Project Japan

 
Factors in the Japanese WorldviewWorldview.htmlWorldview.htmlWorldview.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0shapeimage_1_link_1shapeimage_1_link_2
Theological FactorsTheological.htmlTheological.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0shapeimage_2_link_1
Missiological FactorsMissiological.htmlMissiological.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0shapeimage_3_link_1
Societal Factors
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Political Factors
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Christianity’s Contribution to Japanese Life
 Influence.htmlInfluence.htmlInfluence.htmlshapeimage_6_link_0shapeimage_6_link_1shapeimage_6_link_2
Contact
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Throughout history, most Japanese have viewed Christianity as the religion of the West. Since World War II, Christianity has been associated with America in particular—the nation that utilized two nuclear bombs on civilians to end the war. Thus it is viewed as the religion of the occupying “messiah”, a nation that has deliberately forgotten its dark past, (the eradication of the native peoples in the Americas, slavery, racism and segregation), and yet accuses Japan of genocide, war crimes and acts of cruelty in the course of human history. Even though the Japanese do not directly express their feelings concerning America and organized Christianity, one can read between lines and, using common sense, come to several conclusions that may make it clear why Christianity has not succeeded there to a significant extent. 

Japanese are in certain way disappointed and confused when it comes to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Historically, Nagasaki is a well-known center of Japanese Christianity. It was not only the location of the largest Christian Cathedral in the Asia (St. Mary’s) but also had the largest concentration of baptized Christians in all of Japan. These facts make it even more difficult for the Japanese to understand why a Christian nation such as America would to drop a nuclear bomb on a Christian city– immediately after Japan’s surrender when thousands of American missionaries were sent to Japan to Christianize the nation. The nuclear bombings of Japan and its surrender are also viewed as a cause of humiliation. Since it is a shame and guilt oriented society, humiliation plays an important role in everyday life both on individual and the collective level. Collective humiliation has therefore also played a role Christianity’s lack of success there. Two factors are at work in this: The emperor’s being forced to disavow his divinity, and the guilt messages  propagated by the Americans.

After Japan’s surrendered at the end of World War II, the nation had to start over again. Under pressure from the Americans, it had to implement Western style democracy. Among the very important implications of this were, that the emperor denied his divinity and  Shinto, the state religion, was abolished. Under the occupation, his divine power was dissolved which is an enormous humiliation to a culture.

I am very well aware of the faults and war crimes that Japan as nation has committed throughout its history. Still, this does not mean that one has to eliminate its belief system and tradition, even if such believe system or tradition has been used to justify evildoing. Even the Christian God has been unjustly used to destroy and harm other nations for purposes of political and economic gain.  I am also not suggesting that worshipping a deified emperor is correct. I am only looking at the unethical way in which the culture of a nation was undermined through systematic humiliation. From this perspective, Christianity cannot be viewed as a positive religion.

On the other hand, according to some Japanese scholars I have interviewed (26) , the shame-guilt concept discussed earlier was programmed to bring humiliation upon Japan by the occupying force.  The American government used the War Guilt Information Program, immediately after the country’s capitulation.  One of the people I interviewed said the following: 

The  "War Guilt Information Program" aimed to persuade all the Japanese, "Japan was a bad country. The Japanese must feel guilty. Especially the leaders were bad. The general public was victims." Their logic was that the United States was 100 percent good, and Japan was 100 percent bad. The missionaries also had such a mind. They were kind, loving and good Christians, but had a mind such as, "If you believe in Christianity, you will become better people." Those who did not know the real modern history obeyed the missionaries, but those who knew it could not trust them, feeling their arrogance and misunderstandings of the history (27).


Yukio Tanaka remembers the tragic event of September 11, 2001 and expresses his sorrow about this tragedy, but he also asks  “Why?” He responds by suggesting that the American national psyche cannot but repeat the same pattern of aggressive invasion in dealing with the “other.” Doing this will, however, not cease so long as rationalization (i.e. justifying military action) and illusion (a self-image that America is the “just” nation) continue to dominate the public consciousness (28)  In Japan, Christianity and the West are conflated, taken to be inseparable. For the majority of the Japanese people, Christianity remains a Western religion that is used by Western political powers to expand their influence and gain control of other nations.

In conclusion, I would argue that there is no single, clear answers to the question of why Christianity has not yet succeed in Post World War II Japan. Instead, there are multiple answers and they are to be found in the combination of conditions and the interaction of the factors discussed above.


Footnotes

26. Out of privacy reasons I withhold mentioning names.

27. Interview by means of email, on 15 July 2012.

28. Shu Kishida, A Place for Apology: War, Guilt and US-Japan Relations (Lanham: Hamilton Books, 2004), xii.

 

Political Factors

Throughout history, most Japanese have viewed Christianity as the religion of the West. Since World War II, Christianity has been associated with America in particular—the nation that utilized two nuclear bombs on civilians to end the war. Thus it is viewed as the religion of the occupying “messiah”, a nation that has deliberately forgotten its dark past, (the eradication of the native peoples in the Americas, slavery, racism and segregation), and yet accuses Japan of genocide, war crimes and acts of cruelty in the course of human history.