Christianity in Japan
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Christianity in Japan is among the nation's minority religions in terms of individuals who state an explicit affiliation or faith. Between less than 1 percent and 1.5% of the population claims Christian belief or affiliation. However, Christianity has played a crucial role in the shaping of Japanese identity and the relationship between religion and the state for more than four centuries. Most large Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodox Christianity, are represented in Japan today. The majority of Japanese people are of the Shinto or Buddhist faith. The majority of Japanese couples, typically 60–70%, are wed in Christian ceremonies. This makes Christian weddings the most influential aspect of Christianity in contemporary Japan.
The Japanese word for Christianity (キリスト教, Kirisuto-kyō) is a compound of kirisuto (キリスト) the Japanese adaptation of the Portuguese word for Christ, Cristo, and the Sino-Japanese word for doctrine (敎, kyō, a teaching or precept, from Middle Chinese kæ̀w 敎), as in Bukkyō (仏教, Japanese for Buddhism).
Japan remains one of the most secular nations in the world according to the World Values Survey. While there may be up to 3 million Japanese Christians, Christianity in Japan is spread among many denominational affiliations. 70 percent of Japanese churches have an average attendance of less than 50, though membership is often almost double this figure.
The celebration of selected Christian holidays has gained popularity in Japan since the Second World War – primarily as commercial events, but with also an emphasis on sharing time with loved ones, either significant others or close family.
Except in Japan's minority Christian communities, Easter is not typically marked by any special form of celebration.
Christmas in Japan is celebrated on a much larger scale as a commercial and secular festival, but again is not an official public holiday. Christmas lights, Santa Claus, parties, gift exchanges, and eating Western-inspired Christmas foods, especially Kentucky Fried Chicken and strawberry shortcake, are all familiar features of this event. Many Christians and leftists have criticized this as a commercialization of the holiday, being contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. In Japan rather than being a family or religious occasion, Christmas is seen as a time to spend with friends or a significant other. Christmas Eve is celebrated as a couple's holiday on which romantic gifts are exchanged.
St. Valentine's Day in Japan is also celebrated, but the normal Western cultural traditions are often reversed – women give men a gift of chocolate, and on White Day, one month later, the favor is returned. Gifts are not exclusive to romantic relationships; women exchange gifts most frequently between one another and will occasionally give male co-workers chocolate, although this latter exchange is often referred to as an obligation gift. It is not as common for couples to go out on dates together; that element seems to be reflected in Christmas Eve instead.
Christian weddings have become prominent as an alternative (or addition) to traditional Shinto ceremonies. This is partially due to the successful missionary efforts of Japanese Christian churches and commercial endeavors. Architecturally resembling churches, wedding chapels have sprung up across Japan to meet the needs of Japanese who do not join Christian churches but still desire the ceremony.
Catholicism in Japan operates in communion with the worldwide Roman Catholic Church under the authority of the Pope in Rome. In 2005, there were approximately 509,000 Catholics in 16 dioceses in Japan. The patron saints of Japan are Francis Xavier and Peter Baptist.
When Francis Xavier arrived in Japan in 1549 as the first Catholic missionary to the archipelago, Catholicism was Japan's first contact with organized Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church remained the only major source of Christianization in Japan until the fall of the shogunate in 1867 and the Meiji restoration of 1868. The Society of Jesus started the initial missions, joined later on by the less cautious Franciscan order. Twenty Catholic missionaries operated in Japan by 1570. Nagasaki became the center of Japanese Catholicism, and maintained close cultural and religious ties to its Portuguese origins. These ties were severed once Christianity was outlawed in the early-17th century; at this point, Catholicism went underground, its rites preserved by the Kakure Kirishitan, or "hidden Christians", who continued practicing their faith in secret private devotion.
The samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga led a diplomatic mission, accompanied by over one hundred Japanese Christians and twenty-two samurai, to see Pope Paul V. Hasekura arrived in Acapulco, Mexico (then New Spain) in 1614; and would then travel to Spain. After meeting with King Philip III, Hasekura was baptized as a Roman Catholic under the name Felipe Francisco de Fachicura. After traveling to France and Rome, Hasekura returned to Japan in 1620 and was forced to renounce his adopted religion after Christianity was banned.
A multitude of Japanese Catholics were brutally tortured and killed for their faith, thus becoming martyrs. Many of these martyrs have been canonized, and their liturgical memorial is celebrated each year on February 6 in honor of their fidelity to Christ and his Church unto death.
In 1981 Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Japan, during which he met with Japanese people, the clergy, and Catholic lay-people, held Holy Mass in the Korakuen Stadium (Tokyo), and visited the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, the Hill of Martyrs in Nagasaki, town of the Immaculate founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe in Nagasaki, and other places.
