Christianity in the Japanese Empire


A review of Christianity in the Japanese Empire: Nationalism, Conscience, and Faith in Meiji and Taisho Japan, by EMILY ANDERSON

In 1979, Matsuo Takayoshi’s articles on Japanese Protestants in Korea shed light on the religious concomitants of Japan’s imperial expansion, creating an impetus for new research. After three decades, Emily Anderson has taken up the challenges and questions touched upon by Matsuo, added critical, new comparative information about Japanese Protestants beyond Japan’s early empire, and linked all this back to socio-political stances and actions of Protestant leadership in Japan. This dissertation skillfully narrates confrontations and interactions between the imperial state and the Japanese Kumiai (Congregationalist) Church over the meanings of empire, nation, citizenship from the late 1880s to the early 1930s.

The work begins by introducing the large rural town of Annaka, in Gunma Prefecture, and briefly presents the distinct men responsible for Protestantism’s development there. Through the stories of Annaka Church founding pastor Ebina Danjō and his successor, Kashiwagi Gien, the author highlights the important and visible role of Japanese Christian leaders in interpreting mainstream and alternative socio-political ideologies in imperial Japan. Chapter one describes several oft-mentioned incidents in the early 1890s through which anti-Christian and Christian nationalists argued over the compatibility of the religion with patriotism and the Japanese national essence. One such event in 1892, a controversial speech by Kumamoto Eigakkō teacher Okumura Teijirō advocating humanitarianism and internationalism, exposed the treasonous potential of Christianity and divided the Christian community. Foreshadowing their respective mission strategies and priorities, one Christian teacher at the school, Kashiwagi Gien, protested and began a pattern of consistent and vocal defense of individual liberty. Another, Watase Tsuneyoshi, defended government authority and a nation-centered worldview.

Tokyo’s large and popular Hongō Church, the subject of chapter two, hosted activities and discourse that brought empire home. Attendees offered war reports and addressed questions of nationalism and expansion in the church’s well-known monthly journal, Shinjin, and provided moral support and care packages to soldiers, among other activities. Through churches like Hongō, the Kumiai denomination sought to reinvigorate their religious movement by initiating missions to Korea, China, and the United States to regain lost momentum after the Russo-Japanese War and the Hibiya Riots. Chapter three follows Hongō pastor Ebina Danjō as he travels to Japan’s colonies and other areas with significant Japanese populations, and speaks to their aspirations, hardships, and self-perceptions in the 1910s. Interested in successful interactions between immigrant Japanese and both their American-born and native Korean neighbors, Ebina highlighted commonalities that could facilitate cross-cultural interaction.

Despite such rhetoric, chapter four shows the difficulties that Kumiai Korea mission encountered in realizing the naisen ittai (“Japan and Korea as one”) ideal. Under the leadership of Watase Tsuneyoshi, who never learned Korean and accentuated cultural and developmental differences between Koreans and Japanese, the Korea mission became aligned with Government-General’s objectives and the funds. Although missionaries like Takahashi Yōzō and Kurihara Yōtarō studied Korean and sought true Korean assimilation, the Korea mission was not successful. Rather than ending in abandonment, however, the tale of the struggling mission continues into chapter five as Kumiai missionaries moved from Korea to Japan’s informal empire in South Manchuria and Shanghai. In Fengtian and Shanghai the mission sought to improve Japanese morality and incorporate Korean and Chinese parishioners. Attracting only minimal Japanese interest, Japan’s well-known oppression in their homelands—along with the mission’s involvement in a deceitful plot against the Shanghai-based Korean provisional government—discouraged Korean and Chinese participation.

The outspoken Japanese pastor of Annaka Church, Kashiwagi Gien, also distrusted the Kumiai missions abroad, and chapter six describes his questioning and then opposing their continuation. As pastor for thirty-seven years, he catalyzed the church’s development, including its surprisingly un-provincial, provocative regional church newspaper, Jōmō kyōkai geppō. Chapter seven explores the positions that Kashiwagi advocated, such as non-violent socialism, and the range of actors, ideas, and activities that he criticized in that periodical. Kashiwagi decried the collaboration of Japanese Kumiai ministers with Japan’s colonial authorities abroad and their complacency when thousands of their Korean fellow subjects were massacred after the Great Kantō Earthquake. He likewise castigated Japan’s government for violation of universal freedoms repeatedly, facing frequent censorship, fines, and trials. Anderson concludes by describing the crepuscule of the Japanese Protestant movement’s vigor and diversity in the 1930s. Ebina’s submissive resignation as Dōshisha University’s president in 1928, Kashiwagi’s hesistant retirement in 1935 due to pressure from his concerned congregation, and to Watase’s various failed mission- and church-building efforts at home and abroad until his death in 1944 fittingly end this work.

Anderson succeeds at bringing together the studies of Japanese imperialism and Japanese Christianity. In the realm of Japanese empire, Christianity in the Japanese Empire builds on the English-language work of Andre Schmid, Louise Young, and Leo Ching, who in turn built upon the invaluable combined opus on Japanese imperialism by Ramon Myers, Mark Peattie, and Peter Duus. This work contributes to a current shifting of focus away from Western precedents for imperialism and towards the realities of Japanese imperialism. In the arena of Japanese Christianity, the work emphasizes interactions between Japanese individuals, given that so much English-language scholarship from Ernest Best to Irwin Scheiner to A. Hamish Ion has focused on Japanese-missionary interactions. This dissertation also moves beyond the ethical objectives and judgmental tones that so heavily color the seminal scholarship of Korea-mission scholars Iinuma Jirō, and Takayoshi Matsuo, Kashiwagi scholar Katano Masako and other members of the Dōshisha University-based Kirisutokyō Shakai Mondai Kenkyū group.

When published, this research will bring a new attention to Kashiwagi Gien who has often been overshadowed by scholarly concentration on Tokyo pacificst minister Uchimura Kanzō. It will shed new light on the existence, nature, and importance of transnational networks of Japanese Christians, and add Jōmō kyōkai geppō to the short list of frequently examined church-based Christian publications of imperial Japan such as Shinjin and Rikugo zasshi. Furthermore, the time for an English-language work dedicated specifically to the religious implications of Japanese expansion is long overdue, and this dissertation is precisely that. Finally, this research will demonstrate that Japanese Protestant discourse was an active site for the development of competing ideological interpretations about the nation.

Garrett L. Washington
Case Western Reserve University

Primary Sources

Shinjin (New Man)
Kirisutokyō sekai (Christian World)
Jōmō Kyōkai geppō (Jōmō Churches Monthly News)
Archives of the Institute for the Study of Humanistic and Social Sciences—Doshisha University

Dissertation Information

University of California, Los Angeles. 2010. 472 pp. Primary Advisor: Fred G. Notehelfer

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