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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Japan

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a country in Eastern Asia; consisting of a great number (about 3850) of large and small islands, which are situated between 300 10' and 540.24' N. lat., and between 1470 34' and 1640 30' E. long. It is divided into Japan proper, which embraces the large islands Japan or Nipon (with Sado, Oki, and Awadsi), Sitkokf, and Kiusiu (with a number of adjacent islands), and the dependencies, to which belong Jeso, with adjacent islands, the 174 Kuriles, the less known (89) Bomie, and the Lieu Kieu Islands. The population is generally estimated at from 35 to 40 millions; its area at about 150,000 square miles.

The history of Japan; according to the traditions of the country, begins with the dynasty of the heavenly gods, consisting of seven generations, and reigning from four to five million years. It was followed by the dynasty of the earthly gods, consisting of five generations, and reigning 2,342,167 years. The native population (the Ainos) was at a very early period (according to some as early as B.C. 1240) pushed back by the immigrants from China. Probably Simnu (the divine warrior), the, founder of the Japanese empire, with whom the authenticated history of the country begins, was also a Chinese. He first conquered Kiusiu (about B.C. 667), subsequently Nipon, where he erected a palacious temple (Dairi) to the sun goddess (Miako), and constituted himself ruler, under the honorary title of Mikado. When he died he was regarded as a national hero. His successors were called Mikado or Kin Rey (emperor); also Ten Oo (Heavenly Prince) or Ten Zin (Heavenly Child). In the century before Christ the dignity of the four commanders-in-chief (Djogoon) was created in the war against the Ainos. As chiefs of the army, they concentrated the executive power in their hands,' steadily enlarged it, and, under the reign of a weak Mikado, succeeded in making it hereditary in their families. This was, in particular, the case with the Kubo (crown general) Yoritimo, who had rescued the country from a perilous situation during the administration of the Mikado Koeyei (1141-55); he added to his title Kubo the word Sama (lord). Henceforth he and his successors resided in Yeddo, while Miako remained the residence of the Mikados; his dynasty was in 1334 supplanted by another, but the separation of the ecclesiastical and secular authority remained unchanged.

In the middle of the 16th century the first Europeans visited Japan, which, up to this time, had been only known to them from Arabian geographers, and from the accounts given in the 13th century by the traveler Marco Polo, after his return from China. Through the efforts of three runaway Portuguese sailors, who in 1545 had found a refuge on board a Chinese merchantman, and who, having by storms been driven to the Japanese island Yanega, had found a kind reception at the residence of the prince of Bungo, in Kiusiu, a lively commercial intercourse arose with Portugal, which soon proved to be of immense value to the latter country. In 1549, the celebrated Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, who had converted a Japanese at Goa, arrived in Japan. During a stay of two years he visited the territories of several princes and founded missions, which he confided to zealous priests of his order. The Roman Catholic faith spread rapidly, and soon the Catholic Church numbered about 250 churches and 13 seminaries. The Buddhist priests made a desperate resistance to the progress of Christianity, but a number of the Daimios favored it, as they expected from the success of Christianity great commercial advantages.

In 1562 the prince of Omura, and soon after the princes of Bungo and Arima, embraced Christianity, and sent a splendid embassy (embracing also three princes), with rich presents, to pope Gregory XIII and to king Philip II of Spain. But when the suspicion arose that the Daimios who had embraced Christianity intended, with the aid of foreign Christian governments and of the native Christian population, to establish their entire independence, the Kubo Sama Fide Yose, an upstart who, being of low birth, had in 1585 usurped the dignity of Kubo Sama, curtailed the rights of the subordinate princes, took from the Mikado everything except the administration of the ecclesiastical affairs, and issued a stringent edict against Christianity, which had been favored by his predecessor Nabunanga. The edict provided for the exile of all the missionaries and the destruction of the churches. It was not executed at once, but in 1596 a real persecution of the Christians began, the beginning of a religious and civil war which lasted for forty years. Fide Yose died in 1598, while preparing for the invasion and conquest of China; and he was succeeded by the guardian of his minor son, Yie Yazoo, prince of Mlikava, whose descendants have reigned at Yeddo until the present day. Yie Yazoo made the dignity of Kubo hereditary in the three houses founded by his sons, shut the Mikado up in his palace at Miaco, and gave to the country a legislation and constitution under which it remained at peace for more than two hundred years.