James Curtis Hepburn, M.D., LL.D. (March 13, 1815 – June 11, 1911) was the first Presbyterian missionary to Japan, arriving in 1859, the same year as the first ordained representatives of the Anglican Communion, the Rev., later Bishop, Channing Moore Williams, founder of Rikkyo University, Tokyo, and the Rev. John Liggins of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
Hepburn went to Japan initially as a medical missionary with the American Presbyterian Mission opening a clinic in Kanagawa Prefecture, near present-day Tokyo. He later founded the Hepburn School, which developed into Meiji Gakuin University, and wrote a Japanese–English dictionary. In the dictionary's third edition, published in 1886, Hepburn adopted a new system for romanization of the Japanese language (Rōmajikai). This system is widely known as Hepburn romanization because Hepburn's dictionary popularized it. Hepburn also contributed to the Protestant translation of the Bible into Japanese. Hepburn returned to the United States in 1892. On March 14, 1905, Hepburn's 90th birthday, he was awarded the decoration of the Order of the Rising Sun, third class. Hepburn was the second foreigner to receive this honor.
Divie Bethune McCartee was the first ordained Presbyterian minister missionary to visit Japan, in 1861–1862. His gospel tract translated into Japanese was among the first Protestant literature in Japan. In 1865 McCartee moved back to Ningbo, China, but others have followed in his footsteps. There was a burst of growth of Christianity in the late 19th century when Japan re-opened its doors to the West. Protestant church growth slowed dramatically in the early 20th century under the influence of the military government during the Shōwa period.
The post-World War II years have seen increasing activity by evangelicals, initially with North American influence, and some growth occurred between 1945 and 1960. The Japanese Bible Society was established in 1937 with the help of National Bible Society of Scotland (NBSS, now called the Scottish Bible Society), the American Bible Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society.
According to Paulos Gregorios, there were possibly 40,000 adherents of the Japanese Orthodox Church in 1999. The current primate of Japan is Daniel Nushiro, Metropolitan of all Japan and Archbishop of Tokyo, who was elevated to the primacy in 2000. The primate's seat is the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Chiyoda, Tokyo. Founded in 1891, the cathedral has been known as Nikolai-do in honor of its founder Nicholas Kasatkin, now venerated as St. Nicholas of Japan. The cathedral serves as the seat of the national primate of Japan and continues to be the main center of Orthodox Christian worship in Japan.
Eastern Orthodoxy was brought to Japan in the 19th century by St. Nicholas (baptized as Ivan Dmitrievich Kasatkin), who was sent in 1861 by the Russian Orthodox Church to Hakodate, Hokkaidō as priest to a chapel of the Russian Consulate. St. Nicholas of Japan made his own translation of the New Testament and some other religious books (Lenten Triodion, Pentecostarion, Feast Services, Book of Psalms, Irmologion) into Japanese. The Patriarchate of Moscow glorified, (canonized as a saint) Nicholas in 1970; he is now recognized as St. Nicholas, Equal-to-the-Apostles. His commemoration day is February 16. Andronic Nikolsky, appointed the first Bishop of Kyoto and later martyred as the archbishop of Perm during the Russian Revolution, was also canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as a Saint and Martyr in the year 2000.
In 2020, the number of Jehovah's Witnesses was 212,683 active publishers, united in 2,964 congregations; 273,856 people attended annual celebration of Lord's Evening Meal in 2020. Before 1945 they were banned in Japan. Many Jehovah's Witnesses were jailed; one of them, Katsuo Miura, was in the Hiroshima prison during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
As of year-end 2009, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) reported 29 stakes, 14 districts, 163 wards, 125 branches, 7 missions, and 3 temples in Japan. As of July 2016, there are 128,216 members. The LDS Church was established in Japan in 1901 when the first LDS Church missionaries arrived on August 12, 1901. Among them was Heber J. Grant, at the time a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, the 7th President of the Church.
Although Nestorians possibly arrived in Japan as early as the thirteenth century, the first conclusive appearance of organized Christianity in Japan was the arrival of the Portuguese Catholics in 1549. Spanish missionary Francis Xavier arrived in Japan with three Japanese Catholic converts intending to start a church in Japan. The local Japanese people initially assumed that the foreigners were from India and that Christianity was a new "Indian faith". These mistaken impressions were due to already existing ties between the Portuguese and India; the Indian state of Goa was a central base for Portuguese India at the time, and a significant portion of the crew on board their ships were Indian Christians.
