Image: The famous floating torii gate at the Shinto shrine on Itsukushima Island, Japan.
It is Sunday, 6:30 AM, when I board the train to make it in time for the 7 AM Mass at the sole Catholic church in Yokkaichi, a port city on the East coast of Japan’s main island, where I have lived for 25 years. The population of 280,000 is a humble unassuming folk – five years behind the fashions of Nagoya (the nearest metropolis), and ten behind Hollywood (I wish it were 1,000). Every time I see the same cadre of teenagers on the train, dressed in the uniforms of whatever sport they are on their way to practice. In Japan there is a “way” for everything : from fencing to calligraphy to…..you name it, there is a “way” to do it. School students are expected to join one of the numerous clubs (not all of which are sports) wherein the virtues of teamwork, discipline, self-restraint, perfectionism, respect of authority and social hierarchy, are inculcated.
On the train I notice baseball uniforms with the emblem of Kaisei, the local Catholic high school, administered by priests of the School of Pious Fathers, the same order of missionaries who founded our parish 70 years ago. Although our patron saint is the Pious Fathers’ founder St. Joseph Calasanz, like most churches here, ours is simply named after the city, perhaps for easy identification in a country where only St. Francis Xavier is a household name. Catholic high schools and colleges are common and well respected. I have met quite a few alumni of these institutions in my time, but none yet who was converted by the experience. In fact in my public life I have only met two Japanese Catholics : one, already a parish member; the other, alas, a fallen away Catholic, similar to many his age, very few of whom marry Catholics and raise Catholic children. (I begged him to return……)
This brings me to the greatest crisis in the Japanese Church: marriage and family (Satan’s final battle, as Sister Lucia of Fatima warned). In all my years of Mass attendance here I can only recall perhaps two or three marriages. Baptisms, on the contrary, are nearly weekly, but all the children are South Americans (of various odd ages – why did the parents wait until the child was 14?), and I never see them at Mass. I should clarify that these Latinos have part Japanese ancestry — probably a great-great-grandfather who emigrated to Brazil when the Japanese government promoted such a move about a century ago. They married locals, and now their descendants are offered easy immigration status by Japan, where they come to work. Some of them were already married in Brazil, but then start up another “family” here. It appears that many of them baptize their children. But it appears that few of them are practicing the Faith.
Isolation and loneliness are bedrock facts of everyday life for a practicing Christian foreigner, in a society where only 1% is Christian (a little over half of which is Catholic). It is especially so for an American such as I am, since Latin American and Filipino people make up nearly all of the foreign Catholic population.
The vocations shortage is particularly acute in Japan — bishops attribute it to the arduous focus young people put into education and career advancement in an increasingly secular culture. I have only had the pleasure to assist at a Mass offered by native clergy on a few occasions. I observed with awe the solemn, almost Stoic seriousness of these priests, and consider myself blessed and lucky to witness how the no-nonsense, by-the-books ethos of this culture has rubbed off on the foreign missionaries who make up the bulk of the parish priesthood. They deviate not one iota from the rubrics. The fact that they are offering in a second language definitely helps, and it makes a strong case for Latin liturgy. The Japanese faithful might not share this opinion since they have never been exposed to the enormity of liturgical abuses as other countries have.
Early on I noticed, as well, the accuracy of the translation in the Missal, which contains none of the errors that plagued the English translation for so long. This kind of perfectionism and stubborn resistance to change is a trait I admire deeply. Paradoxically, it should be said, however, that once an innovation has taken hold here, the people accept it with and almost aloof resignation that belies their prior reluctance. The psychology of membership in such an exclusive community, and perhaps fear of being further marginalized from the institutional Church than they already are, certainly play a part in making them (myself included) defensive of their solidarity, decidedly hesitant to rock the boat. Ours is a small community, and though the work is always voluntary, there is almost a cultural obligation to volunteer for the countless tasks that need doing. These factors also mean that for me — one of only a few men who attend Mass — anonymity, even in the confessional, is nearly impossible here.