In the mean while the Dutch had gained a footing in Japan, and, from commercial jealousy against the Portuguese, aided and encouraged the Kubo Sama in his proceedings against the Christians. With their aid, at the close of the 16th century, 70,000 Christians who had entrenched themselves on the peninsula Simabara were crushed. Since then the Roman Catholic faith became gradually extinct. The number of Christians put to death has been estimated at nearly two millions, and the annals of the Jesuits, Franciscans, and Dominicans are filled with narratives of the deaths of members of their orders in Japan. Besides Xavier, the greatest. missionaries were Valignani, father John Baptist, a Spanish Franciscan, Philip of Jesus, a Mexican Franciscan, both crucified at Nagasaki, father Charles Spinola, etc. The last Catholic priest who entered Japan was Sedotti, who in 1709 found means to land, but was never again heard of.

The hatred of Christianity, the religion of the detested foreigners, induced the rilers of Japan to break off all intercourse with Christian nations. Even the allied Dutch had soon to suffer from this isolation. They had to give up in 1641 the island of Firando (north of Nagasaki), which in 1609 had been assigned to them as a trading station, and to remove to the island of Desima where their officers were subjected to a very rigorous superintendence. They were only allowed to export annually goods to the value of 750,000 florins (the Chinese 1,000,000) in two ships (the Chinese in ten); moreover, they had to send for a long time annually, and since 1790 every fourth year, tribute to Yeddo. All the efforts made by the governments of Christian nations (the English from 1613 to 1623, and in 1803, the Russians in 1792 and 1804, and the North Americans in 1837) to re-establish commercial relations were unsuccessful. When China was partly opened to the Christian nations in virtue of the treaty of Nanking (1842), king William II of the Netherlands (by a letter dated Feb. 15, 1844) made another attempt to prevail upon the Japanese government to open several ports and to allow commercial intercourse, but again his request was declined, as was also that of the American commodore Biddle, who in 1846 appeared in the bay of Yeddo, and proposed the conclusion of a commercial treaty. More successful, however, was the American commodore Perry, who, towards the close of 1852, was sent with a flotilla to Yeddo. After long-protracted and most difficult negotiations, he concluded on March 31,1853, at Kanagava, a treaty. of peace and friendship, by which the American vessels received access to the ports of Simoda and Hakodade, to the former immediately, to the latter from March 31, 1855, in order to take in fuel, water, provisions, and other necessaries. The long isolation of Japan from the Christian world having thus come to an end, treaties with other Christian nations soon followed. Thus England obtained the conclusion of a treaty similar to the American on Oct. 14,1854; Russia on Feb. 7, 1855; the Netherlands on Nov. 9,1855. The last-named treaty abrogated the disgraceful stipulations concerning Christianity to which the Dutch had formerly been compelled to submit, and an additional stipulation of Jan. 30, 1856, allowed them to celebrate divine worship in the opened ports. In 1857 and 1858 new treaties made further concessions' to the four treaty powers, and the same rights were, by a treaty of Oct. 9, 1858, extended to France. From Jan, 1, 1859, the ports of Nagasaki, Hakodade, and Kanagava; from Jan. 1, 1860, the port of Negato, and another port on the western coast of Nipon; and on Jan. 1, 1863, Hiogo, the port of Osaca, were opened. Foreigners were allowed to reside in these places, to purchase landed property, to build houses and churches, and to celebrate their divine worship; from Jan. 1, 1862, they were also permitted to reside in Yeddo. Gradually other Christian nations, as Portugal, Prussia, Spain, and Austria, likewise sent expeditions to Japan, which requested and obtained the conclusion of similar treaties.