Later on, the Roman Catholic missionary activities were exclusively performed by Jesuits and mendicant orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans. Francisco Xavier (a Catholic Saint), Cosme de Torres (a Jesuit priest), and Juan Fernández were the first who arrived in Kagoshima with hopes to bring Christianity to Japan. Xavier and the Jesuit order was held in good esteem and his efforts seemed to have been rewarded with a thriving community of converts. At baptism, these converts were given Portuguese "Christian names" and encouraged to adopt Western culture. This practice contributed to suspicions that the converts were in reality foreign agents working to subvert social order.[note 1]
Threat to Japan
Under Oda Nobunaga, the Jesuits enjoyed the favor of his regency. The successor of Oda, Toyotomi Hideyoshi at first protected Christianity, however he later changed his policy, publishing the Bateren edict, which banned missionary activities. After conquering Kyushu, Hideyoshi stopped at Hakozaki and came to believe that Jesuits were selling Japanese people as slaves overseas, resulting in the aforementioned edict. It is also suspected that Hideyoshi believed that the secret mission of missionaries was to convert the Japanese to Christianity and take over the whole country as colony.
In 1637, Christians in Japan rebelled in Amakusa and Shimabara over the violent prohibition of Christianity by Matsukura Katsuie, leading to Ieyasu's ban of Christianity. This was the largest rebellion in the history of Japan and made the Shogunate realize that Christianity was threat to them, causing them to close Japan to the outside world for almost 250 years.
Persecution under the Shogunate
Under Hideyoshi and the succeeding Tokugawa shogunate, Catholic Christianity was repressed and adherents were persecuted. During Toyotomi rule especially, foreign missionaries were killed in Japan, some by (Japanese-style) crucifixion; most famously, the twenty-six martyrs of Japan were tortured and crucified on crosses outside Nagasaki to discourage Christianity in 1597. (Hideyoshi nonetheless showed favor to daimyō who had converted, such as Konishi Yukinaga.) Following a brief respite as Tokugawa Ieyasu rose to power and pursued trade with the Portuguese powers, there were further persecutions and martyrdoms in 1613, 1630, 1632 and 1634.
By this point, after the Shimabara Rebellion, the remaining Christians had been forced to publicly renounce their faith. Many continued practicing Christianity in secret, in modern times becoming known as the "hidden Christians" (隠れキリシタン, kakure kirishitan). These secret believers would often conceal Christian iconography in closed shrines, lanterns or inconspicuous parts of buildings. For example, Himeji Castle has a Christian cross on one of its 17th-century roof tiles, in place of a mon, indicating that one of its occupants was a secret Christian.
Drawn from the oral histories of Japanese Catholic communities, Shūsaku Endō's historical novel Silence provides detailed fictionalised accounts of the persecution of Christian communities and the suppression of the Church.
Opening of Japan
Captain Herbert Clifford was an officer in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and the founder of the Loochoo Naval Mission (1843). Clifford worked with missionary the Rev. Bernard Jean Bettelheim, who was the first Christian missionary to Okinawa.
After Japan was opened to greater foreign interaction in 1853, many Christian clergymen were sent from Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches, though proselytism was still banned. After the Meiji Restoration, freedom of religion was introduced in 1871, giving all Christian communities the right to legal existence and preaching.
During the time of the first Catholic missions from the 17th century, several high-ranked people converted, including Dom Justo Takayama and Hosokawa Gracia. Among the original twenty-six martyrs of Japan, Paulo Miki is the best known. Catholics venerate him as one of the patron saints of Japan.
Christianity in the Meiji-period saw several major educators and Christian converts as follows:
- Uchimura Kanzō (内村鑑三) (1861–1930), a Protestant, a headmaster of a head of the First Higher School. He was also the founder of Nonchurch movement, one of the earliest indigenous Japanese Christian movements. His autobiography Why have I become a christian? (余は如何にして基督信徒となりし乎, yo wa ika ni shite Kirisuto shinto to narishi ka), focusing on his conversion, influenced young generations in those days.
- Joseph Hardy Neesima (Jō Nījima) (新島襄, Niijima Jō) (1843–1890), a Protestant and the founder of Doshisha University.
- Nitobe Inazō (新渡戸稲造, Nitobe Inazō) (1862–1933), a Protestant and the founder of Tokyo Woman's Christian University.
- Umeko Tsuda (津田梅子, Umeko Tsuda) (1864–1929), a Protestant and the founder of Joshi Eigaku Juku (today Tsuda College).
