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The Spread of Christianity to Japan

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Christianity In Japan

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Christianity in Japan

Japan has been a home for Shinto and Buddhist religions for centuries. The Christian missionaries during the 16th, 19th and 20th centuries worked hard to evangelize the Japanese nation but could not get desired success. There efforts in past failed partly due to sanctions imposed by the local rulers. The Jesuits missionaries traveled with Spanish and Portuguese traders to many areas of America and Asia-Pacific and established their churches and religious missions. They were funded, sponsored and trained by their respective governments in order to spread Christianity. At several places they preached the Christian faith by force but the aboriginal population did not accept it wholeheartedly. Initially the Jesuits targeted the elite class of the country and a large number was converted. The rulers also forced their subject to embrace the same faith. About 300,000 Japanese were converted in the first phase. Later on, Christianity was prohibited as the rulers started seeing them as a threat to their authority. Following a change of regime, the ban was lifted and missionaries were again allowed to enter Japan. Like many Native American tribes, the Japanese also resisted the new religion. As a result, presently Christians form only 1% of the total population in Japan. This paper is focused on how the Christian religion was introduced in Japan, the evolution of evangelism, establishment of churches, the restrictions and hurdles faced by the missionaries and priest of the new religion and the response of Japanese nation towards an alien faith. All these queries are answered in detail given as follows.

Christianity in Japan spread in various phases. Like many other parts of world, it was brought by religious missionaries and the European traders and invaders. It is almost in middle of the 16th century that the Portuguese traders arrived on the "land of rising sun". The traders, who landed at Kyushu, brought along gunpowder that was not previously known to the Japanese. The local barons cordially responded to these traders mainly because of the weapons they possessed. The traders were also accompanied by Christian missionaries who were allowed to conduct their religious preaching by the local barons. A large number of Japanese were converted by these missionaries.

The formal conversion to Christianity began when Francis Xavier, the Spanish born Jesuit missionary came to Japan in 1549. He was among pioneers of the Society for Jesus or commonly called Jesuits. As a missionary, Xavier went to Asia and carried out his missionary activities in India and Malacca. In Malacca he met a Japanese rebel, Anjiro who urged him to visit Japan. Xavier went to Japan with two other missionaries and started his mission. He confronted some problems because of the language barrier. The Kodansha's Encyclopedia of Japan describes Xavier's arrival in Japan as, "In 1547 he met in Malacca a Japanese fugitive named Anjiro, whose glowing account of his naive country fired Xavier with enthusiasm to evangelize Japan. Xavier reached Kagoshima with two Jesuit companions on 15 August 1549, and with Anjiro as his less than adequate interpreter, he preached Christianity and compiled a simple catechism, with the result that about 100 people accepted baptism. A year after his arrival Xavier visited Hirado and Yamaguchi, but wishing to obtain permission to preach throughout Japan, he made his way to Kyoto in an unsuccessful bid to meet Emperor Gonara. He left Japan for India at the end of 1551".

The activities of missionaries were generally supported by the local landlords and rulers who wanted to get monetary benefits from the foreigners. The main centers where the missionaries were settled include Kyushu, Nagasaki and Honshu. The religion of Jesus was initially taught to ordinary masses however, by 1563 Omura Sumitada, a daimyo (regional military lord) was converted to the new faith. It was followed by the conversion of six more daimyo in 1579. The Kodansha's Encyclopedia of Japan however, tells that many of those converted to the Christ's faith were forced by their Christian masters. "By that time the number of Christian was estimated at 100,000 but this figure includes those converts who embraced the faith of the Lord at the behest of their Christian Lords".

After Xavier, the Jesuit missionary Luis Frois came to Japan in 1563, who later on wrote a book about his experiences in Japan. The treatise named Historia de Japam contains information about the activities of Jesuit missionaries in Japan.

The Christian missionaries came from Europe, America and Russia and started social and educational activities and introduced their cultural trends in Japan. They also established churches in various part of the country. Father Vilela constructed the first church at Nagasaki in 1569. The site initially meant to build a pagoda, was given to him by a Christian lord of the area. Father Vilela converted about 1500 of Japanese by 1571.

The year 1579 is marked by the arrival of Jesuit supervisor for Asia, Alessandro Valignano in Japan. Valignano took with him four local Japanese boys who established an embassy in Rome to represent the Christian Daimyo of Kyushu. By that time, Christianity was recognized by the high ranking military and other officials of the country.

Initially the military lords were helpful towards the missionaries mainly driven by their own interests, but with passage of time they noticed the increasing influence of missionaries. The situation was alarming for them and ultimately made them rethink about their relation with the Jesuits. It was therefore in 1564 that the Christian missionaries were ousted from Kyoto by Emperor Ogimachi but were allowed to come back in 1569 by Oda Nobunaga. Nosco writes that Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587 again ordered the missionaries to leave Japan but the orders were not materialized until the Expulsion Edict of 1614 by Tokugawa Ieyasu was implemented. Ieyasu and his successors did not want the aliens to control the political and economic order of their country and also wanted to avoid any internal political and religious rivalry. In 1638, another edict was issued by the Shogun (title for Japanese rulers) that absolutely restricted the entry of foreign traders in the country except for a limited relaxation provided to Chinese and Dutch traders. This edict also banned the practice of Christianity and everyone was directed to register in the Buddhist temples. David Reid writes that "danka seido" was established by the government in 1638 and "every Japanese household to register with and

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