The tiny number of conversions that result from the efforts of Japanese Catholicism is a sad reality. I often ponder the reasons. Is there any greater barrier to evangelization than disunity amongst the people who claim to follow Christ in a place still very unfamiliar with Him? A Mormon here; a Jehovah’s Witness there; an Evangelical singing hymns on a street corner. How can a Japanese person navigate through it? We Catholics commit ourselves to barely a fraction of the evangelization efforts these others do. I wonder if Catholic schools even teach the salvific imperative in Church dogma. To complicate matters, Oriental people seem to see religion not so much as a means of salvation, but rather more like a talisman: something to ward off misfortune or bring happiness and prosperity. It is a question of “What can it do for me?” But when people become as prosperous and successful as they have in modern times, supplication of the supernatural fades away and self-reliance increases. You can see it clearly by the decline even in the prominence of Shinto and Buddhist practice in daily Japanese life since World War II, and these religions are inextricably interwoven with the culture here.
Interestingly, the religions native to the region did not require a Vatican Council to bring about their decline.
Despite these challenges, I wonder if we are blessed here, inasmuch as we are free of the brutal cultural battles now being waged in the West between Christ and anti-Christ. We will be lucky if it does not catch us off guard in the future. How many of us would give up all worldly things, as did Justo Takayama Ukon, a persecuted Catholic samurai who died in exile in the Philippines? (He was beatified earlier this year).
I feel particular compassion for Japanese bishops and priests. It must be a daunting challenge for them to keep Catholics from discouragement and confusion, being so small a minority in a conformist society. Today’s crisis in the Church gives one pause for wonder if there will be any Mass, or priests to serve it in the future. That is perhaps best left to Divine Providence. But in the meantime I thank God for our priests, our nuns, our church, St. Joseph Calasanz, Our Lord’s Presence on the altar, and the many other blessings we maintain.
Our Lady of Akita — be the conversion of this poor nation.
Michael Ezzo is an American Catholic layman who apostatized
in his teen years. He reverted to the Faith after moving
to Japan, where he has lived for the past 25 years and works as an English instructor.
Why does Japan differ from China, where Christianity seems to be on the rise?
Perhaps the blood of martyrs…
Totally different history, culture, and even race.
Yes (though perhaps not totally different), but Christianity flourishes in many cultures. Since there were Japanese Christians, including martyrs, what prevents (in addition to what’s said in the article), Christianity from rising in Japan again? Given this and such things as the Catholic Mass’s influence of on the Japanese tea ceremony, Christianity cannot be entirely foreign to Japanese history, culture, and even race. The photo is from A Mother Should be Loved. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c8061ff8318901a0e703a35c150c9a573bb98ed0e42be1b33817e994f04262bc.jpg
As David says below — totally different culture and history. Also be very very careful about China, since there are TWO Catholic communities there. And TWO of non-Catholic ecclesiastic communities as well.
One is the underground Catholic Church which is the REAL one. They have to worship in secret. They have valid bishops, who sometimes get tortured and killed (and it’s always referred to as “suicide” by the government). This is the true Catholic Church in China, which the Vatican has always considered legitimate since it professes its fealty to Rome, above China’s government. I recommend The Cardinal Kung Foundation, if you are interested in supporting the plight of these heroic Catholics.
Then there is the “Patriotic” one. These people can worship in public, and there are a lot of them, and as you say, they are really growing, and the Chinese government is scared to death of it and totally confused as to what on earth they are going to do with these people. There are a lot of Protestant denominations too, in this “Patriotic” Christian category.
The problem? These “Patriotic” ones have to give fealty to the government of China, first and foremost, since China’s government despises anything that is “foreign.” Which is surprising, when you realize that communism is “foreign” too, is it not?
But anyway, these “Patriotic” Catholics, and other ecclesiastic communities are controlled and under surveillance by the Chinese government. They have cameras inside their churches. So they cannot preach anything that threatens the government, or “patriotism.” Their bishops are not recognized by Rome since they are chosen by the Chinese authorities. Technically speaking it is a type of schismatic situation. Please do correct me (anyone who knows better) if my terminology is incorrect. Their bishops are considered excommunicated.
Recently, Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong has been speaking out in frustration against the way he sees Rome attempting to compromise with the Chinese authorities over this situation. You can see a good article on Life Site News right now, called “Chinese cardinal: There’s growing concern that Rome will ‘sell out the faithful church’ to Communist gov’t.” Go to their home page and you can see it right away. It will explain a lot about this situation. I highly recommend it so you can get an idea of what goes on there. Thanks for your comment!
Thank you. By the way, does the smaller-scale copy of Auguste Perret’s Notre Dame du Raincy still exist at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University?
