When Was Christianity Legalized in Japan

In 1640, four Portuguese ambassadors who had gone from Macau to Nagasaki were asked to renounce their faith, and when they refused, they were executed without further trial. Thirteen of his disciples were sent back to Macau with this message: “While the sun warms the earth, let no Christian be bold enough to invade Japan. Let this be known to all. Although it is the King of Spain himself, or the God of the Christians, or Shaka himself [Buddha], whoever disobeys this prohibition will pay for it with his head. [10] The life of a Japanese farmer was usually filled with much suffering. It was not uncommon for a lord to treat her badly. But Matsukura Shigemasa was exceptionally cruel. He taxed everything, even births and deaths, and did not kindly take those who could not pay. Being thrown into a prison filled with water was perhaps the best one could hope for. His most notorious punishment was called the raincoat dance (mino odori), so called because the victim, wearing a straw raincoat, was sprayed with oil and set on fire, making them dance around. Sometimes family members of those who did not pay were also taken hostage or punished. When one of Shigemasa`s men attacked a farmer`s pregnant wife in 1637, people finally panicked. The rebels were able to hold out for a surprisingly long time.

During the winter months, however, hunger wreaked havoc and defenses were breached. The victors spent three days massacring the rebels. An estimated 37,000 people were killed, including Amakusa Shiro, and as John Dougill points out, “it is uncomfortable to play the numbers game when it comes to the dead, but the death toll in Shimabara is almost identical to the 39,000 who died in the Nagasaki atomic bomb.” 10,000 heads were placed around the castle and 3,300 were sent to Nagasaki to receive the same treatment: a clear warning to people. All these circumstances, it. Needless to say, he must have a formidable reaction to Christianity, which must show whether he is capable of dealing with the critical situation now opening up before him, and his character will be largely influenced by his relationship to the spiritual life of the nation. Here, too, the future is unknown to us. As for the Church today, its most faithful ministers will be the first to recognize that it is unfortunately ill-equipped for this important task. As she begins to understand the character of the nation and her sincere intentions finally resonate with her former enemies, on the eve of her supreme mission, the Church realizes that she has long pursued the outside world, both in man and in knowledge.

Some of the older leaders have left the service, and those entering are neither too numerous nor too tall. When hungry young souls come to cry out at their door, the Church is forced to give them a stone instead of bread, lifeless words instead of exciting energy. Even if the youngest are disappointed, one can well imagine the attitude of the most educated, to whom the Church has little to show. They look at it with a mixed sense of indifference and ridicule, and no one loves this feeling more than scholars who have conducted advanced studies in Europe or who have an intimate knowledge of the West. The Church has hardly touched them, if at all, simply because they cannot. They appreciate the historical importance of Christianity in the West and the valuable services it has rendered to Japan; But if they are in a hurry to speak openly, they might attribute most of their teachings to human superstition and refuse to cooperate with their preachers in spiritual matters. Even the Church is not aware of this state of affairs, and conscience consumes its powers. The Shimazu family, who ruled Satsuma, also controlled Tanegashima, the island where the first Europeans landed. The Shimazu were impressed by European firearms and quickly replicated them. When Xavier arrived, they gave him a respectful welcome, curious to know what he could have brought.

They gave him permission to speak about their subjects, and through translators they began to preach. Xavier and his Spanish colleagues began learning Japanese and soon attempted occasional sermons in Japanese, transcribed in the Latin alphabet for them. For the most part, Xavier and the European missionaries who followed were very impressed with the Japanese. The Jesuits, for their part, were uncompromising in matters of faith, but also tried to adapt to local customs. They restricted their meat consumption to better integrate into Japanese society. They could not be persuaded to bathe daily, as the Japanese did, but compromised by doing so once a week (or every two weeks in winter). Although the Jesuits found many admirable qualities among the locals, there were generally hostile relations between them and the Buddhist clergy. Although there have been some interfaith friendships, Jesuits have often accused Buddhist monks of being lazy and sodomite.

Buddhists thought Europeans were spreading lies. Christianity was introduced to Japan by Catholic Jesuit missionaries who arrived in Kagoshima in 1549 under the leadership of Francis Xavier. By 1579, six regional warlords and about 100,000 of their subjects had converted to Christianity. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, Franciscan missionaries came to Kyoto. The number of Christians had reached about 300,000 when the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity in 1638 and expelled all foreigners. Many renounced their faith and others went into hiding. After Japan opened its doors to the West in 1853, many Christian clergy from Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches were sent to Japan. When religious freedom was restored after the Meiji Restoration in 1871, about 30,000 underground Christians enlisted. Christian missionaries in Japan did not attract large numbers of converts, but influenced education and the labor movement as Japan modernized its economy. During the Warring States period, Christianity was widespread throughout the country.

Beginning in 1614, when the expulsion of Christian daimyo began, the number of Japanese Christians is estimated at between 200,000 and 400,000, representing two to three percent of the population. Thus, by 1889, Christianity had not only acquired legal status, but had also secured legal equality with any other religion in the empire.

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