Christianity And Its Reception In Japan

2686 words - 11 pages

During the fifthteenth century the Western religion of Christianity began to spread across the world through the influence of European powers such as Portugal and Spain. In 1549 the tiny island nation of Japan was first exposed to Christianity in the form of Jesuit missionaries, which included the affluent Saint Francis Xavier of Spain. Japan, up to this time, had always been an isolated country and this was applied towards its traditional cultural values as well, shunning outsider influences without a second thought. Through Xavier's efforts however, Christianity was able to create a solid foundation in spite of its foreign nature. From its point of arrival in 1549 Christianity enjoyed a peaceful and gradual growth, until 1597, when Japan's then de facto military leader, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, ordered the crucifixion of some twenty-six Christians in an outburst of anger (Spae 5). From here on the Japanese government began a series of persecution against Christianity and its followers within Japan, ultimately cultivating into a bloody rebellion, and near massacre, in the Shimabara providence in 1639, and the eventual banning of all things Christian alongside a re-isolation of the country. This raises the question: Why was the religion of Christianity met with such resentment by the Japanese government? To answer the question, one must understand the circumstance and history of foreign tolerance in Japan, while also being aware of the political situation within the country at the time. From learning and analyzing these factors of society and politics, it can be realized that Christianity was utilized as a political scapegoat by the Shogunate [Military] government for superordinate means. Furthermore by analyzing this claim, an explanation of Japan's willing support for its hardened military and isolationist government and culture of the future can be legitimized.
Prior to Christianity's arrival Japan had been suffering from two centuries of internal war. Suzuki Norihisa argues that because of this extended period of strife and disunity the Japanese people sought a new value system that would provide them with a sense of reason, understanding, and togetherness to hold them through the times of struggle (68). As Japan was lacking political leadership, so were its subjects lacking spiritual guidance, with the traditional religion of Shintoism, "powerless in the face of this demand" (Norishisa 68).
Because of its geographic location, being a tiny island nation, Japan mainly had intramural encounters alongside occasional interactions with the Chinese. Left a traditionally closed society the Japanese were starved for new thoughts and philosophies. The native religion of Shintoism was faltering at a time of civil unrest, and the other religion known to the Japanese, Mahayana Buddhism, had always been challenged due in part to its strict and unforgiving nature. Christianity on the other hand, with its preaching of forgiveness and equality, was...

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