The first step towards opening intercourse with foreign nations was soon followed by others. In 1860 a Japanese embassy was sent to the United States; an-other visited in 1862 the London Exhibition, as well' as courts of Europe. At the Paris Exhibition of 1867 even the brother of the Tycoon appeared with a numerous retinue. A number of young Japanese, including many sons of princes, were sent to the schools of foreign countries, in particular those of the United States; several distinguished foreigners were called to high offices in Japan, and a Japanese consul general was appointed for San Francisco in 1869.

The great change which, during the period from 1854 to 1870, took place in the relation of Japan to the world abroad, was not completed without producing many violent commotions, and effecting important transformations at home. The policy pursued by the Tycoon at Yeddo was bitterly opposed and resisted by many of the most influential Daimios, and a large portion of the Japanese people at large. On this occasion it was found out that the European governments which had concluded treaties with the Tycoon had been greatly mistaken concerning the true nature of the office of Tycoon. They had regarded him as being the absolute ruler of Japan; whereas, in fact, the Mikado, although actually confined to the exercise of his religious functions, was still universally looked upon as the head of the state, and the highest arbiter in all quarrels between the Tycoon and the Daimios. In union with the Dainmios, the Mikado now asserted his sovereignty with considerable success. When some of the Daimios committed outrages against the foreigners, the Tycoon confessed his inability to bring them to punishment, and the European powers had themselves to enforce their claims against the princes of Satsuma and Negato. Ultimately a fierce civil war broke out between the Tycoon and a number of the northern Daimios on the one hand, and the Mikado and the majority of the Daimios on the other, which resulted in the abolition of the office of the Tycoon (1868), and the restoration of the Mikado to the full power of actual ruler. The successful Mikado, however, did not, as many expected, change the foreign policy, but showed himself eager to cultivate the most friendly relations with foreigners, and to elevate the country to a level with the most civilized nations of Europe and America. In May, 1869, a large congress of Daimios was held at Yeddo, and from that time to the middle of the year 1871 many important reforms in the administration have partly been carried through, partly begun.

The authorization given by the Japanese government to foreign residents of a free exercise of the Christian religion in the open ports was, of course, eagerly embraced by both the Protestant and the Roman Catholic churches. Missionaries of both established themselves in several of the ports, attending both to the religious wants of the foreign residents, and preparing for missionary operations among the natives. The appearance of Roman Catholic missionaries at Nagasaki brought to light the fact that a number of the descendants of former Christians in Japan still secretly adhered to the Roman Catholic faith, and now hoped for permission to exercise it publicly. The Japanese government, however, did not give the expected permission, but in 1867 arrested and imprisoned some twenty of the native Christians. After an imprisonment of six months, the French charged affaires obtained in December their liberation. In the following year, however, the persecution was renewed-with great cruelty. The following is one of the official decrees published by the government:. "As the abominable religion of the Christians is strictly prohibited, every one shall be bound to denounce to the proper authorities such persons as appear suspicious to him, and a reward shall be given to him for so doing. Although the sect of the Christians has been many centuries ago persecuted most rigorously by the Rankfu government, its entire extermination. had not been arrived at. As, however, the number of the followers of the Christian doctrine has lately considerably augmented in the village of Urakami, near Nagasaki; whose peasants secretly adhere to it, after mature consideration it has been ordered by the highest authority that Christians shall be taken into custody, according to the rules laid down in the annexed document; As the Christian doctrine has been prohibited in this country since the oldest times, this matter ought not to be lightly treated. Those to whose custody Christians shall be confided shall therefore instruct them of what is right, with leniency and humanity, and shall do their best to again make good men of them. But-if some should not repent and acknowledge their errors; they shall be most severely punished without any mercy. Those whom it concerns shall keep this well in mind, and denounce to the proper authorities every one who shall prove incorrigible. Those men (Christians), until they have repented, shall not be allowed to have any intercourse with the inhabitants of the places where they are consigned. They shall be used to clear land, or to work in the lime-pits, or the gold and coal mines, or for any work their officers may think fit to employ them on. They shall live in the mountains and forests. One portion of rice shall be allowed per head to the respective Daimios for the space of three years, to commence from a day to be determined hereafter. They shall be brought in small detachments to the places mentioned below. The Daimios shall, as soon as they receive the information of the arrival of the persons allotted to them, send soldiers to take them over. The above imperial orders are hereby published far observance. The following Daimios shall take over the Christians allotted to them at their respective palaces at Osaca.' This decree was followed by a list of thirty-four Daimios who had Christian prisoners allotted to them, in numbers varying from 30 to 250 each. The following decree was posted at the gates of Yokohama: "The Christian religion being still forbidden in the same manner as formerly, is strictly interdicted. The devilish sect is strictly prohibited."