I am sorry but I couldn’t tell, as I live very far away from Tokyo and haven’t been there in 20 years. Sorry….
Thank you. I might ask a Japanese friend.
Yes! By the architect Antonin Raymond. Welcome to Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.
Having conferred the Sacrament of Baptism in China, the situation is not quite so simple as there being an underground church and a “patriotic” church. All but a handful of the patriotic bishops have reconciled with Rome and there is a fair degree of mingling between the two among the laity. A lot depends on the attitude of the local communist party officials as to how much freedom there is to practise the Faith. Then you have a case like bishop Ma Daqing of Shanghai who repented and renounced his cooperation with the communists at his ordination Mass and was immediately slapped in house arrest.
When old bishop Fan of the underground church died the faithful propped his body up in bed under the gaze of the commie spy-cams and kept him like that for two weeks pretending he was still alive to allow people to pay their respects to his mortal remains. Around 10,000 faithful “visited” him before the communists realised they had been duped. Many of them were from the “patriotic” church.
The main problem they seem to have in developing a native clergy seems to be the hangover from Confucian concepts of filial piety. It is very difficult for the only son of a family to tell them that he will not be marrying and providing them with a grandchild because he wants to be a Catholic priest. Different culture, different problems!
P.s. Also meant to say thank you for a very informative article, Michael.
My pleasure! I’m glad you liked it.
Terrific, informative article!
Thanks a lot for your appreciation!
Never have I experienced such an attention during the Holy Mass like I could see at the few Masses I visited at Osaka’s Cathedral, not long ago.
The Japanese are amazing.
“The Japanese have a faculty of enjoying speech regardless of content (Rudofsky 162).” That is, it didn’t matter that the speeches could not be heard, for the Japanese, the murmur of the speech was enough to enjoy and, furthermore, it would have been in bad form to have requested the speaker to raise his or her voice. Rudofsky continues by giving the example of a foreign lecturer speaking about Henri Bergson (in French) and that by the end of the speech the only members remaining in the audience were Japanese, despite the fact that the Japanese in attendance could not speak or understand the French language. Rudofsky: “This makes the Japanese the world’s best listeners (Rudofsky 162).”
—An Explication of Bernard Rudofsky’s On Language from “The Kimono Mind: An Informal Guide to Japan and the Japanese”
Not at all to imply that Japanese Catholics don’t understand the Mass!
Japanese Catholics celebrate anniversary of hidden communities Nagasaki, Imamura communities discovered each other 150 years ago, having kept their faith a secret for 200 years Japanese Catholics celebrate anniversary of hidden communities
The Imamura Christians celebrated 150 years since another secret Catholic community made contact with them on Feb. 26 at the Imamura church in Fukuoka Prefecture. (ucanews.com photo)
ucanews.com reporter, Tokyo
Japan March 7, 2017
Catholics in southern Japan are remembering when two of their hidden communities discovered each other 150 years ago during a time of persecution.
February 26th 2017 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8a01438529949ea650d85acddb570499eac3e05926aaa238326ed0f7d2aaa6b2.jpg
What a beautiful church! And they wear veils too. That’s great!
A Catholic Church in Japan https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4e5879b953050413761f27c8cc5d7a7a7446a8b7a18cad136ffd0e8d1147e868.jpg
I was happy to see a crowded Catholic Church on Kawaramachi street in Kyoto last Sunday. The Mass was in Japanese so nearly everyone was Japanese, and there were several families, too. The English language masses are held only every 2nd and 4th Sunday. That’s where you see the tourists and foreign residents.
I was at the cathedral on Kawaramachi-dori a couple of weeks ago. Mass was packed. There were many men: maybe not as many as there were women, but there were many.
By the end of the 16th century, all the foreign priests in Japan had been expelled or martyred together with
thousands of Japaneses. The remaining Christians were left alone and, oddly enough, their main concern was because they no longer had priests to hear their confessions. By early 17th cent. a Japanese martyr named Sebastian (if my memory serves) made this prophecy:
“From now 7 generations will be spent until a big black ship will bring again priests in Japan who will confess us again. Then, to be sure they are those we are waiting for, you will ask them 3 questions:
– Are you celibate ?
– Who is your chief in Rome ?
– Do you venerate the Virgin Mary ?”
