Get help now

Essay on the Influence of Christianity on Japanese Culture

Updated August 9, 2022

Download Paper

File format: .pdf, .doc, available for editing

Essay on the Influence of Christianity on Japanese Culture essay

Get help to write your own 100% unique essay

Get custom paper

78 writers are online and ready to chat

This essay has been submitted to us by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our writers.

For over 2,000 years, Christianity has been making waves by causing drastic changes in culture around the world. As the Gospel message spread, the Christian Church began to form. It has changed shape many times throughout its existence and its influence over vast groups of people has led to the world we see today. It would not be an overstatement to say that the world would be vastly different today had it not been for the presence of Christianity. This is the driving principle behind this research paper. Here, I will focus on one corner of the world to see how Christianity has affected these specific people. That incredibly unique place I wish to research is Japan.

Japan is a country that has a deep cultural history that entices millions of outsiders to this day. The legacy of the Samurai and honor-based society intrigues many, including me. Because of this, I have taken up the challenge to research how Christianity has impacted Japanese culture. In this paper, I will be discussing: the history of Christianity in Japan, the influence of Christianity on Japanese culture, and the differences in western and Japanese theology. The primary goal of this paper is to find the roots of change in regards to both Japanese culture and the Theology developed due to the culture. It is my belief that the interaction between Christianity and Japanese culture had both positive and negative effects on the Japanese people.

It all began in the 16th century, at the tail end of the Muromachi period in Japan. At this time, the reign of the Ashikaga Shoguns (military leaders) was at an end as the Emperor in Kyoto lost influence over the country. This caused a rift in the power structure in Japan, as the infamous Samurai were born from land-owning military families. These samurai began to grasp political power and rise to prominence, becoming what are called Daimyo. These lords held power of different parts of feudal Japan, which led to many fights during a period called the Age of Civil War.

However, in 1542, external trade routes were formed as Jesuit missionaries arrived in Japan’s third-largest island, Kyushu, and began spreading Christianity. Seven years later on August 15th, Jesuit Francis Xavier made a mission to the city of Kagoshima on the island. There was substantial Buddhist resistance to Christianity, but many warlords of the west welcomed Christianity, but mainly for the trade and military advantages, such trade could bring, such as firearms. Then, in 1568, Oda Nobunaga began his bid to reunite Japan by capturing Kyoto and then overthrowing the Muromachi in 1573, bringing an end to that period and a beginning to the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. Nine years later, his enemies killed him. However, their victory was short-lived as, one of Nobunaga’s generals, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, quickly struck back and regained control.

As Hideyoshi was recapturing the Northern provinces, in 1585, the first-ever mission of Japanese youths was sent to meet with the pope at the time in Rome. In 1587 came the first government move against Christianity, as Hideyoshi made an edict that forced foreign missionaries out of the country. Hideyoshi continued exercising his control by banning swords and destroying castles made during the civil wars. Despite the edict, Christianity still grew in Japan, so in 1596-97 Hideyoshi banned conversions and executed 6 foreign missionaries and 20 Japanese Christians, who became known as the 26 martyrs.

The primary reason behind these actions was fear of colonialism due to the aggressive nature of the missionaries in their tactics and their intolerance of Japanese culture as was similar to the way things transpired in other parts of the world as other Europeans had been colonizing regions in the name of Christianity. Hideyoshi especially did not take kindly to Christianity because Christians were more aligned with Jesus than the shogunate. During this time, Hideyoshi attempted to conqueror China and failed miserably after capturing Seol in Korea for a few weeks. After his failure, he died and his partner Tokugawa Ieyasu succeeded him, marking the beginning of the Edo period.

Ieyasu consolidated his power by wiping out the loyalists of the intended successor to the throne, Hideyori. He was appointed Shogun by the Emperor and established his government in what is now known as Japan. While Ieyasu was a big fan of foreign trade, he further tightened his grip on Christianity. In 1612, he issued an edict that called for the destruction of churches. Despite all of this persecution, by 1614 there were 150 clergies and more than 650,000 worshipers. In 1615, the last of Ieyasu’s rivals were wiped out, as peace finally came in Japan after many centuries. This is the period where many developments in martial arts, literature, philosophy, and the arts were made by Samurai.