On the 7th of July 114 native Christians, chiefly men and heads of families, were put on board the Japanese steamer Sir H. Parkes at Nagasaki, and carried away to the mines of the north for penal servitude. The protest of the consuls at Nagasaki and the ministers at Yeddo were of no avail. The Congress of Daimios which met in 1869 showed itself likewise very hostile to Christianity. Only one member dared to defend it, while 210 voted for a resolution declaring Christianity to be opposed to the state. Another resolution to inflict severe penalties for bringing back the apostates to one of the religions of the country was negatived by 176 against 44 votes. Japan has long had many religious sects which have lived peaceably together. The three principal sects are the Sinto religion, Buddhism, and the sect of Siu. The original and most ancient is the Sinto or Sinsyoo sect, which is founded on the worship of spirits, called in the Japanese language. Kami, in the Chinese Sin, who control the actions of men, and all visible and invisible things. The chief of these spirits is Yen, Zio Dai Sin, which means Great Spirit of the Heavenly Light, who receives the highest honors from all religious parties. Besides this sun-goddess, thousands of inferior Kamis receive divine honors. Most of these are the spirits of distinguished men, who were canonized on account of their merits. Their number is not limited but the Mikado still possesses the right to canonize prominent men, and thus to elevate them to the dignity of a Kami. The Sinto religion has five commandments:

1. Preservation of the pure fire as an emblem of purity and a means of purification;

2. Purity of the soul, of the heart, and the body;

3. Observation of festivals;

4. Pilgrimages;

5. Worship of the Kami in the temples and at home.

The numerous temples (Mya) contain no idols, but large metal mirrors and packets of white paper scraps, as symbols of purity. The priests are called Kaminusi, or keepers of the gods. They live near the temples, and derive their income chiefly from the money offerings made on feast-days. Among the twenty-two places of pilgrimage, the temple Nykoo, in the province of Jsyay, which is sacred to the sun-goddess, is the most prominent, and every one is bound to visit it at least once in the course of his life. The second religion is Buddhism, which was introduced about 532 from Corea, but received many modifications in Japan, and gradually became the religion of the vast majority of Japanese. The sect known as Siuto, or the school of philosophers, comprises the followers of Confucius, and includes the people of the best education.

The great political revolution through which Japan passed in 1868, by the abolition of the office of the Tycoon and the re-establishment of the supreme power of the Mikado, was accompanied by an effort to effect-a complete change in the state religion of the country. An American missionary writes on this subject, under date of Dec. 26, 1868, as follows: "Here the Buddhist religion is, or was, the established religion, and the priests have a monopoly of burying people, and praying for them afterwards. The aboriginal Sinto religion has fallen into disuse, poverty, and consequent disfavor and disgrace. This state of things commenced about three hundred years ago under Yie Yazoo, the founder of the Tycoon dynasty. In the wars which he waged he was often beaten, and in his flight, and in other times of calamity, he and his adherents found shelter and sympathy in many a Buddhist monastery. At last, when he reached the throne, he liberally rewarded all those priests who had befriended him in his adversity, paying them a fixed sum out of the public treasury, and bestowing grants of land to be held as temple grounds, the revenue from which was devoted to the support of the temple. From that time Buddhism flourished in Japan, and Sintoism decayed. The nation followed the example of the victorious Tycoon, and thus Buddhism became established and popular. Still, as the Tycoon did not ignore the Mikado, but allowed him to be the nominal head of Japan, and even paid some outward respect to him, in the same way Buddhism did not ignore or displace Sintoism, of which the Mikado is pontifex maximus.