When Japan opened again its borders to foreign missions in 1863, protestant missionaries came together with Catholic ones. The first question helped the small remnant of japanese catholics to reject immediately the Protestant pastors sInce they had wives.
The first priest they met after they had noticed a cross on the top of a church under construction in Nagasaki, was the Fr Bernard Petitjean of the French “Missions Etrangeres” of Paris. He became later the first catholic bishop in Japan.
I can’t remember where I read or heard this but it always has stood out…so I believe it was a historian that said it in a class I had in college. He said the Catholic missionaries were highly successful in converting the Japanese to the faith in the 16th century but were greatly undermined by the Dutch Protestant Calvinists who allied themselves with the rulers. He said that the missionaries were converting tens of thousands of Japanese in short time. No doubt the fear the Japanese rulers had of Catholicism played further into the Dutch hands. The most interesting point he made was that if the persecutions had ended and the Church continued albeit secretly or openly the Japanese would have been the most devout Catholics in the world. Based on the author of this blogs description of Japanese society, culture and discipline I can see that. If the country had converted to Catholicism my guess is that the Japanese probably would never have been an aggressive belligerent in WWII and all the blood shed spilled in China and the Pacific in the 1930’s and 1940’s would have been averted. Just proof of more rotten fruit produced by Luther, Calvin and the Reformation.
The sheer enormity of the infernal chaos generated by the Protestant Revolution will remain beyond comprehension for all of us in this life. It will only be from the vantage point of a ‘higher’ perspective; (for those who attain it), that it will be understood as the near-fatal blow to the Body of Christ that it surely was. Meanwhile, the seeming elevation of Martin Luther to quasi-sainthood under the ‘inspired’ leadership of General Bergoglio serves only to plunge the knife in anew, and give it a twist.
A knife he’s been careful to smear with garlic, too.
Christianity was almost wiped from the face of the earth by Islam, with only Britain and Northern Europe remaining. Christianity was a bloody stump of what it once was. The process is starting again, only this time Islam is smarter. The isms hate Christianity so much they are willing to allow Islam within the gates.
Very interesting comment, Michael. I have read that one of the reasons the persecutions started was that Dutch Protestants told the shogun, that these Catholics first send their missionaries over to your country. But their real purpose is to conquer you later on.So you might want to curtail their efforts. This apparently was partly responsible for the persecutions. I can’t substantiate it since I am no historian (as shown by the almost complete absence of historical references in my article). Someone better versed in history can flesh this out, or deny it if I am wrong. It’s merely something I remember reading somewhere.
I’ve heard that as well
And the fact that El Bergo is “celebrating” Luther with a postage stamp (designed like an icon, no less), well, words fail.
If my WWII history is correct, 10% of Japan’s population at the time of WWII were christian and catholic and that Nagasaki and Hiroshima were home to the highest percentage of them. Very sad indeed that the catholics had to be the ones to suffer so at the end of that awful war.
Highly recommend “A Song for Nagasaki,
The Story of Takashi Nagai-Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb.”
Agreed. It’s a top read.
I couldn’t say if it was as high as 10% but it seems a little bit optimistic. However, Hiroshima and Nagasaki definitely were places with a high concentration of Catholics. I’m not sure if they were deliberately targeted for that reason. But I’ve read articles saying that it was no accident.
Apparently when we dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, the bombardier aimed for the cathedral spire. Granted, it was the tallest thing in the skyline…but still ????
I wouldn’t doubt it. There was one triumph in Hiroshima, however. Only eight blocks away from the blast point, there was Our Lady Of The Assumption Church, where Jesuit priests had been faithfully fulfilling Our Lady of Fatima’s request of daily recitation of the Rosary. The church was spared in the bombing even though everything around it was totally flattened to the ground. And the priests themselves were uninjured, and suffered no radiation effects. They were Germans, which is why the Japanese government allowed them to stay. I just saw a picture of it in Catholic Voice Magazine.
It defies description.
One of the surviving priests told Bishop Sheen that he and the other priests were forbidden by the Americans to publish the facts of their survival.
Here’s one such video https://youtu.be/ceFJ6I5awms
US prisoners of war in Dresden were killed by incendiary bombs too. I have a hard time with conspiracy theories.