In 1633, Japan was nearly completely isolated, as restrictions were made on foreign travel. Curiously, despite the isolationism mentality of Japan, many developments were made in the arts during this peaceful era called the Genroku Era from 1688-1703. Then came the rise of Neo-Confucianism, as the 4-class caste system was strictly implemented. In 1720, western literature was finally allowed back into circulation. Over time, the social structure of Japan began to break down as financial problems and many natural disasters put stress on the government. Corruption began rampantly moving its way through the government. There was much contention between the Conservative Samurai and the pro-western idealists who saw the benefits of western technology. US Commodore Matthew Perry was a linchpin for the reestablishment of trade between Japan and the western world, as he forced the Tokugawa government in 1853 to open up trade. In 1857, the isolation order was lifted, as a Catholic priest came and built a church in Yokohama in 1862.

However, in 1858, The Japan-US Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed, and the first protestant missionaries came to Japan. In 1865, many “secret Christians” declared their faith at Nagasaki’s Ōura Church, having survived the many years of persecution and handing down the faith from generation to generation. After much political pressure, the Tokugawa government finally fell in 1868.

The Meiji period began as Emperor Meiji moved to Tokyo, making it the capital of Japan in 1868. Despite unequal treaties made with western powers, Japan sought independence and respect from the other nations. They wished to match the economic and military standards of the other nations. To achieve this, the class structure was broken down with a focus on equality among Japanese citizens. All the Daimyo relinquished their land to the Emperor, making a more united Japan in 1870. In 1873, human rights like religious freedom were introduced, although that specifically was not secured until 1889. Private schools and hospitals were created by the Catholic Church, as they continued to develop in the country. To build their military, Japan utilized universal conscription. Learning was the name of the game for Japan during this period, as they held expeditions into western countries to gain knowledge while welcoming foreign industry leaders to teach them. Japan was intent on playing catch-up, but this caused a strain on their finances, which led to a restructuring of their currencies and the creation of the Bank of Japan. The textile industry grew as Japan swiftly industrialized.

Then, in 1889, Japan had its first constitution and established a form of parliament. Soon, conflict with China in Korea led to the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95. Japan defeated China, but then came into conflict with Russia, France, and Germany. Similar conflicts to what happened with China reoccurred, this time with Russia, and resulted in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. The Japanese won this war as well, earning the international respect they had desired. Nationalism grew as Japan took over Korea and the period ended as Meiji died in 1912.

Under Emperor Taisho, democracy took hold of Japan. Japan had a small part in World War I, fighting off the Germans in East Asia with the Allied Powers. At the Paris Peace Conference, Japan’s “Racial Equality Clause” was denied by the Western Nations. This was one example of the blatant racial discrimination that was ever-present in Western-Japanese relations. This, along with other racially motivated actions, such as the Exclusion Act in the US, deteriorated their relations. Japanese economics worsened, which made way for military control of the government in the 1930s. Indoctrination and censorship ran rampant in all parts of Japanese society. There was an increase in conflict between Japan and China, which resulted in Japan withdrawing from the League of Nations due to criticism.

After a second war with China and occupying Vietnam, Japan joined the Axis powers. This caused tension with the US and Britain, who responded with a boycott on oil. This eventually led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. World War II was ended after the US dropped Nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Emperor Showa finally surrendered. It is reported that over 500 military officers committed suicide right after Japan surrendered.

The result of WWII was a broken Japan. All the territories that had been gained since 1894 had been lost. There was severe damage to every aspect of Japanese society. In 1947, a new constitution was created, allowing Universal suffrage and the freedom of religion. Japan was forbidden from making a new army. There was an Allied occupation of Japan until 1952, where no anti-American propaganda was allowed. The US encouraged the creation of a Self-Defense force as the Cold War came into effect. This Force was created in 1954, and the US-Japan Security treaty was renewed in 1960. That same year, the Pope appointed the first Japanese Cardinal, Tokyo Archbishop Doi.

After the Korean War, the Japanese economy flourished, and Japanese relations were finally normalized with Russia and China by 1972. In 1973, the pope appointed the first Japanese Bishop, Tadashiro Ishigami. Because of the economic growth, living standards improved drastically and the Liberal Democratic Party ruled. 1981 marked the first Papal visit to Japan and in 1987 the 1st National Incentive Convention for Evangelization was held in Kyoto. In 2014, the Prime Minister of Japan asked the Pope to visit Japan and mark the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the hidden Christians. In 2018, the hidden Christian sites were officially registered as UNESCO World Heritage sites and last year, the pope visited Japan.

