisest of those who took part in them will admit that the proclaimed coöperation of the denominations or of the religions represented in the meetings was rather one of intent, — that it would be long before it might translate itself into active practice on vital questions of national morals. It is true that between the rival sects and religions one no longer sees that tension which once held them from one another. The faces have been brought nearer, but do the hearts beat together ? Nor does one perceive that, excepting only a few in the whole country, the individual worker is to-day more vigorous in action or more confident of his mission and strength than he was a year or two ago. One looks in vain for that overflowing energy and freedom and that coöperation, through which alone Christianity might cope with the spiritual crisis of the Japanese nation.

What ails the Christian workers ? What deters them from hearty coöperation, and chills their individual ardor? There is little doubt that the general coolness of the European and American public toward Christianity finds here a reflection. For one seldom meets foreign visitors, or Japanese students who have studied abroad, and who are not ministers, who do not tell him that the church in the West is continually in danger of being left behind the outside world, which, they think, it serves less, and which regards it less highly than at any time since the Reformation. Few indeed have any firm belief in the great latent power of the Christianity of to-day, and its still greater potential energy for the future.

Granting these facts, however, we venture to suggest another cause peculiar to Japan for the unsatisfactory condition of the church. We refer to the financial dependence of the denominational churches in Japan upon their respective foreign mission boards abroad. We deeply realize that this relation has made it possible for each church to achieve whatever success it has made. Nor do we forget that some churches, if they would at all exist, must maintain the same relation for some time longer than others. Making allowances for all these and other considerations, however, it would seem none the less true that the fundamental fact that the foreign mission board may be, and is, supported only through sectarian churches, has given rise to conditions seriously interfering with the sound progress of the Japanese church.

What makes the situation worse is, it would seem, that every one in the church is at least vaguely aware what the general silence and tranquillity signify. The relation between the missionaries, ministers, and church members of the same denomination may be likened to one that prevails among a community whose members understand and condone the delicate position of one another. It is thus that among them one perceives more courtesy than trust and love, and this single remark should suggest a volume concerning the subtle effects of the system upon the general situation of the church. If this condition is true within each denomination, it will not be difficult to see that inter-denominational relations are even cooler. Subsidized as they largely are with foreign money, the churches must unconsciously feel a lack both in self-respect and in the respect of one another. Neither individually nor together will they establish a respectable footing upon the soil of Japan, so long as they are largely maintained by foreign sectarians who do not know their spiritual conditions, but exercise a large, indefinite power over their opinions. When the conditions of society call for a united effort of the churches, the division of which carries little significance out of the land of its origin, they proclaim their identity of purpose with apparent enthusiasm, as they have already done more than once, but their hearts have not come as near each other as their faces. At least no vital work has come out of the loud declarations for union.

None are more alive to these conditions than the more thoughtful men within the church. It is with this intelligent understanding, gained after years of bitter experience, that some of the denominations have of late years been seriously considering means of financial independence. Already has Congregationalism realized, since January, 1906, its longfelt desire to maintain its Japanese church and mission work with Japanese money, and the example will shortly be followed at least by the united association of the Presbyterian and the Reformed churches. The movement will no doubt extend even farther during the coming decade over a few other larger Protestant churches. Of course, the independence will not be free from certain evils and disadvantages. It, however, seems safe to say that, at least so far as the larger churches are concerned, Japan with her increasing wealth ought to be able to support them, while her general knowledge and training will be no less able than that of the missionary to prevent a lapse into aberrations in theological thought.

The average intellect of the missionaries appears to have long since ceased to be the safe medium of Christian knowledge between Japan and the West, to which her students turn directly for unprejudiced information. Independence will probably remove the missionary even farther than to-day from the central spiritual activity of Japan, make his life perhaps more monotonous if not less occupied, and in general reduce his position from that of a master and mentor, which he has once held, to that of a councilor and co-worker. The field of his activity will, however, be immense and grow in extent, if he is independent of the mission board, and puts his heart and soul into an evangelical work among the lower middle and the lowest classes of society.

In the mean time, many new movements will naturally arise within the church as a result of its financial independence. For it is easy to imagine that, in the first place, the keen stimulus from the outside society, the force of which is so dully felt under the present system, will cause a fresh and continual readjustment of the doctrine, the method, and the talent of the church. Competition between rival thoughts and policies and between leaders will become much freer. Unexpected results might follow from the general toning and vitalizing process. In the second place the church may become sensible to the needlessness of maintaining the foreign denominations, with the genesis of which Japan has not been the least concerned. Old divisions might in part be obliterated, and new ones might arise from conditions peculiar to Japan. It would then become apparent that the futile attempts that have thus far been made between churches for union had been undertaken from the wrong end, for a financial independence alone would make a wholesome union feasible. These and other important changes, good and evil, will come into far more intimate relation than at present with the moving conditions of the outside world. For the spiritual unrest already brewing in Japanese society will perhaps spread over a large part of the nation, while the Christian movement in Korea and China will likewise call for a determined effort of the Japanese church. Then for the first, time since its entry into Japan, Protestantism will be of her society.

These anticipations are no empty dreams, for, on the one hand, the church’s own movement for independence has so unmistakably begun that, unless entirely unforeseen evils be caused by it, it will not cease until it shall have accomplished more definite results. On the other hand, the present church, fettered as it is with the old bonds, is not so dull as not to be growing uneasy under the increasing pressure from outside urging a freer and deeper thinking and more hearty coöperation. The old bigotry has so far disappeared, in spite of the remarkable absence of serious controversy in the church for several years, that it will very improbably be again voiced abroad. A large measure of independence will, then, be established in no distant future, and the church will in consequence become more articulate in thought and action, and will at last begin an evolution of its own worthy of the name.

  1. These figures, shown by the courtesy of the Chief of the Religious Bureau, Home Department, have been gathered from the information submitted by the various cities and prefectures, and may not coincide with the figures kept at the headquarters of the denominations. Nearly one half of the Greek Catholics are in Tokyo and the two northern prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate, while nearly three fourths of the Roman Catholics are in the island of Kyushu, especially about Nagasaki.