“The war would have been over in two weeks. . . . The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
Curtis LeMay, USAF
Read this “Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki put out two-thirds of Japanese Catholics”:
And this “The testimony of Professor Hikoka Vanamuri, survivor of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945”:
I’ve read similar accounts to your first link. The second by the professor is PROFOUND. He was right. Japan was under the domination of the pagan Buddha, not unlike the middle eastern countries are under the pagan moon god of war Allah today. For him to see Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patron of the New World is truly a miracle. And I am a total skeptic when it comes to miracles. Thank you for these links.:)
Truman was a freemason too.
Lots of people were back then. My own calvinist grandfather was, as ashamed as I am to admit that. Bet he wouldn’t like to see his middle granddaughter as a TLM catholic. LOL
I’ve been told Sister Agnes Sasagawa is still living, however I have had no success in locating her whereabouts. Is she also, like Sister Lucia of Fatima, being hidden from the public for good and pious reasons determined by the hierarchy? Does anyone have more information re: Sister’s residence?
For reasons of my own lazy negligence, and brevity I chose to avoid mention of Akita and Sr. Sasagawa. But I definitely share your curiosity. And sadly, even though I have been in the Church here almost 14 years, I have never seen or heard a single reference to her, or even Our Lady of Akita.(Another reason I didn’t mention it).
I am really beginning to wonder if you are right about the secrecy. I will ask someone at Mass tomorrow and report back here if I get anything substantial. My guess is that since it didn’t seem to produce any kind of huge wave of conversions, that believers became a bit discouraged, and just let it fade into obscurity. My dream is to study the topic in detail in Japanese, and try to harness whatever I can from it, in order to use it as a kind of evangelizing tool.
I don’t think the point of that apparition was to produce conversions
It appears you are right…..anyway I still dream….
On Oct. 13, 1973 Our Lady told Sister Sasagawa that if men did not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. She
continues about the unprecedented severity of the punishment, saying “….the survivors will envy the dead”…..”the work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church,,,,,cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres…”. If the priests will be opposed by their confreres, what about a poor humble nun? There were two investigations into the events requested by Bishop John Shojiro Ito the ordinary of the diocese. The first priest and Mariologist who will remain unnamed from the Archdiocese of Tokyo claimed Sister Agnes was a “psychopath” with “ectoplasmic powers” his investigation was circa/1975-76. The second commission investigating the event gave a positive conclusion after years of study, on Sept 12, 1981. On April 22, 1984 Bishop John S. Ito ordinary of the diocese gave his approval after informally consulting with the Dean of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, then Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, who stated “certainly the events are worthy of belief.”
So, why no wide publication throughout Japan by the hierarchy? Our Lady’s message on October 13, 1973 seems to clearly provide the answer to that hidden mystery!
I don’t think Our Lady came to Akita for the Japanese like she came to the rescue in Mexico. Akita seems to have been a message for the world.
Our Lady of Akita, in an apparition officially approved by the local bishop and allowed by Cardinal Ratzinger, came to Japan to tell us much of what has been witheld in the final secrets of Fatima.
See this informative video:-
[And, yes, I believe Satan attempted to crush Japanese Catholicism at Hiroshima and in particular at Nagasaki. The same source has information about those bombings.]
You summarised it well that it is perhaps (but I would correct this perhaps and replace it with sure!) “best left to Divine Providence. But in the meantime I thank God for our priests, our nuns, our church, St. Joseph Calasanz, Our Lord’s Presence on the altar, and the many other blessings we maintain.
Our Lady of Akita — be the conversion of this poor nation.” You do the very best leaving ir all upto the Lord. He knows the best. God bless.
God bless you, Pavel. And thanks from the bottom of my heart for your appreciation!
This excellent article puts our current western obsessions into perspective.
Thank you, Kent! Much appreciated!
Or perhaps you are a Geordie from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, who LIVES in Kent, and thus Kent is not your Christian name….sorry for the mistake.
True in every respect, but the diminutive you use is perfectly acceptable. Howay the lads! (That’s how Jimmy Carter greeted the crowd when he visited the toon – the Geordies were ecstatic.)
I’d be very interested to hear more of your observations. Why has Christianity failed to take off in Japan, as opposed to China? Is it the terrible persecutions? Recently I heard some history expert on the radio claiming, pace Tertullian, that “persecution usually works”. I guess it worked in England – all you have to do is kill, torture, imprison, exile, impoverish and exclude Catholics for 60 years or so, and they end up thinking they are glad to be protestants.
