It is early Sunday morning in Osaka and we have planned a long bike ride along the Yodo River. Our path will take us past the Osaka Cathedral.
The history of Christianity in Japan is a fascinating one. This faith arrived in the 16th century and never really left though it went underground for a time only to come back in the 19th century. For a good overview of the history of Roman Catholicism, Orthodox and Protestantism in Japan I recommend Otis Cary's book A History of Christianity in Japan (kindle version available) which was first published in 1909. Cary (1851-1932) was a Protestant missionary in Kobe, Osaka, Okayama and Kyoto and many of his children were born in Japan.
His son was also a missionary in Japan and his grandson (also named Otis) grew up in Japan and was a professor at Doshisha university in Kyoto. That's three generations of Americans in Japan with a high level of cultural and linguistic fluency. Which, when you think about it, makes a great deal of sense. If the goal is to convert the people then first you must know them and speak their language - a case where integration has a purpose other than simply belonging?
The most interesting new knowledge I gleaned from Cary's books was a French connection. In 1855/56 French Roman Catholic missionaries (carried by French naval and merchant vessels) were waiting for an opportunity to enter Japan and were studying the language. One (M. Mermet) finally did arrive in Yedo in 1859 as a priest/interpreter for the foreign community, but he soon began construction of a chapel and started preaching. Other French missionaries followed building churches and proselytizing. This led to a wave of persecutions against Japanese Christians which lasted until the edicts against Christianity were finally repealed in 1873. Mgr. Petitjean sent this message to the Missions Etrangères de Paris (which is still around by the way): "Edicts against Christians removed. Prisoners freed. Inform Rome, propagation of faith, holy infancy. Need immediately fifteen missionaries."
Today Christians of all stripes are a very tiny minority in Japan. Roman Catholics are said to number around half a million and the Church struggles with some of the same issues as Catholicism in other countries: an aging population and a very secular society. I do note, however, that Japan has had a surprising number of Christian Prime Ministers. I would be very curious to hear your thoughts on why that is.
I wish you all a very pleasant Sunday and, if you are interested, here is a short video (no audio) about Catholics in Japan that shows many churches and highlights Christianity translated into another context.