Where the aboriginal Sinto gods were worshipped before, the Buddhist divinities did not replace or supersede them, but were added to them, and thus, in many places, a singular union was effected. Buddhism and Sinto divinities are worshipped together, and the priests of both divisions often reside in the same temple. When this is the case such temples are called Ryoby, i.e. union temples.' Thus there are pure Buddhist, pure Sinto, and the mixed or union temples. During the recent revolution a great effort has been made by the adherents of the Mikado to revive the ancient faith, and cast off whatever is of foreign origin, whether derived from China or India. Efforts are made to eliminate the whole mass of Chinese characters from the language and literature of the land, and to return to the ancient, simple, and alphabetical manner of writing. The same principle is at work in the reaction against the established religion, which is of foreign origin, introduced from China and India 500 years ago. Since the Mikado's government has been established, it has decreed that, where Buddhist and Sinto divinities are worshipped in the same temple, the former are to be set aside, and the latter alone reverenced. The priests of the former religion are urged to embrace the ancestral and national faith, in which case they may continue to hold their places. At various points over the empire there are deserted Sinto temples.

The ancient god holds his place, but, not being a popular god, his shrine is forsaken by officiating priests and worshippers. The present government has made inspection, and found that in many cases these shrines, so sadly neglected, are the shrines of the true and ancient gods. These are to be re-erected, and endowed with government support. What has been taken from the disendowed Buddhists will, no doubt, most of it be given to the Sintos. Now, when one of these old temples is re-erected and endowed, the office of priest in it becomes desirable. Not only has it a revenue from government, but the people suddenly wake up to a knowledge of the fact that this same forgotten god, in the olden time, worked wonders. The early history of the divinity is involved in obscurity, and on the principle Omne ignotum pro magnifico,' it is magnified; worshippers bring their offerings, new votive tablets are set up, and the revenue hence accruing, added to' what is bestowed by government, makes a priest's office a desirable one, especially as he is exempt from all military service. Many, therefore, now- seek to obtain this position; but, on presenting their petitions at the seat of government, it is generally decided that it is desirable to have these places filled by adherents of the Mikado from the south." In 1870 the Buddhist priests were compelled to pay to the Mikado the sum of 8,000,000 rios, or $10,000,000, for the privilege of remaining in possession of their temples and monuments, and of observing their religious rites and customs without restriction.,

The reports on the number of natives who desire to reconnect themselves with the Roman Catholic Church greatly vary. According to a recent (1870) report of the Japanese government their number amounts to 3600, of whom 2000 were at Urakami, near Nagasaki, 100 at Omura, and 1500 at Fubahori. Besides, there were Christians in Shimabara, Amakusa, Hirado, and other places, but their number could not be accurately stated. There is a strong force of French Jesuits at Kanagawa. They have lately opened a school for young men, for the purpose of teaching the French language and literature, and the sciences. The pope has erected Japan into a vicariate apostolic. The Roman Catholic missionaries assert that at least 100,000 Japanese would openly join their Church if religious toleration should be established.

Protestant missions were in 1870 supported in Japan by three American denominations: the Presbyterian Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the Protestant Episcopal Church. Several missionaries teach secular branches in the government schools. Progress has been made with the translation of the Bible into Japanese, and Bible-classes have been formed, but up to 1871 but few of the natives had made a profession of Christianity. The Presbyterian missionaries, who had stations at Yokohama (begun in 1859) and Yeddo (begun in 1869), had, according to their report of 1870, baptized three natives. The Protestant Episcopal Church supported one missionary bishop and one missionary. See Charleroix et Crasset, Histoire de Japan (Paris, 1754);: Sir Rutherford Alcock, The Capital of the Tycoon (Lond. 1863); Siebold, Nipon; Archiv zur Beschreibung von Japan (Leyd. 1832-51); American Annual Cyclopedia, 1868,1870. (A. J.S.) See our Sulpplemeent, s.v.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Japan'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/j/japan.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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