What do you think of stories/films like Silence? And why are the congregation in the photo above facing the wrong way?
It would be great if western congregations could pair up with Japanese parishes – I’m sure there could be a great deal of learning in both directions!
Thank you for the great comments/questions! Japanese people are not ideologically driven. They are practical, and down-to-earth. That is why they never accepted communism, like China did. They know that it doesn’t produce results. They are also totally apathetic to politics. You’ll never even hear it mentioned in conversation. They just accept whatever authority decrees and try to make the best of it without complaint or opposition. They just get on with their lives and don’t spend their time fighting things they have little control over. I’ve seen no human beings able to endure suffering like I have seen here.
It’s a wonderful quality when things are going well. But the bad side is that they don’t put a lot of weight on PRINCIPLES. They are willing to bend, and compromise on such things, in order to preserve peace and harmony, often afraid to stand up for what’s right, JUST BECAUSE it’s “the right thing to do.” So they view with doubt and confusion things that are in the minority. And it’s why they never do demonstrations, picketing, strikes, etc. A rare exception to this is Mishima Yukio, but as we can see he left virtually no following or legacy. I don’t even mention his name to people here because I know they are embarrassed by it.
Chinese people are different. They are more combative and aggressive. And they are from a huge country with a dominant culture and ancient history, which gives them great confidence and boldness that the Japanese lack (since they have absorbed much of their culture from other places, mainly China).
Anyway, this is what makes conversion and evangelizing here a tough job. We’re asking someone to join a group that, although it is the right thing to do, claims only .5% of the population. Your comment that persecution works, is very applicable here.
“Silence” : I read the book and of course was very disturbed and disappointed by its ending. I don’t watch movies, so I can’t comment on that. It always made me wonder, however, what Endo’s intention was : was he being sympathetic? Was he admonishing? Or was he just observing and letting the reader decide?
Recently, however, I read an article wherein the writer (a Western missionary in Japan) claims boldly that it is precisely the first of those three
possible theories. He apparently found some letters of Endo’s, showing that his intention was to show that Jesus “fully understands and accepts human weakness” and “stands beside us in our human suffering.” The original title of the book was Hinata No Nioi (The aroma of sunshine), something I never knew. Endo was apparently trying to show the warmth of God. But the publisher changed the title.
Anyway, take that for what it is worth. My opinion is that the book had little if any influence on Christianity in Japan either for the good or bad. Perhaps because most people, myself included, couldn’t understand Endo’s intention.
I don’t know why the congregation are faced the wrong way in the picture (I didn’t take the photo), but it could be that they are awaiting the entrance of a bishop to the church, or something like that.
Our diocese already has a pairing-up activity which goes on, but with a Korean diocese. I think it is an attempt to create solidarity and friendship amongst Christians in the two respective countries, which are not (to put it mildly) fond of each other. Frankly, I like your idea a lot better!
I could cry a few tears here since I replied in great detail to you yesterday, but upon returning, I see it doesn’t appear. I shall try to summarise what I wrote.
1. We already have a pairing-up in our diocese with a Korean diocese. I think it is to try to foster friendlier relations between the two countries who, to put it mildly, are not fond of each other. But I like your idea much better, to be honest.
(Anyone who intends to read the book “Silence” or watch the movie should skip past 2 in case you want to avoid knowing the outcome)
2. I don’t watch movies, but I did read the book “Silence.” Of course I was discouraged and saddened by how it ended. The conundrum for me was whether Endo was sympathetic to the act of apostasy; admonishing it; or simply observing and letting the reader make up his own mind. If you read the book you can’t tell. Well, I read an article recently about this which purports to clear it up. Let me just quote the article and avert personal comment since I’ve never experienced torture :
“Endo is …attempting to portray the gentle, warm figure of …Jesus — a God who …understands and accepts human weakness…and stands beside us in our suffering….[and] actually suffers with us.”
So, I guess that tells us what he meant. Probably most people were confused, as I was, about Endo’s intention. His original title was “The Aroma of Sunshine,” a way of emphasising the warmth of God. His publisher changed it to “Silence.”