In the 20th century, two major contributors to Protestant Christian theology emerged in Japan: Kosuke Koyama (小山晃佑, Koyama Kōsuke), who has been described as a leading contributor to global Christianity, and Kazoh Kitamori (北森嘉蔵, Kitamori Kazō), who wrote The Theology of the Pain of God (神の痛みの神学, kami no itami no shingaku). Social rights activist and author Toyohiko Kagawa ((賀川豊彦, Kagawa Toyohiko), who was nominated for both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature, has also become known outside Japan, due to his evangelical work mainly in Japan, social work, and labor activism.
Motokichiro Osaka (逢坂元吉郎) (1880-1945) was a Protestant pastor, theologian, and columnist for the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. While at university, he studied under zen philosopher Kitaro Nishida, with whom he developed a lifelong friendship. During the 1930s, Osaka used his column to criticize the Japanese government's attempts to establish centralized legal mechanisms to regulate religious bodies.
Mitsuo Fuchida (淵田美津雄, Fuchida Mitsuo) (3 December 1902 – 30 May 1976) was a Captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service and a bomber pilot in the Imperial Japanese Navy before and during World War II. After World War II ended, Fuchida became a Christian and an evangelistic preacher. In 1952, Fuchida toured the United States as a member of the Worldwide Christian Missionary Army of Sky Pilots. Fuchida spent the rest of his life telling others what God had done for him around the world. In February 1954, Reader's Digest published Fuchida's story of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He also wrote and co-wrote books including From Pearl Harbor to Golgotha (aka From Pearl Harbor to Calvary). His story is told in God's Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor (The Warriors) and in Wounded Tiger.
Toshiro Mifune (三船 敏郎 Mifune Toshirō?, April 1, 1920 – December 24, 1997) was a Japanese film actor known for playing the lead role in several films by Akira Kurosawa such as the Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Yojimbo (film). He was a Methodist Christian. His father was a Christian missionary.
Chiune Sugihara (杉原 千畝, Sugihara Chiune, 1 January 1900 – 31 July 1986) was a Japanese diplomat who served as Vice Consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania. In 1935 he converted to Orthodox Christianity while serving in China as a diplomat. During World War II, he helped several thousand Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas to Jewish refugees so that they could travel to Japan. Most of the Jews who escaped were refugees from German-occupied Poland or residents of Lithuania. Sugihara wrote travel visas that facilitated the escape of more than 6,000 Jewish refugees to Japanese territory, risking his career and his family's life. In 1985, Israel honored him as Righteous Among the Nations for his actions.
The 20th century also saw two Christian novelists of renown: Ayako Miura (三浦綾子, Miura Ayako, 1922–1999) was a Protestant writer known for her works, one of the most influential being Shiokari Pass (塩狩峠, shiokari tōge, 1968). Shusaku Endo (遠藤周作, Endō Shusaku) was a Catholic novelist renowned for his works focusing on Christianity in Japan, including Silence (沈黙, chinmoku).
Kenji Goto (後藤 健二, Goto Kenji, 1967 – 31 January 2015) was a Japanese freelance journalist renowned for his firsthand coverage from war-torn countries. Goto had always stressed that he was not a war correspondent. He had insisted he was instead devoted to telling the story of ordinary people, especially children, one step removed from the war zone. He attempted to rescue a Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa and was kidnapped by Islamic State (ISIL) militants in Syria in October 2014. On 31 January 2015, ISIL released a video that purportedly showed Goto being beheaded.
Masaaki Suzuki (鈴木 雅明 Suzuki Masaaki) (born 1954). the Japanese organist, harpsichordist and conductor, founder and musical director of the Bach Collegium Japan, is a member of the Reformed Church in Japan. The Bach Collegium Japan, under Suzuki's leadership, have recorded a large part of the sacred music of J.S. Bach, including a complete cycle of Bach's cantatas, and have recorded the Genevan Psalter in Japanese.
Fr. Chohachi Nakamura (中村長八 Nakamura Chōhachi, 1854 - 1940) was a Catholic missionary and priest from the Diocese of Nagasaki. He worked tirelessly as a priest for 26 years in Japan and 17 years in Brazil where he died in 1940 with a reputation for holiness. He went to Brazil to work in the evangelization of Japanese immigrants living in Brazil.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to History of Christianity in Japan.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Christian sites in Japan.|
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. .
- History of the Japanese Catholic Church by the Daughters of St. Paul convent; Tokyo, Japan
- What was Japan’s Christian Century (1550–1650)? by JARS: Japanese Association for Renaissance Studies
- Christianity is popular in Japan today, Orthodox Portal
- Japanese Living Bible
- Japanese Bible Society Archived 2017-04-26 at the Wayback Machine
- The Christian Century in Japan, by Charles Boxer