Clearly, Japan and Christianity have had a very rocky relationship. This stemmed from a culture where loyalty was paramount and Christianity upset that balance as Christians are more loyal to God than any man, no matter their earthly power. This, coupled with unbound colonialism, was why Christians were persecuted so heavily. It is obvious that the colonial mentality of these early missionaries was extremely detrimental to their goal of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. However, it is encouraging that those Christians, who were converted before the missionaries were pushed out, continued to keep the faith throughout the many hard years.

What is very interesting is that this mission field is very much still open, as Christians still only make up roughly 1% of the population to this day. What I find incredibly interesting is how Japan was so worried about becoming westernized that they shut themselves off from the rest of the world, but then, when they see that western civilization is thriving, they thrusted themselves deep into westernization. The main reason for this seems to be that, once again, their nationalism took hold which encouraged them to pursue any possible means of becoming a national superpower.

When it comes to Christianity’s impact on Japan’s culture, the effect was far different than what I had initially expected. I assumed there would be a direct impact on the culture of Japan, such as moving away from certain traditions, but from what I can see based on their history, the impact was mainly indirect. It seems as though the occurrence of Christianity seemed to become an enemy that allowed most of Japan to focus on. It is no coincidence that after Christianity was practically wiped out in Japan, there came about the first era of peace in many years. I believe that Christianity coming to Japan at this time was one of the main reasons that Japan was able to finally be united. If Christianity had not been there with the potential threat of colonialism, I believe that the bloody wars would have continued. It’s like any team-up movie, the only way to get a team to work together is if they have a common enemy to fight. This is where Nationalism began to take root, and it was then exacerbated during their time cut off from the world. But what’s really intriguing is that Japan wouldn’t be nearly as nationalized without Christianity.

As a matter of a fact, Japanese culture was only given the space to develop because of Christianity. Now, I am not saying that Christianity was the sole reason for this, as Hydeyoshi’s campaign against anyone who would oppose him was definitely a big factor. However, I think that he was only able to succeed because of the focus on the “true” foreign enemies. Even if this is not the case, they are without a doubt the reason for the national seclusion which allowed for great developments to be made in culture. The thing is, as we discussed, things didn’t stay great like this as corruption spread very quickly as the whole system collapsed. Now, the reason I am only talking about the Christian impact on Japanese culture before the national seclusion and not after is because that’s where things get hazy, since there are alot of elements affecting Japanese culture from the West, not just Christianity. As a matter of a fact, it seems as though Christianity had little effect on Japanese culture as a whole from that period onward.

One of the few elements of Christianity that lingered after the religion was effectively outlawed were the Hidden Christians. These early converts were able to hold onto their beliefs secretly and pass them down through the generations. They did this through rituals and a “secret bible” which was influenced by shinto and buddhism. It truly is remarkable and a testament to God’s greatness that these families were able to survive for so many years and keep the faith. It is a good sign that Japan wants to recognize those cultural sites and the resilience of the hidden christians. This is just one of many signs that Japan is a rich place for modern day missions.

When looking at the Theology of Japan, I am going to be referring to the “Kirishitan” beliefs of the Japanese from before the national isolation. Their beliefs are explained in the “dochiriina Kirishitan”. This document was used to answer questions about Christianity that would often be asked by new Japanese Christians. The actual beliefs were not very different in Japanese Theology, merely the way that they were explained was. This is because of the obvious difficulty of translation, as idioms of the missionary’s language did not translate well into Japanese. What we can see is that this is also the case because Japanese people focus more on practice than doctrine. This is primarily due to Buddhism, which was and remains to be the most practiced religion in Japan, Buddhism focuses on rituals over any sort of doctrine, which could be why Catholicism was so easily taken up by the Japanese people.

Catholicism focuses on traditions and rituals as a means for penance, which is carried over into Japanese Christianity. One such ritual, the sacrament known as baptism, had a focus of purification of the body, which mirrored the Shinto religion where Izanagi, a head god, was purified through water. This is one example of how Shinto intersected with Christianity as well. With all that being said, it is clear that Catholicism in Japan is not much different from Western Catholicism, the only main difference is that the ways in which the Japanese Christians relate to the theology is different, which is to be expected when one is coming at it with a completely different worldview.

Essay on the Influence of Christianity on Japanese Culture essay

Remember. This is just a sample

You can get your custom paper from our expert writers

Get custom paper

Essay on the Influence of Christianity on Japanese Culture. (2022, Aug 09). Retrieved from