3. My own perception about why Christianity has failed to take off in Japan, as opposed to China : you are right; persecution does work. That is one point. There are other reasons, as well. The Japanese are practical, down-to-earth people. It is a group-centered society, so they view minorities with doubt and suspicion. Principles, beliefs, and ideologies are not as important to them, as maintaining peace and stability, to which individuals are usually required to subordinate their own view (in case it conflicts). They don’t seem to cherish the virtue that we do about doing something just because it is the right thing to do, regardless of how many people may not approve. They accept whatever authority imposes upon them and they just get on with life and muddle through it without complaining, and they bear suffering like I’ve never seen anyone do. They have no interest in politics, either — you’ll rarely see demonstrations, picketing, etc. Labor strikes are unheard of (there are no industry-wide labor unions). They never bought into communism as China did. Anyway, conversion is a tough job in this situation, asking someone to join a group that makes up a tiny portion of the population, even though it is the right thing to do.
I don’t know much about Chinese people, but they seem much more combative, aggressive; they have a more ancient culture, which gives them more confidence and boldness that Japanese people do not have (since they have absorbed most of their culture from other places, mainly from China).
Anyway that was the basic story I wrote yesterday. I may have forgotten a few points, though.
I wrote a reply to you two days ago but it didn’t appear on the site. Then yesterday I had a go at rewriting it; pushed the button, and it showed up, but today I checked, and it’s gone again. Not sure why……maybe it was too long? Anyway I will try one more time, tomorrow, when I have the time to do it. See if three will be the charm……(If only I had saved it before entering it).
I think I have received all your emails, very much appreciated. I now eagerly await the publication of your book. (Not a bad idea, if you are going to write a lengthy response, to save it in Word and cut and paste.)
Sent from Samsung Mobile
——– Original message ——–
Actually I did copy and paste it elsewhere to “save” it. But then after seeing it appear here on the 1P5 site in reply to your questions, I went over and deleted my copy. It wasn’t until the following day, that I came back here and saw that the original here was gone. I can hear the Twilight Zone theme sounding in the background. Anyway, glad you got my response in your own e-mail batch. By the way I don’t plan to write a book. I think I’ve worn out my fifteen minutes of fame. Retirement beckons……
The Disqus spam filter sometimes gets very aggressive. I found a couple of your comments in there and freed them without reading through them. Forgive me if there are duplicates…
There is a duplicate, actually, so I apologize for hogging the website. But anyway thanks for the rescue, Steve!
I found this piece very interesting, having lived in Japan, 15 minutes from a big city where I used to attend mass every Sunday.
What amazed me was the amount of respect, decency and goodness of a culture and country which is mostly devoid of Christianity. I was much happier living there than in my Western country.
I could try to elaborate on what you say but it is impossible. You just captured my own sentiments in one mere paragraph.
A small vignette:
Some friends of mine acted on a suggestion I had ages ago about Irish wakes, to wit, set up a ‘wake house’ at the Dublin, Ohio, Irish Festival. One of my brothers made a coffin and these friends sew up corpse, and we had all the accourterments of a 19th century wake. They eventually took it on the road to other such festival, such as Milwaukee.
I myself would tell trad Irish-language stories as Gaedhilge and one of the family would translate.
But one day, a group of Japanese toursts came by. (I’m not making this up.) I’d say it was seven or eight youngish to middle-aged folks. So they traipse in and it took a few seconds for them to realize what was going and dar Crom, they literally ran out of the tent flat out! Horror-stricken.
I know a bit of Japanese culture and history, being a history fan, such as most of you here, and I know they thought of the color of white as being scary because they use it in death rituals/funerals. And that they’re NOT comfortable with dead bodies and “the dead” in general. But I never remotely expected the sort of reaction I saw that day.
We Historical Christians (Catholics and Orthodox) worshipped in catacombs and built our churches with relics of saints “built in” as a matter of course. This is one of the many, many lies of the Reformation, that the “cult of relics” came from ancient religions. The Romans and Greeks were terrified of the dead, took, and would not have cemetaries in cities. You can trace the spread of Christianity, in fact, in the Med basin, by relics. It’s always been part of the Faith, and a certain comfortableness with death marks us off from the rest of the human race.
Anyway, this is a true story, FIWI.
To continue the digression…I used to haunt an Irish bar back in the mid-seventies because I loved the music. On one occasion, though, an impressive youngish man with handlebar mustache and a beret on his head—who looked like a French partisan—got up and recited Molly Bloom’s final soliloquy from Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake.”
I don’t believe there were any Asian visitors present; but from the look of foreign amazement on many of the faces—my own, no doubt, being one of them—we might as well all have been Japanese.
Good post. I’ m not too comfortable around dead bodies either. LOL
Eons ago, I read somewhere how a baseball rulebook had fallen into the hands of a group of Japanese, and they were observed by some Americans some time later, playing baseball, scrupulously, ritualistically observing all the rules, except for one detail they had not gleaned from the book, that the teams were to be in competition.
In a parallel line of what poster ArthurMcGowan and you said about how the Japanese have an amazing ability to follow rules and rituals to the T, it reminds me how they have preserved, if you wan to say it’s preservation, of the American style known as “Ivy” style. It’s a style mostly worn by those who may be considered fogies, but strangely enough the style is admired by a small amount of people abroad for its classic, simple and everyday usage. A similar admiration by a small number of university students see it as a way to dress better than the hoodie, jeans, sneakers, t-shirt and flip flops attire usually found on US campuses these days. There are those who are critical of the style who say it that should be forgotten given the more modern fashion in present time as well as how “Ivy” style is associated with “old white men”.
Besides the interference of the Dutch Protestants, the other undermining of Catholicism in Japan was also the infighting between the Jesuits and Franciscans. Japan was initially a Jesuit missionary, but then the Franciscans got involved there and the jealousy and missionary fighting between the two orders created a chaos that was noticed by the Japanese government.
Very interesting read.
Our Lady of Akita, in an apparition officially approved by the local bishop and allowed by Cardinal Ratzinger, came to Japan to tell us much of what has been witheld in the final secrets of Fatima.
See this informative video:
And, yes, I believe Satan attempted to crush Japanese Catholicism at Hiroshima and in particular at Nagasaki. The same source has information about those bombings.
I am also a foreigner living in Japan and read your article with much interest. I am glad you have such a good experience… Mine is more mixed: I am also appreciative of the dedication of Japanese Catholics, but I think they are also severely underserved by the hierarchy here. I can only speak for the three or four Catholic churches in Tokyo I attend, and I am not completely fluent in Japanese (I can follow the Mass though), so I don’t intend to speak for the whole of Japanese Catholicism. But from the sermons I heard here and especially from the report that the Japanese bishops have prepared for the family synod in 2014 (it describes the situation of Japan) there are grave problems… https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/japanese-bishops-vatican-mindset-doesnt-fit-asian-church
Nevertheless I heard about Our Lady of Akita when I lived in Canada, and now in Australia. People know a little about Her everywhere – but that is as far as it goes. It just gets passed on in conversations to do with Her repeated warnings. From what you write here it seems the Church in Japan does not propagate the apparitions as the French and Portuguese do of their places of Our Lady’s Apparitions. God bless your sharing.
Until such time as the Imperial Household embraces Catholic doctrine and the Christian religion, Catholics in Japan will have to content themselves with being salt and yeast in their own spheres of influence.
To be Catholic is to be part of a family, with the vicar of Christ, the pope, our “papa”, as head of the family. To be Japanese is also to be part of a family, with the Emperor as its symbolic head. It’s not easy to be fully devoted to two distinct families. There is, I think, some resemblance to the situation in which the early Church found itself in the Roman empire. The difference is that the Japanese family is rather exclusive (not expansive) and the emperor is viewed as benign and gracious (not foreign and tyrannical as was perhaps the case with Rome). Clearly, I am painting in broad brush strokes here…..the point is: can we really expect the Japanese to convert in the hundreds of thousands one-by-one? (Perhaps, see below.)
What to do? As I mentioned already, be salt and yeast. Don’t let the “savor” of your presence diminish. Try to maintain good Christian friendships in culture which is ostensibly indifferent to Christianity. I also want to suggest one more thing, one “missionary” focus which might perhaps have greatest effect, inasmuch as the need is great: accompaniment of, and care for, those in their retirement years. Last time I was in Japan (2016), the congregation at Mass was largely past middle-age. Japanese have long life-spans and can spend many years in decent health after retirement from work. So this suggestion is not so much about physical care of those who are senile or bed-ridden (Japan is a first-world country with good doctors), this suggestion is about reaching out to those who may feel lonely, who feel somewhat abandoned by their one or two children, who may only have one or two grandchildren they don’t get to see very often. These folk, of which there appear to be many, will perhaps see themselves on the periphery of Japanese society. Well, then, let Christians go meet them.
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